Technology that could help the UAE make better use of its natural water reserves in agriculture is being tested in Dubai. The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is carrying out trials on a machine that treats water so as to render inert any salt content. This, the California manufacturer First AFG believes, makes the water more suitable for irrigation, something that could prove valuable in countries such as the UAE, where much of the groundwater is brackish, meaning it has salt levels somewhere between those of freshwater and seawater. The process being tested reduces the need for the expensive and potentially environmentally harmful process of desalination.
First AFG has spent 17 years developing the technology. For commercial reasons it is coy about saying exactly how it works, but the process is thought to be based on altering the magnetic properties of the salt molecules. Dr Nurul Akhand, an irrigational scientist at the ICBA, said the machines had shown promise in tests, although further improvements were hoped for. In trials with sunflower seeds, treated water tended to give better rates of germination and lower mortality among seedlings, although it was less successful at sustaining growth.
For example, the germination rate of seeds watered with groundwater was 63 per cent, compared with 70 per cent for seeds grown with treated water. The mortality rate of seedlings grown in groundwater was 84 per cent after 72 days, while this was cut to just 50 per cent when the treated water was used. Despite these encouraging findings, Dr Akhand says the treated water fell short of freshwater when it came to overall results. Nevertheless, the ICBA is set to begin tests with another version of the machine and hopes for better results.