x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dh18m plan is a healthy option for livestock

Linking the nutrition, health and breeding selection of livestock could greatly help improve their productivity in the region within five years.

Camels, such as these on a farm in Al Ain, and other livestock could benefit from a proposed integrated improvement programe. Ryan Carter / The National
Camels, such as these on a farm in Al Ain, and other livestock could benefit from a proposed integrated improvement programe. Ryan Carter / The National

DUBAI // Agriculture scientists are seeking Dh18 million of funding for an integrated programme to improve the nutrition, health and breeding of livestock.

The International Centre for Agriculture in the Dry Areas wants to combine the efforts of the local government bodies that oversee different parts of livestock production.

Bringing them together in this way would ensure they were all pulling in the same direction towards a common goal.

"We can improve nutrition through good quality forage," said Dr Faisal Awawdeh, the centre's new regional co-ordinator in Dubai. "We can ensure animals are healthy through vaccinations and treatment and we can teach farmers how to select high-producing animals."

But what helps one aspect can harm another. "You can have good forage and good nutrition but have a low-producing animal and you can't know until they are all connected.

"There is a national vaccination and treatment programme by the Ministry of Environment and Water but we're looking to include it in the whole package. It should be complementary to the nutrition and the breeding."

The scheme involves seven countries - the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - and focuses on camels and small ruminants.

"They're raised in the Arabian Peninsula and they play a significant role in food security because they produce milk and meat," said Dr Awawdeh.

In 2010, there were about three million goats and sheep in the UAE, and almost half a million camels.

Scientists want to improve the local breeds of each species. These include the nuaimi and awasi sheep, which are best for meat and milk, and the najdi, the best for fertility.

Others include the pakistania, ardi and shami goats, and the majaheen, omaniyat and sudaniyat camels.

"They are well-adapted to the environment and to existing diseases," said Dr Awawdeh. "Camels can survive on shrubs, unlike other animals, and their milk is very valuable."

As of this week, livestock in the capital will be regulated by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, which will license farms.

Dr Mariam Harib, the authority's director of policy and regulation, said the aim was to "better manage the dairy, sheep, goat, camel and poultry farms, as well as control diseases".

But more work needs to be done to get the country up to the level of developed states.

"We want to reach a point in this part of the world where we have research stations for animals, where we can breed and select elite ones and distribute them to farmers," said Dr Awawdeh.

"That's been done in Saudi Arabia but the UAE needs a lot of work. The research on technology transfer for camels alone is next to nothing here."

The centre has met representatives from the ministry, the UAE University in Al Ain, the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and the Farmers' Services Centre, all of which "expressed interest", Dr Awawdeh said.

Initially, the aim will be to create 15 model farms, to demonstrate techniques to other farmers.

"We have to wait at least a year to be able to look at the animal's performance," said Dr Awawdeh. "Then farmers can transfer that knowledge to others."

But the venture will need funding before it can go any further. "We will send our draft to local institutions, Islamic banks and international organisations by the end of this year."

cmalek@thenational.ae