Qatar is among the countries with the least food independence: it has to import 90 percent of its food supplies. With a territory almost entirely taken up by a particularly uncultivatable desert, its government is investing a considerable proportion of its oil wealth in avant-garde agricultural projects. This reality was vividly displayed in the Qatar Pavilion at Expo Milano 2015, whose theme was “Sowing the seeds of sustainability, innovative solutions for sustainable food”.
Hydroponics, desalination, seaweed: techniques for becoming self-sufficient
The external aspect of the Pavilion, which was one of the most noticeable buildings towards the end of the Decumanus, featured a giant Jefeer, the characteristic basket used for food storage, woven from palm leafs.
Visitors were greeted as they entered by holographic projections of a mother and child in Qatar. In the first hall, a large interactive table illustrated all the country’s typical gastronomic products and shows how they were eaten. Here the Jefeer baskets which inspired the Pavilion’s design could be seen, along with the leather bags used to transport milk by camel, in the process transforming it into yoghurt. The interactive table concluded by illustrating Qatar’s culinary habits today, influenced by cooking from all over the world. After this, the activities and results of the Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP) were shown, including its hydroponic systems, desalination projects water production from air humidity technology (AgriVerde) and micro-seaweed for aquaculture.
Many innovations regarded the last phases of the food supply chain, with the construction of a new port hub and transport system to optimize food distribution, since in this desert climate long distances and slow transport have a very negative impact on food freshness. The Filaha project was an interesting cultural initiative: the government was publishing various ancient texts on traditional Qatar cultivation methods online, and studying how far they may be applicable today.
A thrilling finale, in the center of the giant Jefeer
The upper floor offered an exciting experience, where visitors found themselves in the center of the giant basket, dominated by an installation shaped to evoke a palm tree, where fascinating video material on Qatar’s history was projected during a spiral-shaped journey. Returning to ground level, visitors found an original leisure area featuring a restaurant zone offering all Qatar’s principal dishes, whose perimeter was occupied by craftwork objects and activities, with artisans weaving baskets or other objects from palm leaves, or building models of traditional boats. There was also a reconstruction of a traditional Qatari kitchen, an area where visitors could be photographed wearing local clothing and another where women could have free henna decorations applied on their hands and arms.