Wealthy Arabs Seek Food Security Outside Africa

Wealthy Arabs Seek Food Security Outside Africa

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For years the Arabian Gulf countries, dependent on imports for 80-to-90 percent of their food, bought cheap farmland in the developing world, mainly Africa — but that’s changing, Reuters reports.

Some wealthy Arab investors hoped these and other investments in agricultural assets would give them direct access to big food production bases, insulating them from global food price swings. Reality proved problematic.

Some of the African projects led to accusations of land grabs by Arab investors over land that formerly fed local Africans. Poor security and weak infrastructure plagued some ventures.

With their farming projects in some of the poorest African countries sometimes arousing local hostility, wealthy Arab investors are seeking food security outside Africa, turning to developed countries that produce more food than they consume, Reuters reports.

United Arab Emirates-based agricultural company Al Dahra paid $400 million for eight agricultural companies in Serbia — a major food exporter where public attitudes to foreign-owned farming may be less sensitive than in Africa, according to Reuters.

Projects in Europe, North America and Australasia tend to be more expensive and offer less scope to build vast estates like in Africa, but they also present fewer political problems and less risk for the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait which all need to feed growing populations.

Gulf companies have announced plans to spend billions of dollars in Africa, but many of the projects have not gone ahead, at least not to the point of large-scale food production, said Eckart Woertz, senior research fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.

“Rather than greenfield investments in Africa, the focus is more on putting money in already established agro-producers,” Woertz told  Reuters. He is author of a book on the subject, “Oil for Food.”