Qatar Presents Food Security Master Plan

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.

UAE to Increase Use of Treated Waste Water

The UAE plans to increase its use of treated waste water , which is about half as cheap to produce than desalinated water.

Yet, almost half of it is currently being dumped into the sea instead of using it for landscaping or planting crops.

Beside landscaping, Golf courses and district cooling, highly treated waste water could also be used to plant crops, at least fodder crops. To balance out peaks and troughs in agricultural water consumption a storage system for treated waste water is suggested.

Saudi Arabia Srategic Storage: Why Flour and not Wheat?

The Saudi Minister of Agriculture Fahd Balghunaim has announced that the kingdom’s strategic wheat storage covers now consumption for six months and stands at two million sacks of flour.

Ultimately the kingdom aims at 12 months.

It is surprising that they store flour and not wheat itself. The Ford Foundation started the planning for an expansion of the Saudi wheat program in the 1960s and one of its arguments was that flour is not good for storage. Instead Saudi Arabia should expand wheat production and domestic milling capacities to enable strategic storage the argument went.

Why is the storage now in flour, which does not seem to be the optimal solution? Is there not enough milling capacity? (This would be surprising given past wheat self-sufficiency in Saudi Arabia).

Qatar’s Food City

Qatar is planning a food city and wants to expand its domestic agricultural sector with the help of solar based desalination. To this end 1,400 new farms are planned. This goes hand in hand with its intention to produce 70 percent of its food by 2023.

The story of barley subsides in the kingdom is a crazy one. It encourages a large industry of sheep fattening in the country. Saudi Arabia is the largest barley importer world wide and represents about 40 percent of the global barley trade. Th livestock industry is a powerful lobby group. When barley subsidies where not enough to guarantee a profit while remaining  below a government set ceiling price the Saudi king ordered a 50 percent increase in the barley subsidy after much political wrangling.

Organic farming in greenhouses is on the rise. In the UAE it reached 2,196 acres in 2010 compared to 110 acres in 2007.Abu Dhabi also aims to reduce the input of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture by a quarter by 2013.

Gulf countries are food secure. If at all they have a problem with too many calories: Their per capita ratio of obesity and diabetes is belong to the highest in the world.