June 20, 2020

Food Availability during COVID-19 Pandemic in Qatar

* This is part of our series on the nexus between COVID-19 and food systems.

State of Qatar, one of the Gulf Cooperation Countries’ (GCC) biggest economies and less populous countries, is being hit hard by the impact of the COVID - 19 pandemic. A sharp fall in international oil prices, has seriously affected Qatar like other major players in the oil and gas industry.  The pandemic outbreak has led to fragility in food security. There is little doubt that there is an impending issue of food insecurity, not only in Qatar, but also in many other nations.

The threat to the availability of food and balanced nutrition arises because of the pandemic’s disruptions except insofar as proactive measures are taken to protect people’s food security. This has been echoed repeatedly by the United Nation (UN), Food, Organization and Agriculture (FAO) and the World Bank. However, this situation is being taken care successfully in Qatar based on their policy and quick reaction to ease the burden of disrupted access to relatively cheap food.  The various factors that are playing important roles to attain this feat are explained below.

Fresh Produce Market in Doha, Qatar

Qatar Food Reserve/ Adequate Food Stock Policies
Prior to the pandemic Qatar was a proactive country that has a robust food policy to ensure that food is always available. The State's strategic reserve of food items is sufficient to sustain people for more than a year, which invariably makes the country less vulnerable to irregular food availability. Qatar have adequate emergency food reserves, or strategic stocks, that are well maintained. These reserves are held at the national level. The pandemic could not really have an adverse effect on food availability because the established emergency reserves are enough to sustain the country for more than a year. This assertion is corroborated by a statement made by the HE the Minister of Commerce and Industry Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari that food availability can last for years.

Food Importation
Like every other GCC countries, a larger percentage of food and other edible items are imported because they are situated in desert where soils are relatively unproductive for agriculture. The country's import policies remain unchanged and are being maintained without any alteration whatsoever. This invariably allows most of Qatar’s relevant players in the food chain function effectively, which consequently makes food available at the various outlets to meet the demand of customers. Despite local production, the importation of food items does not infringe at all on food imports both through the air and through sea. The processing of food consignments at various ports is accelerated so that food gets to the wholesale markets earlier enough and subsequently to the retailer and final consumers respectively. Finally, the existing financing instruments such as bank loans are relaxed and made more flexible because of this pandemic crises. The financial institutions ensure the provision of import financing so that food importers are assisted at this crucial time in order to address or handle any potential food price volatility. These measures have made the availability of food stable through this trying period.

Food Price Stability
Qatar’s relevant institutions are playing vital roles to ensure that food prices are stable so that everyone can have stable purchasing power to buy food, which makes food available to Qatar’s consumers. Those measures include the encouragement of heavy investments in the local agricultural production and productivity, which makes food abundant in various food selling outlets at stable and reasonable prices. Also, the policies on ground encourage the farmers and private sector to intensify more food production. In addition, there is tremendous transparency and timely dissemination of information relevant to policies related to food security.

A new Central Market, Al Sailiya, Qatar

Provision of palliative initiatives
Qatar government, institutions and charity organization took drastic measures in response to COVID 19 to put in place initiatives targeted at taking adequate care of residents and expatriate professionals as well as workers in Qatar. Enough food was made available through a well-designed and coordinated mechanism involving the various embassies and mission houses in the country responsible for various nationalities. People who cannot afford food visit their embassies to collect food that can last them for weeks. The system has been orderly and functional. As a Nigerian, I collected my palliative food at the Nigerian Embassy at the arranged time. Apart from the government, charity organization and individual continue to distribute food to the people.
In conclusion, considering the aforementioned facts, the availability of food at affordable price during this trying period is maintained based on the several measures the Qatar Government put in place before the crisis and these measures continue to be sustained.  

Mr. Suraj .A. Bello B. Agric., MSc. MBA, ITPM (UK), PhD (In view)
Guest Contributor
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Biological & Environmental Sciences
Qatar University, Qatar.

Read More »