Over a year ago, more than 90% of Qatar’s food was imported, with produce coming from surrounding GCC countries such as the United Arabic Emirates and Saudi Arabia. On 5 June 2017, a number of Qatar’s neighbouring states suddenly and unexpectedly cut diplomatic ties, a turn of events that had the potential to affect the day-to-day lives of Qatar residents severely.
Within weeks, however, new international partnerships and channels of distribution had been formed to address the country’s immediate needs. By August 2017, HH Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was calling for greater food self-sufficiency for Qatar’s long-term sustainability and independence.
Food Sustainability Programme
In a nationwide effort to help the country, a number of organisations answered the call, launching innovative food security programmes. Qur’anic Botanic Garden (QBG), a member of Qatar Foundation (QF), successfully established an ambitious programme for high school students designed to promote the value of food sustainability.
As part of the ongoing programme, students attend workshops at QBG and learn from experts from the Ministry of Municipality and Environment and the private sector. Participants are also given the opportunity to meet with local business people who work within the food industry to learn about the challenges and obstacles that they face on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, QBG houses a small-scale farm on-site at Education City, growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, and dill—enabling students to learn first-hand how to cultivate produce.
Fatima Saleh Al Khulaifi, QBG Project Manager said they that many young people in Qatar don’t know anything about agriculture, and their knowledge of the importance of food security is limited. She said that the programme aims to provide basic information and equip young highschool students with practical skills to help grow the domestic agriculture industry.
Ultimately, through this initiative, we are investing in the future of Qatar. This is the first year of the programme, and our goal is to increase the number of schools and participants. We’d like this initiative to grow and gain traction across the nation.’
Weill Cornell Medicine–Qatar (WCM-Q), a QF partner university, is another entity working towards food sustainability.
‘Project: Greenhouse’, part of WCM-Q’s ‘Sahtak Awalan – Your Health First’ campaign, aims to teach children about the environment, sustainability, how to grow fruits and vegetables, and the importance of adopting a healthy diet. WCM-Q has provided greenhouses to more than 130 public elementary schools across Qatar, as well as seeds, soil, and instructions on how to cultivate plants.
In February 2018, Project: Greenhouse expanded to include a brand-new initiative, ‘Khayr Qatarna’. The initiative installed three large-scale, climate-controlled greenhouses at select schools. These greenhouses, run by professional gardeners, are being used to grow fruits and vegetables for distribution through local supermarkets under the Khayr Qatarna brand, with all proceeds being re-invested into the project. As the project continues to develop, WCM-Q aims to include additional schools and build more greenhouses, with the possibility of increasing the range of fruits and vegetables that are grown.
Nesreen M Al Rifai, Chief Communications Officer at WCM-Q, said the concept of food sustainability and food security is vital for Qatar.
If there is one positive aspect of the blockade, it has provided Qatar with the impetus to take responsibility for its own food production. Khayr Qatarna wants to complement this, providing the community with fresh, locally-grown food sold under the Khayr Qatarna brand.
The initiative has both educational and socio-economic aims, according to Al Rifai.
We are helping educate students about the importance of sustainable food production while learning about the environment, logistics, economics, and the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Sahtak Awalan is very much a community project, and we want to give back to the community and to Qatar.’
In November 2017, QF also launched the Torba Farmers Market in Education City. The market is a Qatari-founded initiative that provides access to organic, locally-grown food, and homemade products, and supports agricultural and other food producers around the country. The market runs throughout the winter months.