Abu Dhabi: Under the auspices of Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) has signed an agreement with eight farms in Al Khatam and Al Khaznah, at the Emirates of  Abu Dhabi, to launch a research project to tap the potential of reject brine,  wastewater from desalination units, for the cultivation of Salicornia and fish farming. Four farms will cultivate Salicornia, a multipurpose salt-tolerant plant with good economic returns for its use in the manufacturing of some food products. Meanwhile, the other four farms will raise certain fish species depending on reject brine, while using aquaculture effluent for the cultivation of Salicornia.

During a ceremony held at ADAFSA's headquarters, the agreement was signed by farm owners and Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, in the presence of H.E. Saeed Al Bahri Salem Al Ameri, Director General of ADAFSA, and Mr. Abdulla Al Hameli, Enterprise Development and Support Department Manager at the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (KFED).

This project is the result of close and constructive collaboration between three government entities in Abu Dhabi, including ADAFSA, Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), and KFED, in addition to ICBA. Since March, preparations began for this project through inspecting farms, taking soil samples, and measuring the salinity of reject brine. The project is part of EXPO Live program.

According to the agreement's terms, ICBA provides technical support to farmers and help them grow Salicornia using reject brine, as well as marketing produce through a food company. Meanwhile, ADAFSA supports the project by carrying out training programs and field days for farm owners and workers, to maximize the use of saline water in farming and increasing crop yields.

The selected farms for conducting each activity have various levels of salinity. Two farms were selected with reject brine salinity of 15,000 ppm to 20,000 ppm, while the other two farms have brine salinity levels over 20,000 ppm. This project comes in line with ADAFSA's priorities to make the best use of natural resources and solve the problem of wasting reject brine by utilizing it for irrigating salt-tolerant crops.

Aquaculture farms are of economic importance in supporting farmers and food security. Salicornia is also an important crop with multiple uses. In addition to using it for making forage and biofuel, Salicornia is used in manufacturing many food products such as burgers, biscuits, breads and juices.
In this regard, H.E. Saeed Al Bahri Salem Al Ameri, Director General of ADAFSA, said: “We are pleased to work and coordinate with ICBA as one of the world's leading centers in saline agriculture and using saline water in irrigation. We are also proud to cooperate with EAD and KFED in implementing Abu Dhabi's plans to optimize the use of natural resources."

"We are proud to sponsor this agreement as part of our commitment to provide all forms of technical support to farmers to attain a sustainable agricultural sector that utilizes the available natural resources from soil and water. We also affirm our constant quest for finding scientific and innovative solutions to challenges of water scarcity and poor soil," he added.

Al Ameri stressed that ADAFSA provides all support for the success of the initiative to use reject brine in cultivating crops or fish farming. He noted that searching for ways to benefit from saline water has become an environmental necessity helps overcome desertification and increase crop yields to support food security.

"ADAFSA seeks to keep pace with every development in the interest of both the sustainable agriculture in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and farmers. This project is, therefore, vital for achieving the authority's plans and strategies regarding finding solutions for soil, water and productivity growth challenges," Al Ameri clarified.
For her side, Her Excellency Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD, affirmed the importance of cooperating with relevant partners in this leading project for its environmental and economic impacts. She added that the aims to reuse reject brine in farms instead of disposing of into the soil, thus contaminating further soil and groundwater, and wasting large amounts of water.

"Thanks to this leading project, reject brine will be used for cultivating salt-loving plants su as Salicornia. This plant is used in manufacturing food and fish farming, which will be of great economic and environmental return to owners of these farms," Al Dhaheri noted.

She indicated that the number of small-scale desalination units in Abu Dhabi's farms have recently increased, as a result of saline groundwater, to 1,200 unit producing about 60% of reject brine. The importance of this joint initiative lies in preventing wasting this water and exploiting it in an economic and environmental way. If successful, this pilot project will be circulated to the remaining farms using desalination units.

In the same context, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, said: "We are glad to cooperate with the UAE's farmers as part of the Expo Live program. The center's experts will provide technical support to eight farmers in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Moreover, ICBA will train farmers in cultivating, producing and marketing Salicornia, a halophytic crop with multiple uses. Some farmers will also be trained in integrated systems management, including agriculture and aquaculture."

Dr. Elouafi thanked ADAFSA, KFED and EAD for their efforts in supporting this successful cooperation between ICBA and farmers. She expressed confidence that this initiative will support the UAE's leading role in value chains based on saline farming.

Mrs. Moza Obaid Al Nasseri, the Acting Chief Operating Officer at KFED, said that Khalifa Fund's participation in this project reflects its keenness to take part in finding sustainable solutions for the agricultural sector and saline water suffered by many agricultural areas in the country.

She added that KFED is working in cooperation with ICBA and ADAFSA to implement this research project within the activities of Expo Live program, which will have a significant impact on the development of the agricultural sector in the country in the future.

Al Nasseri clarified the experimental phase in the eight farms is focusing on planting halophytes, as Salicornia and other salt-tolerant crops will be cultivated in these farms and transformed into products being marketed locally.


© Press Release 2019

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