TBY talks to Nasser Mohammed Al Junaibi, Acting CEO of Abu Dhabi Farmers Service Center (ADFSC), on transitioning to modern agriculture, local harvests, and hydroponic technology.
What was the drive behind the cooperation agreement with Japan’s Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), and what role does organic agriculture play in Abu Dhabi?
The driver behind this agreement was to provide financial services to both Emirati and Japanese companies operating in the UAE and to strengthen communications with the best international institutions. The ultimate goal is to transfer and localize modern agricultural techniques to build the capacity of national farmers. This will improve both the efficiency of the production chain and the technical and economic feasibility studies of proposed agricultural techniques. In terms of priorities, the areas of cooperation between ADFSC and SMBC are focused on protecting agriculture and post-harvest techniques; supporting the transition to modern agriculture; and ensuring the sustainability of water and soil resources, such as efficient cooling systems for greenhouses, the production of organic vegetables, and green waste technologies. At the same time, we are working with 25 farms in Abu Dhabi to convert them to organic agriculture and seek to convert a further 100 over the next four years. Our organic agriculture experts are working with these farmers to apply organic pesticides and biological control systems to reduce the use of chemicals in agriculture, whether fertilizers or pesticides. All this is consistent with the sustainability strategy of Abu Dhabi’s government.
How do you project consumer demand to evolve in the near future, and how does the agriculture sector plan to adjust to this evolution?
ADFSC offers educational and extension services via a network of 27 offices to local farmers to improve farming practices, resulting in higher production levels and better-quality crops while conserving the country’s environmental resources. ADFSC also partners with retailers and large corporate and government customers to provide them with a secure supply of quality local produce fresh from Abu Dhabi farms. Working closely with retailers allows us to learn consumer demands and current supply trends. This knowledge means that we work effectively with farmers to ensure that the industry grows the right quantities of the right food. Through its Farmers’ Trusted Partner, ADFSC provides on-farm advisory and technical services, as well as the necessary inputs to help farmers grow larger volumes of better quality crops, which, in turn, leads to higher incomes. Moreover, we constantly seek to develop new and strengthen existing marketing links to wholesale and retail outlets by providing modern, efficient supply chain services, including the packaging and marketing of products. Bringing the high-quality agricultural products to the market is the main barrier to promoting the local product’s competitiveness. In this regard, ADFSC created a brand of local products called “Local Harvest” that offers all UAE residents and visitors alike locally grown fruits and vegetables that meet and exceed international standards of quality and taste, directly from our farms in Abu Dhabi.
What does Abu Dhabi need to do to ensure a balance between food security, the conservation of wildlife and marine resources, and economic stability?
Water consumption in agriculture is the main challenge, which is countered through the development and maintenance of efficient forms of irrigation. In this sense, there has been a strong push to educate farmers on several issues: the quantity of new systems such as inline pressure compensating dripline and adjustable online drip irrigation systems; the dosage of water for crops such as date palms; and the introduction of hydroponic technology, which can dramatically cut water use by 80% and have a major impact on agricultural profitability in Abu Dhabi. This technology in particular will enable farmers to grow crops outside the traditional off-season throughout the whole year, leading to the achievement of better returns and provision of high-quality products.