Egypt offers Arab investors agricultural land

In a bid to attract foreign investment, agriculture minister Ayman Abu Hadid says Egypt plans to lease around 25,000 hectares of agricultural land to Arab investors.

“The current government offers to lease 60,000 feddans of land for crops in compliance with the strategy of sustainable agricultural development in Egypt,” he said on April 8 in Tunis during a meeting of the Arab Authority for Agriculture Investment and Development

On the sidelines of the conference, Hadid told Reuters Egypt hopes to give the land to a company shared with the AAAID. He did not disclose where the land would be located, or what crops would be grown on it.

Egypt’s total agricultural land base is around 8.4 million feddans and, as of 2010, the country imported around 40 percent of its food.

The AAAID is an organization of 20 Arab and African member states seeking food security for their populations. Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder, contributing over 22 percent of subscribed capital, followed by Kuwait with 19.5 percent, and the United Emirates, Sudan and Iraq, each of which hold a 15 percent share. Egypt’s capital amounts to just three percent.

Lacking sufficient freshwater to grow crops to feed their growing populations, governments in the arid Arabian Gulf have for years been looking into ways to secure tracts of agricultural land in water-rich countries in Africa and Asia.

Egypt, too, has gotten in on the game, leasing land in neighboring Sudan. Its projects include a 2013 deal between Egypt’s Central Agricultural Cooperative Union and its Sudanese counterpart to open up joint agricultural projects in Sudan.

Attempts to directly own or lease farmland have raised controversy in host countries, leading to accusations of neo-colonialism and in some cases large-scale demonstrations or violent attacks. In 2012, for example, an armed attack on a private Saudi rice-growing project in Ethiopia’s Gambella region left five employees dead.

Recently, investors from Gulf states have shifted tactics, instead buying into established agricultural firms in food exporting countries like Serbia.