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19 September 2019

Qatar’s community is the key to food security: QF researcher

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Science and research projects aimed to make Qatar food-secure must be matched by people’s own efforts

Qatar must make a pan-generational, country-wide effort to ensure its future food security, according to a Qatar Foundation (QF) researcher who says social engagement will be as important as science.

Despite the imposition of a blockade by its neighbors more than two years ago, Qatar has continued to more than hold its own in the global food security stakes, ranking first in the Arab world and higher than 91 other nations in the most recent edition of a worldwide rundown of the stability, affordability, availability, and quality of countries’ food production and consumption.

Across the country, various organizations have contributed – and are continuing to contribute – to ensuring Qatar’s food security, with QF at the forefront of these efforts. And while science, research, and innovation are crucial to keeping the nation food-secure, Dr. Omar Farouk Boukhris, Senior Manager, Energy and Environment Programs at QF member Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), says there is another core ingredient - people recognizing the part they have to play.

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The Khayr Qatarna initiative allows school students to harvest fresh fruit and vegetables

“Community involvement – and social engagement – are key to food security,” explains Dr. Boukhris. “One way to guarantee the continuity of our efforts is to make sure the social aspect of approaching food security is activated and is heavily contributing to it at the individual, family, community and society levels.

“Generations should be aware of the need to make a commitment towards responsible production and consumption of food.”

QNRF has funded over 30 research projects aimed at enhancing Qatar’s food security, with Dr. Boukhris saying: ”Our efforts are not solely focused on theories or laboratory research - instead, we wanted to translate the research into actions with tangible impacts on the ground.

“We have met and held discussions with all stakeholders: farmers, livestock managers, distributors, shopkeepers, and consumers. Their feedback prompted us to give research into food security the highest level of priority.”

Community involvement has been identified as essential to Qatar’s future food sustainability

In partnership with the Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME), QNRF has since issued a first-of-its-kind joint Food Security Call – inviting research proposals focused on sustainable local food production. “We encourage international researchers to submit proposals as well; they can work with scientists in Qatar to come up with practical solutions for sustainable local food production that will serve to address both local and global food issues,” says Dr. Boukhris.

The aim is to provide technological solutions that advance local, sustainable food production and shape policies around it. But Qatar’s efforts to achieve lasting food security are not reserved for the world of science and research.

Generations should be aware of the need to make a commitment towards responsible production and consumption of food.

Dr. Omar Boukhris

The idea of engaging youth in advancing food security is being actioned by other QF members who are working to make Qatar self-reliant in food production. Khayr Qatarna, part of ‘Sahtak Awalan - Your Health First’ – QF partner university Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar’s (WCM-Q) flagship health campaign – is one program that has successfully involved school students in addressing the country’s food sustainability.

Launched in February 2018 as the second stage of the Greenhouse Project, which saw 130 greenhouses built in schools across the country, Khayr Qatarna has since produced more than 30 tonnes of fruit and vegetables for the Qatari market. As part of the program, 10 schools have had large-scale, climate-controlled greenhouses erected on their sites, and are growing a variety of fruit and vegetables - from tomatoes and cucumbers to red cabbage and salad leaves - which are then sold under the Khayr Qatarna brand in selected supermarkets across Doha.

Nesreen Al-Rifai, Chief Communications Officer at WCM-Q, says Khayr Qatarna has encouraged Qatar’s community to be part of national food security efforts at grassroots level. “We are so grateful that we have been able to contribute to food sustainability in Qatar,” she says.

“These issues are incredibly important to the nation, not only now, but for future generations. By fostering an interest in agriculture in our young people - alongside reinforcing domestic production capacity - we can help secure a sustainable future for Qatar.”

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Since its launch, Khayr Qatarna has produced more than 30 tonnes of food for the Qatari market

Meanwhile, another QF member, Qur’anic Botanic Garden (QBG), is also promoting student and community participation in furthering food security. By collaborating with private and public organizations, it launched a unique school-wide educational food security program in 2017, providing students with the resources, infrastructure and guidance necessary for them to create an oasis within their school grounds where they can grow fresh produce.

QBG also this year launched an agricultural competition for schools that are participating in its wider food security program – which began in October 2017 – with the top three schools being selected by a jury. As part of the program, QBG handpicked students who had demonstrated excellence in participation and production, and, with contributions from private companies, provided each of them with a state-of-the-art greenhouse that allows them to grow a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that consume less water – year-round.

“The program strives with confidence to prepare the next generation of young people to help achieve food security in Qatar,” says Fatima Saleh Al-Khulaifi, Project Manager of QBG. “Additionally, QBG also invests its resources that lead to self-sufficiency of agricultural products, through innovation and technology.”

Greenhouses like this are at the heart of QBG’s food security focus

QF programs like these are giving members of Qatar’s new generation, such as 14-year-old Moza Al Hitmi, the opportunity to have a direct impact on the country’s future. The Grade 9 student has been involved in the Khayr Qatarna project for over a year, helping to produce fruit and vegetables in the temperature-controlled greenhouse at Amna bint Wahab Preparatory School for Girls.

Qatar’s younger generation are taking a hands-on approach to making their nation food-secure

“Khayr Qatarna taught me the fundamentals of farming, economics, logistics, and the need for including more fruits and vegetables in my diet,” says Al Hitmi. “But, more importantly, it taught me the value of food. I no longer take a food item for granted, as I’ve seen first-hand the efforts that go into producing it – and how critical it is to people’s lives.”

“I’m incredibly proud that I’ve been directly involved in helping my country grow enough food. The knowledge that each fruit or vegetable grown in our greenhouse – produce that I personally planted, watered, and harvested – is actually feeding a person in my own country, is something that gives me satisfaction.”

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