Last month at a forum in Khartoum to discuss food security, government and business leaders called on Arab states to increase their investments in Sudan’s agriculture sector. Sudan’s second vice president Hassabo Mohamed Abdul Rahman said the country was ready and willing to make deals with Arab governments and private organisations, and that Sudan was an attractive environment for investors.
Also at the forum, Saud Al-Birair, president of the Sudanese Businessmen Union (SBU), called on Arab and Islamic chambers of commerce to establish partnerships with his organisation to develop Sudanese agriculture. The regional General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries (GUCCIAAC), along with the SBU, organised the forum following an initiative announced by Sudan president Omar al-Beshir, and endorsed by the Arab League, to improve food security in the Arab world.
Marking Arab Agriculture Day, on 27 September, the director of the Khartoum-based Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development (AOAD), Tariq bin Mussa al-Zidjale, criticised the slow rate of investment in agriculture projects by Arab countries. He highlighted the Arab world’s food deficit of US$35.6bn, and singled out Sudan’s plan to increase agricultural investment as a key way of reducing this deficit.
“There are underway initiatives the organisation relies on for achieving the Arab food security in the framework of the food security emergency programme like the initiative by president Omar al-Beshir on agricultural investment in Sudan for achieving the Arab food security,” said al-Zidjale.
Investment from the cash-rich but food-poor Middle East states is vital for Sudan, due to the continuing US sanctions imposed on the country. Its lack of access to American investment and technology means it must turn to the Middle East to fund US$14bn in required agricultural projects, according to a GUCCIAAC estimate.
Middle East states have pledged to increase investment in Sudan, with Bahrain’s cabinet instructing municipalities and planners to finalise registration of Sudanese land pledged to Bahrain. In August the Jordanian agriculture minister held talks with Sudan’s ambassador to the country to discuss plans for land allocated to Jordan.
Many regional states have significant holdings of land in Sudan, and have invested in a number of agricultural initiatives to date. But Sudan’s political and economic instability has caused significant uncertainty among external investors, who also face criticism for perceived “land grabs”, and resistance from local residents.
“Private and public investment from Arabic countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Jordan, holds privilege to invest [in] more than [809,000 hectares] of arable land in Sudan. Saudi Arabia, which already had agricultural investments amounted US$2 billion in north Khartoum [is considered to be the country with the highest] investment in the agricultural sector, follow by Egypt and UAE,” said Khalid Mohamed Hassan Drras and Azrai Abdullah in a paper published in the Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences earlier this year.
The paper also notes the highly fluctuating levels of foreign direct investment in Sudan’s agriculture sector, going from US$185m in 2006, to US$785m in 2007, before falling back to US$175m in 2008, and then rising again to US$650m in 2009.
“[Although it has increased], the value of investment in agriculture [is] still much less than other sectors. In general the agriculture which accounts third of GDP, [suffers] from a paucity of fund and lack of critical investment,” said Drras and Abdullah in the paper.