x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Salt of the earth a bane for country's coastal farmers

Saline soil can weaken a farmer's produce and trees.

Yousef Qasem Hasan looks at his crops at his private farm. Yousef owns a farm in the Western Region town of Al Mirfa and has been experiencing salinity problems in the water and soil for the past 6-7 years. He explains that at times the water that is allocated to them by the municipality is often brackish and that because of the proximity of the farm to the sea the soil is salty too.
Yousef Qasem Hasan looks at his crops at his private farm. Yousef owns a farm in the Western Region town of Al Mirfa and has been experiencing salinity problems in the water and soil for the past 6-7 years. He explains that at times the water that is allocated to them by the municipality is often brackish and that because of the proximity of the farm to the sea the soil is salty too.

ABU DHABI // For the past 14 years, Yousef Qassem Hassan has struggled to grow food on his farm.

"I can only grow vegetables like onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and bell peppers in winter," Mr Hassan said. "The rest of the year is dedicated to date palm trees."

His 11,550 square metre farm in Al Gharbia's Mirfa area is just 3 kilometres from the sea.

The air is humid, and the groundwater and soil are salty. That makes it hard for much to grow.

In such saline conditions, only two plants - desert saltgrass (Distichlis spicata) and salt couch grass (Sporobolus virginicus) - grow well. And they have to be imported from Oman, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

So a number of companies, including Abu Dhabi's Farmers' Services Centre, a government body tasked with modernising farms, bring Mr Hassan water for his crops, almost 12,000 litres a day.

But it has not always been as fresh as he might have hoped.

"Some companies who bring me freshwater to irrigate my crops and trees mix it with salt water," Mr Hassan said. "And that affects my farm."

Unlike farmers elsewhere, Mr Hassan has few options for irrigation. With salty groundwater, sprinklers quickly become clogged with residue.

His complaints to the authorities have fallen on deaf ears and he is now resigned to doing what he can with his salty soil. That, he says, means feeble produce.

"The salt is a big problem for me because it's affecting my vegetables really badly," Mr Hassan said.

"The growth of the plants and vegetables weaken because of it and the soil also can't be used that many times."

cmalek@thenational.ae