To the market we go
Most soil in Qatar is infertile. But if you drive about 20 kilometres north of Doha, you’ll find 23 farms selling vegetables pulled fresh from Qatari soil just hours before.
The location of Al Mazrourah Farmers’ Market in Um-Salal may seem inconvenient to those living in Doha, but residents to the north are relieved to have a fresh market close at hand. According to an inspector from the Ministry of Environment (MOE), “In the Shamal area there were not enough places that sell in bulk. The market’s location in Um Salalmakes it accessible to people from Shamal and from Doha.”
Proximity to the farms increases the freshness of the vegetables. Sellers pick smaller quantities and replenish the stock throughout the day according to customer demand. Even at midday it’s possible that the cucumbers you buy were taken from the field just an hour earlier. Kamel Abd El-Satar, an agricultural engineer at Al Jabr Farm, says,“I’ve had to replenish my cauliflower supply three times today.”
Since the Al Mazrourah Farmers’ Market opened in December of last year it has been gaining in popularity. Most of the customers are Qatari. A female Qatari customer says, “For me it’s more economic to buy in bulk for my family. Our families are large. It’s easier and faster to drive here than Doha.” She comes every week and buys one box of each vegetable.
Not only is the produce fresh but the quality is often higher than in other venues. Every week the MOE tests the vegetables both in the market and the field to ensure they are within legally accepted pesticide limits. Farms not complying, face permanent removal from selling at the Al Mazrourah Market.
Another way pests are controlled can be seen in the fight against the moth tuta absoluta, which feeds on tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. This moth has been spreading worldwide and has recently been found in Qatar.
Qatari farms integrate some environmentally safe methods. For example, during the latent summer months fields are covered with thin, wetted plastic layers. When the sun heats the ground underneath to about 70°, bacteria and mold are killed off.
Another way pests are controlled can be seen in the fight against the moth tuta absoluta, which feeds on tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. This moth has been spreading worldwide and has recently been found in Qatar. According to El-Sattar, Qatar uses a biological pest control method of distributing containers filled with isolated female pheromones which attract males into a water-soap mixture. This method alone reduces pesticide use by 50-60%.
Farming in a desert region does require more support than in a fertile valley and the long-term viability is yet to be seen. The agriculture sector is largely dependent on imports and some practices, such as using scarce ground water for irrigation, will certainly need to be re-calibrated in the future.
For the time being Al Mazrourah Farmers’ Market is one of the freshest and healthiest options available. Depending on the season customers will find common vegetables as well as more rare products such as fresh arugula and black-eyed beans. Although a few stands sell by the kilo, most of the produce is sold in bulk. Bargaining is not encouraged. Other stands sell imported fruit, Qatari honey and animal fat for cooking. And a nursery near the entry sells small plants. Convenient amenities such as easy parking, toilets, a mobile ATM machine and porters are also available.
Market Hours: Thursday-Saturday 7 am-7 pm.
Getting There: On Al Shamal Road drive approximately 16.5 km past Landmark Mall to Exit 16 and then west towards Um Slal Ali. Continue driving straight through the round about. The market is ahead on the right hand side.
Tip: If you have children, combine a trip to the market with a stop at Barzan Olympic Park. Take friends with you to split your bulk buys at the market.