SAFE-Q research project to tackle food waste in Qatar

Qatar, a Middle Eastern nation located on the eastern side of the Arabian Gulf, is well-endowed with oil and gas reserves, but it lacks natural resources like fertile soil, water, forests and so on.

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As a result, the contribution of its agricultural sector to the economy is limited to an estimated 10 percent. The country relies heavily on food imports (Figure 1). Food security has been high on the government agenda in Qatar, in particular since the 2007-2008 food price crisis, when it established the Qatar National Food Security Programme (QNFSP) in 2008. The government aims to become food secure by 2024 and produce up to 70 percent of its agricultural products domestically. In this way it will lower its overall dependence on imports as the country currently imports over 90 percent of all its food needs.

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Figure 1 Top imports in quantity and unit value to Qatar (2011); Source: FAOSTAT

According to the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics , it is estimated that over half of the municipal waste is discarded food.  Hardly any other figures exist on the amount of food that is wasted and these are estimations as no actual in depth studies have been undertaken.

The Safeguarding Food and Environment in Qatar (SAFE-Q) project, funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, aims to address this information gap. This 3-year research project is implemented by Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service in Qatar in collaboration with Cranfield University and Brunel University in the UK and the University of Western Sydney in Australia.

The research concept of the SAFE-Q project is provided in Figure 2. The project will focus on food waste at distribution and consumption stage of the food supply chain in Qatar. It will identify the causes of food waste, collect data through interviews and consumer surveys, develop simulations, access risks and develop policy recommendations to reduce and eliminate food waste where possible. Through improving the long-term sustainability of the food supply chain, SAFE-Q is supporting Qatari efforts to implement the Qatar National Vision 2030 by linking food and nutrition security to the nation’s environmental and economic development.

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Figure 2 SAFE-Q research concept

Since the start of the project in January 2015, a project website and several social media accounts have been launched where related information, videos, photos etc. are shared. Furthermore, a detailed analysis of the causes of food waste in distribution and consumption have been undertaken and two workshops have been conducted last May. These workshops were attended by a wide range of representatives from e.g. distribution, logistics and catering companies, hotels and restaurants as well as consumers. The participants were divided into working groups and through a participatory approach identified and prioritized the different causes of food waste as well as assigned inter-relationships between these different factors. The primary causes of food waste that were identified in the supply and consumption workshops, included e.g. socio-cultural factors related to the Arab culture, life style choices of people and lack of planning as well as education (or lack of it), legislation, handling of food and package size.

Until the end of the year, the project will collect data on food waste through interviews and consumer surveys, which will then be consolidated and analyzed.  

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