In the latest push to increase home-grown food production in Qatar, the country’s business sector has reportedly again called for the establishment of a new “agriculture city”.
Mohammed bin Ahmed Alobaidly, a member of Qatar Chamber which represents private business interests in the state, has asked for the government to allocate land and infrastructure to help get the project off the ground, Qatar Tribune reported.
His plans are for a dedicated site with facilities for food production, processing and storage as well as a research unit, conference center and retail markets.
Alobaidly, who is chairman of the chamber’s agriculture and environment committee, aims to attract primarily Qatari investors. Once it’s established, he hopes to list on the Qatar stock exchange to encourage more local investment.
The concept, aimed at improving Qatar’s fragile food security, has been in the works for at least five years.
Discussing his ideas for the multibillion-riyal investment project in 2011, Alobaidly said:
“The project would focus on fruit and vegetable growers, as well as livestock and fisheries, because the country’s small size prevents the large-scale growing of grains.”
Boosting food security
The latest report does not give any details of the proposed scale of the facility or a timeline for its development, although it does cite an ambitious initial aim of the complex providing for the food needs of 3.5 million people, and making the country totally self-sufficient in food production in 10 years.
It is the latest in a series of initiatives proposed by Qatar’s public and private sectors to promote more food production locally in a bid to improve food security and prevent food price rises.
Last September, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce moved forward its long-discussed plans for a poultry farm in Qatar, when it announced it had awarded a licence for a QR1.3 billion complex to local company Dar Al Rayyan Investment Co.
The complex aims to significantly increase Qatar’s production of fresh and frozen poultry, up from 7.7 percent currently to supplying 46 percent of the demand, or around 40,000 tons of poultry, annually.
It also plans to boost domestic production of eggs, supplying up to 7,500 tons each year which equates to 42 percent of the demand from the current 15.7 percent.
The MEC has also been examining plans for setting up a large-scale dairy farm in the country. Late last year, the ministry sent out a questionnaire to privately-run businesses to gauge the level of interest in building the project.
The goal is to produce 20,000 tons of milk and dairy products annually within 36 months of license being awarded, although no timeline has yet been given for the roll-out of this project.
A total of 153.2 acres is planned for the dairy operation itself, plus another 1,235.5 acres of land – irrigated with treated sewage water – for growing green fodder to feed the cattle.
Qatar’s harsh climate and small population have traditionally made it reliant on imports for the vast majority of its food needs.
However, this has periodically led to food price surges and shortages in supply.
It also has local initiatives to boost the country’s own food production and help stabilize its supply chain.
One of the hurdles has been the country’s limited supply of water to use to irrigate crops.
A recent government report said Qatar’s agriculture sector is overexploiting the desert state’s aquifers, increasing the risk that the country’s groundwater will become unfit for crops or human consumption.
As a result, the food and livestock investor has been examining growing fruit and vegetables using hydroponics, in a system which uses no soil and recycles irrigation water.
Last summer, it revealed the results of a pilot project on a farm Zulal Oasis in Al Shahaniyah, west of Doha.
A Hassad Food spokesman told Doha News at the time that the plan was for the new system to be used to enable Qatar become between 50 and 70 percent self-sufficient in the production of vegetables by 2023.