Saudi Star’s proprietor, a Saudi-Ethiopian tycoon named Mohammed al-Amoudi, has spent more than $200m turning a swath of bush into a farm the size of 20,000 soccer pitches. That puts the sheikh, as he is known, in the vanguard of the global land rush. ... As the populations of better-off nations move to cities in ever greater numbers, the gap between the amount they grow and the amount they eat widens. Agricultural trade has long filled this gap. But a price shock in 2007, when staple crop prices doubled in a few months, demonstrated that global markets for food can break down. Then the financial crisis created demand for investments that were not linked to volatile equities and bonds. Governments, multinational companies and institutional funds started to pour millions, then billions, into other countries’ land. ... From Southeast Asia to Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, investors are seeking to profit not simply by trading the fruits of the earth — the rice and the coffee, the oil and the gold — but by controlling the land itself. ... This is a nation of smallholders: 85 per cent of employment is in agriculture and 95 per cent of all agricultural produce comes from small farms, typically the size of a couple of football pitches. ... Of that, 80 per cent is consumed by the households that produce it; only 20 per cent is sold. These farmers rely on their hands, some rudimentary tools and the fickle rains.