Feeding the 1.2 million: Qatar ramps up food and water production to host World Cup

Qatar world cup
7 min read
Qatar has ramped up food production and water reserves in advance of the 2022 World Cup, in which the population of the tiny Gulf state is anticipated to swell by 1.2 million, putting unprecedented pressure on the desert country.

In a few weeks, the 2022 World Cup will kick off in Doha and will run until 18 December. The number one priority has been making sure Qatar's food and drinking water supplies are sufficient to cater for the 1.2 million fans expected to descend on Qatar during the tournament period, which has formed an unprecedented challenge for the tiny country's food and bottled water industries.

Rising to the challenge

Observers point out that Qatar has gained invaluable experience in handling food security issues from two pivotal experiences during the last decade: the Saudi-led three-and-a-half-year blockade which started in 2017 and ended at the Al-Ula Summit in 2021, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Through actions the Gulf state took in response to these crises, Qatar strengthened its food security position and now ranks number one among Arab countries and 24th globally in food security.

"1.2 million visitors from across the world are expected to descend on Qatar during the tournament period, forming an unprecedented challenge for the tiny country's food and bottled water industries"

Qatar opened its brand new Strategic Food Security Facilities Terminal in Hamad Port on 13 August 2021. Mohammed Bin Hamad Bin Qassim Al-Thani, Qatar's Minister of Commerce and Industry, said the project was in line with Qatar's overall strategy to enhance its food security and would increase the state's stockpiling capabilities for foodstuffs. He added that it would enable Qatar to achieve food security and meet the needs of the Qatari people.

Longterm reserves for a growing population

The Strategic Food Security Facilities' Terminal is considered to be the first of its kind in the region. It has a storage capacity for three main commodities: rice, sugar and edible oils.

These can be stored on the site for up to two years in long-use storage silos and warehouses which are specially designed and contain specialised equipment to safely store the products in accordance with global safety standards. The amounts stored are estimated at being sufficient to supply the needs of three million people.    

Qatari businessman Ali Khalaf sees food as a key question when considering Qatar's decision to host the 2022 World Cup, adding that exceptional measures are required from the government and private sector to rise to the challenge of a 50 percent rise in the country's population over the month of the tournament.

Visitors are served traditional coffee in Souq Al Wakra, in September 2022. Qatar is gearing up to host up to 1.2 million tourists during the World Cup [Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty]

Khalaf added that the return of commerce via the land crossing with Saudi Arabia would contribute greatly to easing the transport of foodstuffs, as the kingdom was one of Qatar's most important sources of food imports.

However, he stressed that Qatari products would also be available, especially since the period would coincide with the local harvesting season for certain crops like tomatoes, cucumber, aubergine and other seasonal vegetables.

With regards to food imports, he stated that relevant parties across the private sector had prepared themselves, and everyone was eager to make the event a success, so imports would increase in pace during the tournament period.

The private agricultural sector

Qatar's government has also encouraged the state's agricultural sector to strengthen its role. Khaled Nasser, CEO of Al Rayyan Agricultural, said to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication, that Al Rayyan had begun preparing for the World Cup since the company was founded in 2017.

The company laid a strategy that it has applied diligently over the last five years and is now starting "to harvest the fruit of those efforts"; Al Rayyan has successfully reclaimed and cultivated 700 hectares with crops. In doing so has contributed to developing the production system for fresh fruit and vegetables in Qatar.

"Local vegetable production in Qatar has leapt by almost 100 percent over the past three years"

"This year, the company reclaimed another 100 hectares which entered the cultivation and production phase last month, and it has introduced multiple technology-based planting systems, including hanging planters and cooled hydroponic systems to increase the yield and quality of products so that we will be able to meet the increase in demand for fresh local produce during the 2022 World Cup".

Nasser indicates that Al Rayyan produces over 90 kinds of fruits and vegetables, but the biggest focus during the World Cup will be on staple vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and peppers.

According to official data, local vegetable production in Qatar has leapt by almost 100 percent over the past three years. In 2021, local vegetable production reached about 102,000 tonnes, compared to 55,000 tonnes in 2017. Thus, the rate of self-sufficiency in vegetables increased from about 20 percent in 2017 to 46 percent in 2022, an increase of about 130 percent.

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On the waterfront

Qatar's post-covid economic resurgence and recent population growth have also increased pressure in recent years on the Gulf state's water resources, with demand forecast to have risen from 1.9 million cubic metres (bcm) per day in 2019 to 2.2 million bcm by the end of this year. 

Rates of individual water consumption in Qatar are among the highest in the world: up to 300 litres per day, while the global average sits at around 150 litres per day. The country relies on seawater desalination to supply 99 percent of its potable water.

Managers of water production and bottling firms confirmed to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that drinking water factories will increase their production levels by 70 to 120 percent, to prepare for the influx of World Cup fans to Qatar.

Safwan Hamoudeh, CEO of Qatar Oasis (a Qatari Water and Packaging Factory) said that the Higher Committee for Projects and Heritage, which is responsible for overseeing preparations for the upcoming World Cup tournament, had contacted him requesting large quantities of drinking water bottles and coolants.

He said that information on required quantities was sent out to many other water factories and that Qatar Oasis would be increasing its production by 120 percent during the World Cup. He says his factory currently produces 14,000 five-gallon bottles per day, and this will rise to between 30 and 35,000 bottles per day during the championship.

Water security strategies

As part of the bigger picture, the government has developed plans to strengthen water security through various projects, such as increasing production and storage capacity. P

art of this was the expansion of the Umm Al Houl desalination plant, completed in July 2021. This is the most important of Qatar's strategic projects to achieve water security and has raised the daily output of desalinated seawater by 61.4 million gallons to reach 197.9 million gallons per day. The plant provides 40 percent of the country's desalinated water needs.

Additionally, last year the Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa) responded to the growing demand for water by increasing storage capacity, bringing Kahramaa's total water storage to 2,300 million gallons, an increase of 100 million gallons since the end of 2020.

"The Water Security Mega Reservoirs Project was inaugurated in December 2018 and was the biggest expansion in water storage Qatar has ever seen"

Kahramaa has also overseen the construction of around 109.5 km of new water pipelines, in addition to large-diameter pipelines to connect existing water pipeline networks to new giant reservoirs under construction as part of Qatar's Water Security Mega Reservoirs Project.

The Water Security Mega Reservoirs Project was inaugurated in December 2018 and was the biggest expansion in water storage Qatar has ever seen. It involved the construction of a huge strategic reservoir – for which Qatar entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2020 – which raised the country's water storage by over 1500 million gallons.

This represented an increase of 155 percent which would ensure water security for the state until 2026. The project cost 14.5 billion riyals. Kahramaa plans to expand the project in the future, so the number of reservoirs reaches 40, with a capacity of almost 4,000 million gallons, which will keep pace with Qatar's water requirements until 2036.

This is an edited translation of two articles from our Arabic edition. 

The first was published on 12/09/22 and you can read it here.

The second was published on 27/09/22 and you can read it here.

Translated by Rose Chacko

These articles were taken from our Arabic sister publication, Al-Araby Al Jadeed and mirror the sources' original editorial guidelines and reporting policies. Any requests for correction or comment will be forwarded to the original authors and editors.

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