Bangladesh plans to open a new front in agricultural production and trade in west African countries, which have vast fertile and fallow land and import almost all commodities.
Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes, who led a five-member fact-finding mission to four West African countries -- Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Senegal -- from August 24 to September 2, said this at a media briefing at his office yesterday.
This was the first of a series of visits that Bangladesh has planned to West Africa, Southern Africa and Latin America as part of its target to strengthen South-South cooperation, he said.
The delegation talked to ministers, bureaucrats and business leaders and found huge potentials for farming, fruit processing and establishing joint ventures in textiles, exporting ready-made garments, medicine and venturing into many other sectors.
"We got tremendous response from them. They are very interested in getting our expertise in agriculture," said Mijarul Quayes, adding, they are still dependent on rainwater for rice cultivation once a year.
Businesses could go to those countries with agriculturists and farmers, lease land at cheap rates and apply the modern farming technologies to cultivate rice round the year like Bangladeshi farmers.
"We asked them if we could do contract farming. They said there could be pilot projects and then it might gradually expand," the foreign secretary said.
A Liberian congressman has offered to take Bangladeshi experts to his own area to produce rice, rubber, coffee, cashew nuts and so on, he said. "This could be the beginning of our cooperation."
Besides, those countries grow abundant fruits, but nobody produces juice out of it. Investors from Bangladesh could easily take advantage of setting up fruit processing industries there, he continued.
The West African countries grow a lot of cotton but are not that competitive in the market. Investors from Bangladesh could also set up backward linkage industries that could immensely help the country's ready-made garment industry, Quayes told the newspersons.
"They literally import everything," he said, adding that Bangladesh could export many products like pharmaceuticals and clothes to those countries. Bangladesh exports some products including medicine, fruit juice and jute goods, but the amount is insignificant and not persistent, he observed.
According to statistics of the Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh's export to Ghana was $1,462,000, $1,346,000 to Liberia, $883,000 to Senegal and $199,000 to Ivory Coast in 2009-10.
African countries could be Bangladesh's market, he said.
"They asked what they could export and we have invited them to the Dhaka International Trade Fair next year. We can have soon more dialogues, engage our business leaders and entrepreneurs for expanding trade," Quayes said.
He added those countries have admiration for Bangladesh because they have seen Bangladeshi peacekeepers, fruit juice products and social activities by Brac.
They are also interested to hire doctors, engineers, healthcare experts for their capacity building, Quayes said.
The foreign secretary said as the first step the government might appoint honorary consuls to establish physical linkages with the West African countries and then sign memorandums of understanding for foreign office consultations.
Gradually, trade deals could be signed, he noted.
Prime Minister's Personal Secretary Nazrul Islam Khan, EPB Director General Rakhal Chandra Barman, Director General of Foreign Ministry (Africa) Wahidur Rahman, Managing Director of Bangladesh Oversees Employment Services Limited (BOESL) Mohammad Abdullah were the other delegates.