April 4, 2017

Here’s how UAE farmers are able to harvest produce all year round

As part of their 2017-2021 food security strategy, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has prioritized the increased use of hydroponic technology and organic farming in order to boost food production and efficiency.

Hydroponic technology relies on nutrient-rich water to grow plants with little or no soil. The technique is up to 70% more water efficient than traditional farming methods and allows for a longer growing season.

“Hydroponics is one of the techniques that proved over the past few years as having excellent prospects for the UAE and the greenhouses grew from 50 in 2009 to 1,000 last year,” Minister of Climate Change and Environment Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi said.

Water savings

The technique also aids in the conservation of water in the UAE, as it is a great challenge to maintain in the region. The majority of farmers here rely on groundwater to irrigate crops but the country’s water reserves have been on steady decline in terms of amount and quality because of years of exploitation.

For example, the traditional method of producing one kilogram of lettuce would require almost 400 liters of water, while the hydroponic method would only require a little over 20 liters. Up to 80 or 90%  of water is reused in an average hydroponic system instead of just allowing water to seep into the ground in traditional systems, with little to no control.

Apart from the water savings, another benefit of hydroponics and organic farming is the land savings. Traditional farming methods typically grow crops on open fields and require large land areas, while hydroponics requires only a small part of the expansive areas usually used in traditional methods. This also allows for more control in the various aspects and stages in crop growth, like light, temperature, carbon dioxide, and nutrients.

A worthy investment

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has been promoting organic farming in recent years, first introduced in 2009, with 46,900 acres worth of organic crops produced around the country. Apart from promoting organic farming, however, the ministry should help more farmers switch to hydroponics and organic farming, by providing the hydroponics systems and fertilizers at subsidized prices to boost food production and efficiency while helping out the farming workforce.

Hydroponics saves around 80% of irrigation water and allows farms to produce crops 10 months of the year. However, converting traditional farms into hydroponic and organic farms is costly for the majority of farmers. A hydroponic farm costs around Dh250,000 to set up, and a greenhouse farm costs around Dh30,000 to Dh50,000.

It’s a definite setback for the progress of farming in the UAE, so if the ministry wants a full conversion of its farms, they will have to carry farmers through the conversion by helping out with the cost of conversion.

The first step that the ministry took is to offer quality seeds, greenhouses, laboratory tests, and research and development services to farmers to encourage them to convert their farms to hydroponics and organic farming to grow chemical-free products. Encouraging the farmers through free offerings might not be enough, but partially shouldering the costs of the conversion might just be their ticket to a full conversion across the board.

In spite of the setback that hydroponics and organic farming face, the UAE has quite the number of established hydroponic and organic farms. We have Emirates Hydroponics Farms, one of the largest hydroponic agricultural producers in the country. We also have other hydroponic specialists, which include include Salata Farms in Ras Al Khaimah and regional operator Pegasus Agritech, based in Dubai.