Turning Deserts Into Oases

Photo shows an oasis ‘grown’ by a research team from China’s Chongqing Jiaotong University in the Ulan Buh Desert, north China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.(Photo provided by the research team)
Photo shows an oasis ‘grown’ by a research team from China’s Chongqing Jiaotong University in the Ulan Buh Desert, north China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.(Photo provided by the research team)

China and Arab states deepen cooperation on water conservation in agriculture

By Zhou Zhou, People’s Daily

Published: Wed 7 Dec 2022, 9:49 AM

The Egyptian government recently piloted a digital precision irrigation system among hundreds of farmers.

The system samples data with its sensors buried in the soil and tells farmers when they should water the crops and how much water is needed. Through a mobile application, farmers can obtain information about their crops, including the soil moisture content. They can start the irrigation remotely with just a few clicks on the screen of their mobile phones. The system cuts farmers’ water consumption in irrigation by around 20 per cent.

Apart from Egypt, Saudi Arabia is trying to grow crops with sea water, and the UAE is building greenhouses and water-conserving farms in the desert.

The Middle East and North Africa region is home to five per cent of the global population, but it owns only one per cent of the world’s renewable water resources.

In recent years, some Arab states have rolled out relevant policies and plans to tackle drought, agricultural water scarcity, and other challenges, developing and introducing digital technologies and artificial intelligence to vigorously develop water-saving agriculture.

China and Arab states have constantly deepened cooperation under the frameworks of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Arab States Expo, implementing a series of water-conserving projects. China has offered many new solutions for Arab states to alleviate the shortage of irrigation water.

China’s Ningxia University and Egypt’s Ain Shams University have jointly established an intelligent water-conserving irrigation laboratory in Cairo, the capital of Egypt, as well as two bases for irrigation experiments that cover a total area of 21.3 hectares.

It has been learned that the irrigation system can send water to the roots of crops, which is greener and more efficient than traditional irrigation methods. It can be controlled remotely by farmers with their mobile phones.

So far, the system has been used on over 2,000 hectares of land.

With the soil improvement technologies offered by a Chinese biotech company, date palms are growing exuberantly on a China-Africa demonstration farm of salt water agriculture in the Sahara desert in southeast Morocco. The water consumption per date palm each year has been reduced from 600 litres to 200 litres.

In the UAE, a research team from China’s Chongqing Jiaotong University cooperated with local enterprises to carry out experiments to ‘turn sand into soil’ on a barren piece of land stretching 10 square kilometres in Abu Dhabi.

“China has made surprising achievements in agriculture and water resource management, which are worth learning for countries in the Middle East and North Africa region,” said Sinan Bacha, Director of the Regional Centre for Remote Sensing of North African States (CRTEAN), Tunisia. He said he was deeply impressed by China’s advanced technologies employed in water conservation during a field trip to the country.

“A path of modern agricultural development must be followed to achieve high-quality agricultural development. During my stay in China, I saw many modern technologies applied in traditional agriculture, desert agriculture, and desertification prevention and control,” said Jordanian Ambassador to China, Hussam Al Husseini, adding that he expects Jordan and China to carry out more cooperation in agriculture.

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