Nov 07 2012
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INTERVIEW: Qatar's Food Security Program Aims to Cut Imports by 60%
Wednesday, Nov 07, 2012
- Qatar aims to raise domestic food production
- Gulf state spent QAR3.5 billion on food imports in 2012
- Food import costs in 2013 to rise 15%
Of ZAWYA DOW JONES
DOHA (Zawya Dow Jones)--The tiny desert emirate of Qatar hopes to reduce its near complete dependency on imported food by 60% in 12 years after rolling out an ambitious multi-billion dollar government-backed food security program.
"We will not put an artificial cap on what we can produce--we will incentivise production to the maximum level possible," the chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Programme, or QNFSP, Fahad bin Mohammed Al Attiya told Zawya Dow Jones in an interview Tuesday.
QNFSP aims to increase domestic food production so Qatar can meet around two-thirds of its needs. Part of the plan involves building desalination plants that run on renewable energy and improving the quality of the soil to boost crop yields and the country's food reserves in an emergency.
The scheme was set up four years ago by Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani following sharp global food prices rises in 2007-2008 triggered by high oil prices and droughts.
Qatar is exposed to myriad political, economic, health and disease-related risks associated with buying food from abroad, Mr. Al Attiya said.
"Anything that happens outside our borders to food production or food supply chains is not subject to our control."
"We get the brunt of the impact that results out of food shortages, food crises, exports bans, climatic condition changes."
Qatar spent about 3.5 billion Qatari riyals ($961 million) on food imports this year, Mr. Al Attiya said, a figure that is set to rise almost 15% in 2013 because of a fast-growing economy and population, mainly made up of foreign workers needed for a huge state-funded infrastructure building program for the 2022 soccer World Cup.
Through Hassad Food, the agricultural arm of Qatar's $140 billion sovereign wealth fund, the emirate has bought farmland in Sudan and Australia in recent years, a controversial practice known as "land grabs", where rich countries like the Gulf states and China purchase land in Africa and Asia to secure their own food supplies.
Near total reliance on imports makes food expensive in Qatar and subject to huge price volatility, Mr. Al Attiya said. Food, beverage and tobacco costs rose 5.8% in September on an annual basis compared to the same month last year, Qatar's official consumer price index showed.
"Households cannot plan or budget their food expenditure and that has become a troubling situation which we had to tackle," he said.
Qatar's food security program is in design stage and will be implemented over ten years from 2014 and completed in 2024. So far, $300 million has been invested in the project, but Mr. Al Attiya said the implementation process would cost "billions of dollars" with roughly 50% of funding coming from the government and the rest from the private sector.
He brushes off suggestions the plan lacks economic sense.
"Mitigating the risk is in itself a gain, not a loss" he said. "Food security planning is for the worst case scenario, not for the good days," Mr. Attiya said.
Write Alex Delmar-Morgan at email@example.com
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