Qatar SWF goes shopping for farms abroad as blockade bites

The ag subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, which already owns chunks of farmland in Australia, plans to invest $500m in Sudan by 2021. We take a look at the unit’s current holdings overseas.

Hassad Food, a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s $335 billion sovereign wealth fund, has announced its intention to invest $500 million in Sudan over the next three years.

The announcement marks the unit’s first sizeable commitment to invest overseas outside Australia, where it already owns a large-scale portfolio of farms. It was made last week after Hassad signed a memorandum of understanding with a Sudanese company that specializes in food and agriculture, Qatar’s official news agency said.

Stating the institution’s ambition to deploy the money through tie-ups with several Sudanese companies, Hassad CEO Mohamed Al Sadah said the effort was in line with “Hassad’s new vision and strategy to become a successful strategic investor in the global food and agriculture value chains.”

The entity said it was currently working on “identifying suitable business opportunities” while also “planning for future investments in several other countries,” without disclosing which.

The move is not Hassad’s first sizeable entry into a foreign country. In an investment spree spanning just four years, the company has built a nine-asset, three-state portfolio in Australia covering 152,000ha, producing 130,000 tons of grain and 160,000 heads of sheep a year.

The first farm, Gindurra in Canowindra, which covers 8,516ha, was purchased in 2010. Hassad bought a couple more the following year: the 8,244ha Barton Station in Victoria and the 22,562ha Old Bundemar in New South Wales.

But the bumper year was 2012, when the company purchased Western Australia’s Amarinya (14,672ha), Yupiri (8,340ha) and Bindana Downs (8,483ha), New South Wales’ Englefield Plains (7,448ha) and Victoria’s Telopea Downs Station (47,677ha). It concluded in 2014 with Urawilkie in New South Wales, which spans 25,932ha.

Those deals were motivated by Qatar’s efforts to build greater food self-sufficiency, in the wake of a spike in global food prices and the imposition of export restrictions in several of the country’s important suppliers in 2008. Other Gulf States have followed a similar strategy.

The blockade imposed on Qatar by its bigger neighbors in June 2017 has since given this goal a far greater urgency. Saudi Arabia, which marshalled the punitive actions against the emirate alongside the UAE, used to be one of Qatar’s great providers of dairy, among other staples.

Airline food

With no end in sight to the boycott, the nation has since deployed vast resources to fill the void – and become less reliant on imports. For example, Qatar airlifted cows in 2017 and shipped more by boat this year, boosting its cattle headcount to 10,000, twice its original 2021 target. It now plans to expand the herd to 14,000 cows.

Mohammed al Rumaihi, the minister of municipalities and the environment, said in February that the country was targeting full self-sufficiency in fresh meat and 20 percent in frozen meat by the end of this year.

Hassad’s other holdings overseas are in Oman, where it became the majority shareholder of A’Saffa Foods, a poultry producer with a yearly capacity of 22,000 tons, in 2015.