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Omar Chatriwala

Food security is a hot topic in Qatar these days, which is now importing more than 90 percent of its food to feed a rapidly growing population.

Though the number of people living here has doubled in the past seven years, the Gulf country still uses an outdated system of processing and distributing food to the market, the Peninsula reports.

This costs consumers greatly, in terms of both rising prices and the nutritional value of their food, suppliers assert.

They add that it’s time to improve this process, so that goods can reach consumers in a timelier and more cost-effective way.

Speaking to the Peninsula, Ali Hasan Al Khalaf, Chairman of Qatar Consumer Complexes, said:

“The country needs to develop big warehouses so that importers can source food in big volumes from the countries of origin instead of buying from second or third parties. There are not enough warehouses to support the food requirements of the current level of population as per the level of food security we are aspiring to achieve.”

He added:

“With a state-of-the-art new airport and an upcoming seaport, we cannot continue leaving the country’s food security at the mercy of others due to a lack of enough warehouses and better logistics.”

In addition to building more warehouses, businessmen recommended cutting out the middlemen.

For example, Saudi Arabia may import several types of fruits and vegetables from various countries, which Qatar may then import here – lengthening the supply chain and reducing the quality of freshness of the food.

Experts said it’s better for Qatar to source these imports directly from the country of origin – though this would require improving storage facilities to accommodate the food.

Ten-year plan

Mindful of its tenuous food security, Qatar has set a 10-year target to grow 40 percent of its own food by 2024. It is also investing in food companies and farmland abroad to shore up its stock of goods.

The Qatar National Food Security Program has been leading the charge on this initiative, and has previously discussed:

  • More than doubling the number of farms in the country;
  • Utilizing a variety of techniques, including open fields, greenhouses, and hydroponics; and
  • Creating solar desalination plants to provide water for the agricultural ventures, and reduce reliance on Qatar’s rapidly depleting aquifers.

Thoughts?

Al Marai

Ddesiderio/Wikimedia

In the event that diplomatic relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia deteriorate further, the tiny Gulf state has been working out contingency plans to prevent disruptions to residents’ everyday life, the Financial Times reports.

The preparation comes after Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar earlier this month, citing internal security concerns and Doha’s support of “hostile media” as their main concerns.

Qatar has responded by saying the dispute actually appears to be over external matters, largely believed to be the country’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt. That political group and former President Mohamed Mursi were overthrown in Cairo last year.

Since then, Saudi, the UAE and Kuwait have pledged billions of dollars to the new military-backed Egyptian government, which Qatar has criticized for cracking down on dissenters.

Escalation questions

Pressure on Doha to fall in line with Gulf policy does not appear to be working so far. Last week, its foreign minister said that the country’s independent foreign policy is “non-negotiable.”

So far, the tensions have remained political, but there are concerns that the three Gulf countries will further press Qatar by closing off its land border and airspace.

Qatar is a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by water, and shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia. It also imports more than 90 percent of its food.

In 2012, Qatar imported 66 percent of its dairy, 39 percent of its vegetables and 6 percent of its poultry from the Kingdom, according to Qatarvironment.org. Trade disruptions with Saudi could thus pose a significant problem.

However, according to FT, sanctions appears unlikely. The newspaper cites a Qatari official as saying:

“Saudi Arabia does not want to push the GCC towards disintegration. Closing borders is a bad sign for them as much as us.”

Still, preparations are underway to manage any potential disruptions on the ground, with government departments asking suppliers if they would be able to continue their services in the event of a “crisis.”

The newspaper also reports that Qatar is discussing how to handle potential trade disruptions from Dubai:

“Qatari officials have discussed the potential impact of Dubai’s tran-shipment hub, the largest in the region, being closed to its shipping…

(But) the UAE would also be wary of escalating matters, given its dependence on natural gas imported from Qatar for its power generation.”

Economic leverage

According to Bloomberg, Qatar’s natural gas wealth makes it hard for Saudi and other GCC countries to pressure Doha economically. It cites John Sfakianakis, chief investment strategist at MASIC in Saudi Arabia, as saying:

“Direct economic leverage is of little impact. Qatar could go it alone, as long as the world is in need of gas, and as long as they don’t get all their neighbors to be their enemies.”

The news service adds that last year, in a move unrelated to any regional disputes, Qatar hired consultants to draft food-supply contingency plans in case regional trade routes were disrupted. One scenario included the closing of the Saudi border.

With Qatar standing firm on its policy decisions and other Gulf countries expressing unhappiness at is maverick status, what happens next remains to be seen. Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, an Emirati academic and author of “The Gulf Regional System,” tells Bloomberg that the stakes for Doha are high:

“Qatar is asked to reverse 15 years of policy, of being anti-status quo, of having an alliance with the Brotherhood, of going it alone. To change all that means that the Qatar you and I know will no longer be there.”

Thoughts?

Qatar plans to grow most if its own food by 2024