Qatar tackling its food security concerns

It is no secret that Qatar, like many of its Gulf neighbours, is facing food security issues. Located in a region that is inhospitable for large-scale traditional agriculture, Qatar produces no more than 10% of its food and is heavily dependent upon imports.

This, however, leaves Qatar vulnerable to world food price spikes and a range of threats over the supply of the food, ranging from conflicts in producer states to pirates hijacking shipments. In an economy driven by and reliant on expatriate professionals, any food shortages would have major economic and social consequences.

The Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) is currently developing a long-term strategy that will enable Qatar to increase its domestic food production significantly in the coming decades and strengthen the security of its remaining imports. Developments are being focused in four key areas including renewable energy, agricultural development, water management and food processing.

Renewable energy in the form of solar desalination is being placed at the forefront of QNFSP’s plans. In addition to helping Qatar reduce its carbon footprint this will reduce the country’s dependence on non-renewable hydrocarbon resources. World-class research and development centres are being established to develop and test the technology in Qatar. The water from these sustainably powered desalination plants will be used in agriculture and used to recharge the depleted aquifers in Qatar.

To increase domestic food production, the agriculture sector needs to be stimulated. The sector is being expanded with an additional 1,400 farms, along with a proposed new “Agricultural City” which will manufacture foodstuff for domestic and neighbouring markets. Educational initiatives will also seek to attract young people to agriculture, and 1,500 government backed long-term supply loans are being offered to improve farmers’ security and jump start the industry.

With limited natural resources, efficiency will be vital and “best practices” are being introduced to create a sector that is profitable, sustainable, environmentally friendly, and optimises resources.

Vegetable and livestock production are two areas being highlighted for development. Hydroponics – the technology which uses small amounts of water in production – is being investigated as a key way to stimulate the market. Livestock consumption is on the rise in Qatar and livestock development plans are being developed that will see imports decreased, fodder levels increased, and investments in overseas agriculture leading to the re-export of livestock back to Qatar.

The fisheries sector will need to adapt to climate change and greater regulation is being used to protect resources, while loans will help fishermen purchase equipment. Farmers are also being helped to overcome obstacles in selling their products at market via a market stabilisation plan which will incorporate inputs and subsidies, as well as price support mechanisms.

If food production is to rise then food nutrition and safety will be vital. QNFSP is addressing this by creating a National Health Strategy which promotes nutrition and physical activity. A world-class food safety management programme is also being developed, with a new Food Safety Agency overseeing the inspection and certification of all imported and locally produced foodstuffs.

The final aspect of QNFSP’s plans will see the development of the country’s food processing industry and the creation of an “Agro-Industrial Park” to act as its hub. This will enable Qatar to export its products overseas and will also help enhance food shelf-life, enable easier production and distribution, as well as meet changing consumer demands by enhancing the variety and seasonal availability of foods. This food can also be stored in the new strategic food reserves which will allow the release of stocks during emergency shortages or to stabilise high prices – protecting farmer’s incomes and consumers’ purchasing ability.

Such plans will do much to stimulate domestic production in Qatar and to decrease its reliance on foreign imports. Yet no country on earth is wholly self-sufficient and will rely on the international market to some degree – especially for agricultural inputs and in the face of climate limitations restricting the growth of products that consumers demand – while a diversified approach to imports is necessary to offset potential catastrophes at home, which could leave a country with serious problems. Therefore, to achieve food security, Qatar will need to twin this domestic agricultural efficiency with secured imports.

by Andrew Francis , Adrew  is a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in Doha

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