Korea Will Grow Wheat in Sudan

Korea Times | 15 June 2008

By Kim Se-jeong
Staff Reporter

A big chunk of land in Sudan has been set aside for Korea to invest in crop production, the Sudanese ambassador said.

Ambassador Mohamed Salah Eldin Abbas said 4.2 billion square meters of land in the northern region and 2.7 billion square meters in the central region have been prepared for Korea.

"We are expecting to start cultivation by the end of this year," Abbas said in an interview with The Korea Times.

In total, it will be a little smaller than North Chungcheong Province in size.

The decision was unveiled three weeks after the Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed on cooperation in agriculture, especially farmland for Korea, at their summit in Seoul in late May.

Lee first bandied the government's pursuit of farmland in the African country publicly prior to the Sudanese President's visit to Seoul.

What will start later this year will be a "pilot program." An area of 840 million square meters will be cultivated experimentally.

It will be a joint venture among Korean, Sudanese and Arab companies, the ambassador said. The type of crop is wheat.

The biggest country in the water-short African continent, Sudan is blessed with sufficient water supply thanks to the Nile River that flows through the country.

Agriculture is one of Sudan's thriving industries. It produces a large quantity of cotton, sorghum, soybeans and wheat.

The golden fertile land has received plenty of interest from neighboring nations, especially Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait, for agricultural cooperation. Some such partnerships are under way already, according to reports.

But it's not just farming that is making Sudan so attractive.

Sudan's oil reserves, including possible undiscovered oil reserves, make it appealing to Western and Asian countries.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations published in New York, the entire African continent holds 9 percent of the world's oil, far less than the Middle East's 60 percent, but is believed to have many undiscovered reserves.

The United Sates, the EU, Japan and China are big players seeking oil development and production.

"Korea needs to give more attention to Africa," Abbas said, referring to the visible presence of China and Japan.

Japan has maintained its presence in Africa for quite awhile along with other Western countries. In 1993, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development was launched. It meets every five years.

Representatives from 51 African countries, including 40 heads of state, participated in the last conference in May.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda vowed to offer a $4 billion official development assistance (ODA) loan to African countries and to give $2.5 billion in financial support, including the establishment of the Japan Bank of International Cooperation Facility for African investment. It will also contribute $560 million in coming years to fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

China has surfaced as a big player recently, as it began to gaze at Africa as a new oil supplier to its booming economy.

Now, one-third of Chinese oil is imported from Africa. Sudan is one of the five biggest African oil suppliers to China along with Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Congo, according to the World Bank.

Sino-African relations go beyond mere oil partners. China is now the second largest trading partner, after the United States. Trade between 2002 and 2003 is known to have doubled, and in 2007, it reached $73 billion.

On the other hand, the extent of the Korean government's recognition of Africa's potential appears to be quite small, certainly less than China and Japan, despite its big slogan of "Energy diplomacy."

The number of African missions in Korea is testimony to this. Of the 49 African countries that Korea maintains diplomatic relations with, it has opened embassies in only 16 countries. There are 13 African embassies in Korea.

Countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia send residing ambassadors to Japan or China who concurrently work as ambassador to Korea.

In 2006, Korea's ODA loan to Africa was only $21.7 million and its financial support reached $26.1 million, significantly lower than Japan.

Korea established diplomatic ties with Sudan in 1977 with embassies in both countries.

Bilateral trade neared $15 billion last year. Main trading goods are crude oil, sesame seeds, automobiles, agricultural products and machinery.

Korea was one of the first foreign direct investor to Sudan, the ambassador said, hoping to attract more investors in the coming years.

Abbas anticipated a brighter future of bilateral economic relations, especially with the new Korean government underlining energy diplomacy.

"Refinery, roads and real estate are areas where we are looking into more investments from Korea," the ambassador said.

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