Abu Dhabi: Nearly 228,000 hectares of forestry in Abu Dhabi Emirate will soon be monitored using smart technologies in order to establish better standards for forestry and agriculture management, senior environment officials announced in the capital on Tuesday.

The forest areas, which are managed by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), will be closely studied. As part of this initiative, the EAD is operating an experimental demonstration site at the Khub Al Das forest, near Madinat Zayed in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, and is studying the water requirements of ghaf trees. Similar studies are also being conducted on palm trees at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

The forests will be evaluated in terms of infrastructure protection, biodiversity promotion and enhancement of cultural heritage. The water requirements of trees will be assessed, and customised forest irrigation management tools will then be used alongside smart water metres for more efficient water use.

The tools will determine a monthly, seasonal and annual water allocation for individual forests based on the water requirement studies.

“The forest irrigation management tool was developed in the emirate itself. These are not international guidelines, but the actual requirements of crops and trees grown in the UAE,” said Razan Al Mubarak, Secretary-General at the EAD.

“Our objective is to [eventually] ensure that only recycled water us used for irrigation, and to conserve groundwater resources. So we are also working with other agencies and developing distribution infrastructure to capture recycled water at treatment plans, and then to deliver it to forests,” she added.

EAD currently oversees 400 forests in the emirate, which house more around 20 million trees. These forests have been artificially planted in areas that were previously desert landscape, explained Wafa Al Yamani, assistant scientist at the EAD.

Forestry in the emirate is currently irrigated with groundwater, and consumes about 11 per cent of the emirate’s water budget. Earlier this week, the EAD announced its commitment to reduce groundwater for forestry purposes by 80 per cent by 2030.

Because of the UAE’s arid nature, the emirate of Abu Dhabi faces major water constraints. As a result, water efficiency and reuse are unaffordable practices, but do occur at present.

For example, water requirements studies on Lulu date palm trees indicated that they are overwatered at three times the optimal amount at present.

“The forest irrigation management tool will allow EAD to tailor irrigation approaches for specific forests based on tree species, local climate and soil properties. We will study not just ghaf trees, but also other local species, including Al Sidr, rack, etc,” Wafa said.

She added that the management tool will also help forecast growth rates and productivity indices for these trees if recycled water or saline water is used.

“So we will be able to carefully manage both our forests and groundwater reserves,” Wafa explained.

The Khub Al Das area has been selected for the initial studies because it represents a typical UAE forest. “Thus, conclusions made here can be used to treat and manage forests elsewhere,” the scientist said.