Spotlight | Dr. Tareq Al-Ansari
Celebrating International Youth Day 2021
Every year, the International Youth Day is celebrated on 12th August to raise awareness about the issues facing our youth and the role they are playing in helping solve the foremost challenges faced by communities worldwide. This year, the United Nations has selected “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health,” as the theme.
In the past few years, Qatar has made remarkable strides in the field of food security to address the increasing challenges it faces due to its harsh climate and environment. The youth of Qatar has been actively involved in helping with these efforts at all levels. One such young researcher is Dr. Tareq Al-Ansari, who is an Associate Professor at the College of Science and Engineering at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.
Dr. Al-Ansari completed his B.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering from the University College of London (2008), an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development from the University of Cambridge (2011), and completed his PhD at Imperial College London in Sustainable Development and Environmental Engineering (2016). He specialized in sustainable development, engineering management, and decision sciences.
In the past, Dr. Al-Ansari has worked in Qatar Petroleum in the common cooling water project and the Barzan Gas Project, during which he also spent some time in Japan. He has also served as a technical advisor at the Qatar National Food Security Program. This month, we learn more about his academic and professional journey and the important role youth is playing in helping Qatar strengthen its food security.
- How did you get interested in pursuing research in food security?
My interest in food security began during my master’s program at the University of Cambridge where I did my dissertation on the ‘Resilience of the Qatar National Food Security Program’. I found the topic very important and interesting and I continued the research during my PhD at Imperial College where I completed my thesis, titled: “Development of the Energy, Water, Food Nexus Systems Model.” At the time, the Energy, Water, Food (EWF) nexus concept, which can be closely linked to food security was growing in popularity and still continues to grow.
It is very relevant for countries such as Qatar and focuses on resource optimisation considering the interlinkages between resources. Thankfully, I have continued to work on food security and the EWF topic since completing my PhD with the support of QNRF who have awarded me two grants titled, “A novel design for an energy, water and food nexus economy” (NPRP11S-0107-180216), and “Development of national food security intelligence” (MME01-0922-190049.)
- What is the importance of food security for Qatar and the Middle East region and how do you see its overall impact on the planetary health?
Food security forms one of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and as such represents a key global target. As the global population grows, it is vital that good quality and nutritious food is available and accessible to all. Historically, arid countries such as Qatar have depended heavily on global markets for their food supply. Naturally, dependency on global markets for critical items will result in vulnerabilities, which can be exposed during times of crisis.
As such, it was very important for Qatar to embark on a national food security program to ensure that the food supply chains serving the domestic market entail of locally produced food in addition to imports. Going forward, and as part of sustainable development, it is vital that we ensure that domestic food systems intensify and sustainably meet food production targets considering the harsh environment and resources constraints, especially water.
- How has Qatar progressed in strengthening its food security and what innovations have been developed which are also helping people beyond Qatar?
Our country, supported by the private sector, has embarked on numerous projects to expand local production and enhance the national self-sufficiency across various food items. This is evident as local products are widespread in the domestic markets and are consumed by the local population. New methods and techniques are being developed and implemented to cope with natural constraints, which is testament to the determination to develop a more resilient food system. New innovations that reduce water consumption, cope with high temperatures and humidity, enhance intelligence using AI and other tools are now in practise and these innovations have the potential to be implemented beyond Qatar to help alleviate food security challenges faced regionally and globally. Of course, there remains potential for improvement, which is an impetus for the research community in collaboration with industry.
- Lastly, what role can youth play in transforming food systems to make them more secure and contribute to the overall planetary health of the Earth?
The youth are essential for sustainable development as they will be the leaders of the future. They have crucial roles to play today in transforming the food system to become more sustainable and resilient, in addition to safeguarding our environment.
At the very least, responsible consumption to reduce food waste is a practise we can all do. Moreover, education is also very important; we should know where our food comes from, how far it has travelled, and the conditions to which it was produced. Lastly, I encourage our students, and aspiring researchers and policymakers to make the most use of the learning and development opportunities provided to them and play their part in Qatar’s sustainable development.