Congo President Approves $4 Billion Plan to Boost Farm Output

(Bloomberg) -- The Republic of Congo plans to spend $4 billion reviving agriculture as part of a program approved by President Denis Sassou Nguesso to wean the government off oil revenue.

Debt-laden Congo is looking for ways to revive economic growth after two consecutive years of contractions that followed a slump in crude prices. The central African nation owes more than $9 billion to creditors and has asked the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

The spending on farm output is envisaged in a four-year National Development Plan that Sassou Nguesso assented to on July 20, Communications Minister Thierry Moungalla said by phone on Monday from the capital, Brazzaville. Among its focuses will be to reduce food imports by 600 billion CFA francs ($1.1 billion) and to reform the country's education system, Education Minister Anatole Collinet Makosso said.

``Once the budget is available, Congo's agricultural sector will be revived and modernized in order to make it not only competitive but also export-oriented,'' Agriculture Minister Henri Djombo said by phone. Production of crops including cocoa, coffee and palm oil will be increased, he said.

The government may be unable to find the $4 billion needed to fund the program, opposition coalition leader Charles Zacherie Bowao said by phone from Brazzaville.

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