DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — One of the world's biggest grain exporting houses signed an agreement on Wednesday to sell a 45% stake to the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, both companies announced.
The development comes as the United Arab Emirates — a federation of seven desert sheikhdoms — seeks to improve its food security in the face of growing global challenges such as climate change.
Louis Dreyfus Company, a family-owned commodities trading giant, reached the deal to sell an indirect equity stake to Abu Dhabi's ADQ, one of the region's largest holding companies. Louis Dreyfus also said that it signed a long-term supply agreement with the state-owned company to sell agricultural goods to the UAE.
It appears to be the first time that the family-owned company has opened itself up to outside stakeholders. The decision marks "a milestone" in Louis Dreyfus' decades-long strategy, said chairperson Margarita Louis-Dreyfus.
The statement offered no value for the stake, but it was likely in the billions of dollars, given that Louis Dreyfus described $880 million as a mere "portion of the proceeds" to be invested back into the company.
Louis Dreyfus, established in 1851, operates across over 100 countries with some 18,000 employees. It reported net sales in 2019 of $33.6 billion and holding assets at the end of 2019 worth $19.5 billion.
ADQ hailed the agreement as a "strategic" move for the UAE, which, with its barren desert soil and scorching heat, imports some 90% of its food from abroad, leaving the country acutely vulnerable to food shortages and other events like droughts, extreme weather and regional instability.
"Food and agriculture is an attractive, core sector for ADQ to generate financial returns," said ADQ's chief executive, Mohamed Hassan Alsuwaidi, adding that the deal will "further accelerate the progress we have already made this year in significantly expanding ADQ's food and agriculture portfolio."
The UAE's water is scarce and domestic farming industry nascent. The enormous grocery stores in the major cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are stocked with meat from Australia and New Zealand, grain from North and South America and fresh fruit and vegetables from the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
The emirates' rapidly expanding expatriate population has driven up demand and sharpened the country's focus on food security, according to a 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, prompting its creation of "a strategy to reduce risks associated with unforeseen global supply shortages or price surges."