Dubai: In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted that 52 million people in the MENA region were chronically undernourished. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with climate change and economic slowdown, could bring twice as many under the purview of 'acute food insecurity', this year. Water scarcity, arid climate and limited arable land undermine conventional agriculture in the region, with even economically able nations, such as the UAE, importing 80 to 90 per cent of its food.
"Food security in the MENA region requires holistic solutions that address multiple challenges concurrently, rather than a piecemeal approach", says Chandra Dake, CEO and Founder of Dake Reschand, a Dubai-based company offering sustainable solutions in water conservation and desert farming. "Dake Rechsand believes that our breakthrough technology, which transforms ordinary desert sand into air-permeable, water-retentive planting medium, could enable desert farming at scale in water-stressed areas — both economically and organically”.
The reasoning behind the Dake Rechsand claim, that deserts are ideal ecosystems in which to implement organic farming solutions, are:
• Desert soils are uncontaminated with chemicals and fertilisers.
• Breathable "magic sand", as the company likes to call it, enables optimal cultivation of a wide range of crops without chemical fertilizers, while reducing water requirements by nearly 80 per cent.
• Since magic sand is inherently organic, devoid of chemicals, the yield and the soil can be certified organic, within the first crop cycle.
• Accelerated organic certification process, as opposed to a typical five-year waiting period to meet the criteria stipulated by the Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA).
• Dake Rechsand is engaging with authorities, to draft a policy for certification of organic farming in desert soils, which is specific to the region, due to specific conditions and variables.
• UAE's abundantly available sand can be transformed into a priceless resource, driving food security and economic activity.
• In start-up terms, entrepreneurs can achieve returns with a minimum gestation period.
• The premium attracted by organic produce justifies slightly higher economic spend for food production in these deserts.
• The Dake Rechsand solution makes organic home gardening, using much less water than traditional models, accessible to home gardeners.
Scaling solutions to achieve larger green goals
The UAE is 80 per cent desert. Traditionally, water scarcity was a major deterrent to re-greening the region, but the Dake Rechsand technology is not limited by resources, to execute at scale. The breathable sand technology could be a viable solution, which helps achieve food security using a permaculture and food forests approach. Such synergetic models advocate agroforestry, mimicking natural forests to produce diverse yield in fruits, herbs and perennial vegetables, from the same farm space. Minimal water requirement and human intervention, along with foliar feeding, can be used to create an organic ecosystem, which increases in its ability to support life, with each annual cycle.
"As opposed to monoculture where, after successive cycles of farming, the soil is depleted of vital nutrients, permaculture could maximize output with minimal resource input, while constantly adding to soil fertility", says Chandra.
“According to ESMA data, about 2,356 organic products were registered within a mere six months last year - up 53 per cent in a quarter to quarter comparison. Such promising figures are indicative of UAE's potential to ascend up the organic farming value chain, and we believe Dake Rechsand can play a transformative role in this journey," Chandra concludes.