14 May 2012

(Published May 11th 2012 – ADDIS ABABA – Reuters) – Ivory Coast agro-industry group Sifca is looking to set up rubber and palm oil plantations in central Africa to boost output and is also eyeingrice production at home, the company’s chairman said on Friday

Sifca, one of the biggest companies in the West African country, is part-owned by Singapore’s Olam International and Wilmar International.

Sifca produces palm oil, cotton seed oil, natural rubber and sugar in the West African countries of Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana.

“We are looking in central Africa for rubber and palm oil,” Chairman Jean-Louis Billon told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa. “It’s a question of land and finding the right partners.”

“It’s on the table right now. We’re talking about plantations and factories,” he said, declining to give more details.

Billon said when it came to palm oil production, the company’s goal was first to boost its own supply to meet the capacity at its refinery in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan.

“We have a refinery in Abidjan with installed capacity of 500,000 metric tonnes a year. It’s the largest in Africa. But we don’t have enough supply right now,” he said.

“Our objective is to reach full capacity, and then go beyond.”

RICE PRODUCTION

Billon said while Sifca was focusing on its core businesses of natural rubber, palm oil and sugar, it was also looking to grow rice in Ivory Coast to help the country meet its needs.

“The price of rice is going up, and Ivory Coast is an importer. In terms of food security, it’s important that several players get into this area in a large scale,” he said.

“There is a development programme with the government that they are putting in place, and we’ll probably be part of it,” Billon said.

Africa has vast tracts of undeveloped land that domestic and foreign investors alike are looking to exploit to grow food crops in the face of rising global prices for staples.

Ivory Coast is getting back on its feet after years of uncertainty and violence that began with a brief civil war in 2002 that split the country in two.

The crisis came to a head at the end of 2010 when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede an election he lost to President Alassane Ouattara. The dispute sparked a four-month war that killed 3,000 people and displaced more than a million.

SIFCA’s former president, Yves Lambelin, was kidnapped and killed during the post-election conflict, along with two colleagues from Malaysia and Benin.

“I think we have turned a page, but we need to turn the page of the crisis completely, and that involves several issues,” said Billon.

He said divisive land disputes, one of the roots of the crisis in the first place, needed to be settled, the army and police required reorganisation to ensure security, and judicial systems should be improved.

Ivorians also had to decide what type of society they wanted, he said.

“The biggest challenge is to maintain peace. To move ahead, we cannot pretend that nothing happened,” he said.