Reuters | Tue Sep 29, 2009
By Maha El Dahan
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian private equity firm Citadel Capital is investing in 500,000 feddans (210,000 hectares) of farmland in Sudan, an executive said on Tuesday.
Gulf and other Arab countries have been investing in a range of farming projects in Sudan, Africa's biggest country by area and long viewed as having huge agricultural potential.
"We are investing in 274,000 feddans in the north and the rest in the south," Ahmed El Houssieny, managing director at Citadel Capital, told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Cairo.
He said the firm operating the project was called Sabina, a company set up by Citadel, and said it had the right to farm the land for 99 years.
Citadel's move follows an initiative announced in August by another Egyptian firm, Beltone Private Equity, to invest up to $1 billion in agricultural projects in a venture with Sudan's Kenana Sugar Company.
"There are few people who have expertise in widescale farming and we are currently working with some Australian experts to grow (on) 5,000 experimental feddans," Houssieny said.
The farmland would mainly be used to grow sugar cane, corn and wheat, he said.
Abdul Rahim Ali Hamad, state minister at Sudan's Agriculture Ministry, said in May investment in Sudan by Arab states seeking to guarantee supplies of staples would account for up to 50 percent of all investment in the country from 2010.
Gulf Arab states, which are heavily dependent on food imports, have turned their sights to land investments in many African nations to grow food for their own populations.
Analysts have said such deals are viewed as land grabs and could harm the reputation of Gulf states. .
But Houssieny said produce from Sabina's farmland would serve to fill a supply gap within the Sudanese market in addition to catering to export markets.
"There is a shortage of basic food commodities in Sudan so we will ensure local supply first then further on we will look at exports," he said adding that despite some political risks his firm believed in, "the long term advantages of investing in Sudan and Africa."Sudan has a varied climate, with heavy rainfall in some areas and water from the Nile which means it can grow a range of crops from wheat and animal feed to citruses and oilseeds.