UAE makes giant strides in eco soil, sustainable food

Europe’s leading international news channel, Euronews, spoke to innovator and Associate Professor at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, Dr Saeed Alhassan Alkhazraji

  

Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, Sharjah’s Research Technology and Innovation Park and the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment have accelerated their quest to secure more local alternatives to imported foods and foster farming innovation.

Europe’s leading international news channel, Euronews, spoke to innovator and Associate Professor at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa University, Dr Saeed Alhassan Alkhazraji, who has helped spearhead an artificial soil project that is working to develop soil locally that resembles the soil found in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe, and has the potential to revolutionize farming in the UAE.

In an exclusive interview with Euronews, when asked how the UAE’s arid climate will react to the artificial soil,Dr Saeed Alhassan Alkhazraji said: “The farmers have to be aware that any crop they're trying to grow [in this climate]needs to be dealt with in a specific way to allow them to maximize their yield.

“For example, if you want to grow a plant that is difficult to grow in the UAE, perhaps you need to use a greenhouse along with the soil that we are making. The soil itself is made of actually 80 to 90 percent of desert sand. And the rest of it is the key component that will allow us to have those customizable features.”

Telling Euronews about the type of crops that farmers will be able to grow sustainability in the artificial soil, Dr Saeed Alhassan Alkhazraji said:“There are many different crops that are challenging to grow in the UAE, talking about crops to sustain human lives, for example like rice and wheat. Those crops, usually are challenging to grow because of their excessive need for water. The soil that we developed can allow us to have a better water management of when you actually grow this crop because it allows us to have higher water retention than the typical soil around the UAE.”

The UAE is fast becoming a hotbed for agricultural innovation with the Emirate of Sharjah just announced as the location for a joint research programme between the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Republic of Korea, which is attempting to cultivate the production of rice in the desert, a vital staple food in the UAE.

Sharjah is also home to Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park, a research park that is on a mission to shape the future of agriculture in the region by supporting famers and harnessing new technology to produce sustainable, local food all year round.

Speaking to Euronews at the park that features a 150-sqm farm and a Merlin Agrotunnel, capable of producing a ton of organic fruits and vegetables each month and irrigated by seawater desalinated with solar energy, Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO, Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park told Euronews that he predicts that in the next 5 years at least 30 percent of the UAE’s food will be domestically produced.

He said: “Since the inception of the park, we started to promote things like hydroponics technology, aquaponics technology, and tunnel farming in the park and they've all took off. Today we see big farms in the UAE using hydroponics technologies and aquaponics technologies and more technologies being embedded into developing these types of agriculture technologies. At the moment, we are using artificial intelligence to study how, for example, aquaponics works with relation to the food and related to fishes and how the fishes really move and how much food they eat. And what time and all the pattern related to this.”

When asked about the economic feasibility of mass agriculture of large-scale food production in the Emirate and if it is possible for farmers to keep production and harvesting costs low to make local food production worthwhile, Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO, Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park said: “I think the feasibility is there, because the UAE has an abundant amount of land and a lot of farmers in the UAE, especially the national ones, they get free land. And you couple this with the cost of a stretch of doing business here is also relatively low compared to other parts of the world. Also, the fantastic infrastructure that we have here in terms of ports and airports and storage and other things.”

With the UAE amongst the world’s top rice importers, home-grown Sharjan rice could be a game-changer for the food industry in the UAE and ensure food security for the Middle East in the future.

Talking to Euronews about this topic and the healthy organic growth expected to be seen in the local agricultural sector in the years ahead, Hussain Al Mahmoudi said: “I think we can play a strategic role in growing rice and using it again. We have the infrastructure, both soft infrastructure and hard infrastructure to really become a regional player in producing rice and again ensuring that the food security elements. Also, these types of projects produce and create new business opportunities.” – TradeArabia News Service

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