Saudi Arabia and Bunge buy 50.1% Stake in former Canadian Wheat Board

This is quite big and exactly the kind of trade oriented investment in the value chains of developed agro markets that I have anticipated in the conclusion of Oil for Food.

Saudi government owned company SALIC teams up with international grain trader giant Bunge to buy a 50.1% stake in the former Canadian Wheat Board, which the Canadian government has now privatized. The other 49.9% will be owned by Canadian farmers.

SALIC was founded in 2012 in the wake of the King Abdullah Initiative for Agricultural Investments Abroad (KAISAIA).

I would expect more of this kind of investment rather than the widely publicized land investments in food insecure developing countries that have made media headlines, but have often not been implemented.

Martin Keulertz and I are dealing with the aspect of food trading companies and value chain investments in a forthcoming article in the fall issue of International Development Policy.

Economic Crisis of ISIS: Media Overview

The main thesis of my policy brief in October “How Long Will ISIS Last Economically” has been increasingly picked up in the media and think tank papers, i.e. that the ISIS economy is a “Ponzi scheme of looting” and far from self-sustaining.

Below you find a list of media articles that expand on this theme and have quoted my policy brief:

Slate Magazine ; BBC ; CNBC ; National Post ; Die Zeit ; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ; Democracy Digest ; Jamestown Foundation ; Business Insider ; The Marshal Center ; Al Ahram Hebdo .

These articles also contain further interesting details, most notably the sequestration of houses of retired government personnel in Deir el- Zor (Al Hayat):

Washington Post ; Al Hayat ; Der Spiegel

The Water-Energy-Food Nexus in the Arab World and Financial Challenges

Martin Keulertz and I have published a new article in the International Journal of Water Resources Development: “Financial Challenges of the Nexus: Pathways for investment in water, energy and agriculture in the Arab world.”

Abstract:

The Water–Energy–Food (WEF) nexus is a development challenge in the Arab world,
particularly in the ‘core nexus countries’ with low to mid-incomes in which limited
water endowments permit agricultural production, such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia,
Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Jordan. The WEF nexus is often conceptualized in mere
technocratic terms, yet politics matter in the implementation of projects that address it.
Internalizing hydrological externalities or leaving them as they are and financing them
as a public good requires states whose capacities have been reduced as a result of
neoliberal reform. The article explores five different pathways of how Arab countries
could finance green growth projects ranging from regional financial markets to
concessionary loans by funds from oil rich Gulf countries.

Tropical Agriculture and MENA Food Imports: Conference Summary

TROPICAL AGRICULTURE AS “LAST FRONTIER”?

Food Import Needs of the Middle East and North Africa, Ecological Risks and New Dimensions of South-South Cooperation with Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia

Barcelona, 29-30 January 2015

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is one of the most water-stressed regions in the world and its largest net-importer of cereals. Affordable food imports are crucial for its future food security. Countries with tropical agriculture like Brazil are playing an increasing role in MENA food supplies. Apart from policy options to sustainably intensify regional agricultural production, trade will play a crucial role for MENA economies to achieve food security.

‪Given the environmental value and sensitivity of tropical ecosystems sustainable intensification in countries like Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia is crucial. For this reason, King’s College London (KCL), the OCP Policy Center, the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), the Getulyo Vargas Foundation and Wageningen University organized a conference on Tropical Agriculture as ‘Last Frontier’? Food Import Needs of the Middle East and North Africa, Ecological Risks and New Dimensions of South-South Cooperation with Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia”.

The conference was held on 29-30 January 2015 at the Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB). It provided an interdisciplinary perspective on how …. (for more)

Update on Economic Issues of ISIS

Germany’s largest weekly Die Zeit has run a feature on the lack of economic sustainability of ISIS that has also been translated into English. It quotes my earlier policy brief of October: How Long Will ISIS Last Economically? and shares its conclusion that the ISIS economy is based on looting and far from self-sustaining.

Meanwhile the UN has estimated that ISIS had revenues from ransoms of $35-45 million in 2013. Revenues from such ransoms have likely decreased as I have argued, as Western journalists and aid workers have been deterred from traveling to the region and local hostages fetch lower prices.

The Die Zeit feature in fact points out that hostage taking has increasingly targeted the local population. Prices for local hostages ($20k-50k) are considerably below those for western hostages ($3-5mn).

In October David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US Treasury Department, estimated the ISIS income from oil at $1mn per day with a declining tendency. He also saw the revenues from ransoms reduced at $20 mn in 2014.

Cracks of ISIS’ Ponzi scheme of looting have already started to appear. Prices for meat, eggs and vegetables have doubled and tripled in some cases.  Defections of senior ISIS officials have been partly attributed to economic problems of the organization.

ISIS tried a publicity stunt when it announced its intention to introduce its own currency based on gold, silver and copper (sic) coins. Even if it managed to loot enough precious metals to issue such a currency it would likely face Gresham’s Law and the challenges of maintaining realistic exchange rates within a bimetallic currency, not to mention a tri-metallic one.

Yet ISIS is not the only organization with economic problems in Iraq: The government in Baghdad faces severe funding shortages as oil prices have declined while it needs to ramp up expenditure to rebuild its military capacities (if they ever existed given 50k “ghost soldiers” who only existed on payrolls).

The Iraqi government also continuously grapples with corruption: The Grain board chief was sacked because of a spoiled rice shipment, only to be replaced by his predecessor who took kick backs in 2009.

Review of Oil for Food in Journal of Peasant Studies

The Journal of Peasant Studies has published a review of Oil for Food by Max Ajl of Cornell University who approaches the topic from a critical world system view.

Ajl likes the historic parts and the analysis of agro lobbies and profit motivations behind food security strategies, but he would have liked to see much more categorical conclusions, which I am afraid I cannot give. There is no either/ or: Clientelistic lobbying geo-strategic considerations and genuine food security concerns are all part of the mix that I have encountered.

“Indeed, he could and should have stated much more clearly that food security is a discourse which is mobilized in the region and elsewhere for ends having little to do with securing food: namely, the distribution of state rents to social elites in ways which would otherwise be difficult to publicly justify. Still, it is to Woertz’s credit that he has done such a skilled job of amassing and synthesizing a tremendous pile of historical and contemporary evidence – even if, upon surveying it, the reader comes to far less ambivalent conclusions about the real interests behind notions of ‘food security’ in the Gulf than the author does himself.”

Commodities Trade in the Atlantic Space

I have just returned from the Atlantic Dialogues conference 2014 that has been organized by the German Marshall Fund and the OCP Policy Center.

In terms of food security issues it was quite interesting that considerable know-how transfer is taking place between Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa and that Morocco tries to position itself as fertilizer provider of choice to both agricultural regions. (On this issue also see my recent article in Third World Quarterly about Mining Strategies in the MENA).

The Atlantic Dialogues conference is in its third year now and adds a south-south dimension to the notion of Atlantic Space. This year a conference volume has been published that can be downloaded here.

This chart in my article about the transatlantic trade in agricultural and mineral commodities highlights some interesting facts.

The following conclusions can be drawn for the transatlantic trade in commodities:

  • Mineral fuels dominate the global trade of commodities, the Atlantic Space is no exception.
  • No country in the word is energy independent. There is a varied trade of refined products besides the trade in mineral fuels. Some crude oil exporters like Nigeria, Angola, Mexico, and Brazil are net importers of such refined products. Net importers of crude oil like the United States and the EU, on the other hand, are net exporters of refined petroleum products.
  • China has developed into a major importer of mineral fuels, oil seeds, ores, and precious metals from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America. Yet despite this widely publicized rise of China, the Atlantic trade in commodities is still a dominant factor in global comparison.
  • The transatlantic trade ties in commodities are particularly close between North America and LAC, on the one hand and between Europe and Africa on the other hand. Trading relations between North America and Africa and between the EU and LAC are also substantial. The focus of this North-South trade is on mineral fuels, ores, precious metals, oil seeds, and tropical agricultural products like cocoa, coffee, and fruit. There is not only a lively trade of refined products from North America and the EU to Africa and LAC, but also between the two northern blocs of the Atlantic Space.
  • In comparison, South-South trading relations lag behind in the Atlantic Space. However, because of its underdeveloped agricultural potential, Africa is a major importer of cereals and sugars, which partly come from LAC, and Morocco has developed into a major supplier of fertilizers to Brazil.

Good Article about Midroc, Al Amoudi’s Ethiopian Business Coglomerate

Romain Calvary has written a very interesting article about Midroc, Saudi billionaire Al Amoudi’s Ethiopian business conglomerate.

Les investissements saoudiens dans la Corne de l’Afrique : l’exemple de Mohamed Al Amoudi, homme d’affaires saoudien en Ethiopie” has been published in Confluences Méditerranée, 2014/3 (N° 90)

It contains an interesting description of his background as a son of a trader from the Hadramaut who migrated to Jeddah at the end of the 1940s, shortly after Al Amoudi was born in Ethiopia to his Ethiopian mother. Al Amoudi would only join his father in Jeddah in 1965, where he built his fortune in construction and the refining business.

From the 1990s onwards he built his Ethiopian business empire, which he merged in 1996 under the umbrella of Midroc. It is noteworthy that in 1990 he did not yet have Ethiopian citizenship according to the article.

Another interesting take home point is that as part of his participation in Ethiopian politics Al Amoudi takes positions that are rather unusual for a Saudi. He discreetly finances Ethiopian churches in the USA and has lent his support to the construction of the Ethiopian Millennium Dam, which is opposed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

In February 2013 the Saudi royal and  deputy defense minister Khalid Bin Sultan even went so far to say, “There are fingers messing with water resources of Sudan and Egypt which are rooted in the mind and body of Ethiopia. They do not forsake an opportunity to harm Arabs without taking advantage of it…”