Saudi agricultural investment abroad – land grab or benign strategy?

Middle East Eye | 5 October 2016

by Kieran Cooke

A farmer harvests wheat in a field in the Tabuk region, some 1,500 km northwest of the Saudi capital Riyadh, on 7 April 2016 (Photo: AFP)

After food costs spike, Saudis spent billions buying up farm land around the world. Who benefits exactly and can the spree continue?

They control rice farms in Ethiopia, Sudan and the Philippines, cattle ranches in California and Arizona, wheat fields in Ukraine and Poland, ranches in Argentina and Brazil and shrimp producers in Mauritania. In 2008, King Abdullah launched his “Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investment Abroad,” urging Saudis to go overseas and buy land.  Saudi investors – both state and private – have since gone on a global shopping spree, spending billions of dollars buying up or leasing large tracts of land around the world.

The Saudi policy has not gone entirely smoothly. In Ethiopia, the foreign takeover of lands has led to riots and killings. In Indonesia, local tribes people have severely limited Riyadh’s ambitions.  Critics accuse Saudi Arabia – and several other countries including fellow Gulf states – of participating in a global “land grab”, using their financial clout in a bid to impose industrial-scale farming practices on what are usually traditional, mixed crop, smallholder plots of land. 

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