Against the desert sands of Sharjah, eight green circles stand out as the UAE cultivates wheat to improve food security in an arid country that imports some 90 per cent of its food.
The government launched the 400-hectare farm in Mleiha in 2022, using desalinated water for irrigation, as the disruption of war and pandemic heightened concern over the UAE’s lack of arable land.
“What pushed wheat farming were the problems with the supply chains in the last couple of years due to the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia war,” Khalifa Alteneiji, chairman of Sharjah’s Department of Agriculture and Livestock, told Reuters.
The UAE, a federation of seven emirates, imported 1.7 million metric tonnes of wheat in 2022 with Sharjah accounting for 330,000 tonnes, government figures show.
The Mleiha farm’s contribution is expected to be some 1,600 tonnes per year, a step towards the Gulf oil producer’s greater ambitions to increase farming.
Officials say the energy costs of producing the 18,000 cubic metres of desalinated water needed per day for irrigation will be proportionately less as the project scales up.
“The cost of this (desalinated) water and of the final product, will hopefully be similar to the market,” Alteneiji said.
Eventually, the UAE, which will host the COP28 climate conference this year, has plans for food production that recycles water and minimises waste.
The plan for the Mleiha farm, which is free of pesticides, chemicals and genetically modified seeds, is to expand it to 1,400 hectares by 2025 and eventually to 1,900 hectares.
The farm uses artificial intelligence and thermal imaging to gather weather and soil data to regulate irrigation rates and monitor growth.
“This a special agricultural platform, which can help identify the irrigation quantity that was completed, and to plan the irrigation quantity for coming days,” Agriculture Director Ibrahim Ramadan said.
The project includes experimental fields of 35 different types of wheat from around the world spread across two hectares to explore compatibility with Emirati soil and weather. — Reuters
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