By Joanna Hartley
Doha is funding the building of a second port in Kenya in exchange for land to grow food.
Qatar has brokered a deal with Kenya to lease 40,000 hectares of its prime farm land to grow food, it was reported Tuesday.
Under the terms of the estimated Sh180 billion ($2.3 billion) deal the Gulf state will fund the building of a new port in Lamu that will be Kenya’s second port after Mombasa.
The deal, which was struck during President Kibaki’s visit to Qatar last November, will see the Gulf state given 40,000 hectares of uncultivated land near the fertile Tana River Delta, which is part of 500,000 hectares of land owned by the Kenyan government. The project is expected to take five years to complete and most of the produce, mainly vegetables and fruits, will be exported to the Gulf, reported Kenyan daily, the Daily Nation.
On Tuesday it was also reported that the Sri Lankan government had offered Qatar land to grow food.
The idea formed part of discussions between Sri Lanka’s minister of foreign affairs, Rohitha Bogollagama, and Qatar ministers, during a two-day visit to Doha earlier this week, said Qatar daily, Gulf Times.
Qata already imports most of its food as only 1 percent its land is suitable for farming.
However, questions have been raised on why the Kenyan government has chosen to lease the land instead of engaging local farmers to boost food security in the country.
The government has defended its decision, saying that under the agreement, Qatar will help Kenya develop an equivalent number of hectares for its own food security.
The deal is similar to a model that has been widely criticised by agricultural experts worldwide that mainly involves poor countries and rich nations, or corporations, especially from the Middle East.
But, Sri Lanka's Bogollagama said the move would benefit both countries. “We are prepared to offer our land for farming to Qatar. We have enough, and more of farm land, and an excellent weather. We are ready for joint ventures,” he added.
The minister identified infrastructure and urban development, tourism, services and agricultural sectors as possible areas of Qatari investment. Currently, Qatari investment on the island was “insignificant”, Bogollagama said.