Qatari farmers are refusing to let the country's desert soil stop them producing food, with one company opting to make their own fertile soil to grow mushrooms. Stuart McDill has more.
Farming is not a tradition in the Gulf states - extreme heat, scarce water and sandy soil not exactly ideal conditions. But one food producer is aiming to change that - growing mushrooms in soil they've made themselves. SOUNDBITE (Arabic) HEAD OF AGRICULTURE PROJECTS AT AGRICO COMPANY, NASSER AL-KHALAF, SAYING: "The soil is composed of hay, agriculture gypsum and bird manure that are mixed together, fermented and then pasteurised. It is then ready to be used in the rooms. Soil preparation takes four weeks and then we need another four weeks for mushrooms to grow." Qatar's climate means growing food is a challenge, according to the chairman of Agrico's parent company. SOUNDBITE (Arabic) CHAIRMAN OF INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, AHMED AL-KHALEF, SAYING: "Agriculture production is the most difficult type of food production for various reasons. In Qatar, the area suitable for agriculture is limited, the climate is not suitable for farming and the water is salty and scarce. Traditionally, Qataris were not farmers." Until now importing high quality soil was the biggest single cost factor in growing mushrooms in the Gulf state. Agrico's compost is now producing a tonne of button mushrooms a day at this plant north of Doha. SOUNDBITE (Arabic) HEAD OF AGRICULTURE PROJECTS AT AGRICO COMPANY, NASSER AL-KHALAF, SAYING: "Starting next year, we plan to produce between three and four tonnes. We have a market share of about 30 percent of the local mushroom market. We usually export 20 percent of our production to neighbouring countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia." Qatar plans to spend billions boosting yields and converting semi-desert into agricultural land over the coming years. The goal is to end the Gulf State tradition of relying on imports to feed itself.