Challenges to Qatar's food security
The real estate and financial sectors in Qatar have been flourishing at the expense of the agricultural sector, which is facing several challenges and obstacles, including competition from imported food products and increasingly high production costs.
According to statistics obtained by al-Araby al-Jadeed, the number of farms registered in the gulf state has declined from 1,340 in 2013 to 1,282 in 2014. However, active farms saw an increase from 839 in 2013 to 872 in 2014.
The farms extend over 21,517.4 out of nearly 65,000 hectares of arable land, according to the Qatari environment ministry.
Water scarcity continues to be the main obstacle for Qatar's agricultural sector, says agriculture and fisheries official Faleh bin Nasser Al Thani.
|We were able to overcome the issue of revenue and profit by allowing the farmers to sell their products directly to consumers.
- Faleh bin Nasser Al Thani
"Qatar has managed to use modern technology and hydroponic systems," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed, "but water scarcity continues to affect the agricultural sector and any expansion hops."
"We were able to overcome the issue of revenue and profit by allowing the farmers to sell their products directly to consumers," Al Thani explained.
"Before, farmers used to sell their products through intermediaries, but they can now sell straight to consumers and benefit from the full profit."
According to Al Thani, Qatar will not stop importing vegetables and fruits, but it will continue to support local products in order to guarantee food security by limiting dependency on imports.
Supporting local agriculture
Youssef al-Khalifi, head of the environment ministry's agricultural affairs department, said that the relevant bodies in Qatar provide farmers with improved seeds and fertilizers.
"One of our top priorities is to provide seeds for farms that help achieve food security," said Khalifi. "The ministry also provides free display areas and boxes for the products."
"We have reduced electricity rates for farmers," he added.
According to Khalifi, Qatar may achieve self-sufficiency with many desired crops if the nearly 400 inactive farms joined production efforts.
Ali al-Kuwari built a greenhouse after taking 400,000 Qatari Riyals (about $110,000) as a loan from the Qatar Development Bank, to which he pays a monthly instalment of 5,000 Riyals (about $1,370).
Kuwari, however, complains of the high cost of production, which exceeds his monthly instalments to the bank.
"On the first time, I sold cucumbers for 14 Riyals ($4) per box," he said. "On the second time, I sold it for 8 Riyals ($2)."
"Pesticides are one of the main problems we face," he explained. "The relevant bodies should choose the right pesticides and seeds."
|Reducing imports may affect consumers, but it also affects the farmers.
- Ali al-Kuwari
"Some pesticides we need are not available in the market, and the seeds I had received from the ministry remained mostly in storage. Just as other farmers, I prefer to use the local seeds instead of those provided by the ministry."
Kuwari believes that the state should ban the import of goods that can be produced locally.
"Reducing imports may affect consumers, but it also affects the farmers," he explained.
Ibrahim Daloul, director of agriculture company Gulf Association, agrees with Kuwari regarding the need to increase state support for the sector.
"Imported products take up a large part of the Qatari market, and with competitive prices, so local products must be supported," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.
"Marketing the products is one of the main challenges faced by Qatari farmers," he added. "Agriculture in Qatar is mostly active during the winter, when prices are a major issue, as the price for a box of six kilograms of tomatoes reaches as low as three Riyals ($0.82)."
Daloul hopes for comprehensive studies to improve the agricultural sector, in order to achieve goals and visions aiming to guarantee Qatar's food security.