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INTERVIEW-Saudi in talks to lease Pakistan farmland-official
DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to lease an area of farmland nearly twice the size of Hong Kong in a bid to ensure food security, an official from Pakistan's ministry of agriculture said on Tuesday.
Gulf Arab states, heavily reliant on food imports and spurred on by a spike in prices of basic commodities, have raced to buy farmland in developing nations to guarantee supplies.
"Over the past few weeks the Saudi government has been in talks with us to lease 500,000 acres (202,400 hectares) of farmland and we are currently in the process of locating which land we could give them," Tauqir Ahmad Faiq, regional secretary at the ministry of agriculture, said in an interview.
In April, Pakistan said it would offer foreign investors one million acres of farmland for lease or sale and deploy special security forces to protect it.
"The land we will provide Saudi Arabia will be divided among the four provinces and they will be using it to grow a variety of produce such as wheat, fruits and vegetables," Faiq said by telephone from Lahore.
"We are expecting a Saudi delegation to arrive after the month of Ramadan to further discuss the deal and see the land, but there is no set date when the deal will be signed."
Saudi Arabia, which consumes 2.6 million tonnes of wheat a year, is abandoning a project to produce the grain domestically as water supplies run dry.
Faiq said Pakistan had been approached by other Gulf players.
"We have also received offers from a Qatari private investor to buy land, but nothing is final yet," he said. He declined to give further details.
Critics have accused wealthy nations of making land grabs in developing countries and there has been increasing opposition to such deals from farming communities.
In April, concerns over farmers' rights led the government of Pakistan's Baluchistan province to block direct deals between United Arab Emirates-based private investors and farmers.
The United Nations expressed concern in April that farmers' rights in developing nations could be compromised as rich countries buy farmland.
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