By Maha El Dahan

DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s state grain buyer SAGO on Monday said it bought 60,000 tonnes of Ukraine wheat from investment firm SALIC, marking its first purchase from agricultural investments overseas aimed at enhancing the country’s food security.

The Ukraine wheat cargo was bought at $248 a tonne, after the kingdom asked Saudi private investors with farmland overseas on April 6 to supply it with around 10% of its local needs this year.

The Saudi call comes as regional food importers scramble to beef up reserves as coronavirus lockdowns up-ended supply chains.

The world’s top oil exporter has long encouraged its private investors to pour money into agricultural investments abroad to shore up the country’s food security, without tangible results — until Monday’s purchase in terms of imports for SAGO.

The state grain buyer had originally estimated it would need 355,000 tonnes from private investors this year.

“The 60,000 tonnes were purchased from SAIL,” a SAGO official told Reuters.

SAIL, the Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co, was formed in 2011 to secure food supplies for the desert kingdom through mass production and foreign investments. It is an arm of the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Gulf states, dependent on imports for around 80% to 90% of their food, have poured cash into buying tens of thousands of hectares of cheap farmland and other agricultural assets elsewhere to enhance their food security for over a decade.

SAGO renewed on Sunday its call for investors to subscribe to supply it with the remaining quantity of wheat.

“This first round, the two companies that registered were SALIC and Al Rajhi International for Investment,” SAGO said.

“We will still buy more.”

Saudi Arabia normally imports wheat from the United States, South America, Australia and Europe.

SAGO relaxed its bug-damage specifications for wheat last year, a move designed to allow for more imports of the grain from the Black Sea region.

Its first Russian wheat purchase was shipped earlier this month.

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Editing by Veronica Brown and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)