Qatar goes farming
Last week I had the opportunity to visit AgriteQ, an International Agriculture Exhibition, at the Doha Exhibition and Conference Centre.
Held in Doha each year, it brings together agricultural specialists from around the world to share expertise, showcase innovation in farming and do business in Qatar, which has a rapidly expanding food production sector, as it seeks to become much more self sustainable and food secure.
Since the blockade by Qatar's neighbours, which started some 10 months ago, this nation found itself cut off from the mainland when Saudi Arabia closed the only land border and the UAE prevented the shipping of goods via Dubai.
These measures and others have given Qatar a real challenge to continue to meet the needs of its 2.5 million population. However, the country's rulers moved quickly to secure assistance from its allies whilst it immediately began fast tracking its plan to become self sustainable, particularly in the areas of dairy, poultry and vegetable production.
But the drive towards food security did not start with the blockade. AgriteQ is now in its 6th year and the interesting thing to note was the number of local Qatari producers already in operation and expanding rapidly.
Some of them, such as Baladna, the largest dairy and meat producer in Qatar, offered an opportunity to taste their products, while others were demonstrating growing techniques such as hydroponics.
This is a technique used to grow vegetables in arid environments, used by local companies such as Agrico, which grows a range of vegetables and fruits sold widely now in Doha's supermarkets and farmers markets.
Also on show at AgriteQ was a range of livestock, including sheep, goats, chickens and other poultry and even a camel or two, which were auctioned to local farmers.
On a smaller scale, there were producers from around the world bringing their goods for sale - olives and figs from Palestine, chocolate from Portugal, pickles and preserves from Morocco,
as well as local nurseries offering ornamental plants, water features and sculptures for residents who like a bit of bling in their back garden!
This effort is already proving fruitful, as the range of products now available in supermarkets is increasing again and the sense of loyalty towards Qatari products can be felt all over town, from the local date and honey sellers in Souq Waqif, and the farmers markets popping up everywhere, to the big supermarkets like Carrefour.
There is a ground swell of support for the local effort being made and it seems Qatar's big and not so neighbourly brothers totally underestimated this little nation's determination and resilience.