There are huge opportunities for Irish agri-business in Belarus according to Vincent Pierce who is the managing director of the Wicklow-based Laurence Pierce (Wool Merchants) Ltd. For the past 20 years the company has forged extensive trading relationships with Eastern Europe, including Belarus.

The development of a strong friendship between Vincent and representatives of the Belarusian business community and the country’s political leaders led to his nomination as Honorary Consul for Belarus to Ireland, a position he accepted six years ago.

“I believe that there are tremendous opportunities for Irish agri business investors in Belarus,” he told Agriland.

“Currently, former state farms are being offered at up to €1.50 per acre on the basis of a 99 year lease. These comprise blocks of land which extend to 6,000 acres. The Chinese are currently taking up these options with relish. But the opportunities for potential Irish investors are equally attractive.

“Unlike other Eastern European regions, Belarus has remained under the control of a communist regime. As a consequence, foreign investors can get on with doing their business without the problem of having to cope with organised crime and the associated black market.

“I have already spoken to a number of potential agri investors from England, who fully recognise the tremendous opportunities of setting up farming operations in Belarus. Significantly these are people who have already had experience of farming in other parts of Eastern Europe. I know that a number of Irish farming businesses have been looking ‘East’ to develop worthwhile investment opportunities over recent years. In my opinion, Belarus may well fit this requirement.”

Agriculture is very important to Belarus, accounting for 7.8% of the country’s GDP. Total production was worth US $11.2 billion in 2008, which was 33% more than in 2007. At present 43% of the Republic’s land is dedicated to farming.

The country’s main agricultural products are potatoes (it is the world’s eighth biggest producer) and cereals. Arable farming accounts for 55% of output, and livestock (cows, pigs and poultry) making up 45%. Among other products produced are vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy products. Much of this is exported to neighbouring states, with Russia a major market.