The UAE has recently grown rice on a farm in Sharjah in a first-of-a-kind research project. The pilot stage of this project has produced a positive yield of 763 kg per 1,000 square metres, launched by the United Arab Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment (MoCCAE) along with the Rural Development Administration of the Republic of Korea and United Arab Emirates University (UAEU).
This pioneering project has the potential to shape agriculture's future, according to MoCCAE, as it can be replicated in other arid areas. There is currently a second phase of the rice project, while the country is also investigating ways to grow other crops, such as coffee and wheat.
The UAE has developed a two-pronged approach to advancing food security and satisfying its internal demand throughout a coronavirus pandemic ranging from increased local food production to explore ways to diversify food import sources.
While it is not easy to sustainably grow food in deserts, rapid developments in agriculture in the US have been driven by technological and scientific innovations in recent years.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has stressed the importance of using state-of-the-art agriculture technology on the basis of sustainability, quality and competitiveness. In order to overcome problems in agriculture, especially food production and management, he called for innovative solutions.
As part of their R&D efforts, the International Biosaline Agriculture Center (ICBA), a Dubai Academic City-based non-profit agricultural research centre, has taken a number of initiatives to help the UAE to improve food and nutrition security, water safety, and environmental sustainable development.
"We also need to focus on crop diversification, which I think is essential for sustainable food production and healthy diets not only for the UAE but also for other countries, in addition to technology such as vertical agriculture," explains Dr Elouafi.
In the last two decades, ICBA has been a leading supporter of agrobiodiversity and crop diversification. Climatic and resource-efficient crops, for instance quinoa, perl millet, sorghum and Salicornia have been introduced.
"These plants are nutritional and heat, drought and salinity resilient and therefore suited to the environment of the UAE. We also introduced a number of salt-loving drillings that produce more fruit than some traditional grasses, in order to conserve the resources of freshwater in the UAE and ensure the feed safety too.
The UAE-based Desert Control has been used to build a water-resistant network in the soil profile with the patented LNC (liquid nano clay) blend — sprayed straight on to dry sandy soils.
"This has a major effect on the use of valuable water resources. The global farming industry currently absorbs 75 per cent of the world's freshwater reserves, which are not sustainable," says Atle Idland, GM and Managing Director, Mid-Eastern Desert Control. "LNC can reduce that by up to 50% and simultaneously increase crop yields."
He also adds that the early adoption of new, sustainable technologies, along with education and knowledge sharing, is key to addressing the challenges in the food production segment in the UAE.