Agriculture

Freshwater situation in Qatar "vulnerable" as population grows

The freshwater situation in Qatar is particularly vulnerable due an increase in population from 750,000 to 1.7mn over the last decade and the meager rainfall; it has been pointed out on the occasion of the World Water Day observed today. “The rain received in Qatar mainly between November and March accounts for an annual average of just above 80mm or 80 liters per year per square meter, in contrast to the natural evapo-transpiration rates exceeding 2,000mm,” an expert from a UN agency told Gulf Times. This puts Qatar into a serious deficit and makes the country, with one of the world’s lowest levels of rainfall, increasingly dependent on the costly and energy-intensive thermal desalination of seawater in order to meet the water requirements. Desalinated seawater accounts for about half the water used in the country, and rapid population growth and urbanization has tripled consumption since 1995, reaching 312mn cubic meters in 2008. The Qatar National Development Strategy (QNDS) 2011-2016 has highlighted that the most pressing environmental concern is linked to the country’s most acute scarcity - that of water. Qatar’s per capita water use of around 430 liters a day is one of the world’s highest, Kahramaa president Issa Hilal al-Kuwari stated on Monday. Though the annual production of desalinated water has more than quadrupled over the past two decades to 2009, production per capita has been declining in recent years even as per capita water use has been rising, leading to rising water stress. To address the various water-related vulnerabilities, the government will establish a national water act by 2016, bringing together a fragmented system of rules and quality controls into an integrated, comprehensive system. Shifts in tariff structures, combined with a broad campaign for public awareness, will help cut unnecessary water use and waste, as indicated by QNDS 2011-2016. Based on current trends, consumption through 2020 is expected to increase 5.4% a year for Qataris and 7% a year for expatriates. Compared with other countries, Qatar has low water tariffs (free for Qatari households and low-cost for non-Qatari households) that recover less than a third of the costs of water production. Adding to the threat of future shortages is the expected 2020 decommissioning of a Ras Abu Fontas cogeneration plant that will have reached the end of its technical life. Groundwater supplies also are critical, accounting for about 36% of water use, predominantly in agriculture. But these sources are being rapidly depleted, mostly by increased irrigation. The QNDS 2011-2016 has predicted that in the foreseeable future Qatar’s freshwater reserves may begin to be used up as water demand continues to grow. Groundwater supplies are also subject to high levels of waste and loss. Some are used for flood irrigation of open fields, a practice with high levels of loss to evaporation. But more farms are now switching to efficient methods such as drip and soak irrigation and hydroponics, a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. For instance, Roza Hassad, Qatar’s new horticulture venture, which was officially inaugurated by HH the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on Tuesday at Shahaniya, is hydroponically-run. Alfardan Farm, which has a history of about 50 years, is working on a project to limit water use between 1 and 5kg for every kg of vegetables as against the conventional system which require 50-100kg of water per kg of produce. Recycled water, or treated sewage effluent, is the only water source in surplus. It is used mostly in irrigation, accounting for 14% of water use. Treated sewage effluent can play a significantly larger role in industrial processes, district cooling and watershed management. Qatar now reuses about 24% of total freshwater supplies, compared with a 16% average among Gulf states. However, Qatar lacks the infrastructure to deliver recycled water to every potential user. Partly because of this constraint, the supply of recycled water exceeds consumption, leaving about 40% of treated sewage effluent to be dumped into vast septic lagoons, creating problems for nearby communities, the QNDS document has said. The inextricable link between water and food security must be recognized and made a central component of the efforts for sustainable development, UNESCO director General Irina Bokova has said in a message for the World Water Day observed today. The theme of the day is “Water and Food security”, highlighting that water is vital for agriculture, rural development and the food industry. Source: Gulf Times

Algeria: Investing billions of Euros in agriculture towards self-sufficiency

Investment in agriculture will be a priority for Algeria in 2012 as the state looks to reduce its import dependency, which stretched upwards of €6.8bn last year according to the Algeria Press Service. The continuing shift towards self-sufficiency will be helped in large part by increased production levels of several of the country’s key crops, including marginal improvement for cereals and noticeable rises for potatoes, Global Arab Network reports according to OBG. While it has not slowed import growth, grain planting is slightly ahead of last season, due partly to favorable weather conditions. The national press reported last month that 2.9m ha have been sown so far in the 2011-12 season. By mid-December, 490,000 ha of land had been fertilized, up from 456,000 ha at the same point last year. The state reported that the amount of quality seeds – as certified by the Ministry of Agriculture – it provided to farmers increased by 16% year-on-year (y-o-y) from 130,000 tons to 150,000 tons in 2011, which the government hopes will allow farmers to reap greater rewards while improving crop robustness. Of all the aspects of improving the country’s food self-sufficiency, boosting local cereal production is particularly important for Algeria, for if it is unable to do so, the country’s exposure to global commodity volatility will remain high. The national cereals consumption is high, estimated at 7m tons per year. A bumper harvest in 2009 produced a record 6.1m tons, but dropped to 4.5m in 2010 and 4.2m in 2011. As a result, the country imported record levels of wheat last year, reaching 7.42m tons, a y-o-y increase of 41.5%, in an effort to increase stocks following protests over the rising price of basic goods – an issue that contributed in part to greater political unrest in nearby Egypt. Higher import levels are continuing into 2012 as Algeria imported 450,000 tons of European wheat in the second week of January. But where wheat is struggling, other segments are growing: the country’s potato cultivation has seen particularly good results in recent years. National output rose for the fourth consecutive year in 2011 to reach 3.8m tons, a 19% increase y-o-y. Output has expanded rapidly from 2.2m tons in 2008, and sector officials estimate that Algeria will be able to produce 5m tons by 2014. The head of the Potato Trade Association (Conseil Interprofessionnel de la Pomme de Terre), M Séraoui, stated in the local press that the industry is capable of 20-30% annual growth in the next few years. Citrus is another key crop for Algeria, although national output is expected to decline slightly to 1.05m tons in the 2011-12 season. Of the 32 wilayas (provinces) that produce citrus fruits, seven contribute 80% of the national total. Of these only the Alger and Relizane wilayas recorded a 15% increase in production y-o-y in 2011. Blida, the highest-producing wilaya, which contributes 33% of the national output, saw its production drop from 100,000 tons in late 2010 to only 60,200 tons in 2011. However, while current levels have dropped modestly, Algeria’s citrus production has seen steady growth in preceding years. Production rose from 780,000 tons in 2008-09 to 850,000 tons in 2009-10. The 2010-11 season saw a record production of 1.16m tons, a 41% increase y-o-y. Growth in recent years has largely been due to favorable climate conditions, aided by government incentives encouraging producers to replace older, lower-producing trees. The government is also beginning to open agriculture to foreign investment in an effort to boost sector activity. In September 2011, Algeria offered its first formal invitation for expressions of interest from companies looking to engage in pilot agricultural operations. In 2010, parliament approved a law allowing private firms to lease public land, also a first. The sector also stands to benefit from a state initiative to expand the country’s irrigation systems. Unpredictable rainfall, combined with poor water management, has been a persistent obstacle to the development of agriculture. The government plans to increase the country’s irrigated surface area from 400,000 to 1m ha by 2015. The National Office of Irrigation and Drainage launched projects in mid-2011 to irrigate 8815 ha of the Oued Sahel Valley and El Asnam plateau, as well as the M’Léta plain. The project is expected to create 8300 jobs and increase agricultural production in the area by a factor of four. Cultivation has not been the only area of focus for the government, and Algeria has moved to increase local production of milk, with the long-term goal of replacing powdered milk imports with locally produced raw milk. Powdered milk imports registered at $800m in 2010 and continued through 2011. Dairy producers have benefitted from tax exemptions and government-led training programs in an effort to boost production from approximately 2bn liters per year closer to national consumption at 3.3bn liters. Dairy farmers produced 572m liters of raw milk in 2011, a 46.7% increase y-o-y. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development reported to the local press that sector sales reached AD146bn (€1.5bn) in 2011. Output has risen steadily from 290m liters in 2009, and the ministry hopes to see raw milk production reach 700m liters in 2012. The National Dairy Office (Office National Interprofessionel du Lait, ONIL), which oversees sector development, has entered into agreements with 114 dairies, of which the majority are private. ONIL provides powdered milk for pasteurized milk production in exchange for dairies’ commitment to integrate raw milk into their operations. Should the auspicious weather continue, the government should be able to consolidate the gains of recent years in cultivation, which will help improve overall self-sufficiency. However, the country’s import dependency will continue as long as cereal production fails to meet demand and irrigation remains limited. Source: Oxford Business Group

Green facelift for Manama planned

The Manama Municipality is set to begin planting trees, flowers and introduce grassy areas within coming weeks to give the capital a better image, said a top official. "Greenery is not just for health and the environment, but is also important for beautification and to give people a relaxing atmosphere," Municipality Director-General Shaikh Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said. "Major highways like Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Highway, King Faisal Highway and Al Fateh Highway will all be turned green within the coming few weeks. Work on the new Al Fateh Corniche and Water Garden projects is also set to begin soon under new concepts of proper family recreational facilities and a green theme." Shaikh Mohammed was speaking at the closing ceremony of Bahrain's Tree Week festivities held at Al Andalus Garden, Gudaibiya. Several activities were held across the Capital Governorate's schools, public parks and gardens, homes and buildings to promote greenery in the last two weeks. "We are keen to give the Manama Parks Friends a bigger voice in all our future development, revamp and maintenance projects from A to Z," said Shaikh Mohammed. "The Friends' role is vital as it ensures that parks and gardens across the governorate are protected, maintained and cleaned and it is a responsibility we are handing to the public because we believe they are the real source of municipal authority. We will not carry out any future plan without Friends' input, it is not because we can't, rather we believe it is the right thing to ensure that we do work through partnership that everyone is happy with. A meeting will be scheduled with Manama Parks Friends president Hesham Al Haddad and all recommendations will be taken into consideration as we embark on a united effort for a better Manama." Outstanding schools, students and people who contributed and participated in greenery schemes and projects in the Tree Week event were honored during the ceremony. The top students received BD100 ($265), with BD80 presented to the runners-up and BD60 to those who came third. First place winners in the best gardens at schools and homes categories received BD200, with BD150 for second place and BD120 for third. Source: TradeArabia News Service

MENA governments urged to address key farm issues

Mena governments have been urged by an agriculture expert to address food scarcity issues and safeguard meager natural resources. John Lawton, general manager of the Agricultural Technology Company in Saudi Arabia, said that food scarcity has become a crucial issue in the Mena region and delay in addressing this could result in food insecurity, very high costs of food and potentially, starvation. “Food is set to become one of the major world problems and unless these issues are addressed now millions of people in future decades could face low nutrition levels or starvation,” said Lawton, who has more than 35 years of experience in the agricultural sector. Lawton will speak about the use of undeveloped arid areas for intensive food production at the Agribusiness Outlook Forum – a feature of Agra Middle East, the leading agribusiness trade event in the region, taking place from April 2 - 4 at the Dubai International Exhibition Centre. Only about two per cent of land in the GCC region is currently arable, and this coupled with severe water scarcity, presents a significant challenge for the region to become wholly self-sufficient in producing its own food, he said. Lawton contends however that with the right management, research and knowledge sharing, arid countries can become more self-sufficient, and ensure higher food production efficiency. “The main barrier to cultivating arid zones such as those in the Mena region is the lack of adequate water resources, coupled with the inefficient and wasteful use of much of the already limited resource,” he added. “Proper management skills and training at all levels is vital so that the return of this limited resource is maximized. Additionally, proper studies and full knowledge of the available water resources and proper management of these at all levels, from the government to the individual who applies the water can help to overcome the water scarcity issue.” Apart from being widely experienced in farm management and machinery sales and consultancy, Lawton has also developed a large market for Alvan Blanch maize and barley flaking mills along with Supreme Total Mixed Ration (TMR) feeders in the last ten years, working with large farm groups in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Yemen. Now in its second year, the Agribusiness Outlook Forum will feature a panel of international experts presenting delegates with a platform to discuss insights into food security and sustainable agricultural systems. Being held under the patronage of Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, Agra Middle East is supported by the UAE Ministry of Environment and Water, Dubai Municipality, the Dubai Flower Centre, and the Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park (DuBiotech). Source: TradeArabia News Service

Egypt's Citadel to grow crops in South Sudan

A unit of Egyptian private equity firm Citadel Capital plans to cultivate up to 40,000 acres of farmland in South Sudan to sell staple foods such as maize in the newly-independent nation, an executive said on Tuesday. South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July under a peace agreement that ended decades of civil war with Khartoum, but the new nation is struggling with food shortages and widespread tribal and rebel violence. The United Nations warns that around a third of the country's roughly 8 million people will need food assistance this year after bad weather and violence hit farming. The young nation, one of the least developed in the world, also needs to cope with an influx of more than 80,000 refugees from Sudan's South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where the army is fighting rebels. Citadel is investing about $30 million to produce staples such as maize, sorghum and sunflower in the oil-producing Unity state bordering South Kordofan, project manager Peter Schuurs told Reuters. 'We have so far 4,000 acres and we will be planting this year, primarily maize with some sorghum and sunflowers,' said Schuurs, managing director of Concord Agriculture, a fully-owned Citadel unit. 'Our focus is food security in South Sudan... we will be supplying the local markets,' he said on the sidelines of an investment conference in Juba. 'We will plant the crop in June.' The firm has leased land from Unity state to be developed with the help of local farmers who it trains and equips with heavy machinery. Schuurs said Citadel plans to add between 6,000 and 8,000 acres every year to reach between 30,000 and 40,000 acres within three to five years, when the firm expects to make its first profit from the project. Total production would be around 67,000 tons at the start. 'There is a food deficit for hundreds of thousands (of tons),' he said, adding that the United Nations, South Sudan's army and local merchants would be customers. A camp with refugees from South Kordofan is located close to Citadel's farming land. 'They will need to be fed,' Schuurs said. Citadel expects a return of 15 to 20 per cent from the project, which it plans to reinvest in the Unity state farmland. Like other investors, Concord is facing a long list of challenges doing business in South Sudan, which is struggling to set up a functioning administration. The biggest headache is importing farming machinery to the landlocked nation from the Kenyan port of Mombasa along poor roads in Kenya and Uganda. Few paved roads exist in South Sudan outside the capital Juba. It not only takes weeks to get the machinery but local officials frequently try to impose unexpected duties on the imports, Schuurs said. 'There are always challenges. At the border between Uganda and South Sudan there is a problem at the moment,' he said. Promised by the government in Juba to be exempted from customs in the first 10 years of the project, Citadel now faces demands from South Sudan border officials. 'And then all of a sudden you get a duty of 20 per cent,' he said. He said customs officials have become much stricter since a row between Sudan and South Sudan over oil payments escalated. South Sudan needs to export its crude via Sudanese pipelines to a Red Sea port but has been unable to agree on a fee with Khartoum. In January Juba shut down its entire oil production of 350,000 barrels a day in a protest at Sudan taking some oil for what it called unpaid transit fees. Since then officials have been scrambling to find alternative sources of revenue. 'There is no revenue from oil and all of a sudden they are looking for ways to generate revenues,' Schuurs said. 'The easiest way to generate money is to put up a road block and ask for a kind of a fine for a passing truck or car.' Source: Reuters