ABU DHABI // A new database will track livestock back to its origins, helping the emirate bolster its food production and better ensure food safety.
The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority hopes the Dh40million programme will allow farmers to expend resources on healthier animals, as well as catch the spread of disease quickly.
The programme will enable the authority to track not only the country of origin, but also the health, ownership and slaughter of any animal.
"If an animal moves from a different farm and is found to have a disease, we can now control it," said Mr Khalifa Ahmed Khalfan al Ali, the executive director of strategic planning for the authority, adding that this was especially important for shipments of imported animals.
Under the new programme, the authority will also be able to identify other livestock that may have been in contact with a sick animal.
The database is part of efforts to ease the emirate's dependency on meat imports. The six-month project began in October and has already registered 20 per cent of the estimated 2.7 million livestock in Abu Dhabi.
The programme attempts to balance the economic opportunity and environmental impact of livestock ownership with the traditional role of animals in the UAE, according to the food control authority's director of communications.
"We cannot keep livestock only as a social [endeavour], which is our cultural background," said Mohamed al Reyaysa, the authority's communications director. "Nor do we want to act just because it's an environmental issue, in terms of water consumption."
Traditionally, animals have been kept as part of households without exploiting them for meat or in other economic ways.
The database isn't the only effort to reduce the spread of disease. In September, the food control authority launched its second major vaccination campaign.
Last year, 10 campaigns administered eight million doses of vaccine throughout the region. This year, the authority will conduct six more campaigns to inoculate against such diseases as contagious caprine pleuropneumonia, foot and mouth disease, and sheep and goats pox.
Farmers who did not have their animals vaccinated last year have begun contacting the authority to request an appointment, said Mr al Reyaysa, adding that in the last year there had been a notable decrease in veterinary visits.
Healthier animals lead to higher production, a key component in Abu Dhabi's food security plan.
"If a farm owner has 200 animals, he'll be able to know which are not productive and can get rid of them," said Mr Khalfan al Ali.
The authority hopes to make the market for goat and sheep meat self-sustainable within five years. Already, the Western Region supplies 95 per cent of the area's overall meat needs.
"These numbers give an indication that the programmes can increase the amount of meat in markets," said Mr al Reyaysa.
The authority has deployed 58 teams throughout the emirate to tag goats, sheep and cows, and place microchips on to camels. Each tag lists the country of origin and a unique serial number. Already, the teams have visited 6,238 farms throughout the region. Each team includes an Arabic, English and Urdu speaker to ease any difficulties that arise from language barriers.
The authority is conducting information campaigns in all three languages as well, to dispel any concerns farmers and workers may have.
Registration onset coincided with Eid al Adha, leaving some farmers worried that a tagged sheep would not be appropriate to use in the slaughter, said Mr Khalfan al Ali. He added that this attitude have since changed.
The registration will allow the authority to determine how much fodder and medicine must be provided in different areas of the emirate. Previously, the authority had few estimates about the number of livestock or who owned it.
The census is also likely to correct an imbalance in a subsidy programme that offers cheap animal fodder to holders of blue cards. Many card holders no longer own livestock and have sold or loaned their cards to other farmers.
Under the new database, animal feed would be appropriately allocated.
To help to keep the database current, a new department will track the sales, births and deaths of animals.