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Accession Day 2003 Feature: Agriculture

posted on 02/08/2003: 1660 views

Of all astounding development achievements made by the UAE, the agricultural revolution stands tall, earning the country international acclaim. Progress in agriculture over the past three decades has been extremely impressive. From a situation of subsistence farming in early 1970s, the agricultural sector has grown rapidly to become one of the most sophisticated in the region.

Oil revenues provided the funds to finance massive development programmes in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Given his wide experience, his qualities of leadership and his administrative skills, President H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan used oil wealth to turn his dreams of making his desert country a green pleasant land. In fact, the dream is now coming true, thanks to the sound policies adopted by Sheikh Zayed and his persistence to face daunting challenges. The whole process of development has benefited substantially from the energy and devoted leadership of Sheikh Zayed, now heading to celebrate his 37th accession as Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Despite the enormous challenges facing the green revolution - arid climate, low and irregular rainfall, water scarcity and absence of technology, Sheikh Zayed demonstrated that where there is a will there is a way. A semi-arid country the UAE has little rainfall, but the oil revenues have been used to build desalination plants to produce sweet water for irrigation giving a big push to the green revolution. 'With the help of God we managed to change the desert into green gardens and provide the people with comfortable life,' Sheikh Zayed said. Abu Dhabi Municipality and Town Planning Department is playing a pivotal role in making Sheikh Zayed's agricultural policy a success.

The Department has invested billion of Dirhams to spread afforestation and establish farms to increase agricultural production, thereby meeting local market requirements. In implementing its ambitious plans to achieve food self-sufficiency, the Department is working hard towards transforming the barren desert into oases of crops, fruits and vegetables.

Towards these ends, the Department has prepared its comprehensive development plan for the city of Abu Dhabi. The vision 2020 plan, which comprises various development and housing projects, was drawn with the cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. The plan seeks to lay down a long-term socio-economic strategy as part of a major development plan for Abu Dhabi, the Western Region, as well as the Abu Dhabi islands and coastal areas.

The development plan took into serious consideration scientific approach to all major projects, basic environmental requirements and public amenities to serve the growing population.

In the field of agriculture and afforestation, the Department has executed in the recent years a large number of projects, including new agricultural projects, landscape greening, tree planting, fodder production, date palm tree cultivation, irrigation projects, drilling of water wells and building of water reservoirs. Its Agriculture Section has set up 11,477 farms in recent years in areas like Liwa, Medinat Zayed, Ghayathi, Bahia, Delma, Ba'eyya, Marfa, Khatam, Rahba, Ajban, Nahda and Semeih.

In 2002, an area of 1,917 hectares were planted with different trees, bring to 99,597 hectares the total areas coming under plough up to the end of 2002. Areas planted with fodder totalled 1,258 against 2,187 for pastures. Millions of trees were planted to create shade, shelter and privacy around farms. On agriculture experiments and research, the Department's Research Lab has conducted 3,779 research and analysis, including 634 water samples,398 soil samples, 262 fertiliser samples, 388 plant diseases samples, 142 plants analysis samples, 1,886 tissue planting samples, 31 analysis on chromatography and 69 seed samples.

To date a total of 49 public parks and gardens, occupying an area of 4.8 million square metres, have been established in the Emirate. The Agriculture Section of the Department is currently undertaking the Al Wathba Public Garden and the Khalifa Recreation Park. The Dh 230 million Khalifa Park project will be the first of its kind in the Middle East and has been visualised as a contained world of leisure and entertainment facilities. Situated in the Old Airport Area on Al Qarm Corniche and spread over an area of 430,000 square metres, the park will house a marine history museum, several public gardens, oases, a mosque, a huge open theatre, and a festival stand.

A small channel was dredged to act as a barrier preventing people from harming the area which is important as a spawning ground for fish and migratory birds. When completed, the park will provide a variety of attractions, its boulevards, mangrove-laden beaches, shaded promenades and spacious flowerbeds. The museum, equipped with advanced audio-visual technology, will give visitors an opportunity to have a glimpse of UAE's traditional and social life, past and present, through daily shows. A journey through a tunnel depicting cultural and historical aspects will take the visitors back in history.

Also planned is an artificial coast to be used as a dockyard for traditional shipbuilding. The park will have picnicking and get-together spots with a capacity for 10,000 people. The mosque will have the capacity for 200 men and 200 women in two separate sections. A festival stand comprising two huge halls linked through a glass bridge crossing over the channel will be available for functions such as wedding ceremonies. Concerts can be organised at the open theatre which will have a capacity for 10,000 people. The park will offer games and sports and other recreational facilities including a train taking the visitors around the park. It will give a big push to tourism industry in Abu Dhabi.

During 2002 the Section drilled 498 wells in Abu Dhabi outskirts to provide water for drinking and irrigation purposes. Three reservoirs, each with a capacity of 500,000 gallons, were installed. Irrigation networks for an area of 65 hectares were also modernized. As part of its beautification drive, the Section's nurseries produced a total of 1.1 million saplings fruit and ornamental trees and distributed 892,000 flowers to agricultural projects, companies and individuals. A total of 68,000 indoor plants were produced, of which 62,000 were sold and distributed.

The oil wealth has been used, not just to build roads, schools, hospitals and other amenities of modern life, but also to create safe havens for many forms of Arabia's wildlife and to contribute on a global scale towards saving endangered species. Concern with the preservation of the environment and wildlife has been developed remarkably thanks to the active personal commitment of Sheikh Zayed.

A deep interest in environmental affairs has been a consistent feature of his character. Massive afforestation programme for setting up forests, wildlife parks and nature reserves was carried out across the Emirate to protect the fauna and flora. Significant achievements were made in the expansion of greenbelt to combat desertification. In so doing, the Department has in recent years planted trees along verges of major roads like the Madinat Zayed/ Abu Dhabi road, the Ghayathi/Bida Mutawa'a road the 140- kilometre long Hamim/Abu Dhabi road, to name just a few.

The Forestry Section of the Department has, since 1996, embarked on a project of fencing an area of about 200 square kilometres to set up 51 nature reserves and sanctuaries in the Western region. These include 20 reserves in Madinat Zayed, 11 in Al Wathba and 20 in Ghayathi. This has brought a significant increase in the number of wild animals in these protected areas. A total of 42,000 hectares were raised as forests and 2,000 hectares as green belts.

The captive breeding programme of the endangered Arabian Oryx was one of the success stories in the environment conservation. Today captive populations of the Arabian Oryx in the UAE represent a significant proportion of the world total for the species. Rare and threatened species such as the Arabian Oryx and sand Gazelles are today seen running freely across nature reserves like the island of Sir Bani Yas.

Strict laws for protection and conservation of the environment and wildlife have been passed and bans have been imposed on hunting these endangered species. Campaigns to raise awareness of the public about the high importance of protecting environment have also been launched. Nature reserves are seen today as tourist attractions that can benefit the local economy by stimulating the growing tourism industry and creating employment opportunities. The extent of care given to the natural environment, endangered animals and plants underlines the maturity of the country's progress.

In recognition of his crucial contribution to the green revolution in the country, Sheikh Zayed has been awarded a number of prestigious international awards including the gold medal from the FAO, the gold Panda award of the WWF.

The UAE's desertification control and land reclamation policies are proved to have yielded fruit with the plantation of thousands of hectares of palm trees, woodlands and green belts. The UAE's efforts in this regard is one of the most successful experiences in the Arab and Gulf region in particular and at the global level in general. The most important advantage of the desertification control policy is the transformation of the desert from a once repulsive barren land into an area that has much appeal for inhabitants to live in.

The nomadic and unsettled lifestyle of people has changed into a settled one with the economic, health, social and educational patterns also changing accordingly. The strategy of growing forests in vast areas of land in the heart of the desert has provided habitat for man, flora and fauna, especially the once endangered wild animals such as rabbits, foxes and gazelles, which have considerably proliferated.

New species of gazelle, namely the white deer and the Arabian Oryx, and other wild birds, such as falcons, doves and sparrows have been introduced. Researches are being conducted to introduce new species of trees following the successful introduction of the useful jojoba tree in the region. 'We began by fighting desertification, then we expanded agricultural development projects and soon the desert has been turned into green land. Here we are now reaping the fruits of our hard work,' Sheikh Zayed said.

Date palm cultivation is the most prominent chapters of the UAE's success story of agriculture. The use of modern technology and intensive plantation has transformed the subsistence nature of date palm cultivation into a major agricultural industry serving domestic and export markets. Sheikh Zayed attaches great importance to date palms. His attention to date palm is evident in the continued expansion of agricultural resources and the fast growth in the number of trees as well as the size and variety of date projects.

The tree has a heritage and historical value to Sheikh Zayed whose love for the tree has resulted in the flourishing of millions of trees across the country. Due to his efforts and devotion to the tree, there are now more than 40.7 million date palm trees in the country including 22 million in Abu Dhabi. Out of these there are 16 million trees distributed along the roads for public use. The UAE is now one of the major exporters of dates and the seventh major date-producing country in the world.

The UAE is rapidly becoming one of the world's largest producers of dates, accounting for around 6 per cent of total global production. It has become a major exporter, with over 50,000 metric tonnes a year now being sold abroad Considerable attention has been devoted by Government, and by local farmers, to the date-planting programme, while, at the same time, extensive support has been given to scientific research on date palms, with the UAE now being one of the leaders of techniques of tissue culture, to meet the ever-growing demand for seedlings. "This magnificent tree...provides greenery, shade, food and refuges for wildlife in all our parks, gardens and roadside verges.

Countless farms throughout the UAE depend upon the date palm to create shaded areas of ground where vegetables are grown," Sheikh Zayed says in a foreword to the book 'A Feast of Dates'. In April 2002, the UAE was chosen as the host country for the Date Palm Global Network (DPGN), which has been set up by 26 date-growing countries. Established under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the network aims at sharing research and experience and to follow a coordinated trade policy. The formation of the DPGN was reached in Al Ain at a conference attended by representatives of the date-producing countries. The UAE University has also been selected as the host institution for the network. (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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