UAE company leases farmland in Morocco

March de Guelmim Maroc by Bruno Morandi

Reuters/Shirat | 19 November 2009

An Abu Dhabi-based private sector investment firm has signed a contract to lease up to 700,000 hectares of farmland in Morocco, a company executive said yesterday.

Food prices have risen sharply over the past year, prompting governments and private sector firms in the Middle East to look into ways of securing supplies, as most of the food in the region is imported.

“We have signed a long term lease contact with the government to lease 700,000 in the south of Morocco and we will be investing 30mn euros ($44.63mn),” said Abderrahim Harra, managing director of Tiris Euro Arab (TEA), an investment firm based in Abu Dhabi.

The land is located near the south-western town of Guelmim and crops including citrus and olives will be grown, said Nagi al-Musaabi, chief executive of TEA on the sidelines of an investment conference in Shirat.

“The produce will be exported to the Middle East and Europe,” he added, declining to give further details on the start date of the project.

In order to attract foreign investments into the agricultural sector the Moroccan government is willing to be very flexible with its terms on the farmland deals, Ahmed al-Houti, head of the Regional Investment Centre for Investment in the kingdom’s central region of Tadla Azilal, said.

“The investors can keep 100% of the produce and export it, all we are asking for is for them to invest in our sector and create employment for our people,” he said on the sidelines of the investment conference.

The Tadla Azilal region known for its fertile soil has around 500,000 hectares to offer to Gulf investors wishing to secure food supplies, al-Houti said.

“Around 190,000 hectares of this land is already irrigated but the rest is not so additional investments have to be made.”

Gulf countries, mainly reliant on food imports, have increased efforts over the last year to buy or lease land in developing nations to secure food supplies. So far foreign investors have acquired some 15-20mn hectares of farmland in developing countries since 2006, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

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