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Chinese company wants WA land for food production

There are reports that a Chinese investment group has made a bid to buy 15 000 hectares in the Kimberly for beef and sugar production to meet the demand of China's rising middle class.

The company, trading as Kimberly Agricultural Investments (KAI) apparently wants to purchase the entire Ord Expansion Project in Western Australia’s Kimberly region, according to The Australian. 

The Ord is newly irrigated land which comes with permanent water rights attached.

KAI is proposing to build a $100 million sugar mill and an abattoir which could process 500 000 cattle per year on the land, if it wins the entire 15 000 hectares of Stage-2 land.

It wants to be able to grow up to 40 000 hectares of sugar crops in the region.

It has been reported that KAI’s indented production on the land will aim to meet the demands of China’s growing middle class for more sugar, beef and biofuel.

The project

The WA government is spending $311 million expanding the Ord irrigation scheme and 14 companies and individual farmers are vying for a part in it as it becomes one of Australia’s major food regions.

They have all submitted applications for land within the Ord area, but it is not clear whether any company other than KAI has applied to buy the entire expansion project.

Some of those bidders are also proposing to grow sugar on the land, while others have submitted applications to grow cotton, sandalwood, chia, mangoes and bananas.

John Moulden, Shire president for Wyndham East Kimberley told the ABC that a substantial offer from a big company would have a good shot at buying the land.

"I think in the end it comes down to what represents the best value locally and for the government," he said.

"If it's judged finally that a large-scale foreign bid represented best value then I think it's a pretty strong argument.

"I guess you'd be measuring value principally in employment opportunities. I'd want to see opportunities for the locals and particularly the Miriuwung Gajerrong people were the best we could get.

"If there were local farmers who had an interest in getting a bit more land, it would be very disappointing if they weren't able to. It wouldn't be a good look at all.

"I think there's a great deal of attraction in getting more family operations into the region, but how realistic that is now, I'm not quite sure."

One company, how many benefits?

If one company was awarded the rights to develop more than 8000 hectares, the terms of the deal would change from a freehold land sale to a long-term lease of about 50 years.

The Australian reports that KAI is also in discussions with the WA, Northern Territory and federal governments and traditional Aboriginal landowners the Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation to develop even more bushland into a food production hotspot.

It wants an extra 15 000 hectares of adjacent bushland on the Northern Territory side of the Kimberley border.

Chinese agricultural corporation COFCO was also vying for the land until it purchased the Tully sugar mill in north Queensland last August.

A key component in the project was establishing job opportunities for local Indigenous people, and KAI has expressed a commitment to ensure the employment of Aboriginal people and respect for native titles.

A decision is expected to be made by July.

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