* U.S. Chiquita Brands, partner quit Angola project
* Failed to secure best land to grow and export bananas
* Looking for new investment opportunities
LUANDA, Sept 23 (Reuters) – U.S. Chiquita Brands International Inc CQB.N and a partner have quit plans to enter Angola’s once-thriving banana industry after failing to secure the best land to grow and export bananas.
Chiquita’s partner in Angola, Escom, said it decided to back away from the project it had been studying for two years because the land it secured to grow bananas was far from the centre of the port city of Lobito, which made the project less feasible.
“We had to relocate to an area further away from the centre of Lobito and Benguela than we had wanted. This made the project less feasible,” said Helder Bataglia, head of Escom, the Angolan arm of Portugal’s Grupo Espirito Santo and its bank BES BES.LS and one of Angola’s largest private non-oil investors.
Bataglia was speaking at the inauguration of Escom’s new $135 million building — the highest in Luanda — late on Tuesday.
“Because the banana is a commodity, we cannot ignore international prices. When these affect our profitability our only option is to quit.”
He said the global economic crisis had also weighed on Escom’s decision to quit but added that it continued to look for new business opportunities with Chiquita in the banana sector.
The move is a blow to government plans to attract new investors to Angola’s once-prosperous farming sector amid falling revenues from the country’s two main exports — oil and diamonds.
Before a three-decade long civil war that began soon after independence from Portugal in 1975, fertile Angola was one of Africa’s success stories. It was the world’s fourth biggest coffee producer and a top exporter of bananas and sugarcane.
The government now sees farming as a way to lift millions of Angolans out of poverty and is investing $1 billion in 2009 to bolster the industry.
Bataglia also said Escom, with interests ranging from mining to real-estate in Angola, would bid for new oil exploration blocks in Angola and in the Republic of the Congo.
“We are looking for new opportunities that may arise in the near future,” said Bataglia.
Angola’s state-owned oil firm Sonangol has said it could hold a new tender for new oil concessions at the end of 2010. Angola rivals Nigeria as Africa’s top oil producer and is the world’s fifth biggest diamond exporter. (Editing by David Cowell)