Future of food security? UAE seeks to reduce import reliance with crop growing projects

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

UAE embarks on agri-research to test crop varieties suitable for weather and environmental conditions ©MOCCAE
UAE embarks on agri-research to test crop varieties suitable for weather and environmental conditions ©MOCCAE

Related tags Uae Rice Food security South korea

The UAE is conducting several research projects to try and boost food security and reduce reliance on imports – including trying to grow to test crop varieties that are suitable for the country’s harsh weather and environmental conditions.

Among the crops being tested include quinoa, barley, wheat, and most recently rice.

UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and South Korea’s Rural Development Administration (RDA) is working on sowing more varieties of rice in the first-of-its kind rice cultivation research project between the two countries.

This follows a successful pilot phase where Japonica and Indica rice varieties were sowed in November 2019 and harvested in May this year. These rice varieties were chosen for their ability to tolerate heat, salinity and poor conditions.

The next step of the research project will include other varieties including basmati and slated to start in Q4 2020. It will be grown at the MOCCAE’s research center in Al Dhaid, Sharjah.

Mohamed Al Dhanhani, Director of the Agriculture Development and Health Department at UAE’s MOCCAE told FoodNavigator-Asia​ that UAE mostly imports its rice from India, China, Egypt, and USA.

Growing rice in desert

He said UAE had limited natural water resources and arid land, which proved more challenging for a water intensive crop like rice.

We knew that the soil quality was not optimal and needed supplements and nutrients. Underground water is too saline to use in rice cultivation, so we used desalinated water​.”

In the first phase of the rice research project, an underground drip irrigation system was installed to reduce the cost and amount of water used for the crops.

UAE has to deal with water scarcity and salinity of available water, so we focused on using modern irrigation technologies to optimise the utilisation of water​.”

In addition, UAE’s extreme weather was a limited factor in cultivating rice, especially in open field conditions.

However, with the coordination achieved between the UAE and Korean research teams, we were able to identify the most suitable time to enhance the germination of the seedlings and ensure the process did not damage the crop in any way​.”

The first phase yielded about 763 kg of rice per 1,000 square meters.

Asked on why MOCCAE selected South Korea as its agricultural research partner, Al Dhanhani explained: “We chose to partner with South Korea because it has advanced agricultural research experience, especially in a hot climate, which is relevant to us​.”

Moreover, the country has well-established rice cultivation technologies that can help farming communities in countries where rice and vegetable production requires more innovative methods​.”

The research project was not limited to rice cultivation only as the two countries have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on agricultural research. “Our research collaboration will cover several areas such as closed-loop farming systems, pest control, vegetable production, livestock, and rice cultivation is (just) one of them​.”

The harvested rice will only be put to commercial use after the completion of testing to ensure its compliance with standard specifications.

Al Dhanhani highlighted: “This type of research is important for the UAE and for the world as it presents new solutions to adapt to the accelerating impacts of climate change.

(While) such research projects might not be economically viable at the present time, they are important for the future of food security​.”

This is the first time rice is being researched and grown in UAE. Crops currently grown in UAE include hydroponic vegetables, mushroom and tomatoes. 

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