Qatar is a water-scarce and arid region which has its own share of demographic and socio-economic problems. The cultivation of food crops is a difficult proposition for Qatar due to scarcity of water supply and limited availability of arable land. The country is vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets because of heavy dependence on imported grains and food items. The increasing dependence on foreign food imports is leading to a growing sense of food insecurity in Qatar.
Understanding Food Security
Food security is the condition in which all people at all times have a physical and economic access to safe, adequate and nutritious food to satisfy their daily calorific intake and allow them to lead an active and healthy life. Individuals who are food secure have an access to a sufficient quantity of food and do not live in fear of hunger and starvation. On the other hand, food insecurity exists simultaneously and inhibits certain groups of individuals from gaining access to nutritionally adequate and safe food. In the case of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, food insecurity is related to poor quality diets rather than calorie-deficient diets. A typical diet in MENA region is high in saturated fats, sugar and refined foods which is a major cause for increase in chronic diseases in the region.
There are a multitude of factors which may challenge a nation from achieving food security. Some of these factors include; the global water crisis and water deficits which spur heavy grain imports in smaller countries ultimately leading to cutbacks in grain harvests. Similarly, intensive agriculture and farming drastically influence soil fertility and cause a decline in crop yield. Another notable factor limiting food security includes the adverse effects of climate change such as droughts and floods which greatly affect the agricultural sector.
The impacts of declining crop yields will include a change in productivity, livelihood patterns as well as economic losses due to declining exports. According to the Global Food Security Index, countries which are on top of the food security index include USA, Norway and China. The countries suffering from greatest food insecurity include, Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo and Chad.
Food Security Strategy in Qatar
Being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Qatar is facing large-scale influx of expatriate workers which has resulted in tremendous increase in population in recent years. Limited land availability, chronic water scarcity and constraints in agricultural growth have led to growing concerns about food security. Agriculture plays a strategic role in the nation’s food security. Qatar imports over 90% of its food requirements due to the scarcity of irrigation water, poor quality soils and the inhibitions due to climatic conditions. Infact, the country is facing an agricultural trade deficit of QR. 4.38 billion equivalent to $1.2 billion.
In response, Qatar has begun to address the situation by aiming to efficiently utilize ‘cutting edge technology’ to establish a sustainable approach to food security for dry land countries. The Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP) was established in 2008 and aims to reduce Qatar’s reliance on food imports through self sufficiency. The program will not only develop recommendations for Food Security policy but intends to join with international organizations and other NGOs to develop practices to utilize resources efficiently within the agricultural sector.
Qatar has established a nation-led National Food Security Program to encourage domestic production which will lead to scientific and technological development in two specific areas to increase domestic production. These areas include development in agricultural enhancement and food processing. QNFSP’s approach to expanding the agricultural sector aims to introduce the best practices and establishing a sector which considers its economic efficiency, optimal usage of scarce resources with limited impact on the environment as well as profitable and sustainable agriculture. A key element of this approach will include the deployment of advanced crop production technologies and advanced irrigation systems. The QNFSP will require well managed stakeholder participation, revised agricultural possibilities and of course a comprehensive strategy for agricultural research.
The nation’s second approach to increase domestic production includes regulations and implementations on food processing. Food processing increases the shelf-life of food, reduces raw food losses and enables the continuity of product availability. By enhancing the shelf-life of food and reducing the amount of food being wasted improves a nation’s food security. The QNFSP aims to develop the nation’s food processing industry by taking advantage of the new industry being established in Qatar which will allow the country to sell its own processed goods on the global market. To meet this objective the nation will need to implement international quality assurance mechanism to be capable of producing high quality products as well as to expand their food reserves and storage facilities.
Sahara Forest Project
In addition to the trenchant efforts being made by the Qatar National Food Security Program, an interesting and promising pilot project named Sahara Forest Project is being rigorously pursed in Qatar. The Sahara Forest Project allows for sustainable production of food, water and energy while revegetating and storing carbon in arid areas.
A one hectare site outside Doha, Qatar, hosts the Sahara Forest Project Pilot Plant. It contains a unique combination of promising environmental technologies carefully integrated in a system to maximize beneficial synergies. A cornerstone of the pilot is greenhouses utilizing seawater to provide cool and humid growing conditions for vegetables, The greenhouses themselves produce freshwater and are coupled with Qatar’s first Concentrated Solar Power plant with a thermal desalination unit.
An important part of the pilot is to demonstrate the potential for cultivating desert land and making it green. Outdoor vertical evaporators will create sheltered and humid environments for cultivation of plants. There are ponds for salt production and facilities for experimentation with cultivation of salt tolerant plants, halophytes. Additionally, the facility also contains a state of the art system for cultivation of algae.
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Food Security is of prime importance, despite all harsh weather conditions and saline environment in Qatar. New technology can help in resolving such extreme problem of food production. Agricultural experts can use and apply these technologies to increase food production. I am one of those scientists with much experience in GCC, and been living and working in Qatar for over 5 years and, I am sure will have my contribution in these matters. I will be happy to answer any call to provide my expertise. Regards, Prof. Dr. Nabil Agha PhD CBiol MIBiol (UK)
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