Against the desert sands of Sharjah, eight green circles stand out as the United Arab Emirates cultivates wheat to improve food security in an arid country that imports some 90% of its food. Rachel Faber from our partners at Reuters reports.
These green circles in the middle of the Sharjah desert – are acres and acres of wheat. It’s a farm – that’s part of a newly launched initiative by the United Arab Emirates government. The goal is to boost food security – in an arid country that imports some 90 percent of its food.
And the UAE says it has even bigger plans for food production to come. The 988-acre farm was launched in 2022 — when the disruption of global issues heightened concern about the UAE’s lack of arable land. That’s according to Sharjah’s Department of Agriculture and Livestock.
“The society in general in the United Arab Emirates has become more aware and more interested in safe and clean nutrition, and amongst them were wheat products, which farmers started to have an initial interest in, but what pushed for wheat farming was the problems with the supply chains in the last couple of years due to the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine-Russia war.”
The farm – which is free of pesticides, chemicals, and genetically modified seeds – is expected to contribute some 1,700 tons of wheat per year. That’s a tiny fraction of what the country needs — but the government has plans to expand the land quickly.
The biggest challenge is bringing in 18,000 cubic meters of desalinated water per day for irrigation. But officials say the energy costs of producing it will become proportionately less as the project scales up.
The farm also uses artificial intelligence and thermal imaging to gather weather and soil data to regulate irrigation rates and monitor growth. Ibrahim Ramadan is its director of agriculture.
“We try in the farm to use the latest technology. This a special agricultural platform, which can help identify the irrigation quantity that was completed, and to plan the irrigation quantity for coming days. I can also see the green growth in the farm and to extract the expectations for the production and harvest dates. This (graph) shows me the rise with time of the chlorophyll and green color of the plants on a daily basis, which gives important indications to farmers in order put up future plans.”
Eventually, the UAE has plans for food production that recycles water and minimizes waste. The initiative includes experimental fields with 35 different types of wheat from around the world – to explore compatibility with Emirati water and soil.