ABU DHABI // Growing crops on the roofs of office blocks or in vertical stacks could be ways of feeding the growing population of the Arab world, a conference heard on Monday.
Speaking during the Gulf Forum to Enhance Food Security, in Abu Dhabi, Dr Rashid bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, said countries in the region needed to adopt innovative ways of growing crops.
“There are many opportunities in the Arab world, like in Sudan and Egypt, for agricultural investment,” he said.
“But they will have to increase production. We cannot keep up with the traditional way of farming, so this forum will touch on agricultural practices and one of them is vertical farming. We have to look at other technologies that should be implemented by Arab farmers.”
Studies have found the deficiency in agriculture in Arab states is linked to technology.
“The UAE is conducting trials with a number of new technologies in an agricultural centre in Al Dhaid to find out which practice is most suitable for the country’s environmental conditions,” said Dr bin Fahad. He said the ministry was collaborating with other institutions and investing in agriculture overseas to improve practices in the UAE.
Mohammed bin Obaid Al Mazrouei, chairman of the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development, said Arab nations had not optimised their use of resources – in part due to a growing population and demand. He agreed that vertical expansion of agriculture was an opportunity.
“Given the limitations of the horizontal expansion, which requires massive financial investment, land reclamation and establishing the required infrastructure, we are focusing on vertical expansion,” said Mr Al Mazrouei.
“It relies on the development and the increased use of available areas. The agricultural sector relies mainly on small and medium-scale farmers who are widespread in the Arab world and [generate] almost 80 per cent of the agricultural production.”
Dr bin Fahad said better use of water was also needed. “There’s a focus on more water-saving crops and adopting models that are more viable, while supporting scientific research to increase production,” he said.
“Small and medium farmers are prevalent in the region so supporting their activity is key. We hope this forum will shape an important turning point for the finance of agricultural products.”
Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), said more investment should be directed to farmers.
With 500 million small-scale producers generating more than 80 per cent of the food grown in developing countries, Mr Nwanze said: “Too often, the very people who produce the food that feeds the developing world are the same ones who go to bed hungry.
“Poverty and hunger are most prevalent in rural areas of developing countries, not in urban areas, and it is in these areas that more than 75 per cent of the world’s poorest people live. If we truly want to enhance food security, we must ensure our investment money is going to where it is needed most.”
Two thirds of the developing world’s three billion rural people live in small farm households, working on plots of land smaller than two hectares.
Ifad has invested US$4 billion (Dh14.7bn) in agriculture in Arab countries since 1978.