Monday, February 4, 2013

Qatar and the Problem of Food Security

via Wikipedia
Qatar is not a big country. At about 11,600 sq kilometres (or just under 4,500 sq. miles), Qatar has a population of about 1.6 million, with only a quarter million of those being citizens. Qatar survives on its fossil fuel reserves, giving it a high per capita income--but also a moderate gini coefficient of 41.1 (the measure of inequality in a society). But what Qatar doesn't have is water. And they don't really have any food either.
Qatar inports about 90% of the food they consume--a number roughly comperable to Vancouver Island.  But the Qatar government is hoping to change that--by embarking on an intensive food production regime backed up with desalination of ocean water for irrigation. Al Jazeera has reported on this:
About 200 staff, mostly from other Middle Eastern nations and the Indian sub-continent, tend to crops on the irrigated, semi-arable land and in greenhouses.
More than a dozen greenhouses are set in rows and cooled to deal with summer temperatures that frequestly exceed 50° Celsius (122°F). Hydroponics - a soilless, mineral-infused water growing system - helps to produce tomatoes, eggplants and green peppers.
Qatar wants to increase these farms twofold to about 3,000 as part of a plan to become food secure by 2024.
"We believe Qatar can produce the vegetables for the local market, without any need to import," Shamardal says.
They've got about 1500 farms growing vegetables, and hope to double that number by 2024. Mostly, it seems, because they don't really trust the stability of the world food system. Qatar has seen food price rises of 5% a year from 2006 through 2011--raising the prices high enough that the government is worried.
Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiya, chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Programme, said "We intend to reduce the level of volatility and make sure there is certainty within the system and build confidence that this country is not going to be prone to food price shocks and food supply shocks in the future."  After all, Egypt's government, the one that seemed so stable and permanent,  fell quickly when the food price index jumped to over 210.
Here's a short piece from Al Jazeera:

Al Jazeera news on Qatar's food security program.

Qatar is also moving ahead with being able to grow more food on saline soils. By intensively growing a naturally-occurring soil fungus called mycorrhiza and then using it to innoculate soils, plants are more able to deal with salt,  better able to take up nutrients, and better able to deal with the punishing heat.

Al Jazeera news on Qatar's mycorrhizal program.

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