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Monday, March 8, 2021

Kerala farmers take on the challenge of growing rice in Qatar

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All photos by Chantelle D’mello

While most Qatar residents’ eyes are drawn to Doha’s skyline, now bursting with cranes and skyscrapers, Ambhara Pavithran prefers to set her sights on the ground.

Along with two other residents – Jisha Krishnan and Meena Philip – the 52-year-old is working to cultivate Qatar’s first rice paddy, no small feat given the country’s merciless weather and arid land.

The trio are co-founders of the local chapter of Adukkalathottam (kitchen garden), a Facebook group that encourages organic farming among Keralites all over the world.

With a current membership of some 600 local residents and over 30,000 worldwide, the page, written almost exclusively in the Malayalam language, is a sounding board for one of the most ambitious agricultural endeavors in Qatar.

The Gulf state imports more than 90 percent of its food, and has working in recent years to boost its food security.

Beginnings

The idea of growing rice in Qatar was raised earlier this year, when the group held their first meeting in April to gauge local interest in organic farming.

At the time, some 250 members gathered at the Al Dosari Zoo and Game Reserve over 25km from Doha to discuss ways to begin farming on a larger scale.

Most members had prior experience in growing crops, with housewives cultivating their own tomatoes, potatoes and beetroots in their kitchens, terraces, and verandas.

Speaking to Doha News, Pavithran explained:

“We didn’t think so many people would show up. At the time of the meeting, we invited Mr. Mohammed Al Dosari, who owns the place, to attend. He expressed interest in organic farming after seeing what the group was about. He suggested giving us a portion of his plot to try to grow vegetables, grains, and pulses locally, and we went ahead from there.”

Following the initial meeting, the trio and their families began looking into ways to make the 2833 sq. m plot of land they had been provided fit for agriculture.

“This is our passion,” said Pavithran. “In Kerala, we all grew up around farming, so we’re trying to bring that back here, and recreate it in our new home.”

The first step involved preparing the soil to sustain plant life. Slightly acidic, the soil was neutral with a mixture of manure and water, bringing it to an optimal pH level.

The women then bought 10 bags of special German soil from nurseries around the Wholesale Market to replace the dry sand. Once the soil was put in place, they hired workers to plough the land.

A month after the scorching summer came to a close, the women held another general meeting on Sept. 19 to discuss what kinds of plants to sow in the newly ploughed field.

The answer came back unanimous – rice.

Challenges

The next day, the Keralite Minister of Agriculture – who was already in town for another event – inaugurated the plot of land and planted the first rice seeds. The group sourced three varieties of rare “heritage seeds” of paddy from a collector in Kerala for use in the project.

Currently, around 20 percent of the prepared farmland is dedicated to paddy. The women have also planted string beans; ash, bitter, and bottle gourd; lettuce; tapioca; radish; beetroot; pumpkin; banana; and green pepper plants, most of which have already begun flowering.

Despite the group’s success, the two-month long project has not been without its challenges.

The paddy is first grown in flat troughs indoors until the seeds germinate. Then, it is transplanted to the paddy fields where they are required to be submerged in water at all times. The first time that the paddy was transplanted, the seeds didn’t grow past the stage; the second time, the birds ate up the nascent crops.

However, the group does get free water – to the tune of 400 gallons a day – and manure for their plants, courtesy of Al Dosari.

Additional challenges include the ever changing weather – too much wind or too much heats poses a threat to the plants.

Come summer, the project will have to be shut down, unless the trio manages to raise the QR100,000 required for a polyhouse, a temperature-controlled polyethylene dome that protects crops from extreme heat and humidity.

The project is also increasingly time-intensive. Pavithran, a housewife, spends five hours during the weekdays, from 7am to noon, and 12 hours on weekends, from 7am to 7pm, at the field. The other women, also homemakers, spend equal amounts of time tending to the plants.

During the weekends however, numerous members from the Facebook group drive out to the game reserve to lend a helping hand.

16 COMMENTS

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The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

Back home I grow my own crops but it’s nothing like as difficult as this venture. Wish them every success because it does give an enormous amount of personal satisfaction when you succeed, and any morale-booster in Qatar is good.

zeus
zeus
6 years ago

Acidic soil in Qatar desert….?

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago

Is this satire? Surely no one could be that stupid to try a venture like this. Talk about a waste of water.

Shaiju
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

be optimistic

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  Shaiju

What next, some Inuits trying to raise Polar Bears but covering parts of Qatar in snow?

Shaiju
6 years ago
Reply to  MIMH

are you serious? cant you just calm down, let them TRY what they can

MIMH
MIMH
6 years ago
Reply to  Shaiju

It’s stupid and illogical. A complete waste of water resources in a desert enviroment. If they want to try, go and try in Kerla which has enough annual rainfall for a sustainable to rice going project. Trying to force this in Qatar is verging on the criminal and not necessary.

Shaiju
6 years ago

No wonder, true Malayalis. (and probably next item will be sardine) 😀

Good luck with the idea.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago

What a waste of water

desertCard
desertCard
6 years ago

I’m beginning to believe that mankind is now becoming mentally challenged. A water intensive crop in the desert?New definition for the word idiot.

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

Am I the only one who thinks its ironic that they’re importing farming material, farmers, engineers, and possibly construction material for this “polyhouse”, just so that they can avoid importing rice?

Misha
Misha
6 years ago

I am all for organic farming, but come on! Not all parts of the earth are created equal. There is a reason rice grows in areas prone to lots of rain. As much as we want lush greenery and crops in Qatar, it comes with a price. Water usage is extremely high and unsustainable in Qatar, there is no need to add to an existing neglect of environmental issues.

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago

A huge waste of money, time, and most importantly, water. I hope they fail and go back home.
Qatar does not need expats to use its resources stupidly and create more issues for it.

YESJAY
YESJAY
6 years ago

Be realistic demand the impossible…..Be optimist.

shanu
6 years ago

great news..appreciated
shanu

Navid
Navid
6 years ago

Wishing you guys all the best in this project. Keep it up. Nothing is impossible in this world. Trying and focusing is the best thing Allah has given to us humans.

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