Agriculture in UAE: Ensuring Food Security

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Agriculture in UAE 4

Inclusion of UAE  among the countries with the highest vulnerability rate to the potential impacts of climate change is a matter of concern. Climate change will impact agriculture in UAE in a big way. Higher temperatures, harmful insects, and increased weeds will adversely affect some species of crops.

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Consequently, these impacts will be intense on human health, natural habitat, and infrastructure. Subsequently, this would affect various development sectors and policies, including socio-economic, health, and environmental. It will lead to global food shortages.  Agriculture in UAE would suffer from more salty water invading underground freshwater pools. Consequently, it would bec0me difficult to find local agricultural produce.

History of Agriculture in UAE

Lack of arable land, limited freshwater supplies, intense heat, and periodic locust swarms are the main obstacles to agriculture in UAE. There has been rapid depletion of underground aquifers in the drive to increase the area under cultivation. Consequently, it has resulted in steeps drops in water tables and serious water and soil salinity increase in some areas. Subsequently, several farms have been forced to cease production.

The government of UAE took the proper steps in 1983 with the creation of a federal authority. The responsibility of this authority is to control the drilling of water. However, the development pressures in the eighties and nineties increased the exploitation of underground water supplies. During the six years between 1979 and 1985, agricultural production in the UAE increased six times. During the early 1990s, the UAE imported about seventy percent of its food requirements. 

Agriculture in UAE

The major vegetable crops supplying nearly all the UAE’s needs during the season are eggplant, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, and squash. Ras al-Khaimah produces most of the UAE’s vegetables. Besides dates, the major fruit crops are mangoes and citrus. The vegetable canning facility in Al Ain has a processing capacity of 120 tones per day. Additionally, about 70 percent of eggs and 45 percent of poultry meat needed in 1989 was provided by the local poultry farms. The local dairies met 92 percent of domestic demand by producing more than 73,000 tons of milk in 1991.

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There has been a substantial budgetary allocation for parks, public landscaping, and forestation. Trees and shrubs have been distributed free of cost to schools, government offices, and residents. Companies involved in afforestation have received contracts to plant areas in the range of 200 to 300 hectares. The main goals are to improve the appearance of public places and prevent the process of desertification in vulnerable agricultural areas.

Agriculture has been one of the most popular activities of the Emirati people. The vital agricultural areas for farmers have been Diqdaqah in Ras Al Khaimah, Falaj al Mualla in Umm al Quwain, the coastal area of Fujairah, Wadi adh Dhayd in Sharjah, Al Awir in Dubai, and Al Ain and Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi.

Today, there are more than 30,000 farms in the UAE, an exponential increase from around 4,000 farms in the early 1970s. The rapid development of agriculture in the UAE was seen during the 1980s, when the country started using up to 30% of its food requirements. Apart from farming in Dubai and the other emirates, there has also been an increase in fishing and poultry production, with local dairies meeting 92% of the demand in the country.

Agriculture in UAE – Facts and Figures

You can understand about agriculture in Dubai from the following fact and figures mentioned below

  • About 81,000 hectares or 200,000 acres) of land is arable. 
  • 24% of cultivated land grows vegetables.
  • 30% of cultivated land grows fruit.
  • 10% of cultivated land grow fodder
  • 36% for other uses. 

The most productive region is Ra’s al-Khaimah, which receives underground water supplies from the nearby mountains of Oman and enjoys the most plentiful rainfall. The main crops are tomatoes, melons, and dates.

Abu Dhabi Arid Land Research Center on Saadiyat Island produces vegetables through unique irrigation and hydroponic techniques. 

Digdagga Agricultural Trials Station in Ra’s al-Khaimah is center for all agricultural research and training efforts in the UAE. 

The two large wheat farms at Al ‘Ain, Abu Dhabi experimental farms at Rawaya and Mazaid (near Al ‘Ain) are designed to encourage local Bedouins to take up settled farming. 

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In 1999, UAE produced 1,055,000 tons of vegetables and 358,000 tons of fruit. The produce included citrus, mangoes, tomatoes, potatoes, celery, lettuce, peppers , cucumbers, melons, and fodder crops.

A 48% increase in vegetable production was reported by the ministry of agriculture and fisheries in the period from 1992 and 1995. 

Dates, traditionally grown on oases by nomads, are becoming less important because of vegetable and fruit production. 

In 1999, the UAE produced 295,000 tons of dates. The UAE currently satisfies about 60% of its domestic fruit and vegetable demand. The ban on imports of certain vegetables coupled with government incentives and subsidies  encourage domestic production. UAE grows roses and chrysanthemums for export to Europe.

Agriculture in UAE – Key Market Trends

There are millions of date palms in the UAE and the country is responsible for 6% of the world’s date production. The hot climate of the UAE actually favors the growth of dates, which is why they are in abundance in the region. 

According to Food and Agriculture Organization, the cultivation of dates accounted for 323,478 metric tons in 2019. This was followed by tomatoes with 72,357 metric tons, and cucumber & gherkins add up to 73,982 metric tons in 2019, thus showing a steady growth of agriculture in the United Arab Emirates. Despite several unfavorable soil & climatic factors, the production of multiple crops in the United Arab Emirates is increasing due to the various support policies from the government.

These policies include free cultivation, 50% less cost of crop protection. Additionally, the veterinary services and fertilizers are available at 50% less cost. Hence , the increased production of the crops mark the steady growth of agriculture in UAE. Over the years, the governments in each emirate have provided incentives to farmers, in efforts to increase production. 

Agriculture in UAE in COVID-19 Times

During the forecast period (2021-2026), Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates is projected to register a CAGR of 3.2%. In theCOVID-19 times, Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates suffered from farm labor shortage during harvesting and input supply crisis. Consequently, these hampered the usual production of the country.

Moreover, the repeated lockdowns and shutdowns of processing units have affected the supply chain and limited trade movements to other countries. Subsequently, the lack of storage facilities led to the huge quality loss of the country’s produces. UAE has gained a lot of interest as a tourist destination and has lots of luxurious resorts. Due to the worldwide lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for fresh produce, including cereals, fruits, and vegetables, decreased rampantly.

UAE has a high per capita food consumption, making it the most promising agriculture market in the GCC region. The UAE cereal production is moderate and can not be independent in agriculture production. UAE is still dependent on imports for cereals.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization, in UAE, cereals production in 2019 was 6,708.0 metric tons which are very minimal. Similarly, fruits production accounted for 360,598.0 metric tons, and vegetable production stood at 315,098 tons in 2019. As the government of UAE has been giving priority to the production of fruits and vegetables, production is showing positive growth.

Agriculture in UAE – Technological Advances

Recently, agriculture in UAE has made a tactical shift towards modern irrigation systems by replacing the traditional flood irrigation. Consequently, this has reduced water consumption substantially as water resources are less. More than half the farms in UAE have adopted these practice. As part of sustainable agriculture in the UAE, organic farming practices are adopted.

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Currently, there are more than fifty organic vegetation farms, three animal production farms and one manufacturing facility. Imports fulfill almost 80% of the food needs of UAE i. Hence, UAE plans to continue sustainable agriculture methods to boost food production. Simultaneously, it aims to ensure that no harm is caused to the ecosystem as the country increases production.

With just an average 12 days of rain a year, a desert location, less than 1% arable land, and an 80% import rate for food, the UAE seems an unfavorable place to set up a farm. Prompted by arid conditions and a desire for greater food security, UAE is investing millions in latest technologies such as vertical farming, that could make it an agricultural pioneer. Vertical farms can grow a rich variety of different crops by stacking them in layers under LED lighting in climate-controlled greenhouses and watering them with mist or drip systems. The process is tailored to each crop’s specific needs, resulting in high-yield, year-round harvests. 

Conclusion

With high temperatures and water scarcity, UAE might seem an unlikely place for a farm. Yet, as COVID-19 pandemic and climate change heightens the desire for food security, the vertical farms can be the solution. Climate change poses a complex threat to UAE in the long-term. Given climate change’s likely impact on food production, vertical farming is an economically viable proposition even with harsh climatic conditions.

In June 2020, the UAE Cabinet also introduced the National Strategy for Sustainable Agriculture. The aim of this strategy is to

  • increase the efficiency levels of farms.
  •  increase self-sufficiency when it comes to certain agricultural crops.
  • reduce water usage for irrigation.

All of these steps will enhance the sustainable agricultural sector in the UAE.

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