Madagascar: South Korea corn deal not sealed yet

(Adds Daewoo local unit statement)

ANTANANARIVO, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Madagascar has denied reaching agreement with South Korea's Daewoo Logistics to let it plant more than 1 million hectares of food crops on the Indian Ocean island.

An official from the firm said in Seoul on Tuesday it had secured rights to plant corn in western Madagascar and 300,000 hectares of oil palm in the east, with a long-term aim of replacing more than half the corn Seoul currently imports mostly from the United States.

"Several announcements have been made regarding Daewoo Logistics' project which are erroneous and we would like to set the record straight," Eric Beantanana, of the Economic Development Board of Madagascar, told Reuters by telephone late on Thursday.

"The contract which we signed in July with Daewoo Logistics concerns only the facilitation of a land search. We were to help them look for land," he said. "Furthermore, we are talking about a search for 100,000 hectares ... It is only after this stage that the rest of the process will continue."

The company's local unit, Daewoo Logistics Madagascar, also said in a statement that there was no contract on the land between itself and the government of Madagascar.

Soaring food prices earlier this year and a shortage of farm land at home has prompted several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia and South Korea to seek agricultural land abroad to grow crops.

Daewoo Logistics had said it planned to manage its plantations directly and use labour from South Africa. But Marius Ratolojanahary, Madagascar's land reform minister, said the deal "has not moved beyond the stage of intention".

"We proposed two sites in Boeny and Menabe regions. Daewoo Logistics will look at the suitability of the land. It will then return to government with the results of its study," he said.

"Then it must conduct an environmental impact assessment on the area. But for the time being I don't have the results from the first study," Ratolojanahary told Reuters. (Reporting by Alain Iloniaina and Richard Lough in Port Louis; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)