Opportunities in high-tech farming and in food processing and re-exporting will be among the priorities for government action towards the Abu Dhabi farm sector, the MEED Abu Dhabi 2013 conference was told on 9 December.

“We have a harsh climate with limited resources,” said Alaa Joma, an agriculture consultant at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority. “This makes agriculture highly challenging. Only 3 per cent of the total is arable land. Water is very scarce. We depend upon groundwater and 95 per cent of it is non-renewable.“

“Food consumption increased during the past decade at the rate of 6.2 per cent a year,” said Joma. “It is expected to grow at the rate of 4.2 per cent a year. The production base is very limited. This makes the country very dependent on imports and 82-85 per cent of its food is imported. We are a price-taker in the global market and this makes us vulnerable when there are spikes in food prices.”

Joma said Abu Dhabi has 24,000 farms with a total land area of 75,000 hectares.

“But these challenges open opportunities,” said Joma. “There is plenty of room for expanding our agricultural production in a sustainable way. This is through investing in science and technology. We are introducing stress-tolerant crops and integrated farming, and we use treated sewage effluent (TSE) as an additional source of water. We have found that high-tech green houses using hydroponics provide solutions.“

“The other opportunity is for investment in food processing and manufacturing, and also in supporting the positioning of the emirate as a food exporter in the region. Abu Dhabi has a very competitive advantage in the possibility of transforming itself into a logistic hub for food processing and the re-exporting of food products.”