FACTBOX-Hope for Madagascar after new political deal struck
Aug 9 (Reuters) - Here are some key facts about Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island, where feuding leaders said on Sunday they had agreed a power-sharing deal and would hold elections on the giant Indian Ocean island within 15 months.
* THE ECONOMY:
-- Traditionally, the Madagascan economy has been based on cultivation of paddy rice, coffee, vanilla and cloves. But in recent years there have been billions of dollars of foreign investment by resource companies.
-- The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said however in May it had frozen aid to Madagascar over the country's political crisis and warned the island's economy would slow this year below the 5-7 percent projection.
-- Days earlier, Saudi investors pledged $2 billion for the tourism, communications and energy sectors, the government said, in a sign that some financiers are not shying away from the new president's administration.
-- The political crisis since early this year has dealt a hefty blow to the $390 million-a-year holiday industry and the roughly $8 billion-a-year economy.
-- Several donors -- including the United States and Norway -- have frozen non-emergency assistance, straining the treasury accounts.
-- Despite a wealth of natural resources and tourist-luring wildlife, Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries, ranked 143 out of 179 on the U.N.'s Human Development Index.
-- Textiles account for about 6.5-8 percent of Madagascar's GDP, with almost half of textile exports destined for the United States. Clothing exports to the United States totalled $278.8 million in 2008, making it the second largest textile exporter through the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act, after Lesotho.
-- The global economic downturn and falling commodity prices have shown signs of hitting the pace of mine development.
-- Canada's Sherritt International (S.TO), has said it is revising the plan for its Ambatovy nickel project to cut costs, meaning it could be delayed beyond its early 2010 start date.
-- The project is expected to yield 60,000 tonnes of nickel and 5,600 tonnes of cobalt a year.
-- A subsidiary of UK-based multinational Rio Tinto (RIO.L) Plc started production of ilmenite, used to make titanium dioxide in March.
-- Companies are also looking for gold, coal, chromium, platinum and uranium. Conservationists say mining projects could threaten the island's biodiversity.
-- In 2008, Houston-based Madagascar Oil said it produced Madagascar's first oil in 60 years from an onshore project at Tsimiroro. It estimated reserves near there of at least 1.7 billion barrels.
-- French oil group Total (TOTF.PA) signed an agreement with Madagascar Oil to operate the Bemolanga licence, a separate project, with a 60 percent interest. Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) is also investing in Madagascar's oil potential.
* THE COUNTRY:
POPULATION: 20 million.
LANGUAGE: Malagasy and French are the official languages, but Hovba and other local dialects are also spoken.
ETHNICITY: The Malgaches, who comprise 99 percent of the population, are of Malagasy-Afro-Indonesian origin.
RELIGION: About half of the population professes traditional beliefs, with 41 percent Christians and seven percent Muslims.
AREA: 581,540 square km (224,532 sq miles), Madagascar is in the Indian Ocean about 400 km (250 miles) off the coast of Mozambique. It is slightly larger than France.