Affordable food is key to stability

By Ameen Asif Abdul Rasheed
Qatar National Food Security Programme

World food prices increased dramatically in 2007 and 2008, creating a global crisis and causing political and economic instability and social unrest in mainly poor but also developed countries. Riots in the face of high prices hit the news. Universal causes for the worldwide increases in food prices continue to be the subject of debate. After peaking in the second quarter of 2008, prices fell first, but then increased during 2009 and 2010, and reached the 2008 level again in early 2011. A repeat of the crisis of 2008 is not anticipated, though, due to sufficient stocks.
Initial causes for the price rises included droughts in grain-producing countries and rising oil prices. Oil price increases also caused general escalations in the price of fertilisers, food transportation, and industrial agriculture. The increasing use of biofuels in developed countries was also a factor as well as the increasing demand for a more varied diet from the middle-class populations of emerging countries.

Access to affordable food
Food security means to have access to affordable food. Food security is becoming an important challenge for countries in the Middle East. Many of the countries face tighter global food markets because of strained export surpluses, a decline in domestic food production and population growth. When international food prices started climbing, the Middle East, among other regions, was especially vulnerable. In the past two decades, the region has been shaken three times by waves of food rioting, most recently in 2008 when prices spiked higher. Now, prices are climbing again. To secure food supplies has now become a strategic priority, especially for many import-dependent countries and regions. This is notably the case of the Middle East, where oil-rich countries over the last four years have been announcing multi-billion agricultural investments.

Why does Qatar require food security?
Even though Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries on the Arabian Peninsula, there is a fear that someday the nation might not be able to secure enough food due to declining domestic agriculture, population growth and a heavy dependence on agricultural imports.
Food security in Qatar increased in importance in 2008, as the world saw a big commodity boom and food cost hikes, coupled with an increase in export restrictions by trading partners. Even as the cost of food supply from outside the region rose, local supply has been falling and regional demand has been rising. Already 90% of food is being imported in Qatar. Meanwhile, the population is increasing; between 2015 and 2030, it is expected to double. Water used for irrigation comes from ancient aquifers and is non-renewable. There has been a rise in export restrictions on food by major trade partners, who are concerned about their own food security. Now the country has to think about either an increase in government subsidies, build up strategic storage, or to invest in agriculture overseas.

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