Saudi eyes overseas farmland investments

Arabian Business, 16 March 2010

Saudi Minister of Agriculture Fahad Abdul-Rahman Balghunaim

by Ulf Laessing

Saudi Arabia wants to secure supplies for sugar, rice, wheat, malt and fodder with farmland investments overseas, its agricultural minister said in remarks published on Tuesday.

Gulf Arab countries, heavily reliant on food imports, have been buying farmland in developing nations to ensure food security after a spike in food prices.

Top OPEC oil exporter Saudi Arabia, which abandoned its wheat cultivation programme two years ago due to dwindling water resources, has emerged as a major buyer of wheat from global markets and is also trying, with the help of private Saudi investors, to secure farmland in Africa and elsewhere.

"The goal (of investments) is to support supply of main goods which cannot be produced locally like rice and sugar or which requires a lot of water in production like wheat, malt and fodder," Fahad Abdul-Rahman Balghunaim told daily Al Watan.

Saudi Arabia also wanted to secure fish and livestock, he said, adding that the investments were all long-term plans.

The government has urged companies to invest in farm projects abroad.

In April, Riyadh set up a company with capital of 3 billion Saudi riyals ($800 million) to invest in farmland abroad, focusing on wheat, rice, sugar and soybeans.

State-owned Saudi Industrial Development Fund is granting financing facilities to firms exploring agricultural investments abroad. Several Saudi firms also launched farmland investment abroad ranging from Indonesia to Ethiopia.

Balghunaim said investing in farmland was no land-grabbing as described by some media outlets.

"The initiative... to invest in farmland production abroad has no political goals," he said, adding that host countries were also benefiting from the investments.

($1=3.750 Saudi Arabian Riyal)
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Source: Arabian Business

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