Grab the land

Posted By Aarti Nagraj 

Wealthy individuals from the Gulf countries have recently purchased
hundreds of acres of agricultural land in the occupied region of
Galilee, reported [1]
Israel Radio this week. Farmers in Galilee reportedly tried to prevent
the sale, but failed to do so as they did not have sufficient funds to
buy the land from its owners. The Israel Lands Administration told the
radio station that it could not interfere with the deal because the
lands are privately-owned.

While the move has come under heavy criticism from political leaders
in Israel, if true, it is the latest example of the increasing
importance being given to agricultural land by people in the Arab world.

In recent years, in a bid to reduce food imports, several Gulf
countries have been investing heavily in farmland in developing
countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines and Ethiopia.  Last year,
Gulf States imported 80 percent of their food at a cost of $20 billion.

According to reports [2],
Cambodia has a $546 million loan from Kuwait for agricultural projects,
a $200 million venture with Qatar and has leased 1.6 million hectares
of land to Saudi Arabia.

The Philippines is in talks with Qatar to lease around 100,000
hectares of agricultural land, and has a $500 million joint
agri-business venture with Kuwait. Saudi also recently announced that
it would allocate around $240 million to establish fruit plantations
and support aquaculture and halal food processing projects in the
Philippines. The UAE has 3,000 hectares in the country for agriculture

Vietnam announced plans to establish a $1 billion investment fund
with Qatar last year primarily for investment in food production for

But it’s not just for food, Gulf countries are also looking at the financially lucrative side of the agricultural industry.

Last year, the Qatari Investment Authority founded a company, Hassad
Food, only to invest in existing agricultural businesses and projects
around the world and re-export the produce.

“We are driven by profits and not just food security and right now
the economic crisis has created a lot of opportunities for us to invest
in financially distressed companies,” its chairman, Nasser Mohamed Al
Hajri told Reuters [3]
earlier this month. The company is in talks with a number of
agricultural companies in Argentina and other parts of South America,
he said.

Earlier this month, Jenaan, a private agricultural investment firm in Abu Dhabi announced [4]
a AED925 million farmland deal in Egypt. The company plans to grow
wheat on 42,000 hectares in south-western Egypt, and according to
Jenaan, the produce will be “strictly for Egyptian consumption.

In July this year, Sami al-Araji, the head of the Iraqi National
Investment, said during a visit to the UAE that the country was
planning to offer agricultural land on a long-term rental basis to
investors from the Gulf in order to revive its agricultural sector.

However, this growing trend has come under criticism from
international bodies; Jacques Diouf, the head of the United Nation’s
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said recently that a new kind
of “neo-colonialism” could appear from land deals where poor Southeast
Asian countries produce food for export to rich Gulf States rather than
feed their own malnourished people.

Earlier this year, the United Nations also said that farmers’ rights
could be compromised in developing nations because of rich countries
buying up their farmland.