Flour Milling in Qatar

by Teresa Acklin
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The Qatar Flour Mill in Doha combines increased flour production with architectural design to better serve domestic, regional markets.

   Located along the Persian Gulf, just on the west side of Doha port, the Qatar Flour Mill is proof that flour mills need not take a back seat to architecture and design in order to be productive.

   The 400-tonne-per-day mill, equipped by Buhler Ltd., Uzwil, Switzerland, has been operational since 1996. Particular attention has been given to the Arabic architectural design of the facility, which is located within sight of the palace of the Emir. With bright lights and a front adorned in glass, the mill looks more like a hotel complex than a manufacturing complex. But there is no mistaking that the Qatar Flour Mill is a highly productive facility.

   The Doha mill is owned by the Qatar Flour Mills Co. (S.A.Q.), which was founded in 1969 by the Amiri Decree No. 12. The company began producing flour in 1972, and that facility, then at a different location in Doha, was only the second mill in the Gulf States.

   In 1985, the company doubled production by upgrading its technology, including the installation of computers. The modernization marked the first time computers were introduced to operate factories in the Gulf region, according to company officials.

   Today, in addition to the new flour mill, the Qatar Flour Mills Co. operates a macaroni factory, baby food factory and cookie (biscuit) factory, all located on the same site. The company, which has a total of 300 workers throughout the different facilities, is 100% publicly owned by 1,260 shareholders.

      A Cleaner Environment

   The Qatar Flour Mill's new site is a major change from the location of the company's original Messaieed flour mill in the industrial area of Qatar. As more industrial and chemical plants were built, industrial emissions increased, and to avoid contamination of the flour, officials at the Qatar Flour Mills Co. decided to build the new milling facility in an area near the Emir's palace and ministerial offices.

   The total area of the new facility is 100,000 square meters, a vast expansion when compared to the Messaieed site, which was only 15,000 square meters. But the Qatar Flour Mill is more than just a new and expanded version of the Messaieed mill, which is now closed.

   Wheat-based food consumption in Qatar is increasing annually at a rate of about 10% to 15%, and the milling and food complex is now able to better serve the people and to provide them with higher quality products. The new facility also handles wheat for transshipment to other Middle East countries, and management hopes to play a larger role in the regional flour market. Indeed, further expansion of the mill already is under way, with daily capacity scheduled to increase to 600 tonnes in April.

   With its location at the port, the Qatar Flour Mill facility is well situated for handling grain and product imports and exports. All wheat is imported from Australia, with about 60,000 tonnes brought in each year for domestic use. An additional 90,000 tonnes are re-exported to Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Yemen, bringing total annual wheat handlings to 150,000 tonnes.

   Buhler, which also provided the shipunloading equipment, took special measures to control the noise generated by the pneumatic suction conveyors because of the facility's location near the palace and official buildings. Two Buhler Portalift pneumatic ship-unloaders designed for a capacity of 250 tonnes per hour each operate at the facility and are capable of unloading bulk carriers with a maximum size of up to 60,000 deadweight tons (dwt).

   The quay conveying system at the facility consists of three en-masse chain conveyors arranged in a T-shaped configuration. The en-masse conveyors are equipped with automatic covers that ensure essentially dust-free unloading.

   Grain is transferred from the ship to the storage terminal at a rate of 550 tph. The distribution conveyors feed four bin blocks with a total storage capacity of 60,000 tonnes; the storage was planned to keep enough grain on hand to meet domestic needs in case of emergency.

   While samples are taken, the wheat is pre-cleaned and weighed in the storage terminal. This section also includes two 50-tonne bins for bulk loadout of grain into trucks.

      Milling and Markets

   The mill itself starts with three 110-tonne raw wheat bins. The finished product storage capacity totals 1,650 tonnes of flour in 15 bins, 570 cubic meters for bran in six bins and two 25-tonne bins for the bulk loadout of flour. In the food processing complex, which has also been designed by Buhler, an additional 10 bins are available for flour, semolina, maize grits, sugar, cleaned wheat and rice.

   The milling facility is divided into two virtually identical production lines. Wheat from the three 110-tonne raw wheat bins enters the first dampening stage, which is equipped with Buhler MYFA automatic moisture controllers and MOZJ intensive dampeners. Each of the two 200-tonne-per-day milling lines is equipped with twelve MDDK-1000/250 rollermills and two MPAH-822 plansifters. All other equipment is based on a traditional mill diagram, and all spouting is stainless steel.

   Ghazi Abdul Halim Hussein El-Salmi, general manager, oversees production at the mill, which operates two shifts per day with 12 people to run the mill for each shift. The mill's technology includes the most up-to-date computer systems available.

   Quality testing procedures are similar to those done worldwide. Tests are done for moisture content, color grade, ash content, wet gluten, pH value, Falling Number, water absorption, extensibility and analysis to make sure that protein level is at least 11%. Currently, no flour improvers are used.

   The Qatar Flour Mills Co. produces five grades of flour: strong flour; excellent flour, extraction 72%; subsidized flour, extraction 77%; brown flour, extraction 85%; and whole wheat flour, extraction 100%. Other end products include cleaned wheat, coarse and medium semolina, whole-grain meal, germ, table-grade bran, breading and feed bran. The mill also grinds Harris wheat (hulled wheat) and Jareesh (hulled wheat further processed on groats cutting machines), which are made only during the month of Ramadan.

   About 45% of the mill's flour output is sold directly to domestic Arabic and European-style bakeries and supermarkets. Flour exports account for 20% of total flour production, with shipments made primarily to Yemen and Iran by sea freight.

   The remaining 35% of flour output is consumed by the company's food plants at the complex. The macaroni factory has a pasta line with a capacity of 750 kilograms per hour, the cookie (biscuit) factory produces 600 kg per hour, and the baby food factory has a capacity of 300 kg per hour.

   The only government involvement in Qatar's grain and flour market consists of subsidies for one type of flour, the 77% extraction variety, which is used to produce Arabic bread. The Qatar Flour Mill sells the 77% extraction variety flour on the market at a reduced price, with the government reimbursing the mill for the difference between the market price and the subsidized price.

   But delays occur between the time the flour is sold and reimbursement because the government audits the transactions. The process can take in excess of one month, resulting in revenue delays and lost opportunity income.

A look at Qatar

   In the Middle East, Qatar is located on a peninsula bordering the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. Doha is the capital.

   Demography: Population 641,000 (1995); 88% urban; Arabic official language, English widely spoken; 95% Islam religion.

   Geography: Total area 11,427 square kilometers; desert climate and terrain.

   Government: Traditional monarchy. Chief of state and head of government is Emir and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Agriculture: Farming and grazing on small scale, less than 2% of gross domestic product; agricultural area is small and government-owned; commercial fishing increasing in importance; most food imported.

   Wheat and flour: About 60,000 tonnes of wheat annually is imported for domestic use; flour production from 1993-95 averaged 33,000 tonnes per year.

   Economy: Oil is the backbone of the economy, accounting for more than 30% of gross domestic product, more than 85% of export earnings and roughly 75% of government revenues. Oil has contributed to a per capita G.D.P. comparable to leading Western European industrial countries. Proven oil reserves should allow steady output for about 25 years. Natural gas production and export also are increasing. Long-term goals include off-shore oil development and economic diversification.

   G.D.P. per capita: U.S.$20,820 (1994 estimate).

   Currency: Qatari riyal. Fixed exchange rate: 3.640 riyals per U.S.$.

   Exports: U.S.$2.9 billion (f.o.b., 1994 estimate); petroleum, fertilizer.

   Imports: U.S.$2 billion (c.i.f., 1994 estimate); consumer goods, food, machinery and equipment.