Qatar is a sovereign Arab state, located on the northeasterly coast of the much larger Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land border is with Saudi Arabia to the south, with the rest of its territory is surrounded by the Persian Gulf.
It is ruled as an islamic state, with hereditary rein by the Al Thani family since the mid-19th century. The most important positions are held by the members of the Al Thani family, or close confidants of the family.
With a small citizen population of fewer than 250,000 people, foreign workers by far outnumber native Qataris. Foreign expatriates come mainly from other Arab nations (13% of population), the Indian subcontinent (India 24%, Nepal 16%, Bangladesh 5%, Pakistan 4%, Sri Lanka 5%), Southeast Asia (Philippines 11%), and other countries (7%).
Qatar has the highest human development in the Arab World. In 2006, the population was 880,000 people. Today there are 2.2 million people and by 2016, (when the World Cup is in Qatar) the population is estimated to be 7 million people. 90% of people live in the capital city of Doha.
Formerly one of the poorest Persian Gulf states, the mainly barren country was noted mainly for pearl hunting and fishing. It has become one of the region’s wealthiest states due to its enormous oil and natural gas reserves.
Food security has become the major objective for the Al Thani government. With tensions in the Persian Gulf, the government has set a policy to be able to supply food for a year, if the situation in the Gulf deteriorates. The government, through Hassad Food International, is buying land and looking for investment opportunities in Australia, Sudan, South America and Eastern Europe. They are spreading their risk from both climate and political situations to provide investment and production to secure food for Qatar.
99% of food is imported into Qatar. Indigenous Qataris are able to get special ration cards, however the government subsides red meat at 14 Riyals/kg. Australia provides 80% of mutton and 60% of lamb into the Middle East and with the live trade the value is over 7 billion dollars to the Australian economy.
While in Qatar, we visited Hassad Foods International, Zad Holdings (Flour Mill), Rosa Hassad (Greenhouse for fresh cut flowers), Mawashi meats (abattoir) and Carrefour supermarket.
For my colleges it was hard to comprehend the amount of money the government were investing in facilities to prove they can produce product in the desert. However they are using it as a example of what can be achieved and to teach local people the skills needed. We visited Center-Pivot irrigation circles in the middle of the desert, where they are growing Rhodes grass for fodder production. It seemed unsustainable and at some cost, but they were growing grass and using effluent waste water from the city to do this.
We also visited Roza Hassad, which again seems extravagant, but it does prove they can grow anything in the desert and can be self sufficient. The investments they have made around the world have to provide returns, which allows them to spend money on infrastructure within their own country.
From an Australian sheep producer’s perspective, a visit to Mawashi Meats allowed me to see where Australian sheep enter the food chain. Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) have been working in the region for over fifty years and are a service provider to grow demand for Australian meat. They do not buy and sell product but work with local abattoirs in ensuring the new livestock export regulations are adhered too. The new ESCAS standards were put in place after the four corners program showing the harsh treatment of animals in Indonesia before slaughter.
We were shown through the facility and how local Qataris choose their meat. Qatar people are mainly Sunni Muslims and all animals must be killed under Halal. Religion is a sensitive area and it is hard for anyone to impose their beliefs on others. This makes it hard for MLA to educate locals of the standards we expect as westerners, producers and consumers. It is my belief that MLA have and are doing extensive work in the Middle East to ensure ESCAS standards are maintained. Australian producers, through grower levies, have provided facilities in these abattoirs to make sure animals are slaughtered to the high standards of ESCAS. MLA has also provided education in livestock handling to improve the way in which animals are treated.
I consider myself, as a producer of livestock, to care for animals as this is my livelihood and I take great pride in showing people around my farm, looking at the facilities and the condition of my animals. Therefore I expect the same when they leave my farm. At Mawashi Meats in Qatar, in general, standards were as I consider to be acceptable. However MLA still has some work to do in educating locals to our standards. These expectations will take time to negotiate and educate through but without Australia being in this space, livestock standards would not be as high as they are today. Too this I say good work Meat and Livestock Australia and all Australian meat producers.
With the increase in population over the next five to ten years, Australia has huge potential for market development. We need to continue working with Qatarians as they have great respect and trust of Australians and Australian products.
I would recommend a trip to Qatar and see the beautiful city of Doha and the potential it offers all Australians. As Blythe Culnan, our host told us regularly, she enjoys showing us “the real Middle East”.