Ah, Grow On!

With the main of goal of food security, technology looks to play an ever-increasingly important role in how food is made.

One could be forgiven for not immediately calling to mind Qatar when identifying the globe’s agricultural heavy hitters. Qatar, quite understandably, conjures to mind sectors of economic activity the outputs of which are decidedly inedible. But times are changing in this peninsular nation. As Qatar continues to make progress on its impressive development goals, one of the most active areas of advance has been agriculture and food security. Though Qatar’s leaders had long been aware of the importance of food security, following the blockade of 2017 officials jumpstarted an impressive array of activities in this area, cementing Qatar’s status as one of the world’s most food secure nations.

Its National Food Security Strategy lays out four essential areas of development. In order to ensure that citizens have secure access to essential foodstuffs, the strategy calls for focusing on international trade and logistics to ensure trade routes are diversified and contingencies are in place; strengthening domestic self-sufficiency to enable the efficient cultivation of food items to ensure stability in times of crisis and developing a regulatory framework that incentivizes cost-competitive commodities; establishing and implementing an adequate and sensible reserve system; and enabling domestic markets so that food can move from ports, fields, or reserves in the most efficient way possible. To this end, Qatar has enumerated 13 distinct initiatives aimed at ensuring these ambitious goals can be achieved. By laying out a clear roadmap, the government has developed a framework that can safeguard the nation’s food security for decades to come.

One of the greatest success stories in Qatar’s efforts to transform its food production capabilities has been Baladna. Subsequent to the blockade initiated in 2017, Baladna Food Industries (BFI), a subsidiary of Baladna, embarked on an impressive and extensive capacity buildout that witnessed large investments in both new machinery and plants. Thanks in no small part to Baladna’s significant investments, Qatar recently reached 100% dairy self-sufficiency, which was one of the government’s core food security strategy initiatives. As the example of Baladna’s success illustrates, a key consequence of the blockade was a significant improvement in the overall condition of food security in Qatar. In fact, according to the Global Food Security Index, published by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, Qatar now ranks 13th in the entire world in food security, just behind agricultural powerhouses like the US, Canada, and Germany, and a fair bit higher than regional neighbors. Ranked first in affordability, 38th in availability, and 13th in quality and safety, in a few short years Qatar has established itself as one of the most robust and resilient foodstuff markets.

Already a regional leader in applying novel solutions to food scarcity issues, Qatar’s post-blockade investment only strengthened its position further with new, innovation-focused agricultural development. Tools like advanced greenhouse solutions, hydroponics, and now the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G-connected farming are promising to revolutionize agriculture and food security in Qatar, and Vodaphone has been a key partner in these efforts. According to the Gulf Times, Vodaphone’s IoT tools have already helped farmers and food stuff producers increase efficiency through animal welfare, crop, and soil monitoring, as well as optimizing the use of precious water resources.

After witnessing such profound success in its domestic agricultural and food security goals, Qatari stakeholders in the public and private sector are now looking to exports as a natural outgrowth of their work. While dairy and fisheries products are considered areas of prime export potential, the nation’s leaders are also interested in exporting the hard-won know-how the nation has garnered to some of its less fortunate global neighbors. In December of 2020, the Qatar Fund For Development (QFFD) signed a collaboration agreement with the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), and the major thrust of the agreement was oriented toward green and sustainable development, including in agriculture, and the creation of more robust SMEs and SME networks with a green focus.

Though still in the midst of its own transformation, Qatar’s partnership with GGGI illustrates the country is interested in not just its own food security but in the food security and development of the underserved members of the global community. So while it might be a few years still before agricultural production and Qatar are effortlessly associated with one another, policymakers and market actors are focused on sowing the seeds of transformation.

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