Cultivating a culture of innovation in the UAE’s agricultural sector

Salicornia field at ICBA headquarters in Dubai
Image Credit: Courtesy of ICBA

As part of a one-of-a-kind research project, the United Arab Emirates recently grew rice on a farm in Sharjah. Initiated by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates (MoCCAE) in partnership with the Rural Development Administration (RDA) of the Republic of Korea and the University of the United Arab Emirates (UAEU), the phase The pilot project yielded positive results, producing a yield of 763 kg of rice per 1,000 square meters.

According to MoCCAE, this groundbreaking project has the potential to shape the future of agriculture, as it can be replicated in other arid regions. The second stage of the rice project is currently underway, while the country is also exploring ways to cultivate other crops, including coffee and wheat.

From increasing local food production to exploring ways to diversify sources of food imports, the UAE has implemented a two-pronged approach to advance food security and meet their demand. internal during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last year, the UAE jumped 10 places in the Global Food Security Index, from 31 in the ranking in 2018 to 21 in 2019. This achievement reflects the efforts of the UAE government to do so. the country a global hub of innovation. focused on food security.

Agro-technological innovation

Although it is not easy to sustainably grow food in deserts, the UAE’s agricultural sector has seen rapid developments in recent years thanks to scientific and technological innovation.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, stressed the importance of using the latest technologies in the agricultural sector according to the criteria of sustainability, quality and competitiveness. He also called for the development of innovative solutions capable of meeting the challenges facing the agricultural sector, in particular food production and management.

“The UAE has made positive progress in the area of ​​food and water security. As a nation, we have a strong strategy and plan to make progress towards long-term food security, ”said Ravindra Shrotriya, Founder and CEO of VeggiTech, a Sharjah-based agro-tech company. “Visionary leaders like Dr Abdullah Bel Haif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, and Mariam Bint Mohammad Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Food and Water Security, are working hard with all key stakeholders to ensure there is focus and tangible actions. in this space.

Attracting the right talent and the right technology that can create sustainable and environmentally friendly farms is key to reducing the UAE’s dependence on imports. “Increased awareness of the nutritional value of locally grown foods is key to boosting the local agricultural industry,” adds Shrotriya.

As part of its research and development efforts, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), a non-profit agricultural research center based in the university city of Dubai, has taken several initiatives to help the UAE to improve food security and nutrition, water security and environmental sustainability. .

“Some of our recent initiatives include a project funded under the Expo 2020 Dubai Live Innovation Impact Grants program. As part of this project, ICBA is helping farmers in Abu Dhabi to grow Salicornia, a halophyte or salt-loving plant, and fish, using brine discharged from desalination units inside them. land, ”said Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA.

Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided ICBA with an opportunity to help local communities in these unprecedented times. “In May of this year, we launched a unique community initiative to grow, harvest and share agricultural products and raise awareness about the importance of food,” she says.

While commenting on the critical challenges of agricultural production in the harsh and extreme environment of the region, Dr Elouafi said: “The temperature is higher than the optimal level for most of the year; fresh water is scarce, and on top of that, its uncontrolled use further depletes freshwater resources. Agricultural production is low and insufficient to meet local demand. As a result, the region imports a significant portion of its food requirements.

However, there are several ways to overcome these challenges and boost local food production.

“In addition to technologies such as vertical agriculture, we also need to focus on crop diversification, which I believe is the key to sustainable food production and healthy diets, not only for the Arab Emirates. united but also for other countries “, explains Dr Elouafi.

Crop diversification

ICBA has been at the forefront of promoting agrobiodiversity and crop diversification for the past two decades. The center has introduced climate-smart and resource-efficient crops such as quinoa, pearl millet, sorghum, and samphire, among others.

“These crops are nutritious and resistant to heat, drought and salinity, therefore suitable for the environment of the United Arab Emirates. We have also introduced several salt-loving forages that produce higher yields than some traditional grasses to save freshwater resources in the UAE and also ensure food security. ” She adds.

As aquaponics, hydroponics and vertical farming gain traction on UAE farms, the industry must also explore other innovative cultivation methods and techniques to increase production and support future growth.

UAE-based Desert Control uses its proprietary blend of Liquid Nanoclay (LNC) – sprayed directly onto dry, sandy soils – to create a water retention network in the soil profile and improve crop yields. cultures.

“This is designed to have a big impact on the use of precious water resources. Currently, 75% of the world’s freshwater supplies are absorbed by the global agricultural industry, which is not sustainable, ”says Atle Idland, Managing Director and Managing Director of Desert Control Middle East. “LNC can reduce this by up to 50% while providing higher crop yields. “

He also adds that the early adoption of new sustainable technologies, along with education and knowledge sharing, are essential to address the challenges of the food production segment in the UAE.

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