UN and African officials on Sunday urged sovereign wealth funds (SWF) worth an estimated $5 trillion to invest in developing countries, even as they seek the right climate and demand steps against corruption.
Speaking at a debate as part of the World Investment Forum, officials from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and several African nations complained the level of investment inflows to the continent was too low.
"We have created a very conducive environment for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) but so far we have not seen any flow," Rwanda's trade and industry minister, Francois Kanimba, told the session.
"Big funds (like the SWFs) normally look for big projects, but we are small countries," he said.
Africa, home to most of the 49 least developed nations, needs huge investments in agriculture and infrastructure but neither SWFs nor bigger world funds have shown keen interest in investing.
A programme manager for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Abdelkarim Sma, said that foreign investments in Africa's agriculture sector were far too small.
"Some $9 billion a year are invested in the African agriculture sector which is really nothing," Sma said.
"The investments needed are estimated at $80 billion a year in order to secure food security for developing as well as developed countries," he said.
But Hussein al-Abdulla, a board member of Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund, said the right environment needs to be created for foreign investments to start flowing.
"Governments have to create a suitable investment environment. After the global financial crisis. We need transparency and efficiency which do not exist anywhere including the United States and Europe," Abdulla said.
"We are willing to invest but governments have to create the right economic policies to attract investors ... We should not differentiate between SWFs and private investors," he said.
SWFs, held mostly by oil-rich countries in addition to China, Singapore and Hongkong and others, have traditionally preferred to invest in big corporations and assets in the West for risk considerations.
The assets of SWFs is only a quarter of the $20 trillion world pension funds and form a small portion of the estimated $21 trillion of FDI.
Abdulla said corruption in Africa is a major obstacle for the flow of foreign investments and said QIA had had to withdraw from investment opportunities because of corruption.
Bosworth Monck, an official of the IFC Asset Management Company of the World Bank, called for a "balance of interests" for all parties where investors will make profit and countries benefit in achieving development.
He said well-established international institutions can help facilitate investments into poor nations.