After several postponements over the last years, The Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) has finally presented its Master Plan.
Its original plans to achieve 70 percent self-sufficiency by 2023 with the help of solar based desalination and high-tech agriculture (e.g. hydroponics) has met with skepticism in international circles because of the high costs, huge energy needs and ecological damage resulting from disposal of the brine of desalinated water.
Two things with the now presented Master Plan are striking:
a) Envisaged self-sufficiency ratios are lower and time horizons farther out into the future. The goal now is only to reach 40-60 percent “in short term to mid-term”, up from 8 percent currently.
The challenges are daunting: Domestic agricultural production since the global food crisis in 2008 has declined by 30 percent. This points not only to the lack of water, but also to the lack of capacities. Many “farms” are rather used as weekend getaways than for commercial agriculture.
b) The guarded comments about Hassad Food, the agricultural investment vehicle of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), points to considerable differences between the two institutions.
This might only relate to different philosophies: Hassad claims to have enough food production abroad to cover 60 percent of Qatar’s needs. QNFSP replies to this that such commercial investment should not be equated with food security, which could only be maintained by strategic investments in domestic agriculture.
Some of the irritation may also be caused by the fact that QNFSP is part of the office of the new Emir, while QIA and its subsidiary Hassad are officially still led by the former Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani.
Yet QNFSP’s claim that only self-sufficiency could achieve true food security is debatable. Export restrictions and temporary illiquidity in world markets may be better addressed by strategic storage.
In the hypothetical situation of comprehensive interstate warfare in the region import dependency would have only shifted from food to supply parts, expatriate experts and blue collar workers. Disruptions of domestic production might be a more likely threat in such a case than disruption of supply routes.