Photos by Guillaume Dimanche and Lesley Walker
The only farm in Qatar to grow internationally-certified organic vegetables is expanding, making more of its produce available in shops and restaurants across the city, as well as at local markets and through household boxes.
The farm’s growth comes as improving Qatar’s food security, eating more healthfully and reducing food miles appear to be growing more important to residents here.
Al Safwa farm, which is about a 20 minute-drive from Umm Salal Ali, north of Doha, has been in operation for nearly 50 years, mostly as a traditional, small-scale farm that provided fresh produce for family and friends of its owners.
Now run by Nasser Ali bin Khamis al Kuwari and his family, along with French-Tunisian expat Olfa Guetata, the private, 660-acre farm is working toward becoming entirely organic by 2018.
Al Kuwari began growing organic produce in 2011, first selecting a section of the farm to test out whether it could grow vegetables in a properly organic way.
After years of meticulously reorganizing the facilities, removing all traces of pesticides from the soil and experimenting with different types of vegetables, the trial was deemed a success. The farm achieved certified status from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement in 2014.
At first, only a few of the farm’s vegetables were officially organic, such as cucumber, eggplant, tomato and zucchini.
However, the part of the farm devoted to organic produce has since expanded to include broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, pumpkin, white and red cabbage, a second variety of eggplant and four different types of tomato.
Meanwhile, in the organic nursery, members of farm’s 50-strong team are currently undertaking a trial to see if they can also grow yellow zucchini, white beans and what would be the farm’s first fruit, charentais melon, using seeds imported from France, Italy and the Netherlands.
If successful, the items will be added to the farm’s regular range of produce, Guetata told Doha News during a tour of the site this week.
Currently, around 40 percent of the farm is dedicated to organic growing, mostly outdoors, but also using six large greenhouses to protect some of the more delicate crops from the harsh climate.
A further 10 percent of the land is currently lying dormant, waiting for the soil to become pure so it can eventually be use to grow organic produce. The remaining half of the farm is semi-organic, using only “natural” pesticides.
Each year, the amount of pesticides deployed in this section is being decreased so that, in three years’ time, the entire farm will be organic-only, Guetata added.
Looking around the farm, one could observe eggplants the size of footballs, and tomatoes that smell sweet and very fresh.
The yield also appears plentiful. During the main growing period during the cooler months between December and May, the farm nets 100kg of each variety of vegetable every day, Guetata said.
Much of the produce goes directly to hotels and shops in Qatar, to satisfy a growing appetite in the country for organic, local produce with minimum food miles.
In particular, chefs here have been keen to use the farm’s vegetables, Guetata said. The farm currently supplies ingredients to the Diplomatic Club, Italian restaurant La Spiga by Papermoon restaurant at the W Hotel and the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Guy Savoy, who ran the now-closed eponymous restaurant on the Pearl-Qatar, was one of the farm’s first chef customers. Farmers there have also advised Qatar Foundation and helped set up an organic kitchen garden that provides food for one of the canteens in Education City.
Meanwhile, in October last year, Guetata met with managers at French supermarket Monoprix and persuaded them to sell some of the farm’s vegetables in the store.
So far, customers appear to be happy with the produce’s prices and freshness, she told Doha News, continuing:
“I saw they had imported organic vegetables, but they worked out to QR150 or 30 Euros a kilo. No one is going to pay that sort of money for tomatoes.
So I spoke to the manager and told him we could start supplying them with local vegetables. Our organic tomatoes sell there for QR37 a kilo, which is much more reasonable. People are trying them, realizing how much better they are, and buying them again.”
The vegetables are picked off the plants daily at 5am, packaged up and then driven directly to the supermarket, ready to go out on the shelves just a few hours later.
While some of the produce is also sold at Al Mazrouah farmers’ market at the weekends, Guetata has also just began a household box system.
The vegetables come in 3kg and 6kg options, for organic and also semi-organic mixed, seasonal produce, as well as the option to order just boxes of tomatoes.
Customers can contact the farm via its Facebook page and place an order each Wednesday by 5pm. The vegetables are picked and the boxes made up the following day, and can then be collected from a central Doha location at a pre-agreed time on Friday.
Elsewhere in Qatar, some residents turn to the wholesale market in Abu Hamour as a favored location for a wide range of affordable vegetables. But the vendors there often complain that sales are affected by the weather, with low turnout in the cooler months forcing them to cut prices.
Meanwhile, as the number of large supermarkets in Qatar increases, they are also becoming a more popular place for residents to buy their produce.
Growing more food
As a desert country with very little in the way of an agricultural heritage, Qatar is heavily reliant on importing almost all of its food to meet the requirements of a rapidly increasing population.
Food security is one of the key aspects of the 2030 National Vision, and while authorities continue to enter into deals with other countries to up resources, they are also increasingly looking at how to boost domestic food production to meet a target of growing 40 percent of its own food by 2024.
Initiatives like the farmers’ markets at Al Mazrouah, Al Khor and the recently-launched Al Wakrah have started to raise awareness in society about the benefits of relatively affordable local produce.
They are becoming increasingly popular, not only among Qataris but also expats, many of whom are used to similar experiences in their home countries.
When the farm first started to grow organically, Guetata said there was great skepticism among other farmers and society in general about the move.
“Everyone said it wouldn’t work. That the climate in Qatar was too extreme. We proved them wrong, and now we are expanding.”
By spreading the word of their success, hopefully more farmers here will be encouraged to make the move, she added.
Would you buy organic produce? Thoughts?
This is good news. More quality food needs to be produced locally.
Any Qatari willing to be a farmer?
Fil mish mish
Fe 6ezik el m3fn
Did you drink too much at brunch and your head hit the keyboard?
It’s arabic and should be removed by the moderator in my opinion for being inappropriate.
Nah we’re too rich
It’s comes with a free Ferrari and a gold plated state pension. Plus 360 days leave per year…..
sign me up
Should be a good fit, most farmers I know are filthy rich – farmer is a passe term, agribusiness is where it is at.
You know it
The handball team will be repurposed as farmers, they are Qatari after all 😉
Two cynical comments in one article reporting a positive move by Qatar.. U sure have some inferiority issues you need to deal with
The ‘Vision 2030’ also wants 40% of all jobs being taken by Qataris.
60% of the 40% already have nice jobs in the Government. The other 40% of the 40% just want to chill down the Majlis (and given the chance, so would I…).
Of the 60% non Qatari, 80% would like to be Qatari and have a nice job in the Government. 10% of the other 20% don’t know how the Qatar Government works, so they’re out. 5% of the other 10% don’t know what they want, because they can’t stay out of the Belgian Bar long enough to remember why they’re in Qatar in the first place.
And finally, 60% of all statistics are made up on the spot… 😉
What’s you problem…
If you have trouble you Exit Doors are open..
Do create hole in plate which you eat..
Couple of quick points….
1. You’ll find that the exit doors are quite firmly closed. You need a ticket to open them.
2. I use the doors frequently though. Currently typing this from London.
Besides, I’m just having a little fun. Smoke something, man 😉
No… QNV2030 doesn’t have that.
So what if, in the “Vision 2030” it mentions that 40% jobs will be taken by Qataris? Isn’t it their right to focus on their own countrymen? So Qatar shouldn’t focus on hiring their own and just keep hiring more expats?
Furthermore, do you really wanted to stay here forever? I’ve noted that you keep complaining about Qatar and yet you wanted to stay despite your frustration with what they’re doing?
Where do they get the water? From natural rain fall or man made desal? Growing large scale food produce in the desert is a joke, on a small scale fine but it will never be enough to feed five million and that is where Qatar is going by 2030.
Organic food is such a big scam throughout the world, normally bought by wives who have more money than sense and no scientific education. Without pesticides we cannot feed the world’s population and even with them it’s debateable.
Same goes for GM foods, those that complain the most know the least about how they are made.
Said the engineer and scientist… You’re the joke, not this. Furthermore, you’re not paying for this nor you’re responsible for it, so shut your hole.
Yes I do have a scientific background. It’s my opinion, if you have problems wth people’s opinions I suggest you stop reading Doha news.
Has monsanto paid you for your comment?
We can not feed the world’s population now although we have enough food. It is a food distribution problem. If you want to eat pesticide contaminated and GM foods then go right ahead, but I don’t to and I want to be able to have that choice.
This farm is great, but im wondering about the sustainablity and water use of the project.
Correct that is your choice and I would never take that away from you.
That’s pretty harsh, man. I can see your point, but this is a genuinely good thing that these people are working towards. Don’t be negative towards people trying to do something positive ; )
Rough weekend ? Why so bitter
Actually having a great weekend, thanks for asking. I’m a supporter of Qatar but large scale farming is not in Qatar’s interests. The food people like to eat just isn’t suited to Qatar’s climate. You don’t people in Siberia setting up mango farms. If they like mangoes they import them it’s cheaper.
I agree, farming on a large scale here is not worth it if it is at the expense of the environment, but with scientific breakthroughs it might be more viable in the future. I don’t know what the end results of the QNFSP study was but I do know that it was an extensive study on how to make Qatar Food Secure.
Good looking initiative.
Al Safwa farm in 2020…?
Masha Allah, Good quality of vegetable available locally.
QR 37 a kilo, is justified, but still well above my reach. Let there be more farms and produce like this, may be one day I can dream of getting it for QR 10/15 a kilo. It’s indeed a good move though.
Can U plz specify its exact location on the map. Want to visit this paradise.
great to know the name of the farm, will pay attention now when buying fresh produce. Thanks Dohanews!
This is the really good news…It will help the low salary people a lot….
God Bless the person who has started this…
Eventually it will help every one…
I love Qatar worth staying here..
Does anybody have a contact number for this farm? I would love to organise a school field trip …. thanks in advance