Research into the best local food for animals

The aim is to find the most drought-resistant, salt-tolerant and water-efficient plant, which bears fruit the animals find tastiest.

DUBAI // Scientists are working on ways to provide UAE animals with the most nutritious, local feed.

A project, by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda) in Dubai, was launched in 2005 with 38 varieties of prickly pear cactus shipped to Oman from Tunisia, Italy, Mexico, Algeria and Morocco.

Five years later, the UAE chose the 10 best varieties, including two local, and established a research station in Dibba with more than 400 cactus.

“We controlled the parameters of growth and production but Dibba’s soil wasn’t a suitable site,” said Dr Azaiez Belgacem, a forage expert at Icarda and head of the project.

“Now we have a very good research station in Baniyas with the emirate’s food control authority.”

The aim is to find the plant that is most resistant to drought and salt, and has fruit animals find tastiest.

“Cactus is very rich in energy, calcium and water but poor in protein, so we have to add another source of protein,” said Dr Belgacem. “For this, we’re looking at using all the agricultural byproducts for forage to save water.”

The cactus grows with much less water than other forage plants. It uses about 1.5 million litres of water a year for each hectare, while others use more than 30 million litres.

Surveys are being conducted to find out what the UAE can offer.

“The main species here are palm trees and we have plenty of byproducts from them, so we have to select which one is a good source of fibre,” Dr Belgacem said.

“We want to give animals a balanced diet of energy, protein, fibre, sugar, calcium and vitamins, so we have to make this feed block and find other components that are not expensive for the farmer and that he is able to find on his farm.”

Once the results are out, before the end of the year, the centre will introduce the feed blocks to farmers.

“We want to evaluate the green forage production, also known as barley, in the UAE to find out whether it is economically viable for farmers,” said Dr Naem Mazahrih, an irrigation and water management specialist at the centre.

“It uses a very small amount of water and farmers started using it two years ago, but we want to evaluate [it] for them.

“The production of green forage is mainly important for the production of milk as cattle need green vegetation.”

The study of treated wastewater used on forage is also due next year.

“The field is already established at the Ministry of Environment and Water’s research station in Al Dhaid and we planted them three months ago,” said Dr Mazahrih.

Next month, the forage will be tested on the station’s sheep and goats.

“It will take about two years before we see the effects but, if it proves successful, we will recommend it to the ministry to establish a new controlled irrigated site for farmers to come and collect the forage from there,” said Dr Mazahrih.

“So much treated wastewater in the UAE isn’t used, around 30 per cent, so it can be used to produce forage instead of getting dumped back in the sea.”

cmalek@thenational.ae

Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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