Locally Grown: Farming in Qatar
Buying local food products is becoming more popular these days. With growing concerns about climate change and the effects of global warming, this trend isn’t just a temporary fad. Locally grown products are usually less expensive and better for our environment than those flown in from other countries.
Currently, there are approximately 1,300 farms registered with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment’s (MME) Agricultural Affairs Department, but less than seven percent of these farms are commercial businesses. Larger and more established farms such as Al Sulaiteen Industrial Complex (SAIC), AGRICO and The Global Farm for Agricultural Supplies produce the lion’s share of agricultural output, distributing to local supermarkets including Lulu Hypermarket, Al Meera and Carrefour.
Overcoming environmental challenges
Qatar has one of the harshest climates on the globe with only one percent arable farming land. A fast-growing, high-income population, along with expanding construction and industry sectors have created an alarming consumption rate of electricity and water. As a result, farms in Qatar, encouraged by the government, are looking at alternative farming methods to combat the climatic conditions and high-energy needs.
To deal with water shortage, Qatar relies heavily on desalination—a costly and energy-consuming method of removing salts and minerals from seawater. Recycled water and treated sewage are mainly used for irrigation in the farming industry, but even that is a highly energy-consuming process. Qatari farms such as SAIC, AGRICO and The Global Farm for Agricultural Supplies have embraced hydroponics—a soil-less farming method that can produce higher yields, reduce plant pests without insecticides, and use up to 70% less water than traditional farming.
Qatar provides subsidies to farms for electricity and water to boost local production. However, some local farmers have asked for more support as farming costs are hefty, and energy consumption high.
The government, in partnership with Qatar Development Bank, is also offering local farms subsidies and loans to encourage them to convert to hydroponics.
Greenhouse farming, used by local farms such as Al Mustafawi Organic and Al Safwa, is another efficient method of growing crops that improves yields, reduces environmental impact, and controls agricultural pests such as birds, insects and rodents. This method also protects crops from adverse climatic conditions, including extreme temperatures and sandstorms—a bonus for local farmers. The government plans to supply more than 70 additional greenhouses to local farms to promote productivity, quality and energy efficiency.
Currently, five organic farms are registered in Qatar, and the organic sector is picking up the pace as consumers become more aware of the benefits of locally grown organic produce. Certified organic products in Qatar must meet GCC Standardisation Organisation (GSO) regulations, guidelines and farm practices. This ensures the product has been processed in an ecologically sound manner from farm to market, and confirms its authenticity.
Started in 1965, Al Safwa Farm cultivates organic fruit, vegetables, dates, honey, chicken and eggs. The 400-hectare farm, of which 50 hectares have been used for organic farming since 2012, is currently the only farm in Qatar to hold both international and GCC organic certifications. The farm is inspected regularly for adherence to international organic standards, and currently sells to local supermarkets such as Monoprix and Al Meera. Owner Nasser Al Kuwari says the farm plans to convert fully to organic production by 2018 and build more greenhouses to double its production.
Qatar’s livestock industry has increased 20% since 2015, with no signs of slowing. At the core of Qatari legislation for livestock are the standards and guidelines of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, WHO, GSO and World Organisation for Animal Health—the same standards that Europe and the US use to construct their regulations. Animal products in Qatar must also adhere to the Islamic rules of slaughter outlined by the GSO.
Athba Farm, whose products can be found at Lulu Hypermarket and Al Meera, currently produces free-range, vegetarian-fed poultry products including chickens, quails and quail eggs. According to Athba Farms spokesperson Dr Alaa Abuzeid, the MME carries out weekly on-site inspections to affirm that the farm adheres to government regulations. He added that Athba farm does not use growth hormones and antibiotics but only gives its poultry essential vitamins and routine health vaccinations to protect against diseases such as influenza. Athba plans a major expansion to increase their production from 5,000 chickens to 30,000 chickens per day.
Qatar’s growing farming industry seeks to utilise innovative and sustainable farming methods and diversify production while implementing international standards and practice. For consumers this is good news: buying local is beneficial to the environment, supports local businesses and brings fresh produce to our tables at affordable prices.
Last year there were six farmers’ market locations around Qatar. The markets opened in mid-October and sold fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, livestock, poultry, eggs and locally produced honey from more than 80 farms. In previous years, the markets were open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 7am to 5pm with a break for prayer on Fridays.
Al Mazrouah Yard, off the Salwa-Lusail Temporary Truck Route in Umm Salal
Al Khor Yard, off Ras Laffan Road near Al Khor Hospital
Al Wakrah Yard, across from Ezdan Mall in Al Wakra
Al Muaither Yard, in Al Rayyan
Al Ruwais Yard, in northern Qatar
Mahaseel Festival, on the south side of Katara. Last year, the festival opened in January and ran from 8am to 9pm Thursday to Saturday