* Gvt says 100,000 jobs to be created
* Focus on rice production aimed at easing imports (Adds quote, details)
FREETOWN, Jan 19 (Reuters) - China’s Hainan Natural Rubber Industry Group has signed a deal worth $1.2 billion with Sierra Leone to establish rubber and rice plantations in the West African state, the African government said on Thursday.
Sierra Leone’s agriculture ministry described the project as the largest agricultural investment in the country’s history, taking six years to develop and making use of 135,000 hectares of land.
“It has been estimated that the entire investment will provide over 100,000 jobs for Sierra Leoneans,” the government said in a statement.
The first phase of investment is due to begin in February with a 30,000 hectare rubber plantation in the 91 Mile area inland from Freetown and a 25,000 hectare rice project in Tonkolili.
The Sierra Leone government will provide the land for an initial period of 50 years, subject to renewal, and in exchange have a 10 percent share in the project.
“It’s going to be a very welcome intervention,” Unisa Sesay, spokesman for President Ernest Bai Koroma, told Reuters.
Sesay added that while previous agricultural investments in Sierra Leone had focused on biofuels, this will produce rice.
Hainan was not immediately available for comment.
Despite a climate well suited for agriculture, at present Sierra Leone’s population of 6 million depends on imported rice. (Reporting by Simon Akam; Editing by David Lewis and Jane Merriman)