AGRICULTURE IN THE UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), proclaimed on the 2nd December 1971, is set up of seven Emirates with Abu Dhabi the capital of the State. UAE, with a total land area of 83,600 km² (including approximately 200 islands) is inhabited by 2.443 million.
Climatically, the country is divided into two ecological zones which greatly influence the agricultural production: These are the coastal region with hot and humid summers and warm winters, and the inland region which is more dryer.
When visitors land at Abu Dhabi International airport, then drive to the heart of the city some 35 km (22 mi) away, they are overwhelmed by flowers, shrubs, date palms and other trees, lining $$$$ sides of the multi-lane thoroughfare. Not many travelers, seeing all this greenery, know that this is a recent phenomenon. A little over a quarter century ago, not only Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates’ capital, but the whole of the country consisted of towns built of adobe atop a landscape covered with sand - the home of Bedouins and camels
Farms and forests now cover 4.5% of the land, and over 200 of the UAE islands have been partially greenified. There are 6313 greenhouses and 22,797 farms spread throughout the country - 12,021 of these have been started in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi since 1993. Around the Liwa Oasis alone more than 40,500 ha (100,000 ac) of desert has been converted into cultivated land.
In the Emirate of Abu Dhabi alone, some 130 million trees have been planted. In order to protect cities from sandstorms, green belts have been created. To supply the needed greenery, nurseries have been
established to grow decorative flowers and environmental trees. The total annual production of flower saplings reached 20 million and tree saplings 1.5 million in 1999.
Even more impressive are the UAE’s 40.1 million, mostly newly planted palm trees, 33.7 million of these in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, consisting of 37 different species. The UAE’s spectacular progress in developing the cultivation of palms has increased their number to 20% of all date-palms in the world – producing more than 250,000 tons of high-quality dates, making the country one of the largest date producers and processors in the world.
According to FAO Agristat-Database (1997), the UAE date harvested area has increased from less than 60 hectares (ha) in 1971 to 31,005 ha in 1996. This increase in superficy is about 48 times and allowed the country to be internationally classified as the Seventh major producing country with six percent of the world date production. This date superficy constitutes 15% of the total cultivated land (about 200,000 ha).
The actual date tree population as mentioned above is about 40 millions of which 8.5 in AL-AIN region. The gene pool is large and composes about 120 date varieties. New introductions from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Oman included Khallas, AbouMaan, Hallawi, Khissab, Khenezi, Nabut Saif, Jabiri, Hillali, Lulu, Chichi, Khadraoui, Sakii, Sultana and Barhi varieties.
Another type of tree which is today proliferating the coastline of the UAE is the humble mangrove which can grow in salt water. Its propagation is a pet project of Sheikh Zayed who was raised in the dry desert and appreciates a tree which grows in salt water. For 20 years, new stretches of the UAE coast have been greenified by the salt tolerant mangrove. Today, these patches of greenery are becoming important habitats for varieties of birds, fish and invertebrates.
The most renowned of the afforestation projects in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is on the island of Sir Bani Yas. Three and a half million trees and shrubs, 500,000 of which are fruit trees, have been planted on the island. Many of these trees are forest species, some indigenous to the Emirates, and others introduced to test their capacity to adapt to the UAE’s arid climate. Today, trees and shrubs cover 70% of the island.
Al Jurf, 100 km (61 mi) northeast of the city of Abu Dhabi, is another of the garden spots springing up in the UAE. In this area of transformed desert, massive planting has created a rich forest of more than a half million trees - mostly citrus fruit trees and palms.
Newly greened areas, on the outskirts of the city of Dubai have witnessed a proliferation of wildlife. Thousands of Ghaff trees, considered to be one of the sturdiest plants able to withstand the harsh desert climate, have been planted - nourished by a sophisticated drip irrigation system. Among these trees, where no wildlife has been seen for thousands of years Arabian gazelle, rabbits, does and the desert agama now roam.