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Madagascar President on an investor charm offensive

Seven years after the start of a political crisis, Madagascar has declared itself open for business.

On an official visit to Singapore, President Hery Rajaonarimampianina told CNBC on Thursday that he was looking to attract more foreign investors to the island nation rich in biodiversity and natural resources.

"Madagascar is a land of opportunities in many sectors, including agriculture, mining, tourism and energy. After a few years of political and economic crisis, Madagascar is on the path of stability so it's important to assure investors of the situation," Rajaonarimampianina said.

A coup and ensuing violent protests in 2009 led to five years of international sanctions and dwindling foreign investment. Based on falling income per capita, deteriorating infrastructure and strained public finances in the following years, the World Bank estimates the crisis cost the nation $8 billion.

But the former French colony is slowly making its way back onto investors' radar. After recording flat economic growth from 2009-2013, the nation expanded 3 percent in 2015 following Rajaonarimampianina's victory in the 2013 presidential elections—the first vote since the coup.

Tackling poverty is the nation's top priority, noted Rajaonarimampianina.

Agriculture in particular is a key sector that needs improvement, he added, seeing as under nutrition costs the government $1.5 billion a year, or around 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to the United Nations. Moreover, the bulk of Malagasies are dependent on agriculture for income. Madagascar is known for its rich spice plantations, including vanilla and cloves.

Malagasy skaters ride their boards through the streets of Antananarivo, Madagascar, on May 31, 2015
RIJASOLO | AFP | Getty Images
Malagasy skaters ride their boards through the streets of Antananarivo, Madagascar, on May 31, 2015

"We need to increase productivity in agriculture. We have a lot of arable land but up to now, there's not much investment in this field."

Fighting graft is also a key focus, Rajaonarimampianina said. The 23 million-strong nation is ranked 123rd out of 168 countries in Transparency International's corruption index.

One of the foreign players taking notice of Madagascar's potential is Al Njoo, chief executive of energy investment firm Benchmark Group and a board of director at independent crude producer Madagascar Oil.

"As investors, we are encouraged. We're actually the biggest oil operator in the country. Benchmark is the biggest shareholder of Madagascar Oil and it has over two billion barrels of oil resources," Njoo told CNBC.

The country began producing crude petroleum in 2008 after its petroleum refinery was shut down in 2005, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Now, the commodity's recent price collapse is a fresh economic strain, Njoo said.

Aside from crude, the island's nickel, titanium, cobalt, iron, coal and uranium deposits have seen major players like Rio Tinto and Sherritt International invest billions in mining projects.

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