Modern farming must to boost local food supply: UAE minister
Combatting climate change also means embracing modern farming practices to diversify food sources and achieve sustainable development in the agricultural sector.
This was given emphasis by Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, in an interview with Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the World Government Summit in Dubai on Tuesday.
Al Zeyoudi said: "We at the ministry have developed a policy for food biodiversity where we encourage a change in the behaviour of our local farmers - towards more resilient agricultural practices - to produce the right crops."
He noted that employing modern technology and tools will bring about a two-pronged result: increased food production and lesser carbon footprint.
Al Zeyoudi cited hydroponic farming as an example of a more sustainable option as it uses around 90 per cent less water than regular farming. It also requires less space for plants and vegetables to grow, making it the best solution to the challenges presented by the UAE's limited arable land.
On the economic side, he noted that hydroponic farming is cost-efficient and it yields more vegetables and herbs in a shorter time. And more importantly, its carbon footprint is minimal as the greens are grown locally.
The UAE imports 85 per cent of its food requirement and some studies show that food importation is set to rise from $100 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2025.
Al Zeyoudi said they are urging small-scale farmers to move to commercial agriculture and embrace modern cultivation practices to increase their contributions to the local food supply.
"We are subsidising farm materials, including seeds that can grow in an environment with high temperature, humidity and salinity," he said.
While the technology is available, the minister cautioned farmers against utilising it on their own.
"There are many experts and engineers at the ministry who can provide them with trainings. They should not just use hydroponics or build greenhouses without first understanding them."
Last week, Al Zeyoudi visited several farms in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where he inspected various water and energy-saving technologies, including greenhouses.
"The results are amazing," he said. "Farmers are happier because the technology is tailored-fit to the conditions of the UAE."