To offset skyrocketing food prices and a possible food crisis in the country, Qatar is planning to invest in a big way in foreign farmland.
The country will till vast areas of foreign farmlands to grow paddy, wheat, vegetables and fruits. Qatar has already identified some African and Far Eastern states to launch its project, a senior official in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture (MMAA) told The Peninsula yesterday.
Qatar's announcement comes close on the heels of the UAE and Saudi Arabia announcing their decision to invest in farmlands abroad to counter soaring inflation and guarantee long-term food security.
Like UAE and Saudi Arabia, Qatar is also depending on foreign countries for more than 60 percent of the country's demand for food products. Of late, the social unrest and natural calamities in some of its exporting countries had a serious bearing on Qatari market.
Worried about inflation fuelling unrest, India, one of the major food exporters to Qatar, resorted to export curbs. It banned the export of all non-basmati rice shipments early this year resulting in an unprecedented hike in the price of rice in Doha market.
The prices of vegetables and fruits had also touched a record high in the local market during the 2007 Israel-Lebanon conflicts.
“As of now, Qatar has enough stock of food products. We already have six month’s stock. But we don't want to leave things for chances,” said Dr Faleh bin Nasser Al Thani, Director General, General Department for Agriculture Research Development, MMAA.
Dr Faleh, who is just back from Sudan, said he visited some projects in Sudan where foreign countries had invested in their farmlands. “Sudan is not the only country that we are planning to launch the project. We have identified more countries in the Far Eastern region,” he said.
Media reports indicate that another GCC country along with private entities have already acquired about 800,000 acres of farmland in Pakistan. As incentive, Islamabad is offering legal and tax concessions to foreign investors in specialised agriculture and livestock ‘free zones’, and may also introduce legislation to exempt such investors from government-imposed export bans.
Food security of the region will be one of the key issues to be discussed at the upcoming meet of GCC agriculture ministers slated to be held in Doha on July 1, 2008.
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