Dubai: Food scientists in Dubai say they have created a prototype greenhouse of the future that could triple crop yields of fruits and vegetables in the UAE while using 90 per cent less water and 50 per cent less energy than traditional greenhouse designs.
The prototype, now under observation by creators at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (Icba) in Dubai, is aimed at boosting UAE’s domestic food production and is meeting calls by the United Nations to find revolutionary ways to grow more using far less.
On World Food Day being held on October 16 under the theme, ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too’, the centre said the exciting new greenhouse prototype could greatly improve food security, especially for arid desert countries such as UAE which imports more than 80 per cent of its food.
The Icba, a non-profit agricultural research facility located south of Zayed University, was established in 1999 in Dubai to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability in marginal and saline environments.
In an interview with Gulf News, Dr Redouane Choukr-Allah, senior scientist, Environmental Horticulture with the Icba, said the prototype is called a ‘New Generation Greenhouse’.
The design, Choukr-Allah said, will “save 90 per cent of the irrigation water. This is a closed greenhouse that uses a desiccant that absorbs the water that the leaf transpires during the day and releases vapour in the greenhouse during the night collected as it condenses when temperatures drop at night, and is reused as fresh water”.
“In the ‘New Generation Greenhouse’, we can recycle water evaporated from plants by condensation and we estimate to save up to 90 per cent of water and cut significantly on energy use by 50 per cent,” Choukr-Allah said, adding that “the productivity could reach threefold the actual production by introduction of carbon fertilisation by injecting CO2 inside the greenhouse.”
He noted that “we are establishing and operating this ‘New Generation Greenhouse’ in the Al-Dhaid Agricultural Innovation Centre (AIC) in the UAE under the aegis of the Ministry of Climatic Change and Environment (MCCE)”.
The ministry is seeking new technologies as part of its Environment and Water Strategy 2014-2016 in a major push to grow more food at home.
“The main objective is to boost the local production of vegetable crops using protected culture. These technologies could play a major role in water saving and increasing the productivity and will contribute to the food security of the UAE,” he said.
Choukr-Allah and colleagues at the Dubai-based biosaline agricultural centre have also created a second greenhouse prototype (called Net house) that is simpler in design and uses a green net covering to partially block the sun as well as a misting sprinkler system that helps cool the interior of the greenhouse.
“In the Net house our research demonstrates that using this technology allowed us to reduce the water consumption by an average of two times compared to the normal greenhouse used by UAE farmers based on the Pad and vane system. The Net house allowed a saving of 97 per cent of energy in comparison to the plastic greenhouse,” he said.
Both innovative greenhouse designs allow for the planting and harvesting of traditional greenhouse fruits and vegetables, he said.
“All kinds of vegetables could be grown under these greenhouses, including leafy vegetables and fruit,” he said.
World Food Day
In its World Food Day message, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) said that in order to meet food demands of a global population of 9.6 billion people by 2050, “agriculture and food systems will need to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and become more resilient, productive and sustainable. This is the only way that we can ensure the wellbeing of ecosystems and rural populations and reduce emissions”.
“Growing food in a sustainable way means adopting practices that produce more with less in the same area of land and use natural resources wisely,” said the UN in a statement.
World Food Day, first observed in 1979, celebrates the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on October 16, 1945 in Quebec, Canada.
Merits of a greenhouse
1. Produce more green and more safe foods
2. Save more water
3. Makes good use of limited land
4. Produce crops in all climate and all locations
5. Achieve higher yields and high quality than we produce in open air
UAE food imports
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the UAE imports large quantities of food grown around the world.
Here are highlights of food imported and quantities imported into the UAE in 2011, according to FAO statistics:
Wheat 944,421 tonnes
Corn 303,393 tonnes
Onions dry 174,370 tonnes
Oranges 201, 815 tonnes
Apples 149, 763 tonnes
Lentils 138,101 tonnes
Tomatoes 135,291 tonnes
Bananas 116,216 tonnes