Spotlight | Mark Velders
Building Qatar’s Food Security Infrastructure
In the past few years, Qatar has committed substantial efforts and resources to strengthen its food security and develop the local farming, poultry, livestock, and fisheries sectors. To outline a clear framework for improving food production, supply, storage, and trade; the Qatar National Food Security Strategy 2018-2023 has been developed to build a robust plan to improve Qatar’s food security.
In line with this, Qatar National Research Fund has been enabling local and international researchers to solve Qatar’s food security challenges and develop innovative technologies for food production and supply suitable to the local conditions. The Food Security call, offered in collaboration with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME), is an integral part of these efforts which recently awarded grants to six promising research projects under its second cycle.
This month, we feature an interview with Mark Velders, a food security expert, to understand the steps Qatar has been taking towards strengthening its food security and learn about its progress so far. Mr. Velders is an agriculture engineer and consultant to the Qatar National Food Security Initiative coordinated by the Food Security Department at MME. He is also a partner in The Conscious Farmer, an international consultancy assisting farmers and growers phasing out agriculture chemicals and switching to more biological production methods.
Kindly read the interview below
1. Can you briefly outline the main objectives of the Qatar National Food Security Strategy 2018-2023 and how is Qatar progressing towards achieving these goals?
In a nutshell, Qatar’s Food Security strategy aims to improve Qatar’s National Food Security in the most sustainable way by focusing on four pillars including strategic reserves, domestic self-sufficiency, international trade and logistics, and domestic markets. To build our strategic reserves, we plan to cover our food security risks with the most efficient methods and technologies. Moreover, we should create opportunities to produce critical perishable food items locally and store food commodities in silos and buffer stocks.
Over the past few years, we have been successful in improving our domestic self-sufficiency in fresh poultry, dairy, meat, fish, and vegetables, and are now positioned to embark on the second step of increasing production. In the next phase, Qatar plans to implement aquaculture projects that will relieve the pressure off of the local fish stocks and help enhance sustainable levels of fishing and fish stock management in Qatar.
Moreover, Qatar plans for all animal fodder to be grown using recycled water instead of groundwater by 2025 along with establishing organic waste to organic fertilizer production facilities. This will immensely minimize waste and at the same time improve Qatar’s arable lands. All these initiatives are aimed at protecting and improving Qatar’s natural resources, freshwater aquifers, fish stocks, and arable lands for future generations.
In the pillar of international trade, we ensure that steps are taken to reduce trade and trade route dependencies as diversifying trade partners prevents dependence on a single partner to import essential staples like rice or lentils. Contingency planning for trade disruptions assists in keeping our trade options open in the case of any trade route disruption. Due to this approach, we have received positive and encouraging feedback from traders and retailers about Qatar’s preparedness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Lastly, the pillar of domestic markets aims to develop policies to improve the transparency, efficiency, and fairness of the local supply chain to ensure that our local farmers get a fair price for their goods through our fully operational farm support program which is assisting over 200 growers in Qatar. We are also in the process of developing and implementing policies to minimize food loss in the supply chain.
Another recent development is the development of the National Food Security Analytics platform, which we rolled out over the last year under the TASMU program of the Ministry of Transport and Communications. This platform combines and integrates all relevant food security datasets under one digital dashboard available to all Food Security decision-makers, assisting them in devising policies and interventions which are data-driven and fact-based.
2. What is the uniqueness of the challenges that Qatar and the region face in terms of food security?
It is obvious that our climate and land conditions are not favorable for local food production. However, we are not alone as there are other countries we can learn from that face the same problems including Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, and other countries with limited arable lands and comparable food security issues. However, Qatar’s combined arid lands and an extremely hot and humid climate add to the complexities of its difficulties. This unique set of challenges has triggered various R&D initiatives to innovate viable solutions to irrigate lands that are non-arable and help local farmers and growers adapt to an unfavorable climate that is too harsh for local food production.
3. How important are research initiatives like the QNRF-MME Food Security Call to help build a resilient food security infrastructure in Qatar?
As stated in my previous answer, such initiatives encourage our researchers and scientists to take on the challenge and push themselves to find solutions to complex questions like how can we reclaim lands in Qatar and make them fertile? How can we develop cooling systems that will help control indoor climates that are still efficient even in the harsh climate conditions of Qatar? And how can we best preserve fish stocks and other natural resources for future generations?
Many of the existing and newly awarded QNRF-MME funded R&D initiatives focus exactly on tackling these challenges. As seen in the previous cycle, our talented researchers are able to answer these questions and have developed sustainable solutions which can be of benefit to Qatar, the region, and beyond.
4. What role/responsibility does the local community have in strengthening Qatar's food security?
Our local community members are all consumers but are also traders, retailers, food processors, food producers, researchers, students, and policymakers. We all make up the food system of Qatar. All of us are implementation partners and are an integral part of the foundation for the development, implementation, and follow-up of our Food Security initiative. We plan to soon organize community dialogues where we will invite the local community and stakeholders to participate in productive discussions about our strategy, co-create, and improve the Qatar Food System as we know it to make it even more secure, resilient, sustainable, and healthy.