By Paul Shalala in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
A major Saudi Arabian agro processor has expressed interest to invest in Zambia and tap the nation's agro raw materials.
Halwani Brothers, a family-run agro processor, produces various products such as cheese, jam, halawa, ice cream and several beef products.
The company, which commenced operations in 1830, is worth US$1 billion and annually makes US$400 million.
On Wednesday, Zambia's President Edgar Lungu toured a number of its factories which sit on a 60,000 hectares of land owned by the company on the outskirts of the Red Sea resort city of Jeddah.
"We process over 20,000 tonnes of raw materials annually. Most of these materials come from African countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan," said Halwani Brothers Chief Executive Officer Saleh Ahmed Hefni.
He also disclosed that the firm only has one factory in Africa and it is located in Egypt.
Mr Hefni said the firm supplies many African countries from its Egyptian factory and South Africa is one of their major markets.
During the tour, President Lungu interacted with a number of female employees who were packing jam in one of the factories.
After the tour, the Zambian head of state could not hide his joy of seeing females working alongside men in a strict Islamic state.
"We are always told that women are discriminated against and not allowed to work here. What i have seen here is otherwise. You have 10% of your workforce as females, when i come back in future let me find 50% but dont exceed that.......," joked President Lungu.
And the company chief said Halwani Brothers was employing females because they want them to be an integral part of the workforce.
"We have 1,000 employees and more than 100 of them are women. Here in Saudi Arabia there is a deliberate government policy to employ women and we are just following it," said Mr Hefni.
President Lungu later urged the company to come to Zambia, set up a factory and use local raw materials to process finished products.
"We have eight neighbouring countries who are also into agriculture. Setting up a factory in our country wand it will give you a big market in the region. As a government we will give you the protection and support," said the President.
In response, Mr Hefni said he will visit Zambia soon to look at prospects of establishing a permanent base for the company's operations in southern Africa.
Next week, the head of the Saudi Fund for Development is visiting Zambia to finalise preparations for the construction of the US$100 King Abdulaziz Hospital in Lusaka which will have an 800 bed capacity.\
The hospital is planned to be constructed in a densely populated area of the capital and it will be specialised in women and children.
The visit will also be used to finalise details of the US$20 million government to government five year oil deal which was agreed in February and is yet to be operationalised through the state owned Saudi Aramco oil firm.
And in a few months time, a business delegation from Zambia is expected to visit Saudi Arabia to forge business links with their Saudi counterparts in the wake of President Lungu's recent two day state visit to the Kingdom.