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Zambia farm input supplier plans to invest $150 mln in farming

MKUSHI, ZAMBIA, Sept 9 (Reuters) - One of Zambia's largest farm input suppliers, African Green Resources (AGR) plans to invest $150 million with local farmers to develop an irrigation dam, a 50 megawatt (MW) solar farm and expand existing grain silo capacity by 80,000 tonnes.

AGR's chairman said the expansion programme, which will see the joint venture seeking to add value to produce for local and export markets, will also add to factories currently owned by Agri Options Ltd.

"It will be a combination of trade financing from African regional banks, export credit lines, equity and loans from European and American financiers," Chairman Zuneid Yousuf said.

Yousuf said AGR subsidiary Neria Investments Ltd has been involved in the distribution of fertilizer to approximately 1.8 million small-scale farmers and now wanted to diversify by investing in irrigation farming and agricultural industries.

The development of the 80 million cubic metre dam and solar power plant would benefit commercial farmers and close to 50,000 small-scale farmers who would also be supplied with affordable farming inputs and appropriate technologies, Yousuf said.

"Our plan is to have a value addition chain of factories right here in Zambia," Yousuf said, adding that there were ready markets both locally and in neighbouring countries.

Agri Options Ltd General Manager Christoffel Snyman said with the $150 million investment, grain storage capacity would increase to 105,000 tonnes by 2021/22 farming season from the current 28,000 tonnes.

Snyman said $5.5 million would go into the expansion of the storage facilities, $20 million in the development of the dam, $42-$45 million in the development of the solar farm and the rest in value additional projects including an abattoir.

Agri Options Chief Executive Theodoros Karnezos said the original vision of the company comprising 12 commercial farmers was to handle, store and market crops, including maize, soya beans and wheat but that had changed to include value addition in order to compete.

"We need financial muscle and we also need marketing experience, which AGR has," Karnezos said.

"I think we need to export in order to survive and I think in Mkushi we are placed very strategically. We can either go up towards the Angolan border, towards the DRC or we can go eastwards up to the Great Lakes region. So that is where we are looking to export," he said. (Reporting by by Chris Mfula; Editing by David Evans)