Food in the Basket

Qatar has achieved one of the highest levels of food security in the world.

Qatar has achieved one of the highest levels of food security in the world thanks to robust supply chains, increased homegrown capacity, and the smart management of food reserves.

On June 5, 2017, when the news of an imminent diplomatic crisis made headlines, and the blockade was effectively formed, the issue of food security quickly came to the foreground. Given the geopolitical situation of Qatar, many worried about food imports.

As it happened, Qatar leveraged on its extensive diplomatic relations and business ties to remedy the situation, and no major food crisis was reported during the blockade, which lasted for exactly four years.

However, the incident started a nationwide dialogue about the importance of food security in Qatar, especially given the country’s limited homegrown capacity for many food items.

Since then, several milestones have been achieved in terms of food security. Local production of strategic food commodities has grown considerably, and a more robust network of bulk transportation has been developed using new air routes and sea lanes.

Also of note was the development of Qatar’s national food security strategies (2018-2023), which lay down the most optimal courses of action to lower the risk of food shortage under different scenarios.

Among other things, the strategy documents some of the heuristics that Qatari decision-makers learned during the challenging experience of the blockade.

The food security strategy proposes a handgun of pillars, the most important of which is to “ensure that trade routes are diversified so that risk-exposure is limited,” while having a “contingency plan for alternative routes as needed.” This was achieved by launching several maritime trade routes to the Indian subcontinent, Africa, and Latin America over the last five years.

Furthermore, as a major aviation hub operating one of the best flag carriers in the world, Qatar also came to rely on air cargo. Consequently, Qatar Airway Cargo has been growing quickly since 2017, achieving a global market share of 8% in air cargo transportation worldwide.

The airline currently serves some 65 freight destinations, transporting food commodities and medicine, among much else. Incidentally, Qatar Air Cargo’s increased capacity came in handy during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the airline transported over 600 million doses of vaccines.

Another pillar emphasized in the national food security strategy is the “effective cultivation of crops, meat, and fish within the confines of Qatar’s resource base to ensure a stable source of perishables in times of crises.” The problem is that self-sufficiency in many agricultural products seems impossible for Qatar, given its climate and type of soil.

However, large-scale greenhouse agriculture may be possible using a specific method that suits the country’s climate. Agrico, a local agricultural development company, tried to come up with just the right solution. “No one had the right technology for Qatar because not much research had been done locally by major companies,” says Nasser Al Khalaf, Agrico’s managing director.

The company has tried to operate large greenhouses exclusively designed for Qatar. “Through our own research and work, and after some years, we succeeded in producing every type of vegetable year-round. We have also changed the specifications of greenhouses themselves.

We changed the concept of cooling and of the materials used,” adds Al Khalaf to TBY. Using custom-built greenhouses, Agrico and other market players have increased Qatar’s self-sufficiency in vegetables and fruits to over 50%.

Whether food commodities are produced locally using high-tech or imported through diversified trade routes, the nation must maintain strategic reserves of food items. After the shock of the blockade began to wear off in late 2017, Qatar began investing in its strategic food reserves.

“The state also launched an electronic system to manage and monitor the strategic stocks, with the aim of activating the partnership between the government and private sectors,” according to the Gulf Times. By keeping track of food commodities in storehouses across the country, the Ministry of Commerce will always be able to track the pattern of consumption for each commodity. This will enable officials to negotiate import deals well in advance and, therefore, at more reasonable prices.

Two events in 2017 and 2020 effectively served as wake-up calls for Qatari officials to increase the level of food security. Now, with a diversified supply chain of food items, an increased production capacity for many agricultural products, and an AI-powered system of stockpile management in place, Qatar is more prepared than ever for all contingencies.

This has become all the more timely, as the world is once again witnessing alarming developments such as a war in Europe and the possibility of an economic crisis.

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