Mango, maize and palm oil: Opportunities in Congo’s agriculture sector

* How we made it in Africa attended the Forum PPP conference which took place outside Brazzaville, Republic of Congo from 30-31 May 2022. The event aimed to highlight public-private partnership investment opportunities in Congo.

Despite the Republic of Congo’s significant farming potential, its commercial agriculture industry remains underdeveloped. In a recent interview with How we made it in Africa, Michel Djombo – founder of Congolese palm oil company GTC and managing director of fertiliser producer CA Agri – highlighted three opportunities he believes hold potential for prospective investors and entrepreneurs.

1. Mango

The first crop for which Djombo sees strong potential is mango. He notes that during colonial times, Congo – with its high rainfall and favourable soil – was one of Africa’s top mango producers; it is the source of many of the mango cultivars currently cultivated in Senegal and Mali. Compared to a country like South Africa, Congo is also in closer proximity to the European export market, which means lower freight costs.

2. Maize

Djombo estimates Congo produces only 10,000 tonnes of maize annually, compared to about 2 million tonnes in neighbouring Cameroon. The vast majority of maize consumed in Congo is imported. He points to an animal feed factory in the port city of Pointe-Noire that alone has capacity for 30,000 tonnes of maize. Then there are various other industries – including breweries and chicken farms – that have a high demand for the commodity. One company that has tapped into this opportunity is South African-controlled Todi River Farms which cultivates maize on a commercial scale near the city of Dolisie.

Due to steep freight costs and the general low quality of imported maize, Djombo believes Congolese industries are prepared to pay a relatively high price for locally-produced maize, which could make it a viable venture even for smaller commercial producers with less scale.

3. Palm oil

Palm oil is used throughout central and west Africa for cooking and it is also an important ingredient in the global processed foods and beauty products industries. Djombo says it is not necessary for extensive market research to gauge the potential for the local production of palm oil: Congo’s official customs data shows the large volumes of oil currently brought in from as far afield as Malaysia. The prices at which the commodity is imported can also be found in the customs numbers. And if potential investors want to know the yields that oil palm trees in Congo can deliver, they can just visit some of the small- and medium-enterprises already growing in the crop. According to Djombo, the Congolese market can absorb a few hundred thousand tonnes of palm oil annually.

One of the reasons why the local palm oil industry is underdeveloped is because of a lack of financing. Djombo says it is difficult to obtain medium- to long-term loans for agriculture in Congo. A palm tree typically takes four years from planting until it bears fruit, but most businesses will struggle to get a loan for more than two years from a commercial bank.

While Asian countries – particularly Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand – are currently the world’s biggest palm oil producers, Djombo emphasised that the Elaeis guineensis plant originally came from Africa. He relayed an anecdote of an agronomical researcher from Congo who visited an oil palm research centre in Asia. At the centre’s nursery he saw a tree labelled as Sibiti. The man told those around him that it was interesting because there is also a city in Congo called Sibiti. Everyone laughed, thinking he was making a joke. They thought he knew that the seeds from which the plant was grown actually came from Sibiti many decades ago.

Michel Djombo’s contact information

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