UAE: New partnership to help farmers overcome climate change

The collaboration will jointly test more than 30 varieties of vegetable seeds to ascertain how they perform under tough desert conditions

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Ashwani Kumar

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Tue 30 Jan 2024, 4:11 PM

Last updated: Wed 31 Jan 2024, 12:57 AM

A new partnership between leading entities is aiming to enhance sustainable agriculture in the UAE by undertaking comprehensive vegetable seed trials, capacity building programmes for farmers and addressing climate change challenges.

Bayer, a global leader in life sciences, has entered into partnership with leading agri-tech company Silal, part of Abu Dhabi-headquartered ADQ, to strengthen the agricultural landscape in the country.

The collaboration will jointly test more than 30 varieties of vegetable seeds, including tomato, cucumber, and melon, to ascertain how they perform under tough desert conditions.

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“The naturally harsh weather conditions in the Middle East make the UAE the perfect platform to assess crop performance and help dictate agricultural practices in countries facing the brunt of climate change,” Hugo Hagen, a senior representative of Bayer Middle East, told the Khaleej Times.

Hugo Hagen.
Hugo Hagen.

He noted that seed survival and resilience will be severely tested in the brutal desert conditions.

“These trials will investigate how these varieties perform under challenging desert farming conditions, assessing their increased crop endurance, quality, and shelf-life characteristics. These trials will be conducted in both open-field and mid-tech greenhouse setups,” said Hagen, the country division head of pharmaceutical at Bayer Middle East.

Taking the top five traits per crop into consideration, scoring will determine which traits performed best under the arid conditions. Some of these traits include yield, fruit size, resistance to virus, diseases (blossom end rot), and pests (like mites and flies), tolerance to stress (climatic or salinity), early maturity, and taste/sugar content.

The data from these trials serves a dual purpose – not only does it benefit agricultural practices in the UAE, but this information will inform agricultural processes across the world including countries facing the challenges of climate change.

“Data from such trials is crucial in combating challenges of climate change including rising temperatures in combination with elevated levels of humidity, also known as wet-bulb temperatures,” Hagen underscored.

Novel solutions, advanced technologies

Hagen pointed out that desert conditions pose a considerable challenge for agriculture, but it can be countered by developing innovative solutions and deploying advanced technologies to reclaim agricultural lands.

“In arid desert conditions, the focus remains on employing specific techniques to grow enough food on less land. For example, implementation of no-till farming, crop protection, and breeding technology are imperative to facilitate better soil management.”

Hagen said that technology can be instrumental in harsh desert conditions ensuring precision seed application and irrigation to conserve resources.

“The advancements in crop science are a true blessing for agricultural land in desert areas — for instance, we are using cover crops – selected crops planted off season in fields maximises the amount of carbon that stays in the soil potentially reducing the need for fertilizer. As a part of Bayer’s Carbon Programme, we are reducing tillage thereby decreasing soil disruption and improving the soil’s natural ability to store carbon, nutrients, and water for improved crop performance.”

Hagen noted that precipitation alerts, real-time field health data using drones and satellites, and other tools are essential in boosting agricultural turnover in desert conditions.

“We are quite proud of our R&D team’s successful attempt at growing tomato varieties that require less water, it is a notable example of how our innovation can help farmers adapt to a changing climate. Through sustainable intensification we can help growers produce more food on the same amount of land, with less impact on the environment. As we continue this mission, we are simultaneously empowering farmers with the tools they need to face the many challenges of growing crops in arid conditions.”

Supporting, training farmers

Hagen said that agriculture is a significant source of greenhouse emissions and making it a part of the solution is crucial in the battle against climate change.

“Recognising the vital role of agriculture in mitigating climate change and enhancing resilience, we are collaborating with our partners Silal to enhance the capabilities of local agronomists. We are achieving this by leveraging Bayer’s BayG.A.P. capacity building programme – a service programme, which supports farmers worldwide to get trained on good agricultural practices, verified and connected to the food value chain at a local and global level.”

Hagen said it will be a phased approach to systematically reach and train farmers in the UAE.

“It is critical to first equip local agricultural engineers with the right set of knowledge and training tools. In the first step, agricultural engineers and farm managers will be trained in a train-the-trainer approach. In the second stage, these trainers will then extend the capacity building efforts to potentially reach over 300 growers in the UAE, who are part of Silal’s network. The programme encompasses modules on essential topics such as integrated pest management, safe use, crop protection products, application technology, and irrigation.”

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