During the South Korean prime minister’s visit to Doha in March, the top official discussed agriculture with Qatar’s prime minister and minister of interior.
A South Korean food manufacturer is currently holding talks with Qatar and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-based companies regarding automated vertical farming technology.
Vertical farming is the agricultural process in which crops are grown on top of each other, as opposed to the traditional horizontal rows. This helps in enabling conservation in space, which results in a higher crop yield per square foot of land used.
Nongshim is a leading South Korean instant noodles and snack manufacturing company.
“By identifying key elements, Nongshim is making vertical farming less human-intensive and easier to maintain through its subsidiary, Nongshim Engineering,” said a manager at the Seoul-based firm, as quoted by reports.
Qatar is working on establishing vertical farms as it moves closer to cultivating a more sustainable approach towards food security.
Vertical farming is ideal in addressing food security, given that it takes up less space, water and pesticides.
Last year, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, agreed to back Dutch indoor farming startup Infarm with $200 million. The leading farming company is set to establish its first centre in Doha in 2023.
“We see vertical farming as a way to enhance food security in every part of the world,” said Mansoor bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, chief executive officer of QIA, as quoted by Bloomberg last year.
According to a statement by Infarm, the company’s Growing Centre in Qatar will harvest tomatoes and strawberries along with other fruiting crops beyond herbs and greens.
As Qatar’s fertile land attracts global farming companies, Nongshim is one such firm looking to play a key role in providing vertical farming technology to interested entities, as well as the training of personnel, the manager noted.
“In the near future and with the right collaboration with local entities, a training centre could be established to address the education and training needs of the people in the region,” Y J Bae said, according to reports.
“Our training is done on-site with actual professionals to help trainees experience the actual day-to-day operational experience necessary to properly manage a vertical farm,” he detailed.
Through its cooperation agreement with Star Farm Enterprise in the United States, Nongshim would potentially provide training programmes to educate and certify essential actors in vertical farms that would be eventually set up in Qatar, Bae said.
The discussions with Qatari and GCC companies come following the meetings held during the Qatar International Agricultural and Environmental (Agritech and Envirotech) Exhibition that took place this year, an event where a number of Qatari officials “requested their South Korean counterparts” to aid the Gulf state in the advanced vertical farming technology sector.
Agriculture was high on the agenda during South Korea’s Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum visit to Doha in March.
Projects and partnerships
In 2021, Qatar launched its national agricultural project, a move that was seen as another milestone in the country’s self-sufficiency plan. The project was developed through an aquaponic system, which utilises aquaculture and hydroponics.
The first approach involves raising aquatic animals and the other cultivates plants in water.
The project’s production capacity is expected to reached 32,000 tonnes per year and applies the horizontal farming system. The adopted system replaces regular soil and fertilisers with another type that is produced by fish.
Qatar’s greenhouse market
Qatar’s greenhouse market growth is forecast to reach $309.2 million by 2027, according to a report by leading market research company IMARC Group.
Titled “Qatar Greenhouse Market: Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2022-2027”, the report expected the industry to grow by 14.5% between 2022-2027.
The Qatar greenhouse market’s value reached $137.2 million in 2021.
Greenhouses are used to provide an environment for crops to grow efficiently despite challenges caused by climate change.
The farming technique uses advanced technologies that increase the shelf life of crops.
A potential reason behind the significant surge in the local market value for greenhouse farming could be attributed to Qatar’s efforts to increase its produce.
Qatar had started growing its self-sufficiency over the past years, especially following the 2017 GCC crisis. At the time, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar.
Qatar relied on imported goods for more than 80% of its food before the crisis, which prompted it to provide alternative products for its population.
In April, Youssef Al Khulaifi, director of the Agricultural Affairs Department at the Ministry of Municipality, told local Arabic daily Arrayah, that Qatari farms are expected to increase vegetable production by 2-3%.
The Qatari official said that the increase is due to the high demand for locally-sourced goods. In 2021, the total volume of vegetable production in Qatar reached 102,000 tonnes.
Doha has been increasing its support to its farmers through the launch of agricultural initiatives and providing services and support across different local farms.
In the last five years, the Qatari ministry distributed 5,777 greenhouses to farm owners to speed up its production.