Saudi private firm Al Rajhi for International Investment plans to spend at least US$400 million by 2011 to produce wheat and maize in Egypt and Sudan.
The firm has started farming a 42 000-hectare area in the Egyptian Toshka project and expects the first harvest towards the end of May, al-Jazirah newspaper quotes chief executive Khaled al-Melahi as saying.
It has also started planting a 52 500-hectare farm in Sudan with sorghum to pave the way for future cultivation, he said.
Food security has topped the policy agenda in the arid Gulf Arab region following rampant inflation in 2008 that underscored its dependence on imports and forced countries to invest abroad to ensure supplies of staples such as rice and wheat, Reuters reports.
Saudi Arabia has urged companies to invest in farm projects abroad after deciding last year to reduce wheat production by 12.5% per year, abandoning a 30-year-old programme to grow its own which had achieved self-sufficiency but depleted the desert kingdom’s scarce water supplies.
In January, the government cited Ethiopia, Turkey, Ukraine, Egypt, Sudan, Kazakhstan, the Philippines and Vietnam as some of the countries that Saudi investors and officials might look at.
Several Saudi firms have already started investing in agricultural projects from Indonesia to Ethiopia.
The world’s top oil exporter said in January it had received the first batch of rice produced abroad by local investors.