Against a backdrop of uncertainty in its food security environment, Qatar is working to boost the agricultural and livestock sectors, primarily through building capacity.
In August, the Qatar Islamic Bank announced funding worth QR1.6bn ($435.8m) to finance a 530,000-sq-metre food security facility at Hamad Port outside of Doha.
The complex will primarily manufacture and store rice, raw sugar and edible oils and will consist of rice silos, oil storage tanks, a recycling facility, conveyor systems and a processing and warehousing space. Initial estimates puts the daily production capacity at 300 tonnes of rice, 300 tonnes of raw sugar and 200 tonnes of edible oil.
A month earlier, in mid-July, the New Port Project steering committee and local contractor Al Jaber Engineering signed a contract to design and build the facility and adjoining warehouse, which should take about two years. Once commercially operational, the output will be used domestically and internationally, with waste products to be turned into animal feed.
Boosting livestock numbers
In addition to initiatives to produce and store food staples, several companies are undertaking projects to increase in-country livestock numbers to strengthen the supply chain of dairy and meat products.
Local dairy farm Baladna is expanding its facilities to accommodate as many as 25,000 cows in a bid to meet 40% of Qatar’s dairy demand by mid-November and 100% by April 2018, when it will produce 300 tonnes of milk per day.
Located in Umm Al Hawaya on an area of 2m sq metres, the Baladna farm currently has the capacity for 12,000 dairy cows.
Earlier this year, the company announced it planned to import 4000 milking cows by mid-September, pushing daily milk production up to 100 tonnes, with further plans to gradually bring another 10,000 dairy cows into the country. To meet this target, 230 cows were imported via Qatar Airways Cargo in July.
Increased output should feed into the company’s downstream goals: in early May, for example, Baladna signed an agreement with Ali Bin Ali Group to distribute its dairy products. The products will be made available in about 100 retail outlets in the country.
Since it was established in 2009, Hassad Food, the agricultural arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, has looked further afield in its efforts to enhance livestock numbers and help local capacity. In June, Hassad Food subsidiary Hassad Australia began working with Widam Food to bring more than 340,000 heads of Australian sheep to Qatar.
Agriculture sector to play a crucial role
Initiatives to increase the food production capacity fall under the broader framework of the Qatar National Food Security Programme, launched in 2012 under a decree issued by then Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.
The plan targets increasing the number of farms from 1,400 to 3,000 and meeting at least 60% of the domestic food demand from local suppliers by 2024. Similar to other Gulf states, Qatar imports more than 90% of its food requirements.
In a country where only about 1% of the total land area is arable, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, projects under the programme’s aegis are looking to provide necessary technical advice and know-how to improve yields.
To this end, Hassad Food launched the IKTEFA initiative in July to provide support to unproductive farms, which currently comprise 80% of registered farmland in the country. The goal is to supply local farmers with the necessary financial aid and expertise to make their crops commercially viable for the domestic market. In the first phase of the plan, Hassad Food aims to implement its programme on 60 ha of land, producing some 5000 tonnes of fresh produce annually.
This announcement comes on the heels of an agreement last March between the Ministry of Municipality and Qatar Development Bank (QDB) to provide more support for local agriculture endeavours.
In August, local media reported that QDB will provide support and funding for the planned development of two agricultural complexes to produce livestock, poultry, fish and feed. Further project details on estimated cost and initial throughput have not yet been released to the public.
While meeting the goals set by the Qatar National Food Security Programme will require much work, initiatives such as IKTEFA should help usher in a new age of food security for Qatar, according to Abdulrahman Al Khayarin, CEO of Widam Food.
“The goal is to become 100% self-sufficient in certain segments across the food sector. Although this will take about two to five years, recent initiatives by the public sector coupled with the regional situation should only further accelerate this process,” Al Khayarin told OBG.
This Qatar economic update was produced by Oxford Business Group.