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The Big Fright

by sindhu nair

40 Qatar Today february 2011

the big fright food cover story

When the whole country is basking in the euphoria of the 2022 Bid win and the fine
show of Qatari footballers at the Asian Football Cup 2011, Food Security seems like
an implausible topic to ponder over.

But not if you look at recent reports from around the world on escalating food
prices and the mounting tension and disrupting occurrences in some parts of the
world. Though we have not seen the wave of food riots that rocked countries such
as Haiti and Bangladesh three years ago, when prices of agricultural commodities
jumped, it is still a possibility, caution experts from UN.

he increase in food costs will also hit developed economies, with “Here is a country, one of the wealthiest in the world that
companies from McDonald’s to Kraft raising retail prices. Finan- could buy food at any price, no matter what the price, from the
cial Times in a recent report emphasised that higher food prices world market. There has been concern in Qatar as there has been
boosts overall inflation, which is above the preferred targets of concern in the rest of the world. From 2007, we entered a new
central banks in Europe. era in world food. Until then price of food commodities was go-
UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has given the global ing down. The era of low-food price is over, worldwide” says Dr
food market ‘critical’ status and says that immediate measures Mahendra Shah, Director of Programme International Affairs,
have to be put in place to stave off a repeat of the 2007/2008 QNFSP.
crisis, when food prices doubled in just a week. And this is so, “because of increasing world demand,” says Dr
Earlier, addressing the UN Summit on Food Security at the Shah. “Only 5% of the world’s food is traded. And international
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome food trade will increase rapidly due to a number of factors includ-
in 2009, HH the Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani ing population growth, urbanisation and rise in incomes.At the
pledged Qatar’s commitment to contribute in eradicating hun- same time biofuel requirement mandated in a number of coun-
ger and malnutrition. The urgency of the situation was reflected tries will also affect land availability for food cultivation result-
in HH the Emir’s words and subsequent actions. ing in high food prices. The food demand cannot be met in some
The Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) countries and hence there is higher dependence on exports.”
was established in 2008. But the export market is very sensitive. Countries can stop
“Qatar believes that national food security is part of the re- the export of food based on local reasoning. India banned the
gional and international food security,” said HH the Emir. export of rice and Russia banned the export of wheat in recent
But what does Qatar have to do with riots and hunger in other times. “On the one hand, the world needs free trade and on the
parts of the world? A country which has never had a food crisis other countries can refuse to export food commodities due to
so far? many reasons – a drought in the country being just one. All this

february 2011 Qatar Today 41

cover story food the big fright

puts pressure on commodities, a fact that countries are painfully the world’s most water insecure and food deficient, importing
aware as food is a essential need.” 60–95% of their food requirements,” says Dr Shah.
Understanding this need, Qatar has set up a comprehensive The limited land and water resources in the GCC pose a sub-
national programme that takes into account the challenges that stantial technological challenge to increasing domestic food pro-
are the country’s alone. duction.
And thus under the direction of HH the Heir Apparent Sheikh “Of the region’s total land area of approximately 259 million
Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the QNFSP was established with hectares, only 1.7% is currently under cultivation, mainly with
the objective of creating a sustainable Food Security road map, groundwater irrigation. Although about one-fifth of the total
by introducing structural reforms to address the problems that land area is potentially cultivable, the region’s arid climate and
affect the sustainability of energy, water, agriculture and food constraints caused by heat, salinity, limit the levels of food suffi-
supplies. ciency that can be achieved.”
Heading the QNFSP taskforce is Fahad Al-Attiya, Chairman of Some of the GCC states have established fossil fuel-driven wa-
QNSFP, who says that this nationwide initiative will make Qatar ter-desalinisation plants, contributing approximately 15% of the
food secure in 10 years (interview on page 43). total available water resources in the region.
“The global risk is high and food is a critical component for the “However, current concerns about climate change, and the
existence of any civilisation, which then makes QNFSP one of the fact that the GCC has one of the highest carbon footprints in per
highest of national priorities,” says Al-Attiya. capita terms, limit this option. Investment in research into the
use of renewable energy, particularly solar power, in future de-
The Arab challenges salination plants offers a means to increase domestic food pro-
While food security is a worldwide issue, the challenges that the duction,” he reveals.
Gulf countries face are much higher. And this is one of the options that is being explored by QNFSP
“GCC with a total population of approximately 40 million, of and once that comes into process will provide the much needed
whom 40% are foreign workers, are endowed with oil and gas impetus for the whole region to follow this prototype of success.
reserves estimated at some QR130 trillion ($35 trillion). This “From my point of view, every country in the world should
puts the region’s nationals among the world’s richest peoples in produce the maximum amount of food it can, in a manner that is
terms of per capita wealth. However, although the region’s eco- environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.”
nomic and energy security are assured, the GCC countries are GCC should give the highest priority to establishing a regional
(contd pg 45)

Skewed metrics in the Region


oil and gas reserves
estimated at some

QR130 95%
million population in the region, of whom

40% are foreign workers


of food
region’s total land area

of approximately fuel-driven

plants, contribute


million hectares, of the total land

area is potentially
of the total

available water
in the region
is currently under cultivation,

42 Qatar Today february 2011

the big fright food cover story


“Creating a
food economy”
Sustainability and research are the two key words of the food security
master plan (MP) that is being put in place by the QNFSP.
Research & Design facilities are also part of the MP to create the wholevalue-chain
that QNFSP Chairman, Fahad Al-Attiya and his taskforce are putting in place.

success of this revolutionary programme will mean a solution
that can be shared with countries that have similar challenges.
“Third generation technologies, policies, legislations, efficient
methods will all be put in use to make sure that all the farms ex-
isting here today will change to 21st century farms,” he says.

Qatar currently imports 90 % of its food, with over 75 %

supplied by just seven countries. This leaves it extremely
vulnerable to external world food market influences, which
is beyond its control. What solutions do we have to ensure
our food security?
QNFSP is a taskforce comprising 17 government and non-gov-
ernment agencies collaborating to ensure that the plan is solid,
secure, well-designed and robust.
We have reached the concept design of the MP and we are in
his will be through QSTP and other institutes that complement the final stages of preparing a detail design which will be revealed
QSTP and support the creation of a high-tech renewable energy in 2013.
industry. The MP goes through four different stages, of which the first
In an interview to Qatar Today, Al-Attiya is confident that the three stages are complete.

february 2011 Qatar Today 43

cover story food the big fright

Cambodian farmers carrying rice in a
field in Kampong Speu province, some
60 kms south of Phnom Penh. Soaring
global food prices are a wake-up
call to action to avoid a new food
crisis that would pitch millions more
of the world’s poor into hunger,
US researchers said on November 18,
2010. Warning that prices were edging
toward crisis levels seen in 2007-2008,
the International Food Policy
Research Institute urged policymak-
ers to learn lessons from that crisis
to prevent another one.

The discovery stage is complete which tracks the issues related

to food supply and production, after which the MP went through
an analysis stage, which involved analysis of the issues that were
Food Kind discovered in the earlier stage. The third stage is the conceptu-
alisation and selection of the solution while the detailed design,
which is in process now, involves the designing and formation of
“We will have a strategic list of products a prototype of the model farm.
that will be produced in Qatar. It will be
We are in the process of putting in place a model farm, a 21st
an exhaustive list; it will cover most of the
crop types consumed by the population.”
century farm, which puts to use all modern technologies and also
puts some of our own in place.
The food security is a catalyst to put in place four distinct econ-
omies, renewable economy, water economy, agriculture and food
economy. We want to sustain both the system and the resource.
Two birds with When we look at system sustainability, we look at what makes an
one stone economy thrive and what are the interdependencies that are re-
quired for each and every economy to self sustain and grow. We
are mapping these interdependencies and identifying the critical
“We intend to use a solar plant to power the desali-
and non-critical ones while facilitating these within our plan.
nation process to get water for the irrigation. We
want to hit two birds with one stone. We want to If we want to develop a unique solar power system developed
protect our ground water resources and we should and applie in our project, we would want that process to be man-
stop our farmers from tapping into them. In order to ufactured here and form a renewable energy hub here. This, in
do so we should provide alternative resources and turn, will contribute to the renewable economy. And to support
for that we will use the other natural resource we
this we would want the creation of an industrial sector, which
have in abundance, the solar power. The power for
the desalination plant will be 100% renewable.” will then create a need for material and so on...

Some highlights of the Master Plan?

By 2023, we should be able to export four ‘know-hows’ or solu-
tions in these four economies.
education Though research will be the focus after the MP is in place, ex-
port of food will NOT be something Qatar will focus on. We have
very scarce water resource and hence we will not be exporting
Research institutions covering renewable energy,
food that is produced here. But that does not mean we cannot
water, food and agriculture sectors will be create a ‘re-export’ market. We can make a regional hub of food
provided. Educational institutions in these areas that is imported to Qatar and export it to other markets within
especially in agriculture and other related areas the region, which will increase our food security resilience.
will be looked into to support the system and to
And this is where Hassad Food comes in, the $1 billion foreign
fill the knowledge gap.
investment arm that functions under Qatar Investment Author-
ity. Recently, they have entered into final stages of negotiations
with major agricultural companies around the world to ensure
food security for all.
farms in
qatar Is there any case study that QNFSP has looked into that
and that could be replicated here?
No, we don’t have any. We have also seen countries who have
Until 2011 : 1,400 farms looked at foreign investments to make their food secure. We
From 2013: Double that have seen other dry countries trying to produce food in their

44 Qatar Today february 2011

the big fright food cover story

own country and suffering a blow as they started to export and centre of excellence for solar-energy research for water de-
then discovered that they do not have water for their produce. salination, greenhouse solar cooling and greenhouse hydro-
We have learnt from their mistakes and hope to create one that ponic-technology development, says Dr Shah.
keeps in mind all the challenges of the region. Other countries Furthermore, a dedicated GCC agricultural research cen-
also put up a programme that allowed the farmer to cultivate ac- tre for dry-land crops, livestock and aquaculture develop-
cording to his choice thus disturbing the supply/demand equa- ment, and adaptation to future climate change should also
tion through single-crop farming. be established.
We want to match supply with demand in order to make sure Regionally relevant research into protected agriculture,
that nothing we produce can go waste. This can be achieved solar energy for desalinisation and greenhouse hydroponics
through Intelligent Contract Farming Support. has the potential to enhance domestic food self-sufficiency
in the GCC countries.
What kind of farming systems will be in place here? All these are steps taken into due consideration by the
We would be looking at Hydroponics, which is soil-less cultiva- QNFSP.
tion. But this is limited to the produce of vegetables and fruits. It “However, some crops, such as wheat, require as much
also precision watering and hence it saves on water (90% of the as 1,400 kg of water to produce 1 kg of yield. This calls for
water is saved) while the yield is increased by 10 times. strategic decisions about which crops to produce locally and
Water efficiency will become fundamental and we will put in which to secure through international GCC investments,”
place a legislation that makes sure that farmers use only this sys- says Dr Shah.
tem if they are cultivating the produce it can be used for.
A proposed partnership model
Oil rich countries are investing in land in developing coun- Over the past few years, GCC states have begun to consider
tries. Will Qatar follow the footsteps of these countries? investing in farmland overseas. However, there is grow-
There has been some unrest which has risen due to some ing worldwide concern that such international agricultural
land deal made by other countries? What is being done on investments must be environmentally, economically and
this front? socially responsible and sustainable. “They must also be
Qatar is already investing in land through Hassad, which is a well-structured and legally executed. Otherwise, there is a
member of our programme. In our investment approach we are risk that the burden of food insecurity in the investing GCC
trying to build synergies between our domestic activities and in- countries might end up being transferred to the host coun-
vestments abroad to maximise our leverage on benefits. Coun- tries,” says Dr Shah.
tries have to be mindful to social issues that could arise when Dr Shah has identified a solution that would give the
land is being acquired in other countries. Because land is such a oil-rich Arab countries an edge while improving the living
sensitive issue. conditions and economies of those countries that they lease
Hassad is putting in conscious policies and investments that contract land to use for food produce.
will not only benefit the investor but will also benefit those who “A shared-benefits model that would best meet the needs
live there. Hassad will also look at transferring technologies, pro- of the investor and the local community in currently culti-
viding local employment, education and health-care for those in- vated land areas where the yield gaps are large could provide
volved in the farming activities. This will also be throwing open the basis for responsible and sustainable agricultural devel-
an export market for the country that was earlier extinct or pres- opment partnerships,” he says.
ent in a small scale. Land in countries like Australia, Sudan, Tur- Dr Shah illustrates his point.
key etc will be identified by Hassad. “Consider a situation in which 100 units of land area
farmed with poor management and low agricultural tech-
What’s the status of farming in Qatar? nology produces 100 tonnes of a food commodity. With
There are 1, 400 farms as of now in Qatar. We have looked at their foreign investment bringing in sophisticated technologies
problems and have analysed their stress factors. We have assured and management, the production on this piece of land is
them that new farming methods will solve most of their issues. boosted to 500 tonnes. The local community receives 200
tonnes, while the investor receives a similar share. The re-
Due to the large scale finance involved in making the land maining 100 tonnes is then sold by the investor into the local
arable, do you think the products from these developments market. The market sale would be important in terms of
are in danger of being sold at high prices? host-country food security, and the sales income would be
Food is already expensive in Qatar. Unrest in Tunisia, Haiti all reinvested for the benefit of the local community through
indicate that food prices have gone up. And it will continue to go infrastructure and social-services development. The inves-
up. Developing food in the country is the cheapest way. tor’s share would need to be acceptable in terms of return
on investment.
How do you think that you will be able to lure customers “Such an innovative partnership arrangement could be
away from their favourite brands to a new one? further structured as an official development aid (ODA),” says
By giving customers a better brand, of course. Dr Shah.
(contd in pg 49)

february 2011 Qatar Today 45

cover story food the big fright


A generous
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) looks at the
humanitarian side of the food security programme in the Middle East.

that recently a rich country like Kuwait, has granted an emer-

gency food aid package to each of its 1.1 million population worth
around $4 billion in total.

How does this compare to global numbers?

Let me give you a wider perspective because the Middle East
is part of the global Islamic community. Out of the current 50
Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) worldwide, 22 are Muslim
 WFP plays a major role in reducing poverty and hunger in 34 out
of OIC’s 57 member states.  in 2010, WFP planned beneficiaries in
the Muslim world was more than 54 million representing more
he role of WFP role is to reach and feed the most food insecure than half the total number WFP is assisting worldwide. The high-
people in the Middle East region, especially the children because est risk countries in our region are oPt, Sudan and Yemen.  
they are the most vulnerable. We have running programmes in As of the first quarter of 2011 WFP will suffer a severe shortfall
Sudan, Yemen, oPt (occupied Palestinian Territories), Iraq, Alge- of $29.2 million for emergency operations and $48.9 million for
ria, Syria, Iran, Jordan, and Egypt,” says Ashraf Hamouda, Senior safety-net operations.  
Partnership & Business Development Manager, WFP. Unless further funding is received, WFP will be forced to re-
duce or suspend emergency operations and life-saving seasonal
Food Security and the region. How fundamental is the safety net activities, negatively impacting 300,000 IDPs, 98,000
issue? refugees and 1.8 million severely food-insecure persons.
Food Security has really become the most current hot issue be- WFP supports the efforts of the humanitarian community to
cause it touches on the basic needs of individuals. Most of the in- respond to the crisis in Sa’ada by facilitating the access of human-
stability and riots in the streets lately has been because of rising itarian personnel and light cargo to the affected areas through a
food prices. Governments are finding it more difficult to control Special Operation (SO).
costs, thus relying more on organisations such as WFP to support The SO is dramatically under-funded by $400,000 for the next
and aid its people. six months.
The situation has become so volatile and politically sensitive And that is the real picture.

46 Qatar Today february 2011

the big fright food cover story

Sudanese displaced people queue up
for food during a distribution by the
World Food ProgramME at the Kasab
camp, near Kutum, in northern Darfur.
The European Union called for the UN
Security Council to pass a resolution
threatening sanctions on Sudan if it
fails to immediately meet pledges to
defuse the crisis in Darfur. EU foreign
ministers, while welcoming a partial
improvement in aid access to the west-
ern region, expressed its “dissatisfac-
tion that the government of Sudan
has not implemented the other most
urgent obligations” it faces.

How does this compare to global numbers?

WFP will be forced to reduce

or suspend emergency operations and life-saving seasonal

safety net activities, negatively impacting
As of the first quarter of 2011

Out of the current WFP will suffer a severe

shortfall of


Least Developed million for emergency

Countries (LDC’s) worldwide, operations and

22 1.8
refugees and

are Muslim countries. million for

safety-net operations.
million severely
food-insecure persons.

What is Qatar’s role in this and sensitivity to the issue? countries, and there are ample examples of commercially viable
Qatar imports approximately 90% of its food. HH the Emir real- food security projects benefitting all stakeholders:  Poor land
ising how pressing this issue is for his country on the long-term, owners (higher incomes), Investors (profits), Governments (in-
as well as being faced with the realities of the harsh agriculture frastructure), populations (available food at affordable prices)...
environment of the mostly barren Qatar, has set in motion a strat- this cycle must be globally unifying for all beneficiaries can truly
egy that is both, viable as well as unifying. The initiative of engag- feels its effect.
ing both the private & public sector in creating joint ventures in
more agriculturally friendly countries such as Sudan, benefits all Oil-rich countries are acquiring land in poor and under-
stakeholders because it shies away from the stigma of being con- developed countries? Is this a sustainable way to go in food
sidered as Neo Colonialist land grabbers.   The Global Dry Land security? Isn’t this depleting the land resources of that
Alliance (see Box) is a commendable initiative focussed on bring- country?
ing to light the food security issues we are facing in our part of the The issue is not about land grab it is about the fair sharing of the
world.  I believe it is still a long way to go before anything concrete capital and the resources. We understand the need for rich coun-
can be felt, but it was long overdue.  And of course they will have tries with limited agricultural capabilities to seek out help from
WFP’s support in all stages of its creation and development. outside, and we also understand the poor countries’ limited fund-
ing to cultivate its land to develop their country and their people.
What is the way forward? But it should be done in such a way that the local communities
 I believe the way forward is more cooperation between the pri- are part of the decision making process since they are the main
vate sector and governments in eradicating poverty and hun- beneficiaries. However, most of the time, the local communities
ger.  The rich countries must participate more actively in poorer are not included in the loop.

february 2011 Qatar Today 47

cover story food the big fright

Global Dry Land Alliance

At the Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN headquarters in New York in September 2010, an important alli-
ance was formed. The Global Dry Alliance – Partnering for Food Security was formed for discussions and for forg-
ing development partnerships to meet the food security in the dry regions of the world.
“The Global Dry Land Alliance- Partnering for Food Security” which launched a global alliance aimed at strengthen-
ing cooperation among dry land nations. The event provided a much-needed forum to discuss challenges specific to
dry lands which account for 45% of the world’s land area. “In regions where extreme weather threatens food supply,
the answer is not short-term aid, but a global commitment to strengthening long-term food security,” says Dr Shah
who is working within the QNFSP for this Alliance.
According to Fahad Al-Attiya, QNFSP Chairman, the newly formed Global Dry Land Alliance will constitute 45 to 60 na-
tions with arid or semi-arid environments, including countries in the Middle East, Africa, the United States and India.

80% 40%
Middle East, with

In Figures
of the world’s food
of the rural population in
these areas is dependent of the world’s cereal
of the world’s imports and experiences
insecure population on crop agriculture and
population, the highest level of water
lives in dry lands livestock for both food
accounts for scarcity in the world
and income

Land Grab?
Over two-and-half million hectares in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; half a million hectares in Tanzania; and a quarter of
a million hectares in Libya, 40,000 hectares in Kenya: these figures represent just some of the recent international
land deals where wealthy countries buy land in poorer nations for food, and sometimes biofuel production.

These deals are flipside?

advantageous if

THERE IS A creation of Several deals have fallen through due to On the largeness of the international stage,
significant number of farm local unease local landowners in poor countries have
and off-farm jobs little power to negotiate fair terms for being
Both the Philippines and the Mozambique displaced from their land to make room for
have dropped Chinese land-deals, while a foreign farmers.
there is Development of
deal in Madagascar to provide South Korea
rural infrastructure
with 1.3 million hectares has been linked to Introducing intensive agricultural
Poverty-reducing the coup which overthrew former presi- production can threaten biodiversity, carbon
improvements such as dent, Marc Ravalomanana. Another deal stocks, and land and water resources.
construction of schools with Kenya and a Gulf country resulted in
While irrigation, fertilisation, and pesticides
and health post are made unease as KENYA was faced with famine and
may help increase yields, they could also
had to resort to international aid to feed
lead to long-term problems with salinity,
its own people...
erosion, and pollution.
Many deals are bad for local farmers
unless the agreements include specific
provisions to protect them.

( International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) report)

48 Qatar Today february 2011

the big fright food cover story


Prices of essential food items are
seen at a wholesale market in the
old quarter of New Delhi. India’s food
inflation climbed again to hit nearly
18 percent, official figures showed,
days after THE PM Manmohan Singh
declared the worst of the problem
was over.

us The Saudi predicament Hunger Statistics

$10 Saudi Arabia decided to
grow wheat and in the process

to depleted their ground water
resources. They have
now decided not to grow a high
water-content requirement
billion in subsidies hungry in the Middle East
for farmers in a year during crop.
the last decade

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), with its fertile land, ample water path of progressive and sustainable development.
resources and the world’s lowest agricultural productivity, is the
biggest hot spot for agricultural land acquisition by public and The Water Challenge
private investors from the GCC, China, India and Europe. The Dr Patrick Linke, Chief Engineer at QNFSP and the Associate
agricultural sector in SSA countries is in urgent need of invest- Professor of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University Qa-
ment capital. tar is of the opinion that water issues in the region are critical.
However, decades of poor government commitments to agri- Ground water resources cannot be touched as it cannot be re-
culture and low investments have resulted in stagnating produc- plenished given the climatic conditions of the region and hence
tivity and food-production levels. alternative resources have to be worked out for the food security
In his research papers, Dr Shah has shown how the GCC coun- programme.
tries have a real opportunity to invest in Sudan as a development “Basically the idea is to desalinate the sea water. The other al-
aid partner, not only to assure their own food security but also to ternative is to recycle waste water and reuse. But there are health
contribute to sustainable agricultural development. and hygiene issues to deal with while using recycled water for ir-
“The potential through a shared partnership model, as de- rigation, not to mention the large quantity needed for this.”
scribed above, is substantial. For example, current maize QNFSP is considering using non-fossil energy for producing
yields of approx 1.2 tonnes/hectare can be increased to more renewable resources, and as a concept, wind and solar energy is
than 7 tonnes/hectare with high agricultural technology and to be put to use. Reusing energy is another option and all this is
management.” being explored too. “All the issues will be explored, the energy
Responsible agricultural investments can contribute to sus- infrastructure, the location of the station, how to transmit the
tainable agriculture development towards achieving food secu- energy from it, to final feasibility of the desalination project, the
rity and an end to the hunger that today affects one-third of the economies of subsidies, all this will have to be looked into and by
population in SSA. 2013, and the picture will be in place.”
The GCC’s challenge is to adopt a scientific, knowledge-based “For this whole value chain to be economical, at some point of
and policy-relevant integrated agro-ecological and socio-eco- the chain subsidies will have to be put in place. It could be energy,
nomic approach to enhancing its domestic food production. water, or both or just the crop,” says Dr Linke
This can be done only by forming sustainable and responsible
development partnerships that can put the SSA countries on a feedback

february 2011 Qatar Today 49