Qatar sows seeds in race for food
Guardian News & Media | December 4, 2008

NAIROBI: Qatar has asked Kenya to lease it 40,000 hectares of land to grow crops as part of a package in which the Gulf state would fund a £2.4 billion ($5.6 billion) port on the popular tourist island of Lamu off the northern coast of the African country.

The deal is the latest example of wealthy countries and companies trying to secure food supplies from the developing world. Other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been negotiating leases of large tracts of farmland in Sudan and Senegal since the global food shortages and price rises this year.

The Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki, returned from a visit to Qatar on Monday. His spokesman said the request for land in the Tana River delta, south of Lamu, was being seriously considered. "Nothing comes for free. If you want people to invest in your country then you have to make concessions," the spokesman said.

The deal is likely to cause concern in Kenya, where fertile land is unequally distributed.

Several prominent political families own huge areas of farmland, while millions of Kenyans live in densely packed slums. The country is also experiencing a food crisis, which led the Government to introduce subsidies and price controls on maize this week after poor production and planning caused the price of the staple ugali flour to double in less than a year.

The President's spokesman said the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, was keen to invest in a second port to complement Mombasa, which serves as a gateway for goods bound for Uganda and Rwanda. The port is struggling to cope with the large volumes of cargo.

By building docks in Lamu, Kenya hopes to open a new trade corridor that will give landlocked Ethiopia and the autonomous region of Southern Sudan access to the Indian Ocean. The spokesman said that if the financing was agreed, construction of the port would begin in 2010.

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Source: Guardian News and Media