Hassad Food, the agricultural investment arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, signed an agreement with Sudan’s Kenana Food Company in February. The deal came at a time when Kenana, an integrated sugar producer and refiner, was about to launch a $1bn agricultural fund. alongside the sudanese government’s stake of 36%, the Kuwait Investment Authority holds 25% and the saudi arabian government 15%.

 In July 2009, the Kuwaiti government was reported to be in talks with African countries about securing food supplies. A few months earlier, when the Saudi Arabian government announced a $5.3bn fund to support agricultural development by offering soft loans and credit facilities, it also revealed the initiative for Saudi agricultural investment abroad. one of its aims is to uphold national and international food security by building partnerships with countries with high agricultural potential.

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However, it is not only the middle east for which agriculture is strategically important. Private equity firms are also investing heavily. for example, last november, the $50m Pharos Miro Agricultural fund launched, and aims to acquire and operate farmland in Eastern Europe, Eurasia and Africa.

Since 2006, deals have been concluded in at least 12 African host countries with sovereign or private sector counterparties in 14 investor countries, according to a report by Standard Chartered. The total farmland involved for the deals for which data is available amounts to 8.66 million hectares – about the same as Italy’s arable land endowment.

So agribusiness is big business. and while it may seem right for the middle eastern governments and funds to invest in farmland abroad, is this right for Africa – a continent that is still not self-sufficient in food?

Lucia Dore is the Gulf correspondent at mergermarket, part of the Financial Times Group. E-mail: lucia.dore@mergermarket.com