Agriterra joins $6bn rush into West Africa palm

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Agrimoney.com | 1 December 2011
Phil Edmonds, former English cricket player, now Chairman of Agriterra.

Agriterra added to the $6bn investment wave heading into West Africa palm oil by acquiring 45,000 hectares of plantation land in Sierra Leone, amid a rash of corporate activity which helped its shares soar 15%.

The London-listed farming minnow joined Asian giants such as Sime Darby and Wilmar International in backing the potential for palm oil output in West Africa which, while boasting the necessary warm and wet equatorial climate, has remained a minority producer.

Indonesia and Malaysia between them account for more than 85% of world output.

The southern area of Sierra Leone where Agriterra has purchased its plantation, through the acquisition of Shawford Investments Inc, "receives one the highest levels of rainfall in [the country], which in itself, receives some of the highest rainfall globally", the company said.

Agriterra purchased Shawford in return for 37.8m new shares, with a further 37.8m shares payable if planting targets are met.

Big Italian investor

The takeover is the company's second in Sierra Leone this year, after it in July acquired cocoa group Tropical Farms, for which Agriterra on Thursday unveiled a deferred payment of 8.3m new shares.

And Agriterra also announced the injection of a total of $15m from Gibraltar-registered Beyond Africa Fund, which will become the group's biggest shareholder, and CIR Group, the listed Italian investment company run by the De Benedetti dynasty.

CIR's larger investments include control of Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso, the publisher of newspaper La Repubblica, Italian electricity and gas group Sorgenia and car parts maker Sogefi.

Agriterra will use the cash to accelerate growth at its Mozambique-based cattle ranching operations, and to "aggressively expand" the cocoa business from trading into plantations.

"We see huge potential in the cocoa market and have assembled a team capable of delivering on our strategy of becoming a major regional producer," Andrew Groves, Agriterra director, said.

'Significant premium'

Beyond Africa, which will end up with a 10.1% stake in Agriterra, and CIR Group, with an 8.1% holding, will receive a total of 320.4m new shares for their investments.

The deal calculates at 3p a share, or a 32% premium to the closing price of Agriterra shares on Wednesday, before the deals were announced.

The money raised "at a significant premium underpins the potential our investors see in the business and endorses the progress that we have made", Mr Groves said.

Agriterra shares closed up 15.4% at 2.62p in London on Thursday.
Original source: Agrimoney
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