As summer temperatures in the UAE approach 48°C by mid-July, farmers are resorting to innovative tactics to combat conditions largely caused by climate change. Farmers all around the world have been feeling the effects of climate change in recent years, with harsh weather and less predictable seasons changing pastures and croplands.
To assist prepare the agricultural sector for the effects of climate change, the UAE and the US announced a joint fund at Cop26 in Glasgow. The fund, which reached its $10 billion goal in May, will support projects that reduce the effects of climate change, prepare for its repercussions, and assist in lifting people out of poverty.
Ahmed Al Hefeiti, a retired army officer in the UAE, dreams of making the desert bloom with exotic fruits, but he realises he confronts a daunting task. Being on the front lines of climate change requires him to innovate every year to ensure that his Wadi Dafta Plantation, which spans 2,000 square feet at the base of the Hajar mountains in Fujairah, thrives in the harsh conditions.
He grows a wide assortment of fruits, including Pakistani mangoes and lemons, 15 different species of bananas, Chinese bayberries, Japanese oranges, Indian cashews, chikoo, lychees, and star fruits. It takes just as much focus and ingenuity to succeed.
"Every year, the weather gets hotter. "The land is getting hotter, and the water is getting hotter," Mr Al Hefeiti told The National.
Rising ocean levels due to global warming have caused salt water to enter the groundwater table, increasing salinity in the land. Climate change is also affecting rainfall patterns, resulting in unpredictable weather events such as droughts and floods that devastate crops and production facilities. Farmers are now suffering water constraint, declining yields, and rising production costs as a result.
Mr Al Hefeiti, who is following in his father's footsteps into farming, claims that numerous natural springs have dried up. "Until a few years ago, we had a spring in our farms." We used to have water all winter and even in the summer. "But they're all gone now," he explained.
"It's more difficult. The water is becoming saltier, and the winds are becoming so hot that they are harming the plants.
"The weather has also become unpredictably unpredictable." We got rain in the midst of summer last year, and many crops were devastated." In the face of these obstacles, many farmers are turning to novel strategies to protect their crops and livelihoods.
Using robust and drought-tolerant crop types, upgrading fertilisers, adopting vertical farming techniques to maximise land use, and erecting greenhouse structures to protect crops from adverse climatic conditions are among the advancements reshaping the UAE's agricultural landscape.
According to Roma Vora, Co-Founder of Aranya Farms in Abu Dhabi, higher summer temperatures have caused adjustments in planting and harvesting timetables. "We have noticed that the saltier water in Abu Dhabi has affected the sweetness of fruits like watermelon," Ms Vora explained to The National. "We usually start seeding in the middle of September and harvest in October or November, depending on the crop." However, we are growing till the end of May this year, although the first harvest is not expected until November."
Ms Vora, who operates the farm with her mother-in-law, said they are always looking for innovative ways to increase production while maintaining quality. Aranya Farms has converted their vertical farms to organic agriculture, allowing them to grow a broader variety of crops in soil, including cucumber, cherry tomatoes, ochra, aubergine, bottle gourd and other fruits and vegetables.
They have also expanded their business by importing and exporting organic fertilisers. "We conduct our own research to identify the most effective fertilisers and seeds for the unique growing conditions," she explained. "The farm is also exploring water management technology to improve water absorption in the desert environment."
Dr. Mohammad Al Oun, a food security consultant and climate smart agriculture expert who has advised the UAE government on resilient agricultural systems, claims that there are "observable trends" demonstrating the influence of climate change on UAE farming.
"Over the past five decades, temperatures in the region have risen by approximately 1.5°C, leading to challenges such as water scarcity, soil issues, and increased pest infestations, resulting in some farmers abandoning their agricultural activities," Dr Al Oun told The National. "Climate change poses numerous challenges for UAE farmers, including the need for increased knowledge and experience in order to adapt to its effects."
"Climate change impacts include decreased crop growth and yield, potential pesticide and fertiliser overuse, compromised food quality and safety, economic implications, social consequences, water scarcity, soil salinization, extreme weather events, pests and diseases, and changing crop suitability."
According to Dr. Al Oun, UAE farmers should adopt climate-smart agricultural practices such as precision farming and vertical farming, collaborate throughout the value chain to promote sustainable production and consumption, invest in farmer capacity building programmes, and encourage agricultural research and innovation.
He claims that the GCC countries are far ahead of other countries in tackling the impact of climate change on agriculture. "The Gulf Cooperation Council countries have taken proactive steps in climate farming, outperforming many Western countries," he said. "These nations have incorporated climate action plans, food security strategies, and initiatives promoting a green and recycling-based economy to address the impact of climate change."
Climate farming, also known as controlled environment agriculture, has shown to be a trustworthy solution, according to experts. Growing crops in controlled conditions such as greenhouses, glass houses, or vertical farms is known as climate farming. "The main challenges to production in the UAE and the GCC in general are extreme temperatures and water scarcity," said Hassan Halawy, an agri-tech and climate farming expert based in the UAE.
"With its temperature control resources, CEA optimises water consumption and creates optimal growing conditions, while also reducing pest and disease outbreaks." He claims that it can assist in extending the production season, sometimes even to the end of the year, and optimise land use.
"Addressing the impact of climate change requires an integrated approach that combines many initiatives," Mr Halawy explained. "We must develop sustainable food systems that increase yield while using less water and electricity."
"With the advancement of agritech and R&D, many solutions are now available to mitigate [to a degree] the risks of climate change and their relevant impact on food production," Mr Halawy explained.