Jordan Times | 8 June 2009
By Hani Hazaimeh
AMMAN - The government said on Sunday that a draft agreement with the private sector on the stalled Jordanian agricultural megaproject in Sudan is being finalised in order to be sent to the Cabinet for approval.
In April, Agriculture Minister Saeed Masri headed a delegation to Sudan, which visited the project site and held talks with the Sudanese government over the project. The delegation included representatives from the private sector.
"We agreed with the Sudanese government during the visit to provide them with the latest development regarding the project within two months," Masri told The Jordan Times on Sunday, adding that the government is keen to complete the project, which would help address the Kingdom’s food security needs.
"It is important to ensure that whatever is to be grown on the project's land meets the country's needs and is shipped directly into the Kingdom’s markets and not exported to a third country," said the minister, adding that 80 per cent of the land will be planted with crops in demand by the local consumer, while the remaining 20 per cent will be left for the investors to use at their discretion.
"The Kingdom is in need of several essential food items and we hope that the Sudan project will address the shortage in our needs," the minister said, adding that the private sector is keen to invest in the project, which will be implemented on a 120,000-dunum plot of land, 39,000 of which are already being farmed by the army-run company Al Bashaer.
Masri said the cost of conveying irrigation water from the Nile to the project’s location, expected to amount to around JD5 million, will be paid by the government, adding, however, that this amount will be reclaimed from the private sector over a period of five years following the start of the project’s implementation.
Issam Hijazi, CEO of the leading livestock and food importer/manufacturer Hijazi and Ghosheh Group, told The Jordan Times yesterday that his company is interested in the project and that they will go ahead with the project once the draft agreement is approved by the government.
"The project is economically feasible for both sides, the government and the private sector," he said. Hijazi predicted that the project would begin sending produce to markets next year.
The minister added that the amount of investment in the project is expected to stand at around JD60 million. In addition to farming, Masri said, the agreement entitles the private sector to raise livestock on the project’s land, and the government will take measures to facilitate the private sector's establishment of fodder factories in the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Masri reiterated that investment in the land allocated to Jordan in Sudan is open to all investors, individuals or institutions and not limited to a specific party, adding that the ministry intends to establish a holding company in which all parties interested in agricultural investment in Sudan will be able to contribute.
"This project is vital for the Kingdom's economy as it will contribute to a large extent to achieving the country's food stability, particularly addressing its need for grains and animal feed," Masri said.
In 1998, the government signed an agricultural protocol with the Sudanese government which entitles Jordan to utilise vast fertile lands on the banks of the Nile to rear livestock and grow crops.
In early 2008, the governor of the Nile River State distributed more than half the land included in the agreement to local farmers in his state as the plan did not materialise a decade after the deal was signed, leaving Jordan with around 87,000 dunums to utilise.
However, due to the government’s reluctance to go ahead with the project, the Sudanese government set 2009 as the deadline for the implementation of the agreement.
Earlier last year, an Agriculture Ministry official said that the government would sign an agreement with a private company, which comprises four Jordanian firms that decided to undertake the project and benefit from the customs exemptions and other incentives provided by the Sudanese government.The company founders had a firsthand look at the situation of the project in Sudan during a self-initiated, four-day visit that started on August 5, 2008 and met with Sudanese officials who facilitated their access to the location.