‘Green’ crops could revolutionise Middle East agriculture

Published March 8th, 2010 - 10:34 GMT

Rising energy prices, global warming add new dimension, say organisers of region’s biggest agribusiness event

Alternative technologies and new green crops could revolutionise agriculture in the Middle East, say the organisers of the region’s biggest agri-business trade event.

“Industry experts have long advocated continued investment in relevant technology and equipments to increase the region’s ability to produce food locally and reduce reliance on imported produce,” said Goutam Malhotra, Exhibition Manager for AGRA Middle East.

“But a new dimension has now been added to the Middle East agricultural scene by rising energy prices and concern over global warming. A project is underway in Abu Dhabi, for example, which could see a salt-tolerant salad plant provide food, fodder and fuel without using a single drop of freshwater,” he added.

AGRA Middle East at the Dubai World Trade Centre from 29-31 March 2010 is the region’s biggest agribusiness event. The show covers five closely linked sectors – agribusiness; poultry and livestock; fishing and aquaculture; horticulture and floriculture; machinery and supplies.

The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project in Abu Dhabi will include fish farming and a mangrove plantation and is being run by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to demonstrate the viability of using saltwater agriculture to provide fuel.  The project will create an ecosystem comprised of fish ponds, salicornia fields and mangrove swamps.

Technology from UOP Honeywell will convert the oil from salicornia plants – known in haute cuisine as samphire - into biofuels. The project is also being funded by Boeing and Etihad Airways.  Salicornia seeds have nearly double the oil content of soya bean. The seeds harvested and pressed to make vegetable oil, or processed to yield agro-fuel. The remaining biomass can be used as protein feed for livestock while the plant's stalks can be used as fodder or building material.

“The consequences of technology and crops such as these could be staggering for Middle East agriculture,” said Malhotra. “Unproductive arid land could be utilised, conserving valuable freshwater resources and provide major economic returns.

“This remarkable saltwater project underlines the continuing need for investment in the agricultural technology sector, he added. For example, to counteract the effects of climate change on nutrition, North Africa and the Middle East requires additional annual investment of $240-$270 million, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.”

The Middle East is a significant consumer market for poultry, dairy and livestock products. Currently, the region largely relies on imports to satisfy an aggregate demand estimated at more than 1.5 million tonnes of poultry alone. More than 60% of the total meat requirements of the region are met through imports.

Per capita consumption of seafood in the Middle East is also high and fresh and processed seafood products are widely available throughout the region. “The fishing resources of the Arabian Gulf provide for a substantial fishing industry but responsible management of the industry and its finite resource is paramount,” said Malhotra.

“In addition, the horticulture and floriculture industries now ensure supermarket shelves display a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, cut flowers are available in great variety and the landscaping of gardens and public spaces are integral to every major property development. In a region with limited water resource, the technology and infrastructure required to service the growing floriculture and horticulture needs of the community are vital.”

AGRA Middle East is supported by the Ministry of Environment and Water, Dubai Municipality and Dubai Flower Centre and sponsored by Dubiotech. For more information about Agra Middle East, please visit www.agramiddleeast.com

VET Middle East, a dedicated event for the growing veterinary market in the Middle East, will be co-located with AGRA Middle East presenting the latest veterinary technologies, equipment, medicines and services. For more details, please visit www.vetmiddleeast.com


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