UAE oil giant farms desert for food security


SHARJAH, UAE (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates grows wheat in an arid country that imports about 90 percent of its food.

The government will set up a 400-hectare farm in Mleiha in 2022, using desalinated water for irrigation. This is because the chaos of war and the pandemic have heightened concerns about a shortage of arable land in the UAE.

“Wheat agriculture has been boosted by supply chain problems over the past few years due to the COVID pandemic and the war between Ukraine and Russia,” Sharjah’s Director General of Agriculture and Livestock, Khalifa Alteneiji, told Reuters.

The seven emirates, the UAE, will import 1.7 million tonnes of wheat in 2022, with Sharjah accounting for 330,000 tonnes, government figures show.

The Mleiha farm’s contribution is expected to be around 1,600 tonnes per year, a step towards a larger ambition to increase agriculture for Gulf oil producers.

Energy costs to produce 18,000 cubic meters of desalinated water per day for irrigation will decrease proportionately as the project scales up, officials said.

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“The cost of this[desalinated]water and the cost of the final product will hopefully be in line with the market,” said Alteneiji.

Ultimately, the UAE, which will host the COP28 climate conference this year, plans to: food production Recycle water and minimize waste.

Pesticide-, chemical- and genetically-modified seed-free Mleiha farm plans to expand to 1,400 hectares by 2025 and eventually to 1,900 hectares.

The farm uses artificial intelligence and thermal imaging to gather weather and soil data to adjust irrigation rates and monitor growth.

“This is a special agricultural platform that helps identify completed irrigation volumes and plan irrigation volumes for the next few days,” said Agriculture Director Ibrahim Ramadan.

The project includes 35 experimental fields of wheat from around the world, spread over 2 hectares, to study soil and weather compatibility in the Emirates.

Reported by Abeer Armor. By Ghaida Ghantous.Edited by Barbara Lewis

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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