By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) -- The International Financial Corp, the World Bank's private-sector lender, said on Thursday it will invest $75 million in a new agribusiness fund to increase global food supplies.
IFC said it had joined forces with Altima Partners, which manages the $625 million Altima One World Agricultural Fund, to create a fund to invest in farming operations and agricultural land in emerging market countries.
The new fund, to be called the Altima One World Agricultural Development Fund, is IFC's largest equity investment in its expanding agribusiness portfolio.
"Increasing agricultural productivity in a sustainable way is central to expanding global food production," said Oscar Chemerinski, IFC director for global agribusiness.
"Agribusiness private equity funds investing in farmland are just emerging as an asset class. We are glad to work with Altima Partners in creating new opportunities for emerging markets to expand their food production."
In 2008, IFC invested nearly $900 million directly in agribusiness companies and loaned an additional $91 million to support agricultural infrastructure and fertilizer production.
High food prices have triggered an agricultural revolution in a sector that long struggled with underinvestment but is now attracting new investors, including large investment funds.
Rajesh Behal, IFC's principal investment officer, said the fund will identify farming talent in developing countries and help them expand farm production with the help of additional capital and new technologies.
"The whole premise of this fund is to have the best farming talent in the world, farm the land, have the best productivity possible and then to have a supply response in the market," said in an interview.
He said Altima had already invested in agribusinesses in Latin America and Eastern and Central Europe, and the fund was looking to expand into former Soviet states, central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.He said any deal done through the fund would have to adhere to IFC's social, environmental and investment best practices. (Editing by James Dalgleish)