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Future Food Systems in the Desert. Working with Nature for healthy communities, ecosystems and soils.

Resilient and resource efficient food systems that preserve biodiversity, and improve health of ecosystems, soil and communities

Photo of Anna Grichting
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Friends of Humanity

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Environmental Science Center, Qatar University, Research Institution Turba Farms, Qatar. Private Sector Al Nakheel Landscapes, Private Sector Global Farms, Private Sector Ministry of Municipality and Environment, Public Sector Ashghal Public Works Qatar, Public Sector Arab Youth for Climate Change Qatar, NGO Friends of the Environment Qatar, NGO Sustainable Qatar, NGO

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Qatar University is situated in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. The campus covers an area of 2000 acres, that is 8,1 square kilometeres.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I lived in Qatar from 2011 to 2018 and I continue to collaborate on research projects at Qatar University. When I arrived in Qatar I began to work on Food Urbanism with my students and received research grants to develop some project on the campus. I collaborated with the Swiss Embassy in Qatar to organise workshops and exhibitions, funded by Swiss companies, and I established partnerships with the food industry in particular the landscape and horticulture sector. One of the research projects looked at permaculture and worked with case studies and permaculture specialists living in Qatar. We conducted case studies and organised workshops on permaculture for our students, including a composting workshop for the gardeners at Qatar University. The project for an Edible Campus was developed with the students – undergraduate and graduate - in collaboration with Environmental Research Center, building services and the campus gardeners and landscape architects. The project worked at the campus scale master plan, as well as working on a prototype edible garden, and green roofs. More recently, we have partnered with an urban farm in Qatar, where a young Qatari farmer is developing a model farm based on permaculture and nature-based solutions for food, water and energy efficiency, using traditional knowledge and contemporary innovations. The farm is approximately the same scale as the Qatar university campus, and we are exploring how we can bring these sustainable and resilient farming practices to the Qatar University campus to grow more food and promote biodiversity, as well as improve the health of the soil and the university communities. I have been involved in many projects in Qatar, with teaching, research and professional communities and I have won several research and business awards. You can see more about my work in Qatar on my website

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Qatar is located on a small peninsula on the north-eastern coast of the Arabian peninsula. It is surrounded by the salt water of the Persian Gulf except for a small shared border with Saudi Arabia. 2.6 million people live there. The climate is arid desert. Qatar has limited water resources; the climate is too hot and dry for much agriculture; dust storms are a serious threat. It has the highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide in the world because of free electricity and the reliance on energy-intensive desalination for potable water. Air quality is a problem caused by the high rate of CO2 emissions. Qatar is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and rising temperatures due to climate change. Recently flash floods have been a serious problem. Rising temperatures threaten further desertification. Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world as a result of its natural gas and oil reserves. The population is mainly urban, residing in Doha and several other small coastal towns, but the locals like to spend time in their nomadic camps and historic settlements in the desert. Social issues include the imbalance of natives to foreigners: 313,000 Qataris reside with 2.3 million others. In addition, the youth population has exploded and tribalism causes factional politics. A recent embargo by neighbouring states including Saudi Arabia, a major food supplier of Qatar, has heightened the necessity for more efficient and resilient food systems and supplies. The crisis had the positive effect of bringing the different communities in Qatar closer together, despite the continued segregation, and to begin to focus more on community led initiatives. The migrant workers are from diverse origins, such as Nepal, India, the Philippines and Sudan, and many of them come from rural communities and have skills of farming and food growing.There is a great potential for these low income communities to contribute to increasing localized food production, which would in turn allow them to grow their cultural crops, and also have better quality food. Local food production has increased, and it has also diversified. There is an increasing shift from large centralised farms or food manufacturing to smaller food businesses, as well as a move to encourage more food and community gardens. Health problems include obesity and diabetes, especially amongst the local Qatari population, and there is an increasing awareness of the role and quality of food in personal health. There is a wide variety of traditional foods, influenced by India, Iran and the Middle East, as well as the foods of the expat workers, and then the international and global foods that characterise any wealthy, global city.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Environment: Qatar is a very low lying desert in the form of a peninsula. It is extremely exposed to rising sea levels and climate change. It is highly dependent on the sea for resources – oil and gas – and food – fish. It also uses sea water for desalination for about 95 percent of its fresh water supply. The continuing increase in population has seen an increase in requirements for water, and this is having a very adverse effect on the waters of the gulf and their ecosystems and species. This affects the fish reproduction and the quality of the fish. Temperatures are very high in the summer, and the heat makes it difficult to grow food in the summer months. The increase in local food production – whether on farms or in greenhouses - is accompanied by an increase in water and energy use. There is also the problem of the loss of biodiversity through urbanisation, and destruction of habitats.

Diets: with a rapid transition from a nomadic and Bedouin life to a global urban identity, and increased riches from the oil and gas exports, there are problems related to over consumption of food. Alternatively, there are also a very large number of male migrant workers on very low wages, who do not have access to high quality or nutritious food. There is a high consumption of meat amongst the wealthier communities, and in all communities an excessive consumption of sugar in sweets and processed foods.

Economics: Qatar is a rich country, and is one of the world’s largest exporters of natural gas. However, these are non-renewable resources, and the country is working on transitioning to a knowledge economy and diversifying its economy.

Culture: There is a presence of the local Qatari culture in the traditional dress worn by the locals, and in the functioning souqs, as well as the numerous urban and desert festivals. Doha is a very international city and this can be seen in various down town neghborhoods, with a mix of recent migrant communities and more established middle eastern residents. There has been a steady development of Museums and cultural facilities, with both local and international art and artists. The challenge for the future will be to develop a more integrated society, between local Qataris, expats and migrants.

Technology: Increasingly, the country is looking to implement smart and sustainable technologies. To produce healthy  food locally requires that there be the appropriate infrastructures and that it is available and accessible. However technology alone cannot solve the problem of sufficient food production, it is also the consumers that much adapt to new diets, foods and norms. Technology if used for communication and knowledge sharing can play a big role in this. However, it is important that data and technology become available and open to all communities.

Policy. To implement regenerative and healthy food systems, there must be incentives and regulations to encourage public administrations, private enteprises and people to change their food practices and diets. The policy must also address land use and encourage smaller, more localised structures, that can be managed by smaller groups and communities.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

One way that we need to address future challenges is by systems thinking and by working on he nexus between food, water, energy and waste, on the ressource that participate in the food production cycle. The Food Water Energy nexus underpins security issues in many parts of the world and Qatar has large non-renewable energy reserves, but needs to secure supplies of all three to ensure its security. The recent blockade highlighted the country’s lack of domestic food production and its reliance on its neighbours for food imports. Emerging models of architecture and urban and landscape design are addressing the new challenges of climate change, resource scarcity, and insecurity. Urban agriculture can build a regenerative relationship between natural systems and human communities, dramatically improving the generative capacity of buildings, landscapes, infrastructure and cities. We need to think about soil, water, terrain, and climate – about how nature works and how we can enhance the urban ecosystems – making them into productive, rather than consumptive urban systems. This new way of thinking about Food in the the urban ecosystem needs to be integrated at the Academic, Research, policy and business levels with an ecosystem of knowledge and expertise in urban agriculture. For example, current legislation tends to encourage rather than limit food waste – and organic food waste is not recycled for composting, therefore a valuable resource for food growing is being wasted. At the same time, it is necessary to think about new types of food and sources of protein that use less land, water and energy, such as microalgae and other superfooods.

This project looks at how Urban agriculture can build a regenerative relationship between natural systems and human communities. We will include the different communities in Qatar and explore what agricultural practices they have or bring with them. It also looking at the governance and state structures and the regulations and incentives that can build more resilient food systems. It includes education initiatives, civil society, local and international NGOs, corporate social responsibility, participative planning, the role of youth and the role of Public Art. The idea is to respond the the challenges facing Qatar through Tansformative Social Learning. We use the the Edible University Campus as an Urban Laboratory and propose it as a microcosm of the city, discussing the future vision and potential of Qatar University to design, research and implement systems and policies to become more efficient in Food Water and Energy, and to address Climate Change.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

This vision proposes new food crops, halophytes and micro algae; reuse of water recycling of organic waste and soil production, with a food forest and biodiversity wadi and park as the central elements of the campus. All the University communities will be engaged, including the researchers, faculty, administration staff, students, technical staff and migrant workers, and it will bring in the stakeholders from the Public and private sector.

Students will be actively involved in food growing, and will study food subjects in their curriculum. The newly proposed Agricultural college for the Food Water Energy nexus will be an interdisciplinary research and educational facility, that will host training for all the University communities. For example, the Nepali workers mostly come from farming communities and possess farming skills– they can be involved in growing on the campus and improve their diets. Maids [from The Philippines] can have small community gardens while they wait for the students, instead of waiting in the cars, they can plant food and learn English. The food landscapes will serve to better integrate all the different communities of the campus, around the concept of food production. Small markets and food stalls, and weekly food events by the different communities will help to create a vibrant food culture.

The campus will have on site water treatment facilities and water will be reused in all the buildings and landscapes. Rooftops will be cultivated with food, improving the urban climate and reducing the heat island effect. Renewable energies will be progressively implemented in all the campus.

 The landscapes of the campus will be functional, with a combination of farming areas, community gardens, edible landscapes and boulevards, composting areas, nurseries, and a food forest. The concept of permaculture will be applied to reduce water consumption, to foster healthy foods, and biodiversity. Food waste will be either distributed or recycled as compost.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

At Qatar University, we can implement an integrated approach to planning and design  to increase resource use efficiency and quality of life by creating on edible landscapes at on the campus to contribute to the food supply of the University, while at the same time promoting biodiversity on the campus. The Permaculture approach includes the concept of systems thinking and maximum resource use efficiency and is proposed as the philosophy and framework for the interventions proposed. The project includes citizen participation and the co-creation of food landscapes with all the University communities.


The purpose of this vision is first and foremost to provide users with healthy and sustainable food, but also to educate the university population about the production of food and the resources involved. Producing food on a campus not only reduces the food footprint, i.e. the energy that is required to bring the food from distant fields to the plate, but also allows for more efficient resource use and recycling, for example the recycling of organic waste as compost and the use of grey water in irrigation. Dormant lands (i.e. unutilized green fields) can be used to produce crops, and decorative landscapes can be converted into productive landscapes with food and medicinal plants. Edible boulevards can be constructed with fruit-bearing trees that still have the urban and climatic functions of providing shade. A holistic and ecological approach to food production can also contribute to increasing biodiversity on the campus, with careful combinations of plants that repel harmful insects but attracts multiple other species.


One of the ways we propose to address more efficient resource use, extreme climate conditions, and loss of biodiversity is permaculture. Permaculture is a sustainable and conscious approach to agriculture, and a creative method based on ecology for designing integrated systems of food production, housing appropriate technology and community development. Permaculture can contribute to the sustainability and security of Qatar as it utilizes renewable energy technology and other techniques to minimize resource use, for example purifying and using grey water for irrigation, using solar power and potential energy for irrigation pumps, and recycling organic waste. Permaculture improves the natural environment through carbon capture, improved air and soil quality, reducing the urban heat island effect and increasing biodiversity. Permaculture contributes to health and well-being through demonstration and research projects that educate people about the contributions of plants to human health, and how poor food choices contribute to diet-related illnesses, such as Type 2 Diabetes and cancer. Access to organic, permaculture products can reduce the proportion of the income that people need to spend on food, and this can be invested elsewhere to raise the standard of living, especially for those with lower incomes in Qatar. Permaculture gardens can improve understanding of the valuable services provided by ecosystems and how to work with nature rather than against it. It is the hope that collaboration with Qatar nationals especially will lead to research projects that can be sustained into the long-term.

This vision is aligned with the Qatar National Vision 2030, and it is based on the assumption that permaculture methods of landscaping and food production can contribute to Qatar’s development visions and strategies related to the following themes:

Helping Qatar to lead innovative and excellent research: permaculture is increasingly being applied to urban areas and Qatar will therefore be at the forefront of research among Gulf countries facing similar climatic conditions by supporting this project. Interdisciplinary collaboration of experts can produce excellent results that will benefit Qatar’s future development.

Sustainability and security of Qatar: permaculture can achieve better water, energy and food security, while improving food quality and accessibility.

Preserving and improving the natural environment: permaculture can enhance the living environment of urban residents by improving air and soil quality, cooling urban areas and stimulating biodiversity.

Health and wellbeing:  permaculture encourages the growth and use of natural medicines and better nutrition, which can help the health and wellbeing of Qatar’s residents.

Developing the capabilities of Qatar’s people and institutions: permaculture gardens can be valuable places for education by improving people’s understanding of ecosystems, leading to better conservation and management of natural resources.

Supporting Qatar’s distinctive culture: permaculture as a philosophy and set of design principles is very much in keeping with Islamic principles and laws regarding resource use.

Building and maintaining a competitive and diversified economy: permaculture can lead to new types of businesses and employment.


It is anticipated that the widespread adoption of permaculture could help to build and maintain a diverse economy in Qatar, leading to new types of businesses and employment, particularly involving the re-use and recycling of many now wasted resources, and in the growing and processing of useful and healthy products. Existing landscape maintenance skills and knowledge can be developed both for professionals and for individual citizens and communities. In this way, permaculture could indirectly improve the inclusivity, diversity and competitiveness of Qatar’s economy and social wellbeing. The permaculture philosophy and principles coincide with Islamic principles and laws regarding resource use, e.g. not being wasteful, sharing according to need, maintaining a balance between give and take, and respecting animal and human rights. Islamic architecture and garden design can also be incorporated into permaculture designs. In addition, permaculture promotion can support the predominantly Islamic culture, as well as the essence and aspirations of the many other religions and cultures represented in Qatar.

The vision for the future includes developing the master plan for the campus as well as redesigning and retrofitting existing architectures and landscapes, and planning the future development of the campus. The first step in the development of the Master Plan for Qatar University is to have a clear vision and mission for QU edible campus, and relate it to Qatar National Vision 2030 as well as looking towards 2050 and adapting it to the climate predictions. The final master plan will combine the existing plan in addition to the future plans, covering all types of buildings, rooftops, productive and edible landscapes and the central park. The nexts steps of the design process to transform the existing landscapes at Qatar University into Edible Landscapes. The roofs of the existing buildings are studied to retrofit them as green and productive roofs. The approach for the Green Fields includes identifying the reserve land in the University campus that has not yet been developed to propose temporary agricultural uses that would also create green infrastructure for the future urban and landscape designs for the campus development. Central Park and Biodiversity Reserve. The existing Wadi conservation was chosen as the backbone of a new green network at Qatar University. It is connected with a water treatment landscape that feeds the wadi and recycles water. The lower part of the wadi area is the space where the Food Forest will be implemented.

In the vision of the University as a productive campus using permaculture methods for increased resource use efficiency, climate adaptation and biodiversity, and at the same time enhancing and improving the bioclimatic and aesthetic qualities of the campus, some of the innovative ideas are the future Qatar University metro station as a vertical farm, which becomes a gateway for the Edible campus, and where people arriving at the University are immediately immersed in the productive landscapes. Another highlight of the project is the proposal of Digital Food Knowledge Hubs that provide information about the food’s footprint and the nutritional components of each food source, as well as information relating to microclimate and soil. The hubs also provide information and links to other Edible campuses worldwide allowing an exchange of knowledge and best practices. This vision will create a community of permaculture practitioners as well as an interest group in Qatar, and we will collaborate with Turba Farms on different techniques for creating watersheds and natural irrigation through permaculture techniques of micro catchments for dry landscapes. These can all contribute to the knowledge and research for the future Edible Permaculture Campus vision.

This vision will build on the permaculture boulevard garden at the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at Qatar University. Here we conducted soil analysis, climate and microclimate analysis, and consulted specialists in native and edible plants in collaboration with the students and the Environmental Science Center at Qatar University. According to the microclimate and soil analysis, and the knowledge on plant species that can grow in Qatar and in different microclimates, the students proposed companion planting schemes for the Garden.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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1 comment

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Photo of Zsofia Pasztor

Hello Anna, your vision has many similarities to the many sites we work with. We would love to connect with you.