Abu Dhabi: The Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development has launched a programme called “Ziraai” to support citizens working in the agricultural sector by providing training and marketing services, and giving interest-free loan of up to Dh1 million to each farmer.

The programme, which is in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Centre, was held under the guidance of Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council.

“This programme aims to cultivate growth in the agricultural sector by helping our farmers to improve the marketability, profitability and efficiency of their farms through cutting edge technology — for instance by switching to innovative methods that reduce water consumption,” said Hussain Jassim Al Nowais, Chairman of the Khalifa Fund.

Under the programme, farmers will be given incentives to go for modern agricultural methods such as adopting a hydroponics system that can reduce water consumption by up to 80 per cent. This will in turn lead to an increase in the number of productive farms, as land that was previously considered non-productive becomes more viable to farm.

He also pointed out other benefits of the programme, such as reducing the negative effects of soil salt on agricultural products, and contributing to the transfer of sophisticated water management technology in the agricultural sector.

Al Noawais also said that there will be a reduction in electricity consumption in the agricultural sector, as an improvement in the nation’s food security would lead to a reduction in the country’s food imports.

Specifications and packages

The programme will apply to agricultural land of up to 2,000 square metres, with water not exceeding a salinity of 500 ppm.

Eight greenhouses will be irrigated, and a minimum contribution of not less than 5 per cent of the farmer’s total expenses for services and facilities will be made.

The Khalifa Fund will finance applicants who fulfil all conditions, with a loan of up to Dh1 million (interest-free). The Fund will also provide additional facilities, and give a grace period of up to two years before repayment starts. A flexible schedule of payments will be offered, spanning up to 60 months.

Al Nowais explained that the Fund has designed packages of services including organising training and knowledge transfer in collaboration with Abu Dhabi Farmers’ Services Centre for services and non-financial facilities.

The specialised training courses will include accounting skills and the preparation of budgets, resource management among others. The farmers will be exempt from several types of fees from relevant authorities, in order to boost them and help their farms thrive, he added.

The Khalifa Fund will also provide a marketing services programme which will include a package of marketing facilities to help the farmers sell their produce at the best possible prices and obtain the most attractive returns through smart partnerships with a number of major retail outlets.

The facilities include exemption from registration fees applicable to other suppliers, and the farmers will receive preference in low prices. Farmers will also be able to collect their payments within two weeks instead of the normal 90 days, which will improve their cash flow and minimise the cost transfer from the farm to the retail outlets.

The Fund has signed a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding for marketing farm products that are funded and supported by the Khalifa Fund, covering cooperative societies, major shopping centres and others.