The World Cup is coming! And, for the first time in history, the most important event in world football will be held in the Middle East. The host country is Qatar, a small nation on the Arabian Peninsula half the size of Sergipe (the smallest Brazilian state), and in terms of population, it does not exceed Brasília (Brazil’s capital). Even so, it has a GDP of US$ 179.5 billion, proportionately one of the highest in the world, and occupies the eighth place in the ranking of GDP per capita.
With the third largest reserve of natural gas in the world, it is not difficult to see the worth accrued by Qatar with exports of this resource when observing its infrastructure, its monumental buildings, and, of course, the organization of the most expensive World Cup in history. An investment of approximately US$ 220 billion is estimated for the event, an amount 15-fold the one invested by Brazil in the competition in 2014, the highest up to that point.
Located in the Northern Hemisphere, summer in Qatar is in the middle of the year. However, it’s not just any regular summer. Temperatures reach 50°C (122°F). Thus, although the Arab country has air-conditioned stadiums (such as the Khalifa Stadium), the 2022 World Cup will also be the first one to be held at the end of the year, with milder weather.
Amid these extreme weather conditions and the consequent scarcity of natural resources, Qatar—as is the case of other neighboring Arab countries—imports the vast majority of the food needed for domestic supply, which makes food security a priority for local administrations. But what exactly is food security? For those who are not used to this concept, it is common to limit it to the consumption of healthy and safe food. However, quality is just one of the four aspects that must be considered to prevent a population don’t suffer from hunger or diseases caused by malnutrition. The second relevant factor is the availability of food, including its means of production, import, and storage. The third one is the accessibility or conditions of purchase of food by the inhabitants, given the price of the products. Finally, the country’s natural resources, considering the country’s geographic and climatic characteristics, as well as its resilience in adverse conditions.
In general, the Persian Gulf region has the worst indicators related to natural resources. Given its water scarcity and poor soil quality, they don’t have the minimum conditions to develop large-scale agriculture, sufficient to meet the consumption needs of local populations. Consequently, these countries depend on the import of agricultural products to ensure local supply. For some food products, this dependence can reach 100%: in Qatar, this is the case for rice and cheese. There is no local production of these two items, and everything consumed in the country is imported from elsewhere.
Amid the trade efforts of the Arab countries to diversify their food suppliers, the number of innovative solutions for local production and research is also growing to face these challenges and increase local agricultural production. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—a country as warm as Qatar—recently opened the world’s largest vertical farm. The approximately 30 thousand-square-meter plant is designed to produce over 1 thousand tonnes of vegetables per year, including lettuce, spinach, and kale.
Technological parks, incubators, and accelerators occupy a prominent place in the main Arab trade centers and offer conditions and resources for innovative companies. This is the case of the Brazilian Agritech which developed an intelligent irrigation management system and stood out among the finalists for the Supernova Award, at the main technology event in the Middle East and North Africa, the GITEX fair. For example, a recently disclosed acceleration program in Sharjah, an emirate located next to Dubai, offered a US$ 50 thousand prize for local installation support and network access to the startup selected in a broad international competition.
EMBRAPA, a Brazilian public company linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Supply, and also an international reference in agricultural research, is negotiating the opening of a new international base in the UAE as a symbol of another source of cooperation from Brazil to countries in the region regarding food security.
Only through investment in research and innovation, it will be possible to enhance food production in the region. The success history of the Brazilian agricultural sector is evidence of this: the development of specific technologies for tropical agriculture was and still is one of the sector’s main pillars.
Brazil is the second largest supplier of food to the Middle East. It is a consolidated partnership that can and should be expanded. With the World Cup approaching, it is expected that Brazil will be remembered not only for its football but for its prominent role in food production, with great potential for diversification supply, source of technologies, and agricultural solutions.
Sueme Mori is Director of International Relations at the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA), with the collaboration of Rafael Gratão, Head of CNA’s Office in Dubai, and in partnership with InvestSP.