x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Effort to cut UAE farms' water use in half

Farming authorities are planning to almost halve agricultural water use in the Western Region.

This sensor on a farm in the Western Region regulates the amount of water needed to grow crops such as carrots and corn.
This sensor on a farm in the Western Region regulates the amount of water needed to grow crops such as carrots and corn.

ABU DHABI // Farming authorities plan to cut agricultural water use in the Western Region almost in half.

The Farmers' Services Centre, the government body that aims to modernise Abu Dhabi farms, has more than doubled the number of farms with water-saving irrigation systems through its Efficient Irrigation Fund.

More than 680 additional farms in the Western Region have received new irrigation systems to cut water use since last year, bringing the total to almost 1,200.

"We are supplying every farm in the Western Region with new equipment … to upgrade their irrigation systems," said Chris Hirst, the centre's chief executive.

In January, 72 per cent of the emirate's water was used for agriculture, forests and parks. And with the demand for desalinated, processed and ground water expected to rise by 30 per cent by 2030, the pressure is on to cut this figure.

"More farms now follow a series of recommendations intended to cut water use," Mr Hirst said.

A pilot scheme was launched in 2010 and expanded a year later, with 1,500 farms receiving water-saving equipment. Since then, it has reached 6,200 farms.

"We are still receiving shipments of new equipment and are in the process of delivering it to the remaining farms of the Western Region," said Mr Hirst. "We have now expanded to include weekly training sessions for farm workers."

So far, 1,000 farm workers have attended sessions on recommended techniques and rates of irrigation. "Training sessions are making a difference," said Mr Hirst.

"Education is the slowest aspect of the whole process but we're buoyed by much of what we're seeing," Mr Hirst said.

The move is needed to make sure farmers are aware of the importance of saving water.

"Adaptation to climate change is a reality we have to deal with," said Dr Mohammed Amrani, director of research and innovation at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

"Water is an issue in a lot of countries and we have to take it into consideration when we talk about the agricultural sector."

Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority says agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the emirate. Rhodes grass, which has now been largely phased out, used the most, with 59 per cent of all the irrigation water used in Abu Dhabi, followed by date palm trees with 36 per cent.

"Farmers are leaving their farms because of the climate," said Dr Amrani. "We don't have any water and most resources are tapped."

According to Mr Hirst, the Rhodes grass ban was a huge help and the move towards properly used efficient equipment is vital.

"If all goes according to plan with the project - if all the farmers work closely with us to use sensible rates of watering and patch the leaks on their farms - then the total savings for the Western Region could be as high as 45 per cent."

The centre now has 21 open-field cropping and six irrigation demonstration sites across Abu Dhabi.

It added eight integrated pest-management demonstrations to show farmers how to manage and prevent diseases and pests, as well as two protected agriculture sites - greenhouse and hydroponics. It plans to add four more in Al Ain and one in Abu Dhabi.

"Irrigation and water conservation are important aspects of both integrated pest management and protected agriculture," said Mr Hirst. "We also upgraded irrigation systems for demonstration on 140 more date palm]farms throughout the emirate, bringing the total to 190."