Government sets up Dh100 million fund to support agriculture in Abu Dhabi

The Farmers' Services Centre, a government body tasked with modernising Abu Dhabi farms, has announced the launch of the Agricultural Investment Fund to finance modern farming techniques.

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ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Government has established a Dh100 million fund to support and finance agricultural projects over the next five years.

The Farmers’ Services Centre, a government body responsible for modernising Abu Dhabi farms, on Sunday announced the Agricultural Investment Fund to pay for farming techniques including greenhouse hydroponics.

“The fund is a development programme including a range of services, financing and non-financing facilities to support farmers in Abu Dhabi,” said Khalifa Al Ali, the centre’s managing director.

“The focus in the first phase will be on the support and development of hydroponics in the emirate and it will include other techniques and practices in agriculture in the coming years.

“The aim is to contribute to the increase and enhancement of food security and the development of the agriculture sector in Abu Dhabi.”

The fund, which will invest about Dh20m a year until 2017, aims to achieve sustainability and contribute to Abu Dhabi’s food security.

Projects will be implemented by the FSC and the Food Security Centre across the emirate’s farms.

“The initiative makes sense to focus on supporting education and the introduction of new technologies that save water,” said Nicholas Lodge, an agricultural expert at the Abu Dhabi consultancy Clarity.

“It’s a good idea and it makes sense, as opposed to subsidising or supporting more outdated agricultural activity.

“When you look at the scale of the issue in terms of need and demand and the availability of water supply, these sorts of initiatives are extremely important.”

The fund will cover 50 per cent of the total cost of agricultural projects, with farmers covering the other half, interest-free over five years and deducted from the revenues of the scheme’s products.

“What the Government is doing is very good,” said Abdullah Al Amimi, a farmer in the Western Region. “The idea as a whole is good but the farmers who implement it have to be serious.

“They have to put their hard work into this. You cannot just take a fund and then sit back, and this is what I’m afraid of.”

Mr Al Amimi said he hoped the contractors chosen to build the greenhouses would be local.

“This amount of money came from the economy of the UAE so local companies should build the greenhouses,” he said. “Let’s invest this amount back in the UAE.”

Farmers who wish to register for funds will need to sign a five-year project workplan with the centre and an agreement to ensure the loan payment.

Mr Al Amimi said five years was a long commitment when dealing with nature.

“Let’s say in those five years we have a national crisis, what’s going to happen next?” he asked. “You are working with nature so if something goes wrong, being tied up for five years is like a marriage contract.

“There’s global warming, so if we go into this relationship, it’s important for everyone to know all the details.”

Applicants must be members of the farmers’ centre, allow it to monitor the project’s progress and attend training. Their farm must also comply with the water and electricity requirements.

Christopher Hirst, chief executive of the centre, said it would provide technical support to farmers.

He said the centre would work to develop their farms and encourage them to adopt the latest technologies and techniques to reduce water use, and increase the quality and efficiency of produce.

Mr Lodge said the production and supply of food had now become a higher priority in the region.

“It has been much more of a topical issue in the past couple of years,” he said.

“We’re seeing a change in the way water is provided, certain technologies that make more sense, and the FSC trying to create a better market environment for producers of local crops.”