You can't drink oil and you can't eat gold

Though state coffers bulge in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and other countries in the region after to months of sky-high oil prices, soaring food prices have made many people there poorer than a year ago.

These desert nations have been hit especially hard because they have to import more than 80 per cent of the food needed for their rapidly growing populations.

To brake the runaway inflation that is fuelled by high food costs, Gulf rulers have a new strategy: They are buying unused agricultural land in poor countries like Pakistan, Thailand, and Sudan, and becoming large-scale farmers.

In mid-May, Bahrain's minister of industry and commerce, Hassan Fakhro, travelled to Thailand for talks on setting up a plantation there to grow Jasmine rice as an alternative to Basmati rice, which is very popular in Bahrain.

The Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Capital aims to work with the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in buying up large tracts of land in Pakistan for the creation of major agribusinesses.

With the state acting as both food producer and trader, the UAE hopes to help lower food prices by eliminating profits by middlemen.

Saudi Arabia and the rich Gulf emirate of Qatar are the countries most interested in Sudan's fertile soil, much of which is unused or used unproductively.

Egypt, with less capital to invest but traditionally having close ties to Khartoum, has already staked a claim in northern Sudan. Cairo has struck a deal with the Sudanese government under President Omar al-Bashir to grow two million acres of wheat annually near Wadi Halfa, not far from the Egyptian border.

The agreement will save Egypt the expense of having to buy wheat overseas, for which it spends a large amount of its foreign-exchange earnings every year.