So when I found out how many farms operate in the UAE, I am not going to lie, I almost fell off my chair. I mean, we are still in the desert, right? And from my (very minimal) understanding of what plants need to grow, its soil (which we don’t have), water (which we don’t have) and sun (which we have far too much of). So what tale are you spinning here, sir?
But the truth of the fact is, there are thousands of operational farms in the UAE. And as you might have guessed, yes not all of them are your traditional farms with acres of ploughed fields and barns and tractors.
The UAE, because of the unique climate challenges it has, needs to adopt modern farming methods. And here is where I introduce our friend, Aquaponics.
Aquaponics here, is at the forefront of modern sustainable farming. It creates a mini ecosystem where waste from fish is ultimately pumped through to feed plants which in turn purify the water then send it back to the fish to live in.
It combines aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (growing plants in water) to make a perfect symbiotic relationship where fish are farmed in the most natural way possible, and plants are fed everything they need using natural resources. The only thing that is missing is the soil.
Here are some interesting quick facts about Aquaponic Farming (before this turns into a long essay)
Despite the fact that everything is grown in water, it actually is the most water efficient methods of farming! Because the water is cleaned and recycled, it uses something like 10% of water that would otherwise be used to grow the same amount via traditional methods.
It is also super energy efficient. Although the set up costs can be extensive, the running costs are minimal as it is mostly electricity to run pumps and light up the greenhouses (and solar energy can easily be used for this). No need for tractors and other machines for farming.
Humans have been doing varied methods of Aquaponics for centuries. Ultimately our clever ancestors realised that having fish and ducks nearby to the rice paddies or other crops grown in water helped the plants to grow with a greater yield.
Food can be grown all year round. And it is more space efficient as you can build vertical “fields”. And you can guarantee higher yields. And it is completely sustainable. And it allows for more diversity of produce grown.
Chemicals actually harm the system, so plants and fish are pesticide and chemical free, meaning those who eat the plants and fish are, too. Ultimately it gives us organic fruit and vegetables and organic fish. Woohoo!
All of this hard work and cutting edge technology means a local fruit and vegetable market is growing in the UAE.
Because of all the benefits of Aquaponic farming, you can bet that the UAE government is supporting this wholeheartedly. This is an opportunity for the UAE to implement cutting edge technology (which is its favourite hobby let’s be honest), as well as solving the growing problem of global food security.
As you may know, the UAE imports around 90% of all the fresh produce sold, which adds to the growing problem of climate change (through shipping and transportation) and also puts the population here at risk of food security. If for any reason the global food chain were to be hindered, it would leave the citizens and residents of the UAE in a very vulnerable position. And with concerns about global warming changing the growing patterns of food, this is not an impossibility.
Farming is the most logical solution to solve these growing problems. It builds a new stream of revenue and jobs for the local economy, provides the population with nutritiously fresh food, and helps this country become more self-sustainable. And aquaponic farming does that in the most sustainable way.
With technology like this, and a government that is progressive on the issue, aquaponics is only going to grow and spread like a wildfire, leaving us with an excess amount of fruits and vegetables, healthy fish, sustainable farming methods and an example for the rest of the Gulf, the Middle East and beyond.
Imagine a world where the UAE was one of the largest fresh produce exporters of the region. Crazy, right? Well, the UAE may very well be on its way.