HUNGRY FOR CHANGE

Abu Dhabi 2016 | INDUSTRY & AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Rashed Mohamed Al Shariqi, Director General of Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA), on reducing reliance on fresh produce, reinforcing the role of Abu Dhabi's agricultural sector, and using new technology to overcome the current water shortage.

HE Rashed Mohamed Al Shariqi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Rashed Mohammed Khalfan Al Shariqi is the Director General of Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA). He began his career as a public servant by overseeing the Prevention & Agricultural Guidance Department at the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries from 1986-1990. He chaired the board of directors of Farmers Service Center (ADFSC) from 2009 to 2016 and has been a member of the ADFSC board of directors since 2010. He received his MSc degree in environmental science with honors from the UAE University in 1997 and a bachelor’s degree with honors in agricultural science 1984 from the College of Agricultural Sciences, UAE University.

The UAE is import-reliant when it comes to fresh produce. What is being done by the ADFCA to help redress that balance and develop the agriculture sector here?

Agriculture represents an important pillar in day-to-day business, not only for locals but for all the residents of Abu Dhabi. We have a limitation in our natural resources especially when it comes to water, fertile land, and agricultural inputs in general. The ADFCA strategy is to guide, direct, and utilize all these resources and convert the effort our farmers put into their farms into something valuable for our clients and customers. We manage and oversee a group of farms in Abu Dhabi, and we have created a strategy to utilize the limited resources we have and produce a high quality product. In the case of vegetables, the crop rotation is fast and we have favorable weather for vegetable production from late September-October to the end of May. Water transpiration is low and the temperatures are reasonable for most vegetable types; therefore, we have a comparative advantage in this regard. Under these conditions, we can produce crops outdoors rather than in greenhouses.

What role does agriculture play in safeguarding Abu Dhabi's economic and wider security?

Agriculture represents an important area of food security. There have been environmental changes taking place in the region. We used to import vegetables from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey; however, with the current situation on the ground we need to provide for ourselves locally. We look at the agriculture to provide this food security as an important part of our national security. This is why with the great infrastructure we have in Abu Dhabi, we are encouraging the private sector to work in the processing and manufacturing of agricultural commodities. For example, at Kizad we have the Sadia factory now, which is one of the largest in the region, and its production is for both the UAE and the region. The importance for us is that we now represent an essential part of the whole supply chain. Another private company is working on a rice mill even though Abu Dhabi is not a rice producing country. By having a factory producing 100,000 tons of rice per year, we are contributing to food security by being part of that supply chain. It is good for these international companies too because they want to operate in an easy environment. Licensing, the cost of energy, and labor and technical assistance are competitive in Abu Dhabi. Both agricultural investors and traders look at this as an important advantage.

Looking at the UAE's water shortage, what is ADFCA working on to help preserve this resource?

In agriculture, we depend mainly on groundwater and its demand is high due to the expansion of agriculture. As part of our current strategy we are trying to utilize the amount of water we have and to calculate the optimum plant requirements. In close cooperation with the Farmers' Services Centre, we are working hard to disseminate this technical information to the farming community. Using exactly the right amount of water for each plant will guarantee sustainability in the future. At the same time, we are looking for different sources of water. For the last two years, in cooperation with the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD), we have been experimenting using treated sewage water for growing certain crops, mainly fodder and some dates. We have had a technical report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) saying that the quality of treated sewage water meets the international standard and can be used with no restrictions for agricultural purpose. This will encourage us to expand the use of treated sewage water in some areas, for example, for forestry and landscape purposes. It will cut down the pressure on our groundwater and create a new source of irrigation water.