At an Oct. 4 luncheon hosted by California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss and Chancellor Gene Block, the leaders of the Qatar National Food Security Programme explain their vision for a sustainable food supply to potential partners in academia and industry.
The leaders of a Qatari government initiative to bring down the proportion of food that the Persian Gulf nation imports – currently about 90 percent – came to the Chancellor's Residence on Oct. 4 for a "working lunch" with California Secretary of Education and UC Regent Bonnie Reiss, Agriculture Secretary A. G. Kawamura, Chancellor Gene Block, Executive Vice Chancellor Scott Waugh, university researchers and industry representatives.
Fahad Al-Attiya, chairman of the Qatar National Food Security Programme, spoke before an invited audience of 35. He and Sheikh Hamad Al-Thani, vice chairman of the program, were on a U.S. tour to establish partnerships needed to meet technical and other hurdles facing the ambitious program.
The officials are aiming to ensure the sustainability of Qatar's food supply by building an advanced, solar-powered irrigation system, while optimizing the use of water and farmland through desalination, waste water recycling, hydroponics and other existing technologies. Under the plan, Qatari farms will begin their transition in 2013 and conclude it a decade later, when the private sector will assume the costs.
With Qatar's oil-driven economy in a "prosperous period," Al-Attiya said, the country must take advantage of "a very small window" to protect itself from future food shortages and swings in food prices.
"We want to capitalize on [prosperity] by putting through the solution straightway," he said. "Who knows whether in 10 to 15 years' time this window will still be there?"
Over lunch, Al-Attiya and Al-Thani heard from UCLA researchers, California food producers and others working in related fields. UCLA Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry Omar Yaghi explained some applications of metal-organic frameworks, an entirely new class of materials developed in Yaghi's laboratory. The materials have a variety of applications that make solar and other renewable energy processes more efficient, and have recently been used in capturing carbon dioxide and converting it into liquid fuel.
"These are not pie-in-the-sky types of programs. These programs are near the level of application," Yaghi said.
Glen MacDonald, director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, stressed that California, Qatar and all societies situated in arid regions face similar challenges. MacDonald recently spent a year as a Guggenheim Fellow researching the effects of climate change on agriculture and sustainability in regions that are anticipating prolonged drought.
"It's a desperate race, and I think that you're leading the way," MacDonald said.
Among those present at the Oct. 4 gathering were Carol Block; Barbara Allen-Diaz, Assistant Vice President of Agriculture & Natural Resources, University of California; Brian Beggs, Houweling Nurseries; Mark Bernstein, Managing Director, USC Energy Institute; Stephanie Couch, Director, CA STEM Innovation Network; Rick Davis, Operating Director, Pegasus Capital Advisors; Steve Gamer, UCLA Foundation and Campus-Wide Initiatives; Steve Gill, Co-Founder, Gill Onions; Jim Hawley, General Council, Technet; Bob Hertzberg, Mayer Brown LLP; Gary Hunt, California Strategies, LLC; Patrick Knapp, BHDRL; Michelle Kydd Lee, Creative Artists Agency Foundation; Andre Nel, UCLA NanoMedicine; Maura Resnick, UCLA International Institute; Michael Roberts, Roll Law Group; Steven Spiegel, Director, UCLA Center for Middle East Development; Terry Tamminen, Seventh Generation Advisors; Ian Temple, Director, Business Development- US Education, Cisco; Jim Thebault, The Chronicles Group; and Fred Wells, California NanoSystems Institute, UCLA.