40% more food needed in next 10 yrs
Experts discuss way forward at two-day agriculture forum held in Abu Dhabi
The challenge the agriculture sector is facing globally is feeding nine billion people by 2050. This means, according to United Nations estimates, an increase in food production by 70 per cent in the next 40 years.
In the face of climate change that trigger flooding, temperature changes and water scarcity, all crucial to agriculture, food production is actually dropping at the moment, rather than increasing.
Experts from all corners of the world gathered at the two-day Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture, taking place in Abu Dhabi until today, and they agreed that the way forward is green, "smart", innovative farming.
"Because of climate change food production is decreasing annually by two per cent, at a time when we need 40 per cent increase in the next 10 years," said Marc van Ameringen, executive director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, Switzerland.There are already 800 million people on the planet who go hungry every day and two billion who suffer from hunger-related illnesses.
"There are also 1.9 billion people overweight and obese, and the question is not only how to get access to food, but to an optimal diet," pointed out Ameringen.
"Almost half of the planet suffers from some form of malnutrition. In poor countries, 80 per cent of the diet is nutrient deficient because most of the agricultural investments are in starch staples," he added.
Wheat and maize may be cheaper to grow, but if governments want to avoid increasing health bills and other side effects of unhealthy eating, investments in agriculture need to change to crops that contain minerals and vitamins.Water scarcity and high energy consumption, leading to more carbon emissions polluting the air and facilitating climate change, also make top challenges for agriculture today.
"We recognise the alarming fact that by 2025, two-thirds of the world population will be affected by water scarcity," stated Rashed Mohammed Al Shariqi, Director-General of Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority.
"Bearing in mind that agriculture production consumes 70 per cent of the world's diminishing freshwater resources, we will consider a collective action programme for the innovative use of water with the scientific community," he added.
If agriculture is currently responsible for 70 per cent of all global water withdrawal, food production accounts for 30 per cent of total energy consumption.
Due to its lack of arable land, the UAE and the Middle East in general, remain the world's largest food importer. Appropriate crop identification for cultivation, water budgeting, rain-water harvesting, recycling sewage water, solar powered desalination plants and new agricultural technologies such as hydroponics are some of the initiatives Abu Dhabi is working on to improve water scarcity and farming.
According to Abu Dhabi Farmers Services Centre (ADFSC), there are 24,000 farms in the emirate, which consume, along with the forestry and park sectors 72 percent of the water resources.
"A very scarce resource, water is a major challenge for us. We are now in the process of introducing new technologies in agriculture that help improve water use," Alaa Jomah, technical services director at ADFSC, told Khaleej Times. These technologies refer to various hydroponic systems, which are basically methods of growing plants in mineral solutions, without soil. ADFSC first introduced hydroponics to Abu Dhabi farmers nearly four years ago.
"Hydroponics increase production nearly 10 times per cubic meter of water, but they can only be used in green houses, not the open fields," said Jomah.
Some 100 farms in the emirate have now invested in hydroponics.
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