Gulf markets underperform but future looks brighter

The Dubai share index fell 4.6 percent this year (Reuters)
Updated 31 December 2017
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Gulf markets underperform but future looks brighter

DUBAI: Middle Eastern stock markets far underperformed the rest of the world in 2017 but as the year ended, beaten-down valuations for shares and plans for higher government spending gave investors reason to expect a better 2018.
Egypt’s stock index surged 21.7 percent in 2017 as economic reforms bore fruit, but the picture in the Gulf was little short of disastrous because of geopolitical tensions, sluggish economic growth and sagging real estate prices.
Saudi Arabia’s index edged up just 0.2 percent during the year compared to a 34 percent leap for MSCI’s emerging markets index. Among other major Gulf markets, Dubai fell 4.6 percent and Qatar, hit by a boycott imposed by other Arab states, lost 18.3 percent.
The New Year looks unlikely to be as poor in the Gulf, however, partly because many share valuations have been beaten down to stand in line with, or even below, other emerging markets.
Also, a rise of oil prices in the last few months has let Gulf Cooperation Council governments slow austerity drives that have slashed economic growth and damaged corporate earnings. Growth is widely projected to pick up moderately in 2018.
“With this backdrop and underpinned by undemanding valuations, we are generally optimistic on the GCC for the year 2018, with the outlook ranging from slightly negative to moderately bullish across the board,” said Bader Al-Ghanim, head of GCC asset management at Kuwait’s Global Investment House.
A Reuters poll of 13 leading Middle Eastern asset managers, released on Sunday, found 54 percent expect to raise allocations to regional equities over the next three months and none to cut them, the most positive balance since August.
Saudi Arabia’s index edged down 0.1 percent on Sunday as real estate developer Dar Al Arkan, the most heavily traded stock, sank 5.0 percent despite saying it would offer 30 percent of Dar Al Arkan Properties, a property management firm with assets of SR2.68 billion ($715 million), to the public. It did not specify a date.
The stock had more than doubled in the past three months, partly in anticipation of the IPO.
National Commercial Bank, the biggest bank, climbed 2.7 percent in active trade. Its board proposed increasing the bank’s capital by 10 billion riyals to 30 billion riyals by issuing bonus shares funded from retained earnings.
Qatar’s index edged down 0.03 percent on Sunday as the biggest lender, Qatar National Bank, slipped 0.8 percent.
The year’s final day of trade for markets in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait was Thursday.


Can a hungry Mali turn rice technology into ‘white gold’?

Updated 20 October 2018
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Can a hungry Mali turn rice technology into ‘white gold’?

  • Malians are cautiously turning to a controversial farming technique to adapt to the effects of climate change
  • Dubbed the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), the new method was pioneered in Madagascar in 1983

BAGUINEDA: When rice farmers started producing yields nine times larger than normal in the Malian desert near the famed town of Timbuktu a decade ago, a passerby could have mistaken the crop for another desert mirage.
Rather, it was the result of an engineering feat that has left experts in this impoverished nation in awe — but one that has yet to spread widely through Mali’s farming community.
“We must redouble efforts to get political leaders on board,” said Djiguiba Kouyaté, a coordinator in Mali for German development agency GIZ.
With hunger a constant menace, Malians are cautiously turning to a controversial farming technique to adapt to the effects of climate change.

 

Dubbed the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), the new method was pioneered in Madagascar in 1983. It involves planting fewer seeds of traditional rice varieties and taking care of them following a strict regime.
Seedlings are transplanted at a very young age and spaced widely. Soil is enriched with organic matter, and must be kept moist, though the system uses less water than traditional rice farming.
Up to 20 million farmers now use SRI in 61 countries, including in nearby Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ivory Coast, said Norman Uphoff, of the SRI International Network and Resources Center at Cornell University in the US.
But, despite its success, the technique has been embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Uphoff said that is because it competes with the improved hybrid and inbred rice varieties that agricultural corporations sell.
For Faliry Boly, who heads a rice-growing association, the prospect of rice becoming a “white gold” for Mali should spur on authorities and farmers to adopt rice intensification.
The method could increase yields while also offering a more environmentally-friendly alternative, including by replacing chemical fertilizers with organic ones, he said.
He also pointed out that rice intensification naturally lends itself to Mali’s largely arid climate.

FACTOID

Up to 20 million farmers now use rice intensification in 61 countries, including in nearby Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ivory Coast.