Desert agriculture will be a driver of the UAE's post-pandemic strategy

The knowledge and technology required to develop agriculture through scientific innovation is becoming widely available

Dr Al Zeyoudi and Kwon Yongwoo, Republic of Korea ambassador to the UAE, visit the rice field in Sharjah. Courtesy: Ministry of Climate Change and Environment
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In the space of just a few months, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed both the shortcomings and the advantages of our globalised world.

For instance, widespread and high-tech means of transportation have enabled the virus to reach all four corners of the globe by air, sea and land. But they have also helped to deliver life-saving aid and medical equipment to vulnerable and severely affected nations. And the have proved integral to preserving the integrity of the global supply chain for basic necessities, such as food and hygiene products.

Yet the pandemic has forced some nations to limit exports as they deal with shortages and economic problems at home. This tension has pushed governments and individuals to become more innovative and to invest in local technologies and companies.

The knowledge and technology required to develop agriculture through scientific innovation is becoming widely available, and co-operation in this area has led to some extraordinary successes.

Regional and federal authorities in the UAE are promoting local production of vital personal protective equipment, with Abu Dhabi set to host the Middle East’s largest factory for masks. Gulf countries are also investing in domestic agriculture to ensure food security.

In the UAE, a joint project between UAE scientists and South Korean experts plans to turn Sharjah’s deserts into rice paddies. This apparently improbable feat is nonetheless one step closer to becoming reality. The project is currently pending approval and, according to the team managing it, should eventually allow Sharjah to grow 763 kilograms of rice in a 1,000 square metre plot of desert.

This is only the latest in a series of forward-looking projects aimed at promoting local agriculture in the UAE. Others include a $100 million fund for agritech from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office. Other non-native staple crops, such as tomatoes and potatoes, are already being grown in the country, and neighbouring Saudi Arabia has managed to develop a successful dairy industry that exports across the region. These success stories ought to give further confidence to the people of the Gulf that, with vision and ingenuity, nothing is impossible.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Gulf countries are investing in domestic agriculture to ensure food security

The Sharjah project is all the more valuable to the long-term food security of the Emirates considering that many rice-growing nations, such as China and India, have limited their exports. Although shortages have been avoided so far, for a desert nation like the UAE, which imports over 90 per cent of its food, these developments signal that it is time to boost self-reliance while maintaining strong global ties.

The help and expertise offered by friendly nations are instrumental in allowing the UAE to achieve this goal, as South Korea’s involvement in the Sharjah rice project demonstrates. Seoul and Abu Dhabi celebrate 40 years of bilateral relations this month. What better way is there to honour those ties – during this challenging time for global unity, public health and food security – than by working together to ensure that our future harvests are ever more bountiful.