Kuwait is looking to Asia to secure future food supplies and invest in agricultural projects, the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reported on Aug. 16.
The agency report claimed that food imports had been a key topic of discussion during Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah’s tour of eight Asian countries at the beginning of August.
“One of the main topics discussed was food imports from these countries as a means for securing food supply, facilitating Kuwaiti energy supply to them, as well as co-operation in oil exploration and the agricultural field,” the news agency reported.
Finance Minister Mustafa Al-Shimali told KUNA that the tour — which was designed to strengthen trade ties between the desert state and Asia — would “boost economic cooperation and increase trade exchange and bilateral investments.”
The tour included stops in Brunei, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines.
Al-Shimali said that the talks in Brunei between the two countries’ senior officials touched on investment, primarily on cooperation between the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) and its counterpart in Brunei.
Al-Shimali noted that the Kuwaiti delegation was briefed on a number of future projects that Brunei intended to carry out, with discussions ensuing about the KIA’s and Kuwaiti private sector’s contributions to such projects. He added that a delegation including representatives of the KIA and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development will visit Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar later this month to look at investments in agriculture and industry.
“A Kuwaiti delegation will be visiting these three countries,” KUNA quoted Al-Shimali as saying, “[…] to get better acquainted with their laws and regulations, and to explore opportunities for real estate, industrial and agricultural investments.”
In August, Reuters reported that inflation in Kuwait, which is the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter, is at a record high — above 11 percent this year — due to rising food and housing costs. Kuwait imports most of its food.
Several gulf countries have begun snapping up vast swathes of farmland in Africa and Asia in a bid to secure long-term supplies and protect themselves against future food costs.
Saudi Arabia’s Savola Group has unveiled plans to buy at least $100 million [USD] worth of minority shares in agribusiness firms in Sudan, Ukraine and Egypt, while the government has confirmed it is in talks with officials from Sudan, Egypt, Ukraine, Pakistan and Turkey for access to wheat, barley, soy beans, rice and animal fodder supplies.
Private equity firms based in the United Arab Emirates are investigating the value of agricultural acreage in Southeast Asia, across the Indian subcontinent and Africa, while the governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have declared their interest in investments in land as far abroad as Brazil.
Qatar plans to invest $200 million in Cambodia's agricultural sector, while Bahrain plans to invest in rice farmland in the Philippines.
According to the World Bank’s latest estimates, the cost of food worldwide has risen by 80 percent since 2005. In 2007, prices of dairy products were up by 80 percent, cooking oils by 50 percent and wheat by 120 percent.
In late 2007 and early 2008, food riots were on the rise, as people around the world protested the increasing costs of staples such as cereal, bread and milk. Anger over food prices led to violent riots in countries ranging from Haiti to Yemen, leaving scores of people dead. The U.N. International Fund for Agriculture has predicted that food riots will become commonplace around the world before the end of 2008.