Advisor: Qatar’s food security plans not being scaled back

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As Qatar’s plan to achieve food security nears the implementation stage, one of its advisors has reacted strongly to a BBC report asserting that the country has scaled back its plans.

In the article, journalist Bill Law states that Qatar’s National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) had “been trimmed dramatically” as part of a drive to cut expenditure, amid what he called “financial constraints” being experienced by the current Qatari government.

Law also pointed to the sacking of several Doha Film Institute employees last month, and the retooling of Qatar Foundation’s QF Radio late last year, to support his hypothesis.

With regards to the QNFSP, Law states that the chairman, Fahad al-Attiya, has “stepped away,” before quoting Gulf energy analyst Jim Krane as saying the project is “wrong-headed.”

Krane asserts that QNFSP plans to burn natural gas to power desalination plants that can produce water to irrigate crops, “creating huge carbon emissions.”

‘Inaccuracies’

In an email sent to the BBC and shared with Doha News, Jonathan Smith, Senior Adviser at the QNFSP, called the report “misleading.”

At particular issue appeared to be the erroneous assertion that the organization reduced its original target of producing 70 percent of its food to 40 percent, Smith said.

Qatar has long talked about reducing its dependence on imports (which account for 90 percent of food here), by growing its own food and also investing in food companies and farmland abroad.

It has set a goal to mostly feed itself by 2024, and though various numbers have been discussed before, such as 60 percent, no official targets were set on domestic food production until last summer, Smith said.

He continued:

“The National Food Security Plan has never been based on a target for self-sufficiency. The 2011 model that you are likely referring to illustrated one of several scenarios that was put forward… There were also scenarios for 40% and even 90+% domestic production.

Following an intensive economic modelling and peer review round in early 2013, the 40% domestic production scenario was recommended to the Government in the 31st July 2013 presentation of the National Plan because it provided the most sustainable and environmentally responsible way forward.”

With regards to the assertion that the former chairman of the QNFSP, Fahad al-Attiya, has “stepped away” from the project, Smith said that the official was always expected to leave his post at this stage of the plan’s development.

 “He (Attiya) finished the job he was given, presented the National Plan, won approval for its implementation and worked around-the-clock to see that an implementation unit was empowered and put in place,” he writes.

“He continues to support and champion the team developing the Technical Secretariat and delivering the implementation on a daily basis and I can assure you that this will be the case long after he takes up other responsibilities. “

Finally, Smith denied that the QNFSP plan ever included an intention to water desert farms using non-renewable energy sources.

“One of the only parts of the National Food Security Plan that has been consistent across all scenarios ever considered or published is the requirement that all food security-related water requirements be provided by renewable energy-powered reverse osmosis desalination systems,” he writes.

The BBC has run a correction in the original story following Smith’s complaints. We contacted Bill Law for his response, and he told us he had “nothing further to add.”

Plan ‘debated’

The QNFSP was established in 2008 to create a strategy to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign food.

The project was formally launched by the father Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, at the World Summit on Food Security in Rome in 2009.

In an address at the summit, he said that the project was designed to “make optimal use of the resources in the agricultural sector,” but laid out no specific production targets.

In 2010, QNFSP director Mahendra Shah told Reuters that the project eventually  “hoped to provide Qatar with 80 to 90 percent of its vegetable and livestock needs,” but he also revealed no formal percentage or date targets.

He did, however, set a 2011 target for the finalization of the plan, which was pushed back two years until July of 2013. The National Food Security Plan’s recommendations are now being debated by the government.

Smith told Doha News that the plan has yet to be shared publicly, adding that it was unlikely that it would ever be published in its entirety, as some of the lengthy document is sensitive for security reasons.

He did say, however, that an executive summary of the plan’s full recommendations may be made public next month.

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