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Agriculture in the UAE Past and Present
Table of Contents
Most of the UAE’s cultivated land is taken up by date palms, which in the early 1990s numbered about 4 million. They are cultivated in the arc of small oases that constitute the Al Liwa Oasis. Both federal and emirate governments provide incentives to farmers. For example, the government offers a 50 percent subsidy on fertilizers, seeds, and pesticides. It also provides loans for machinery and technical assistance (Al-Deeb & Enan, 2010). The emirates have forty-one agricultural extension units as well as several experimental farms and agricultural research stations. The number of farmers rose from about 4,000 in the early 1970s to 18,265 in 1988.
Lack of arable land, intense heat, periodic locust swarms, and limited water supplies are the main obstacles to agriculture. The drive to increase the area under cultivation has resulted in the rapid depletion of underground aquifers, resulting in precipitous drops in water tables and serious increases in soil and water salinity in some areas. As a result, several farms have been forced to cease production. Despite the creation in 1983 of a federal authority to control drilling for water, development pressures in the 1980s and 1990s increased the exploitation of underground water supplies.
Between 1979 and 1985, agricultural production increased sixfold. Nevertheless, the UAE imported about 70 percent of its food requirements in the early 1990s. The major vegetable crops, supplying nearly all the country’s needs during the season, are tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, squash, and cauliflower. Ras al-Khaimah produces most of the country’s vegetables. In addition to dates, the major fruit crops are citrus and mangoes. A vegetable canning facility in Al Ain has a processing capacity of 120 tons per day.
Poultry farms provided 70 percent of local requirements for eggs and 45 percent of poultry meat needed in 1989. Local dairies produced more than 73,000 tons of milk in 1991, meeting 92 percent of domestic demand.
Considerable revenues have been devoted to forestation, public landscaping, and parks. Trees and shrubs are distributed free to schools, government offices, and residents. Afforestation companies receive contracts to plant plots in the range of 200 to 300 hectares. The goals are to improve the appearance of public places as well as to prevent the desertification process in vulnerable agricultural areas.
Lying in the heart of the world’s arid zone, the UAE has little rainfall and one would expect it to be a barren place. Barren places there certainly are, but the process of desertification has very largely been arrested in the country. It is now possible to see forests, fields of grass and wheat where once there were only desert sands and winds. The UAE has a long tradition of agriculture in its oases where crops have been grown for 5000 years. Underground water was chandelled to palm groves and small fields and the technique is still used today.
Since the formation of the UAE in 1971, this small scale traditional farming has been complemented by investment that has seen thousands of hectares being cultivated. In the past 25 years, the country’s population has increased ten-fold and agricultural production has kept pace with this growth. The country is self-sufficient in salad crops and poultry for much of the year and even exports crops to markets in Europe.
Most of the UAE’s agricultural production comes from four areas: from in and around Al Ain, from a narrow but fertile strip along the east coast, from the oasis of Dhaid east of Sharjah and from the gravel plains in Ras al Khaimah. According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, agricultural production stands at over Dh 2 billion per year. An average crop season yields over 600,000 tons of crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, lettuce, cabbage and animal feed. Studies have shown that much of the country’s soil can be cultivated provided there is water and as a result, there has been an extensive programme to drill water wells. The government will prepare land for local farmers which they are then given free along with seeds, machinery and advice on pest control.
There is also government-funded research on different crops to see how they adapt to the local climate. In an attempt to conserve and use as much water as possible in as many ways as possible, the government has embarked on a three-part programme designed to make the most advantageous use of this scarce resource. First, farmers are given advice on how to reduce their consumption of water, mainly through trickle irrigation. Desalinated water as well as recycled and purified sewage effluent is used. Second, with the help of the United States Geological Survey, the government is searching for new aquifers and monitoring current rates of extraction. Third and last, to prevent the waste of valuable rainwater, retention dams have been constructed in many areas.
These store the water until it can be used for irrigation. Tens of millions of gallons of rainwater are being retained by the dams already built throughout the Emirates. In the long run, of course, it is realized that desalinated water will provide the bulk of agricultural water. There is more to agriculture than simply growing crops. One area that has seen dramatic growth is the keeping of poultry for meat and eggs. The same is true of dairy products. Herds of imported cattle have adapted to the climate and are now producing milk, cheese and yogurt for the local market. The presence of trees and gardens in the UAE is always noticed and commented upon by visitors. Over 10 million trees have been planted plus more than 18 million palm trees. In all the cities and towns of the UAE, there have been beautification campaigns with the creation of parks and gardens for the local people.
Any householder, even those in flats, can get free plants from the Municipality under a programme that distributes thousands of plants annually. Besides the greening of the cities and towns there has also been a massive programme in the desert and it is here that most of the trees have been planted. Flying over the desert, one now sees great patches of green where formerly there was only sand. All kinds of arid region plants, both local and imported, have been planted and as they grow to maturity, their roots reach down to the natural water supply. When this happens, they will be able to survive with little care and attention. The face of the land and the environment too have been changed. Wildlife flourishes as do native plants and animals. The UAE was never purely and simply a desert. Today it has become a place where greenery can be seen in both urban and rural areas. Twenty years of dedicated commitment have made the point that the process of desertification is reversible. And given time and money, that is exactly what has happened and is continuing to happen.
The agriculture in UAE is reserved to dates, vegetables, fish, eggs and dairy products (Ministry of Foreign trade, 2011). Tunnel farming is the way forward to agriculture in UAE, more and more people are learning the techniques involved in tunnel farming. For a country like UAE which is a desert the land available for farming is limited, and the water resources are also limited, therefore using the latest technologies in farming plays a vital role in controlling the supply and demand of agricultural products in UAE.
Water plays an important role in increasing or decreasing the supply of local agricultural products in UAE. One of the studies revealed that the consumption of water in UAE on individual basis is one of the highest in the world (Gornall & Tordorova, 2009). For a country with already a very low export of agricultural products and local production, high water consumption makes it even more complex to cater for shortages of agricultural products in UAE.
The Government in UAE is involved in discovering new ways to increase the land available for cultivation by using desert reclamation initiatives (Salama, 2008). The government has a history of investing in tree planting schemes and irrigation systems to increase t.............
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