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Meet the Qatari farmer growing medicinal plants in the desert

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Mohamed Al-Khater inspects a flower growing in his aromatic garden in Torba Farm, Qatar.
Mohamed Al-Khater inspects a flower growing in his aromatic garden in Torba Farm, Qatar.   -   Copyright  Rosie Lyse Thompson
By Gregory Ward  & Rosie-Lyse Thompson

SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world that are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.

Mohamed Al-Khater developed a fascination with horticulture as a teenager. While growing up in Qatar, he became fascinated by the different smells and scents he encountered.

“What intrigued me was the complex aromas that certain plants have. I was very moved by the fact that certain plants had beautiful smells, whilst others had pungent smells or no smell at all,” recalls Mohammed. “I realised that we have so many aromatic plants here that are native to Qatar. That realisation developed into a significant interest in the medicinal qualities of plants,” he adds.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
Mohamed Al-Khater arranging medicinal herbs grown in Torba Farm, Qatar.Rosie Lyse Thompson

Mohammed suffered from a rare foot condition that caused him daily pain and discomfort as a child. Aromatherapy oils helped alleviate his condition. “Plants have so many healing qualities. My love for essential oils came out of a desire to utilise them for the health issues I suffered with. That introduction inspired me to study aromatherapy at a much deeper level,” Mohammed explains.

‘Pure soil that nourishes and nurtures’

Torba Farm was established thirty years ago by Mohammed’s father, Ali Mohammed Al-Khater. In 2014, Mohammed and his twin sister Fatma took over the running of the facility and transformed it into one of Qatar’s first organic permaculture farms. “Torba is derived from Arabic and means pure soil that nourishes and nurtures,” Fatma A-Khater tells Scenes.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
A collection of medicinal herb bouquets grown and prepared in Torba Farm, Qatar.Rosie Lyse Thompson

The farm produces a variety of products, including organic fruit, vegetables, medicinal herbs, and essential oils. “Torba aims to preserve traditional native plants of the Gulf region. We have heritage seeds and plants, and we grow many other plants from around the world,” says Fatma.

Torba Farm produces over 60 different types of essential oils in the in-house laboratory. The production of essential oils starts in the field where thousands of plants are collected. “We generally produce the essential oil of particular plants two or three times a year. Essential oils have a very long expiry date, so we can sell them for a long time after making them,” says Mohammed.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
Mohamed Al-Khater distilling essential oils inside Torba Farm's Laboratory, QatarRosie Lyse Thompson

‘Our heritage has a lot to offer’

In addition to the farm, Mohammed and Fatma run an artisan store, online shop and a weekly organic farmer’s market. “One of the primary drivers for us setting up Torba was that we want to promote local products. We believe that our land, our heritage has many precious things to offer,” says Mohammed. “Despite the harsh desert climate, most plants will grow very well in our environment, provided that we create the necessary adaptations for them to grow,” he adds.

Torba farm is housed in over 250 thousand square metres of landscape and employs over 60 full-time workers. Every aspect of the farm was carefully designed to create an interactive experience for visitors. The farm aims to enhance sensory experiences that people naturally find in nature.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
An areal view of Torba Farm, Qatar.Rosie Lyse Thompson

“There is a section where people can smell different aromatic plants. There are areas where sensory experiences are predominantly visual. There is a garden where people can taste edible plants and herbs,” says Mohammed. “People can also hear birds chirping, crickets, frogs and toads throughout the farm,” he adds.

‘Nature is a place of healing’

Mohammed’s favourite location on the Farm is the underground water spring which was built using traditional methods. “The purity of the water is unparalleled because it comes fresh from the ground. The sound of water is so healing,” Mohammed says. “Nature is a place of healing, a place where people can reconnect to themselves. For me, there is a sense of connection to nature that is so deep that it blurs the lines between space and time,” he adds.

Rosie Lyse Thompson
Mohamed Al-Khater feeding camels in Torba Farm, Qatar.Rosie Lyse Thompson

When shipping products overseas, Torba has taken steps to reduce its carbon footprint in response to the growing threat of climate change. The packaging of all its products is made from renewable resources.

“We wanted to make sure that any materials we used to build the farm were natural. It was really important for us to find ways to do the Torba project sustainably. We are cultivating plants that naturally grow well in our desert environment. We want to combine this with new technology to give longevity to the Torba project,” says Mohammed.

Journalist • Gregory Ward