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Arabs look to Uganda for cheap food

Analysis

Arabs look to Uganda for cheap food

President Museveni meeting Kuwait investors interested in food from Uganda

The food price shocks of 2010-2011 have forced Arab countries to turn their attention to Africa as a source of food to supply their populations and cushion themselves against future shocks of the kind that caused mass protests in many of their countries.

With Uganda’s vast uncultivated and largely arable land, investors linked to governments of Arab countries are specifically targeting Uganda and other countries with lax land laws to cheaply grow food and export it to their countries.

In the last one week, President Museveni has met with two delegations of investors from Arab countries with interests in producing food for export to their countries.

In Nakaseke this week, President Museveni commissioned an industrial zone to be managed by the Turkish group ASB, whose main objective will be to produce beef for export, thanks to a government decision to allocate them 18 square miles of land that was previously owned by the army.

According to ASB’s Chief Executive Officer Sitki Ayan, their company will invest US$300million approximately Ushs 750bn to establish a farm, a modern abattoir that will consume about 400 cows a day, breed of livestock, feeding and production areas.

A few days earlier, President Museveni had to temporarily abandon the NRM retreat in Kyankwanzi to meet executives from Fouad Alghanim Group of Companies ‘one of the biggest group of companies in Kuwait’ according to a statement from the President’s Press office.

The press statement suggests that President Museveni interested them in investing in the energy and minerals sector, but that during the discussions, Fouad Alghanim’s officials showed special interest in engaging in agro-proccessing.

The statement noted that: “The delegation was highly impressed with the high quality of the Ugandan produced fruits which they sampled during their meeting at State House Entebbe.”

The apparent new focus by food deficient countries from Asia promises to spur investments in the agricultural sector, promote commercialisation and create a market for surplus production and perhaps spur industrialisation.

On the other hand however experts have warned that the dangers of land grab that involves the forceful removal of poor people from their land and donated to foreigners to meet the food needs of people in other countries while nationals who own the land can barely feed themselves.

In Mubende for example, the government reportedly forced people off their land and donated it to Kaweeri coffee farm, one of the largest coffee farms in the country. About a year ago, High Court Justice Anup Singh Choudry awarded Ushs 37b as compensation to residents who were forced from their land by Kaweeri Coffee plantation.

The government’s failure to support agriculture so that the sector is able to produce, process and export food to foreign countries has become a invitation card for shrewd investors who want to exploit any loopholes while not necessarily benefiting the local economy since agricultural exports are not taxed.

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