x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'I hope for more rain... the crops will be tastier', says UAE farmer

While farmers say the rain of the past month has been a boon for their crops, for fishermen the unsettled weather has brought nothing but misery.

ABU DHABI // While farmers say the rain of the past month has been a boon for their crops, for fishermen the unsettled weather has brought nothing but misery.

"We haven't seen rain like this in 30 years," said Yousef Qassem Hassan, a farmer in Al Gharbia for the past 15 years.

"There is much more rain than usual but it's good because it changes the quality of the dates."

His 300 date palm trees have received much-needed water, ridding them of bugs. "I hope there will be more rain because it kills diseases and insects that enter the trees' roots," he said. "It cleans the soil and gets rids of worms."

And the watermelons, melons, onions, parsley and tomatoes on his 1.155 hectare farm have thrived. "This means tastier produce," he said.

Rashid Sleem Al Kaitbi, an organic farmer in Al Ain, agreed. "There is a lot of dust and sand in the UAE so this rain just cleaned it," he said. "It's very good because it washed my whole farm."

He said 20 years ago there was generally much more rain than these days, which saved him having to irrigate so much. "It's the first time I've seen so much rain, especially so close to summer," he said. "It's weird but thank God."

The soil on his 3.35 hectare farm, which grows tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, aubergines and 300 date palm trees, has been cleansed of salt and diseases, he said. "I'm very happy."

And the rain could not have come at a better time for Naoufal Mohammad, a farmer in Al Ain. "During this time of the season, it's good, especially in open fields because it washes off the soil and balances it out," he said. "It provides clean water, collects the salt and washes it away."

He said it was the most rain he had witnessed in the past four years.

"We usually get more rain in the mountainous side of Oman, but not a lot in Al Ain," he said.

For Kamal Azzam, the manager of a 5.2 hectare farm in Sweihan, the weather has been "perfect. We haven't seen this rain in 10 years".

"There is much more than last year, by far, and we're loving it," he said.

But fishermen were more concerned with the wind. "Big ships stay out to sea for days so if there's a storm, they can't go out and they have to be careful," said Ali Al Mansouri, a fisherman and manager of the Abu Dhabi Fishermen Cooperative Society. "When there is a storm, we go to any island nearby to hide, the opposite side of the wind direction."

And it has hurt catches. "The price of a kilo of hammour last week was Dh17," he said. "This week, it's Dh34 because we couldn't get as much.

"Some boats can bring three tonnes of fish every four to five days. But with strong wind, they can stay docked for up to 20 days."

About 100 fishermen plan to go out to sea after Tuesday, when the weather is expected to be calmer.

"This is the sea, it's the most dangerous job in the world and it's very hard to predict wind direction and speed," he said.

Mohammed Al Zaabi, a fisherman in Abu Dhabi, was not too pleased with the weather either. "I can go out to sea with a wind speed of up to 20kph," he said.

"But more than that, we cannot because there are too many waves and we cannot work that way."

But Seif Saeed, a fisherman in Umm Al Quwain for about 40 years, is more sanguine. "I like this weather because there's no sun and no heat," he said. "I managed to get 200 kilograms of fish today. I have three boats, which helps, but if the wind gets stronger, it's not good for us."