New investment in food and agriculture is a central part of Qatar’s overarching strategy to diversify the economy, Hassad Food CEO Mohamed Badr al-Sadah said and noted agri-business and the broader food production and processing industry in Qatar has experienced significant growth in recent years.
International investment in food production should always be based on a market’s overall strategy for food security and the broader dynamics of the global end-to-end agri-food value chain, al-Sadah said in an interview with Oxford Business Group (OBG).
“Additionally, maintaining a balance between local production and imports is vital. This is being ensured through our strategic investments in countries including Sudan, Oman and Australia, and through a food security programme,” al-Sadah said.
On Qatar’s food sector, he said most food was previously imported from neighbouring states, but logistical costs have increased due to the blockade. As imports become more expensive, locally produced foods are in turn becoming more competitive.
The government, he said, has started implementing a “clear” plan to support these industries and encourage investment from the private sector.
Local companies have already been active in looking for international partners and “we’ve been approached” by foreign companies interested in opportunities in Qatar’s food sector.
In the domestic food sector, Qatar sees most opportunities in producing meat, poultry and fish. Depending on the season, there is also a lot of potential to produce fruit and vegetables.
Growth in these segments would lead to stronger demand for related services, including food processing, refrigerated logistics and warehousing.
On government’s role in supporting food industries and enabling investment, al-Sadah said, “We see the role of the government in the domestic food sector as that of a facilitator and orchestrator of the agri-food chain. Meanwhile, the private sector is responsible for implementing strategies and managing the day-to-day operations of individual projects.
“The government has launched a number of initiatives to encourage private sector production such as updating regulations, providing low-interest loans and running campaigns to increase the visibility of locally made products,” the Hassad Food CEO said in 'The Report: Qatar 2019'.
The Ministry of Municipality and Environment, for example, is planning to increase the amount of land that is allocated for cultivation in order to support production, while a specialised food security committee has been tasked with identifying supply gaps and designing a long-term strategy for food security. The government will also lead investment in research and support the private sector by providing technological expertise or other inputs like subsidised infrastructure.
Asked how technology can be used to overcome the environmental challenges facing local food production, he told OBG: “In regions with harsher climate conditions, like Qatar, technology in food production is particularly important. As such, developing Qatar’s research capabilities is a long-term strategic objective for the government, universities and local research institutions. Many firms are looking to increase production efficiency and average yields, as well as lower water consumption through innovative technologies.”
Hydroponics, for example, is estimated to reduce water consumption by 70% when compared to other cultivation methods, while greenhouses could enable continuous production throughout the year.
“We have adapted to the country’s scarce groundwater supply by increasing the use of wastewater and treated sewage water in water-intensive processes, such as for the production of fodder for livestock.
“Hassad Food is partnering with Norwegian chemical firm Yara International to develop fertilisers suited to Qatar’s climate conditions and soil salinity. We are still in the early stages of this research, but initial results are very positive. By enhancing agricultural inputs, we will be able to lower costs and increase yields,” al-Sadah noted.
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