"Alarming malnutrition" in Sudan conflict zones-UN
Wed Jan 4, 2012 3:14pm GMT
KHARTOUM Jan 4 (Reuters) - The United Nations has received alarming reports
of malnutrition in two Sudanese border states where the army is fighting
insurgents, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.
Fighting broke out in June between the Sudanese army and SPLM-North rebels
in South Kordofan and spread in September to the state of Blue Nile. Both
states border newly independent South Sudan.
The violence has already forced about 417,000 people to flee their homes,
more than 80,000 of them to South Sudan, the United Nations estimates.
Locals have faced air raids and sporadic ground fighting, according to
rights groups and refugees.
"I received alarming reports with respect to malnutrition and the food
situation, particular in areas that are controlled by SPLM-North," Valerie
Amos, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters
She urged Sudan to lift a ban on international U.N. staff traveling to both
Since the outbreak of fighting U.N. agencies and aid groups have only been
able to keep small teams of local staff on the ground and the government has
stopped any aid workers visiting areas where there has been fighting.
"We need to ensure that the U.N. capacity, which is there to support
government efforts, is made up of a mix of U.N. staff, national and
international, to make sure we have the right skill set of support," Amos
said after talks with Sudanese officials.
Social and Welfare Minister Amira Fadhil told journalists the ban was there
to protect foreign workers and would stay in place.
"We fear for the security of foreigners. That's why we think the presence of
a Sudanese organisation makes sense. But we want to grant access as soon as
possible," she added.
South Sudan declared independence in July, under the terms of a 2005 peace
deal that ended decades of civil war with the Khartoum government.
Both Blue Nile and South Kordofan contain groups who sided with the south in
the civil war and say they continue to face persecution inside Sudan.
SPLM-N is one of a groups of rebel movements in underdeveloped border areas
who say they are fighting to overthrow Sudan's President Omar Hassan
al-Bashir and end what they see as the dominance of the Khartoum political
Sudan and South Sudan, who still have to resolve a range of issues including
the sharing of oil revenues, regularly trade accusations of supporting
insurgencies on each other's territory.
Their armed forces clashed at Jau in a region claimed by both sides last
month in a rare direct confrontation. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Edited by
FEATURE-Qatar's next big purchase: a farming sector
Wed Jan 4, 2012 2:00pm GMT
* Aims to meet up to 70 pct of food demand domestically
* Fully operating system by 2024
* But large-scale production difficult, especially cereals
* Zero-export policy may deter private sector
* Analysts say investing in land abroad more economic
By Martina Fuchs
DUBAI, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Qatar's energy resources have given it one of the
world's highest per capita incomes, a futuristic urban skyline and enough
clout to host the 2022 soccer World Cup. But its wealth may not be enough
for the arid state to achieve an even more ambitious goal: becoming largely
self-sufficient in food.
Like other oil-rich, water-poor Gulf states, Qatar has been investing in
large areas of farmland overseas to ensure access to food supplies. The
agricultural arm of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, Hassad Food, has bought
land in Sudan and Australia, and has announced plans to spend hundreds of
millions of dollars on agricultural projects in countries including Kenya,
Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and Ukraine.
But in contrast to the other Gulf states, Qatar also aims to produce most of
its food domestically, by spending massively to boost crop yields and
convert semi-desert into agricultural land.
Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani issued a
decree this year to organise the Qatar National Food Security Programme
(QNFSP), tackling "one of the most pressing challenges that Qatar is
"Today, there are 1,400 farms in Qatar and they will increase to 3,000 farms
with the new plan," said Fahad Bin Mohammed al-Attiya, the QNFSP's chairman.
"We anticipate that domestic food production, if new technologies are
applied and the efficiency system enforced, can easily reach 60 percent of
our market needs. We anticipate that domestic demand can be met by 60 to 70
Qatar, like the five other wealthy Gulf states, imports up to 90 percent of
its food requirements. It has a population of about 1.7 million people, an
estimated 20 percent of them Qatari citizens and most of the remainder
Attiya said implementation of the food security programme would start in
January 2014, after a period of preparation. "The implementation period is
10 years. By 2024 we should have a fully operating system."
It is a seductive vision, and Qatar's vast wealth as the world's top
liquefied natural gas exporter will allow it to mobilise the best technology
and equipment. But many economists and agricultural experts say Qatar's
plans do not make economic sense -- and that there is little need for them,
given the small size of the population.
"They don't have that much land they can put into production; much of it is
desert. And Qatar has a very small population," said Abdolreza Abbassian,
senior economist at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization in
"They import almost the entire cereals that they need for domestic
consumption, something like 200,000 tonnes a year, which they cannot really
produce. What they produce domestically is minimal. I don't really see much
Abbassian suggested the country might be better off focusing its investment
on agricultural land in more temperate climates.
"Given the size of the country and the amount of imports which is rather
modest, I would be surprised if it's really such a need to resort to such an
investment, which is far more capital- and labour-intensive," he said. "Why
would they do that rather than purchasing land globally?"
Qatar's environment is hostile to agriculture, characterised by extreme
heat, water scarcity and high soil salinity. Average precipitation in depth
is just 74 milimetres (2.9 inches) per year, compared to the United
Kingdom's 1,220 mm, FAO data shows. Only about 1 percent of Qatar's total
land area of 11,590 square kilometres (4,475 square miles) is arable,
according to the FAO.
Also, many experts do not see a strong need for Qatar to increase its food
security. Although it is located in a volatile region of the world, its huge
foreign currency reserves and comparatively small population mean it could
probably arrange adquate new sources of food imports fairly easily in an
"When designing their food security strategies, countries with relatively
low agricultural potential such as Qatar may be better advised to look
beyond fostering domestic agricultural production," said Clemens Breisinger,
research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in
"Given Qatar's low levels of food insecurity risk and low agricultural
potential, it is important to carefully assess the opportunity costs of the
investments planned under the QNFSP and to potentially consider alternative
options for a food-secure Qatar, and a more food-secure world," he said.
In 2008, Saudi Arabia abandoned a push to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat,
concluding that it was simply too expensive and wasteful in using domestic
water resources. The country now plans to be 100 percent reliant on imports
of wheat by 2016.
Mahendra Shah, food security advisor to the U.N. and director of
international planning at Aquiess Rainaid, a company which develops rainfall
technology to fight drought, said the drive to produce wheat domestically
using underground water had caused environmental damage in Saudi Arabia.
"The underground water reservoirs are saline and severely depleted. This is
an example of an ecological disaster that will take decades to recharge and
clean up the aquifers."
But Qatar has shrugged off the example of its larger neighbour, showing the
same ambition and faith in its financial power that led it to make other
controversial but ultimately successful investments, including its World Cup
bid, its creation of international television broadcaster Al Jazeera, and
its backing of the rebel side during last year's Libyan revolution.
Qatar's farming methods include open-field agriculture, greenhouse
production, and hydroponics, a soil-less culture technology which uses less
water and land and can yield up to 10 times the crop grown in an open field.
"The basket of products has to be diverse," the QNFSP's Attiya said. "The
products will be mainly fruits and vegetables, and we're looking at cereals
as well, fodder, livestock and fisheries."
One of the prototype farms, the Al Sulaiteen Agricultural and Industrial
Complex (SAIC), is located in the desert a short drive from Qatar's capital
"We are producers of vegetables, seasonal flowering plants and outdoor
plants. We have one of the largest landscape projects in Qatar, with 40
hectares (99 acres) of land," said Mahmoud Refaat Shamardal, SAIC's
agriculture sector manager.
SAIC, which started vegetable production in 2001, is growing tomatoes,
cucumbers, eggplants and other vegetables through a combination of
greenhouses, hydroponic systems and regular farming. It supplies
supermarkets and hotels.
"We use artificial soil to produce the vegetables. With this system we can
save around 50 percent of water, and water is a very important factor here
in Qatar," said Shamardal.
Qatar now produces around 23 percent of its requirement of vegetables. They
are grown by 56 percent of the country's farmers and take up 11 percent of
its cultivated farm area, according to the QNFSP.
The country's aquifers are already severely depleted, Attiya said. But the
QNFSP plans to obtain agricultural water from seawater desalination using
solar parks, and only keep aquifers as strategic water reserves.
"Once we have achieved solar desalination, we will ask the farmers to stop
using the aquifers," he said.
While Qatar's technology is impressive, however, experts say it will be
difficult to apply the techniques to a full range of crops, especially
"Certain commodities like fish, eggs and poultry can be produced locally
with an increased level of self-sufficiency," said food security advisor
"Aquaculture can be used for fish, controlled environment production for
poultry and eggs, but when it comes to cereals, the scale of the water
required -- this has to be carefully thought through."
Attiya said total costs for the QNFSP had not yet been calculated. While
Qatar does not lack money, it is hoped that private sector involvement will
make the programme efficient and responsive to consumer demand.
"The funds will come both from the private sector and the public sector. All
the regulatory functions, the research and education, policy, legislation
and regulation, that will be entirely funded by the state," said Attiya.
"The rest, in terms of the development of the power plant, desalination
plant, and all the financing of all the different upgrades of the farms,
that will happen by the private sector."
Attracting enough private businessmen may be difficult, however, especially
if they are restricted in where they can sell their produce under the terms
of the QNFSP.
"It is very important to note that the food security plan in Qatar is
subject to zero export policy," Attiya said.
"If anything is produced in Qatar, that production cannot be exported for
reason of protecting our natural resources. Because of the water involved in
producing food, a country like Qatar that is very dry cannot export water
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Jan 04 2012 - 15:37:53 EST