Chinese Pulling Out of Sudanese Agro-Project, Qatar to the Rescue….

After the oil in South Sudan has been lost, Chinese funding for a large agri-project in Nile state has been withdrawn and Sudan now hopes for Qatar money:

March 10, 2012 (KHARTOUM) – An agricultural project in Sudan’s Nile River state has been put on hold because China cancelled a loan that was needed to extend electricity in the area, president Omer Hassan al-Bashir revealed.


“And so China stopped the financing [the project]” he added.

Bashir said the Qataris decided to step in and provide the loan after Beijing backtracked.

“The ball is now in the court of our Qatari brothers”.

The comment section to the article reveals a lot about the prejudices and bitterness between the North and the South. It also contains some inflated hopes about the Gulf countries as white knights with deep pockets. My personal favorite is this one:

1 March 06:10, by Jalaby

“Not a problem at all, Chinese are making billions of dollars as profit from investing in Sudan, China will loss,our Arabs brothers will take over as all the infrastructures projects in Sudan are financed by Arabs and implemented by China,our Arabs brothers are making excellent profit from their successufull investments in Sudan,Kenana Sugar Factory will always stay solid example”

Well the Kuwaitis are the largest shareholder of Kenana and would beg to differ. According to a WikiLeaks cable a Kuwaiti official opined that Kuwait did not get its money out of Kenana for 30 years…

Saudi National Prawn Company and Aquaculture Projects in Mauritania

The Saudi National Prawn Company (NPC) has eyed aquaculture projects in Mauritania of up to $1bn.

To this end it cooperates with the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), which is a subsidiary of the Islamic Development bank (IDB) in Jeddah, and Al-Rajhi International Investment Company (RAII).The Al Rajhi family in turn is a shareholder of NPC.

This is yet just an announcement and one could say that this is the obligatory one billion that such investment announcements like to quote in order to draw attention. But the already existing shrimp farming project of NPC in Al Leith in the south of Jeddah is indeed humungous.

NPC started with a small research unit in 1982 and launched experimental operations in 1987. Today it produces 15,000 tons of shrimps with 2,400 employees on an area of 250 square kilometers.

NPC is owned by the Al Rajhi and Al Sudairi families with the Japanese trading house Sojitz holding a minority stake. The project in the barren landscape of the sabkha salt marshes is the second largest shrimp farm in the world. Its importance was highlighted by King Abdullah who came to its inauguration, with a large reception hall being built on the premise for this purpose.


There are considerable expansion plans for aquafarming in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. NPC has also contemplated to expand on the other side of the red Sea coast in Sudan and East Africa.

What has that to do with Gulf food security? In reality not that much. Shrimps are not part of traditional diets. They are produced for export, mainly to Asia, but also to Europe, mainly London.

NPC experiments with planting algae to be used as fodder. But most of the feedstock is imported fishmeal. Like the large livestock industry, Saudi Arabia imports more than 40 percent of globally traded barley for its sheep and camels, aquafarming is crucially dependent on imported input factors.

Saltwater aquafarming has also less efficient protein conversion rates than herbivorous sweet water fish. Its food security effect would need to come from income generation in the pretty poor Saudi countryside of Al Leith or the hardly more affluent countryside of Mauritania.

Here the jury is still out. There is job creation, but  the land needs of aquaculture in Saudi Arabia are not without opponents. Parts of the local population have complained about excessive land allocation and they would like to see more benefits of the project for local communities or access to some of the facilities of the fully integrated site that has its own power station and super market.

To be fair, competing land uses in the barren sabkha salt marshes in the form of agriculture or tourism are limited, but such opposition hints to widespread discontent with land deals and a diffuse feeling in disadvantaged rural areas of being left behind by government policies.


Sudan: A Big Gulf Landgrab that Wasn’t?

Center Pivot Irrigation at a project of Al Rajhi at Berber

I have just returned form a research trip to Sudan, during which I had the chance to interview a number of Sudanese decision makers and visit agricultural projects of Gulf countries.

Based on newspapers, grey literature and interviews in the Gulf region I argue in the Brown Journal of World Affairs that there is a gap between the announcements of Gulf agro investments and their actual implementation.This argument could be corroborated in Sudan.Gulf countries only engage reluctantly in the country.

Fears of political unrest,volatile investment regulations and problematic governance are widespread. The ‘agricultural renaissance’ (al nahda al zira’iyya) that the Sudanese government envisaged in 2008 has not taken place so far. By 2011 self-sufficiency in wheat was promised, but it continues to linger around 30 percent for example.

As production increases in the center have found wanting  the regime is touting a plan to use water from the West Nubian Sandstone aquifer, in order to cultivate wheat in the Northern desert. A plan that is eerily reminiscent of the failed Saudi wheat program that has relied on an unsustainable use of fossil water.

Most Gulf projects focus on the Northern area around Abu Hamad and Berber, where Nile water is pumped uphill in order to irrigate wheat fields on relatively poor soils.

As land around the riverain areas is limited the regime has advertised cultivation of desert land, but has oversold available land for irrigation. This has led to disappointments.One Gulf investor saw his project size diminish from 70,000 feddans to only 4,000 feddans.

Entrance of the Zayed Al Khair Project south of Khartoum

Existing projects have faced various challenges.The Zayed al Khair project (see photo) at Wad Rawah about 100 km south of Khartoum has been around for 10  years. Yet it only plants 3000 feddans on an overall project size of 40,000 feddans, down from about 15,000 feddans during better times.

The limited activity can be clearly seen on the Google Earth snapshot below. The cultivation of wheat and sorghum has not proven to be profitable and the management is trying its luck with rice now. Water is pumped from the Nile, but an increase in acreage would require additional pumps and canals.

Similarly, a project of the Al Rajhi group near Berber only cultivates a fraction of its total project size of 25k feddans. A project by UAE based Al Zafra in the rainfed areas 140km south of Gedaref has been given up completely after only one year of cultivation in 2008/2009.

The Syrian management alienated local workers with their paternalistic style, the soils were poor and exhausted and lack of roads made access impossible during the rainy season.On some projects considerable conflicts with previous customary land rights holders exist and management complains about sabotage.

On another project early protests faded as former customary land rights holders are paid an annual rent and have been given land on a sugar project nearby.

The employment effect is limited in all cases, as production is capital intensive and foreign labor is imported from Egypt or the Philippines. Sudanese workers are seen as lacking the skills needed for mechanized production and specific procedures like land leveling and rice refining.

Pumped Nile water in a canal on the plateau above the river

UAE investors urged to start developing farmland in Sudan

After the rumblings of the Saudi agro-business people about lagging implementation of the King Abdullah Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investments Abroad (KAISAIA) ( another indication that the failure of the Sudan bread basket strategy of the 1970s might just repeat itself.

Sudan is urging the UAE to begin developing the vast expanses of farmland it has acquired in the country, as the north loses the majority of its oil revenues following the independence of South Sudan.The country, ravaged by years of conflict, is now turning its focus to its agricultural sector, as it desperately tries to generate cash.