Gulf looks to science to turn desert to farmland

ABU DHABI Mon May 17, 2010 5:48pm EDT

A herd of camels walk in Al Gharbia (the Western Region) of Abu Dhabi, February 8, 2010. REUTERS/Jumana El-Heloueh

A herd of camels walk in Al Gharbia (the Western Region) of Abu Dhabi, February 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jumana El-Heloueh

Related Topics

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Gulf nations hope science will turn desert areas into arable land to boost food security and avoid the risks inherent in buying farmland abroad, industry insiders said Monday.

Farming in the Gulf battles against little water supply, high soil salinity and extreme heat. But many of the countries in the region have the cash to adopt expensive solutions that others could not.

Abu Dhabi has conducted a soil survey to identify areas with underground water supplies and soil quality that could be enhanced, said Faisal Taha, who headed the project by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency.

The survey found over 200,000 hectares of land that could be used for agriculture given the right investment, Taha told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Abu Dhabi.

"We are talking about tens of millions of dirhams in investments ... but it's worth it because with this land vegetable and fodder production could be increased by up to 70 percent," said Taha.

The areas were in the western regions of Madinat Zayed, Ghayathi and the Eastern region of Al Ain, according to the study.

Abu Dhabi aims to fund a 130 million dirham study that would take two years to indentify other potential agricultural areas in the UAE's northern emirates.

"This land will not be able to guarantee 100 percent food security for the UAE, but the strategy comes at a right time when many of the international agencies are criticizing rich countries for buying land in nations that can'tfeed themselves and exporting their crops," said Taha.

Over the past year Gulf states mainly reliant on food imports have intensified efforts to buy and lease farmland in developing nations to secure food supplies.

Foreign land acquisitions, labeled land grabs by critics, have provoked opposition from many farmers in developing nations.

The United Nations has expressed concern that farmers' rights in developing nations could be compromised as rich countries buy their land.

CONVERTING OIL WEALTH TO SOIL HEALTH

Qatar and Kuwait have also been trying to increase their domestic agricultural supply through the use of selected types of fungus that enhance the growth of plant roots in arid areas, said Rajendra Pachauri, director general of the New Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute.

"By mixing the soil with these microbes, or what we call mycorrhiza, the roots of a plant can absorb nutrients from the soil that otherwise it would not be able to do given the climate and soil conditions in the Gulf," said Pachauri.

In a matter of 18 months, the institute managed to convert 4,000 square meters in what Pachauri described as "hyper-saline waste-land" in Qatar's southern Dukhan area into a productive habitat where vegetables and grains could now grow, he said.

"We have similar projects going on in Kuwait, India, Oman and the UAE," he added. "I believe that there is nothing better than using one's own land to secure food supplies, it's just much more secure." (Reporting by Amena Bakr; Editing by William Hardy)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
Doc00001 wrote:
Rajendra Pachauri, director general of the New Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute said: “I believe that there is nothing better than using one’s own land to secure food supplies, it’s just much more secure.”

Meanwhile, the brain dead, greedy, self serving American politicians take the opposite tack. Seems that the opportunities for graft and bribery are better fascilitated when outsourcing everything possible. This is so because import / export have a narrower conduit through which commodities flow and there’s fewer in line for political favors. All one needs do is shakedown the right few and betray the real interests of the majority of Americans. I hope the corrupt politicians are first on the list to be rounded up when China and India show up to cash their checks!

May 18, 2010 8:50am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.