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Farmers show crops can be grown in UAE desert

Saman Haziq/Dubai
Filed on February 20, 2019
Farmers show crops can be grown in UAE desert

(KT/Neeraj Murali)

Among the most promising crops that thrive on the country's soil is the nutrition-packed quinoa.

Growing crops in the harsh weather conditions of the UAE can be quite a task - but now that food security is on top of the national agenda, the country is leaving no stone unturned to deal with the challenge.

To tackle challenges like salinity, water scarcity and drought, the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai on Wednesday brought together over 100 leading farmers, agri-businesses, scientists, researchers and government representatives for the an open day called UAE Farmers Day.

The open day aimed to demonstrate the best farming practices and showcase the best examples and innovations that work in the UAE's conditions, said Dr Ismahane Elouafi, director-general of the ICBA.

"This is also a great opportunity to learn from the UAE farmers' experiences. We wanted to reach out to the farmers and agri-businesses in the UAE and show them the technologies and crops that our scientists have found to work well in the local conditions," Dr Elouafi said.

Among the most promising crops that thrive on the country's soil is the nutrition-packed quinoa, the expert said.

"The number of farmers cultivating quinoa in the UAE is steadily increasing, thanks to a major programme led by the ICBA in collaboration with national partner organisations.

"Under this programme, ICBA scientists have collaborated with local partners since 2016 to select and distribute quinoa seeds to 12 pioneer farmers in Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Sharjah and Fujairah."

She also mentioned a number of halophytic, or salt-loving, plants that were found to be effective alternatives to forage production and rehabilitation of salt-affected lands in the UAE. They produce higher yields than some traditional grasses like Rhodes grass and help farmers save more water.

Besides choosing the right kind of crops for the country, using appropriate technologies for agriculture is also a must, Dr Elouafi said.

"Some of the suitable technologies include inland and coastal modular farms that use reject brine and seawater for irrigation. The inland modular farm uses desalinated water for vegetables, reject brine for fish, and aquaculture effluents for halophytic plants. On the other hand, the coastal modular farm uses seawater for fish, and aquaculture effluents for halophytic plants like salicornia."

The Farmers Day was the first in a series of events slated for 2019 to mark 20 years since the ICBA was established by the country's leadership and the Islamic Development Bank.

During the day, visitors and farmers were given a tour of the centre's nine field stations, namely Date Palm; Drones for Agriculture; Integrated Aqua-Agriculture Systems; Salicornia as Biofuel; Forage Production System; Quinoa; Greenhouse and Net House; Soil Museum, and Biochar.

In each station, experts explained how the technologies work.

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