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Moo-ving forward? Qatar’s next big purchase- a farming sector

Moo-ving forward? Qatar’s next big purchase- a farming sector

It is a seductive vision, and Qatar's vast wealth as the world's top liquefied natural gas exporter will allow it to mobilise the best technology and equipment. But many economists and agricultural experts say Qatar's plans do not make economic sense -- and that there is little need for them, given the small size of the population.

January 5, 2012 4:10 by

SAIC, which started vegetable production in 2001, is growing tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants and other vegetables through a combination of greenhouses, hydroponic systems and regular farming. It supplies supermarkets and hotels.

“We use artificial soil to produce the vegetables. With this system we can save around 50 percent of water, and water is a very important factor here in Qatar,” said Shamardal.

Qatar now produces around 23 percent of its requirement of vegetables. They are grown by 56 percent of the country’s farmers and take up 11 percent of its cultivated farm area, according to the QNFSP.

The country’s aquifers are already severely depleted, Attiya said. But the QNFSP plans to obtain agricultural water from seawater desalination using solar parks, and only keep aquifers as strategic water reserves.

“Once we have achieved solar desalination, we will ask the farmers to stop using the aquifers,” he said.

While Qatar’s technology is impressive, however, experts say it will be difficult to apply the techniques to a full range of crops, especially cereals.

“Certain commodities like fish, eggs and poultry can be produced locally with an increased level of self-sufficiency,” said food security advisor Shah.

“Aquaculture can be used for fish, controlled environment production for poultry and eggs, but when it comes to cereals, the scale of the water required — this has to be carefully thought through.”

Attiya said total costs for the QNFSP had not yet been calculated. While Qatar does not lack money, it is hoped that private sector involvement will make the programme efficient and responsive to consumer demand.

“The funds will come both from the private sector and the public sector. All the regulatory functions, the research and education, policy, legislation and regulation, that will be entirely funded by the state,” said Attiya.

“The rest, in terms of the development of the power plant, desalination plant, and all the financing of all the different upgrades of the farms, that will happen by the private sector.”

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