Saudi firm announces major Sudan projects to bolster food security

By Eliot Beer

- Last updated on GMT

Corn is among the crops intended to improve food security in Sudan, alongside wheat, sunflowers and peanuts.
Corn is among the crops intended to improve food security in Sudan, alongside wheat, sunflowers and peanuts.

Related tags: Food security, 2007–2008 world food price crisis, Famine, Sudan

Saudi Arabian agricultural company Iktifaa has announced plans to invest in agricultural and animal farming projects in Sudan, as part of the kingdom's drive to improve food security.

Iktifaa's executive director, Mohamed Bin Saeed Al-Atiya said projects would include growing corn, wheat, sunflower and peanuts, as well as cattle-rearing. He said the instruction to invest in Sudan came from Iktifaa's chairman, Prince Abdulaziz Bin Mashaal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.

On a recent visit to Suda, Al-Atiya met the country's agricultural minister Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, as well as the governer of the Northern state, Ibrahim Al-Khidir. Al-Khidir welcomed Iktifaa's plans, and said the Northern state has “unparalleled fertile land​”.

Sudan signed a deal with China in 2013 to give Chinese agricultural companies access to Sudanese land, allowing them to export any excess production, once domestic demand in Sudan had been met.

Food security choices

Gulf countries have been prioritising food security in recent years, following droughts and oil price fluctuations, along with regional political instability. Imports typically make up 80-90% of food consumption in the GCC, according to the Edible Oil: Food Security in the Gulf report, released by Chatham House in November.

GCC investors accounted for 19% of overseas agricultural investments in low- and middle-income countries since 2000, and nine per cent of the area in completed deals. GCC countries are not the largest sources of investment in absolute terms... but they are among the most acquisitive relative to the size of their populations. According to the Land Matrix, the UAE has acquired three times its own agricultural land area since 2000​,” said the Chatham House report.

The latest Saudi deal in Sudan is a notable exception to the current movement away from African food investments by Gulf countries, after many years of significant investment in countries such as Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Morocco.

Change in direction

GCC members bought more than 2,000 hectares of Sudanese land between 2006 and 2012, putting it at the head of investment targets, and dwarfing second-placed Australia, according to figures from non-governmental organisation GRAIN.

However, last year another Saudi-Sudanese deal fell through, due to export controls imposed by Sudan's government. And a Saudi rice-growing project in Ethiopia suffered tragedy in 2012 when an armed group killed five workers.

“State fragility, rapid population growth, vulnerability to climate change, high levels of poverty, poor infrastructure and weak governance make [many African] countries high-risk counterparties. Many have imposed export controls on their agricultural sectors during recent periods of high food prices, and it would be naïve to suppose that supply from these countries would be secure during periods of national, regional or global food crisis​,” said the Chatham House report.

Instead, GCC countries are now looking elsewhere, particularly in Europe, to secure food supplies. In 2012, UAE investment vehicle Al Dahra bought up eight agricultural companies in Serbia.

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