The State of Qatar stands tall with its enthralling infrastructure, high-tech facilities and its large reserve of a third of the world’s natural gas. Situated in the Arabian Gulf the country is a dry, subtropical desert with rough, sandy terrain and just 1% of arable land. It is a marvel how Qatar has managed to overcome this obstacle and contribute a good volume of local agricultural produce to its people.

As well as fishing and pearling, Qatar has always been involved in agriculture, particularly in Al Rayyan and Al Khor, the latter of which has the highest number of farms in the country.

Prior to the blockade in June 2017, most of the produce found in the country came via imports from its neighbouring nations and beyond. However, since the blockade Qatar has shown massive growth in its agricultural and livestock sector with production sufficiency exceeding 100%.

Over 1,400 farms and 400 greenhouses have been constructed in several areas of the country, primarily the north. The poultry sector has seen a rise in production, boosting Qatar’s self-sufficiency to 100% in poultry, meat and all dairy products. Self-sufficiency in vegetable production has reached 24% and is expected to exceed 70% by 2023.

Special agricultural facilities have also opened up to promote pisciculture, with the capacity to house over 2.4 mn fish larvae. Shrimp production is 79% self-sufficient with a current production of six tonnes a year. Authorities aim to reach 90% self-sufficiency by 2023.

Dairy production too has flourished incredibly, making Qatar totally self-sufficient in dairy and dairy products. Overall food production has shown tremendous growth – by a whopping 400% – and an estimated QAR10 bn has been achieved in annual fresh food trade volume. Advancement in technology and further research in agricultural production alternatives has helped improve and develop the farming scenario in the country.

Agriculture Production

Established in 2008, Hassad Food, Qatar’s premier investor in the food and agri-business sectors, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority. Since its inception, they have adopted an investment model that focuses on global investments and viable prospects that support Qatar and the nation’s food requirements. They currently have investments in Qatar, Australia, Oman and Sudan, with potential future investments in Asia, Africa, Europe and both North and South America.

Through all of their subsidiaries, Hassad Food produces 250,000 head of sheep, 179,000 tonnes of grain and 8,000 tonnes of green fodder along with basmati rice, eggs, dates, poultry, vegetables and a number of other products.

Hassad’s marketing arm, Mahaseel, takes responsibility for delivering Hassad’s investment to the end user including canned food, dates, legumes, olive oil and rice. The company also runs several farmers markets that operate in the winter season. To date, 124 farms have registered with the company.

The Moza rose about to bloom at the Roza Hassad greenhouse

Domestically, flower production company Roza Hassad was established in 2012 with the aim of becoming one of the region’s leading producers of cut flowers, while Zulal Oasis is an agricultural technology company developing and promoting cost effective hydroponics technology to support local farming.

Hassad Qatar acquired a 22.5% stake in Sunrise Food International in June 2019, the world’s largest organic grain and oilseed supplier based in Canada. They also launched solar powered irrigation technology in the local fodder sector, the first of its kind. This strategic project is expected to open up new areas for the usage of renewable energy in agriculture while supporting local market demands.

In 2015, Hassad Foods became a major stakeholder of A’Saffa Foods, a leading poultry company in Oman with a yearly production of 22,000 tons. Founded in 2000, Qatar Tunisian Food Company is one of the most important producers and exporters of olive oil. Hassad Foods’ subsidiary Mahaseel owns 51% of the company while several Tunisian companies own the remainder.   

Founded in 2009, Hassad Australia is the company’s first international investment that focuses on producing grain and livestock for local and international markets. Spread over 14 agricultural properties in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, a total of 300,000 hectares of cropping and pastoral land is used for the production of sheep, lambs, wool and grain.

Founded on the principle of sustainable long term agricultural production, AGRICO is a private Qatari agricultural development company with the goal of achieving national food security. Combining local innovation with international expertise while utilising the best technology available, AGRICO seeks to accomplish its goal by providing European quality produce at affordable rates.

Housing the most sophisticated air-conditioned hydroponic facility in the country, the company is able to harvest daily and distribute it locally within 24 hours. AGRICO is the first local greenhouse to distribute pre-packed organic produce, straight from the farm to supermarket shelves.

Starting from one 20,000 sq m greenhouse in Al Khor, AGRICO has flourished over time and now has a number of greenhouses and a separate unit for mushrooms. A range of vegetables and fruits are grown at these installations: beans; cucumbers; aubergines; green leafy vegetables; various types of lettuces; hot and sweet peppers; spring onions; courgettes; tomatoes; melons; and strawberries.     

Mustafawi Organic Vegetables offers a home delivery service of fresh organic produce from their farm off Al Shamal Road. The season runs from the autumn through to the beginning of the next summer. Visitors are welcome to take a tour of the farm, or can order produce direct to their doorstep! Check their Facebook page for updates on available vegetables and herbs.

Dairy Production

Established in 1985, the Arab Qatar Company for Dairy Production, Alban Ghadeer, is a joint venture between the Arab Company for Livestock Development (ACOLID), Gulf Investment Corporation and the State of Qatar. Consisting of 1,200 cows and agricultural farmland of 1,200 hectares, Alban Ghadeer moves ahead with the objective of ensuring food security in dairy products ever since its launch in 1990.

Owned by Al Rawdah Dairy & Juice products, Al Maha Dairy produces dairy products on their own local farms, with the company housing over 4,000 imported Holstein Friesian cows from Australia, Holland, South Africa and the US. Apart from their farm fresh milk, Al Maha also produces packaged fruit juices in innovative packaging.

Dairy brand, Baladna, provides 95% of the country’s milk demands and is one of the largest livestock and dairy farms in the region.

Located in the north of Doha, Baladna spans over 40 hectares of land with 20,000 Holstein cows, 10,000 Shami goats and 1,000 Al Awassi sheep. The company believes that these breeds are the best breeds for milk and meat production. During its inception in 2017 and just after the blockade, 165 cows were flown in from Hungary followed by 4,000 more from Australia, Germany and Netherlands.

Baladna has also launched other products such as fresh juice, ayran, laban, yogurt, Arabic ghee and cheese. The company has also started exporting products to Afghanistan and are looking to expand to regional markets such as Kuwait and Oman.

Technological inputs

Advancements in technology have influenced the farming sector a great deal. New lighting sources such as LED lighting technologies have made farming a far easier process when compared to traditional light sources. LED lighting helps avoid energy wastage by consuming very little energy. The lights can also be changed according to the stage of the seed’s germination – blue for the sprouting of the seed, red for photosynthesis, sprouting, flowering and fruiting. This technology enables farmers to grow their crops indoors at regulated temperatures and not worry about pests and diseases.

Facilities have also adopted hydroponics in farming where a water solvent with the required nutrients is used as a base for plant growth instead of the traditional use of soil. The nutrient enriched water comes from the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures housing in an aquaponic facility.

Many indoor farms, whether hydroponic or traditional, have installed sensors that will help detect inconsistencies in manufacture. Primarily, the detection of air temperature and humidity, soil temperature and moisture, soil pH, light, wind, concentration of carbon dioxide, and the content of oxygen is conducted along with 200 other parameters. This can also be linked to internet agriculture, where Internet of Things is used in agricultural procedures.

Farmer’s Markets

QF Torba Market
Torba Farmers Market, Education City

Qatar hosts many farmers’ markets throughout the year, but usually between October and late April/beginning of May. These markets promote the development of local produce and encourage local farming. Quality produce is available at cheaper prices with items such as vegetables, fruits, fish, livestock, poultry, eggs, plants and honey available for sale. Over 100 farms participate in these markets and more are estimated to join.

Some popular markets are: • Al Khor Yard (Ras Laffan Road) • Al Mazrouah Yard (Salwa – Lusail truck route) • Al Muaither Yard (Al Rayyan) • Al Ruwais Yard (northern Qatar) • Al Khor Yard (Ras Laffan Road) • Mahaseel (Katara) • Torba Market (Education City)

The Ministry of Municipality and Environment will open more markets to support Qatari farmers, including at Al Shamal and Al Sheehaniya. Farms also send their daily produce to local stores and supermarkets to promote homegrown produce in every corner of the nation. So now there is every reason to support Qatari farms and eat good, local produce!

Authors: Ahona Saha and Sarah Palmer

This feature is from the ‘Special Features’ section in the latest issue of Marhaba – Issue 75, published in August 2019.

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