In June, a Paris court cleared 14 French companies of bribery in the notorious United Nations oil-for-food programme, a well-meaning yet ultimately doomed venture that attempted to provide essential food and medicine to the Iraqi people by selling oil during the UN embargo. As we now know, the programme was exceptionally vulnerable to corruption and Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was able to skim as much as 10% of the nearly US$ 70 billion in oil revenues that were traded under the UN’s (supposed) oversight.
Now, however, a more practical ‘oil-for-food’ trade is playing out in the Middle East. Gulf nations are increasingly reinvesting petrol dollars around the world into agriculture projects, which seems prudent considering the GCC region currently imports 90% of the food that it consumes. Recent figures by the Economist Intelligence Unit forecast GCC food import demand to hit US$ 53.1 billion by 2020, over double the $25.8 billion expenditures from a decade ago.
In August, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) offered a US$ 50 million loan to the Government of Montenegro to support agricultural development. The UAE has made similar agro-food investments in countries ranging from Namibia to South Africa to Morocco. In the Arab world, a reported US$ 5 billion is needed annually to bridge the gap between regional demand and production.
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