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Analysis of Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates

Table of Contents

  • Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates
  • Agricultural Imports and Exports of UAE
  • Imports
  • Al Dahra, United Arab Emirates
  • Al Dahra Al Ain Branch
  • Al Dahra UAE Farms
  • Al Dahra Dairy and Animal Production
  • Al Dahra Trading Forage
  • Agriculture and fishing
  • References

Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates

Most of the UAE’s cultivated land is taken up by date palms, which in the early 1990s numbered about 4 million. They are cultivated in the arc of small oases that constitute the Al Liwa Oasis. Both federal and emirate governments provide incentives to farmers. For example, the government offers a 50 percent subsidy on fertilizers, seeds, and pesticides. It also provides loans for machinery and technical assistance (Al-Deeb & Enan, 2010). The emirates have forty-one agricultural extension units as well as several experimental farms and agricultural research stations. The number of farmers rose from about 4,000 in the early 1970s to 18,265 in 1988.

Lack of arable land, intense heat, periodic locust swarms, and limited water supplies are the main obstacles to agriculture. The drive to increase the area under cultivation has resulted in the rapid depletion of underground aquifers, resulting in precipitous drops in water tables and serious increases in soil and water salinity in some areas. As a result, several farms have been forced to cease production. Despite the creation in 1983 of a federal authority to control drilling for water, development pressures in the 1980s and 1990s increased the exploitation of underground water supplies.

Between 1979 and 1985, agricultural production increased sixfold. Nevertheless, the UAE imported about 70 percent of its food requirements in the early 1990s. The major vegetable crops, supplying nearly all the country’s needs during the season, are tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, squash, and cauliflower. Ras al-Khaimah produces most of the country’s vegetables. In addition to dates, the major fruit crops are citrus and mangoes. A vegetable canning facility in Al Ain has a processing capacity of 120 tons per day.

Poultry farms provided 70 percent of local requirements for eggs and 45 percent of poultry meat needed in 1989. Local dairies produced more than 73,000 tons of milk in 1991, meeting 92 percent of domestic demand.

Considerable revenues have been devoted to forestation, public landscaping, and parks. Trees and shrubs are distributed free to schools, government offices, and residents. Afforestation companies receive contracts to plant plots in the range of 200 to 300 hectares. The goals are to improve the appearance of public places as well as to prevent the desertification process in vulnerable agricultural areas.

Lying in the heart of the world’s arid zone, the UAE has little rainfall and one would expect it to be a barren place. Barren places there certainly are, but the process of desertification has very largely been arrested in the country. It is now possible to see forests, fields of grass and wheat where once there were only desert sands and winds. The UAE has a long tradition of agriculture in its oases where crops have been grown for 5000 years. Underground water was chandelled to palm groves and small fields and the technique is still used today.

Since the formation of the UAE in 1971, this small scale traditional farming has been complemented by investment that has seen thousands of hectares being cultivated. In the past 25 years, the country’s population has increased ten-fold and agricultural production has kept pace with this growth. The country is self-sufficient in salad crops and poultry for much of the year and even exports crops to markets in Europe.

Most of the UAE’s agricultural production comes from four areas: from in and around Al Ain, from a narrow but fertile strip along the east coast, from the oasis of Dhaid east of Sharjah and from the gravel plains in Ras al Khaimah. According to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, agricultural production stands at over Dh 2 billion per year. An average crop season yields over 600,000 tons of crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, lettuce, cabbage and animal feed. Studies have shown that much of the country’s soil can be cultivated provided there is water and as a result, there has been an extensive programme to drill water wells. The government will prepare land for local farmers which they are then given free along with seeds, machinery and advice on pest control.

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There is also government-funded research on different crops to see how they adapt to the local climate. In an attempt to conserve and use as much water as possible in as many ways as possible, the government has embarked on a three-part programme designed to make the most advantageous use of this scarce resource. First, farmers are given advice on how to reduce their consumption of water, mainly through trickle irrigation. Desalinated water as well as recycled and purified sewage effluent is used. Second, with the help of the United States Geological Survey, the government is searching for new aquifers and monitoring current rates of extraction. Third and last, to prevent the waste of valuable rainwater, retention dams have been constructed in many areas.

These store the water until it can be used for irrigation. Tens of millions of gallons of rainwater are being retained by the dams already built throughout the Emirates. In the long run, of course, it is realized that desalinated water will provide the bulk of agricultural water. There is more to agriculture than simply growing crops. One area that has seen dramatic growth is the keeping of poultry for meat and eggs. The same is true of dairy products. Herds of imported cattle have adapted to the climate and are now producing milk, cheese and yogurt for the local market. The presence of trees and gardens in the UAE is always noticed and commented upon by visitors. Over 10 million trees have been planted plus more than 18 million palm trees. In all the cities and towns of the UAE, there have been beautification campaigns with the creation of parks and gardens for the local people.

Any householder, even those in flats, can get free plants from the Municipality under a programme that distributes thousands of plants annually. Besides the greening of the cities and towns there has also been a massive programme in the desert and it is here that most of the trees have been planted. Flying over the desert, one now sees great patches of green where formerly there was only sand. All kinds of arid region plants, both local and imported, have been planted and as they grow to maturity, their roots reach down to the natural water supply. When this happens, they will be able to survive with little care and attention. The face of the land and the environment too have been changed. Wildlife flourishes as do native plants and animals. The UAE was never purely and simply a desert. Today it has become a place where greenery can be seen in both urban and rural areas. Twenty years of dedicated commitment have made the point that the process of desertification is reversible. And given time and money, that is exactly what has happened and is continuing to happen.

The agriculture in UAE is reserved to dates, vegetables, fish, eggs and dairy products (Ministry of Foreign trade, 2011). Tunnel farming is the way forward to agriculture in UAE, more and more people are learning the techniques involved in tunnel farming. For a country like UAE which is a desert the land available for farming is limited, and the water resources are also limited, therefore using the latest technologies in farming plays a vital role in controlling the supply and demand of agricultural products in UAE.

Water plays an important role in increasing or decreasing the supply of local agricultural products in UAE. One of the studies revealed that the consumption of water in UAE on individual basis is one of the highest in the world (Gornall & Tordorova, 2009). For a country with already a very low export of agricultural products and local production, high water consumption makes it even more complex to cater for shortages of agricultural products in UAE. The Government in UAE is involved in discovering new ways to increase the land available for cultivation by using desert reclamation initiatives (Salama, 2008). The government has a history of investing in tree planting schemes and irrigation systems to increase the total agricultural production of UAE. The planting schemes involve planting trees which help crops to survive wind and also stop soil erosion, the schemes also involve initiatives to plant shrubs and date palms. According to figures released by Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, UAE is producing 600,000 tonnes of crops approximately which include, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, aubergines, cabbages and feed for livestock (Al-Mulla, 2011). The Government of UAE is rapidly increasing the land available for cultivation by converting desert into cultivated land one of the example is the 40,500 hectares of land available for cultivation along the Liwa Oasis, which has been converted from dessert into cultivatable land, in UAE there are more than 6,000 greenhouses and 22,700 farms.

UAE is also committed to invest in agriculture overseas on islands and other parts of the world, because 85 per cent of the agricultural products in UAE are imported which include wheat, rice and corn. This is a major threat faced by a country set to become the business hub of the world with an increasing population, therefore the supply and demand forces play a major role in agriculture in UAE. Another strategy followed by UAE to tackle food shortages is to create food storage facilities where large quantities of agricultural products could be stored for longer time periods.

Agricultural Imports and Exports of UAE

UAE is the largest importer of agricultural products in the region and the imports of agricultural product in UAE will increase this year following the drought in the major exporters of agricultural products in the world which are Russia and Ukraine. Consequently rapidly changing the demand and supply of agricultural products in UAE and presents a major challenge for the Government to deal with supply and demand forces in Agricultural products.

The global food crisis has reached alarming situation posing a major threat to economies with increasing population and consumption of agricultural products. Also the major suppliers of world agricultural products will experience a reduction in their yield of agricultural products this year due to draughts in different parts of the world.


UAE is the largest importer of agricultural products in the Gulf, the consumers of UAE have the highest consumption when it comes to consuming water and other agricultural products. Due to limited resources for agricultural activities the country has to heavily rely on agricultural imports from all over the world. UAE is also used as a re-export hub of the world many suppliers buy their products from underdeveloped or developing countries of the world with trade restrictions and then bring the products to UAE enabling them to ship the products anywhere in world, the geographic location of UAE makes it attractive for suppliers from all over the world for re-exports (Ashraf, Q̈ztürk & Ahmad, 2010).

Al Dahra, United Arab Emirates

In 1995, Al Dahra began its humble operations in Al Ain. Over the years, the company has achieved tremendous growth and expansion in business activities. This resulted in the shifting of its headquarters to Abu Dhabi; which controls all regional and world-wide offices.

The strategic partnership with Abu Dhabi Municipality has helped Al Dahra to provide the region with high quality produce, based on an efficient supply chain system. This partnership is based on a mutually beneficial association in terms of   innovation, flexibility and the united vision of both entities.  Al Dahra UAE operates state-of-the-art farms whose activities include: Farm production, Dairy & Animal production and trading in Forage (Assi, Al-Shamisi & Jama, 2010).

Al Dahra Al Ain Branch

Analysis of Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates

In its expansive, lush green farms in Alain, Al Dahra produces the best variety of fruits and vegetables for the UAE market. This has helped to achieve a Market Dominance complemented by the drive towards perfection. Notable factors are

14 farms produce fruits, vegetables, dates

Ecologically compliant Green houses spread over 2000 acres of land

Al Dahra UAE Farms

Analysis of Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates

Bearing in mind, the commitment towards a healthier society, Al Dahra farms offer the finest products which are fresh and organically produced. A few of them, from our hamper are

Fruits : Apples, strawberries, sweet melons, watermelons, mangos, olives, dates

Vegetables: All kinds of lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, capsicum, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage and different kinds of herbs


Al Dahra Dairy and Animal Production

Analysis of Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates

The initial operation of the company was the importing and distribution of high quality hay as cattle feed for the local market requirements. By broadening our horizon to include both large and small scale sectors of the market; Al Dahra has proved its competency and managerial skills at all levels.

Achievements in Dairy and Animal production:

  • 3,300 milk producing cows
  • 3,500 sheep
  • Main Supplier of Dairy products to Dairy companies in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain
  • Production plants of Milk & Organic Cheeses

Al Dahra Trading Forage

Analysis of Agriculture in the United Arab Emirates

As a company, we may have reached new pinnacles of success but we strive to remain rooted to our initial business operative of importing high quality forage.  We have maintained the highest standards for all imports of feed, sourcing it from credible and viable companies across the globe.
One of the largest operations in the UAE for importing and distribution of Forage, Al Dahra is proud to obtain 25% of the UAE market share. Only about 81,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of land are cultivated. About 24% of cultivated land is used to grow vegetables, 30% fruit, 10% feed crops, and 36% for other uses. The most productive region is Ra’s al-Khaimah, which receives underground water supplies from the nearby mountains of Oman and which enjoys the most plentiful rainfall. The main crops are tomatoes, melons, and dates.

The Digdagga Agricultural Trials Station in Ra’s al-Khaimah is central to all agricultural research and training efforts in the UAE. Abu Dhabi has two large wheat farms at Al ‘Ayn, and experimental farms at Rawaya and Mazaid (near Al ‘Ayn) are designed to encourage local Bedouins to take up settled farming. The Abu Dhabi Arid Land Research Center on Sadiyat Island produces vegetables through special irrigation and hydroponic techniques. In 1999, UAE agriculture produced 1,055,000 tons of vegetables and melons, and 358,000 tons of fruit. Produce includes citrus, mangos, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, peppers, and fodder crops.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries reported a 48% increase in vegetable production between 1992 and 1995. Dates, traditionally grown on oases by nomads, are becoming less important because of vegetable and fruit production. In 1999, the UAE produced 295,000 tons of dates. The UAE currently satisfies about 60% of its domestic fruit and vegetable demand; bans on imports of certain vegetables and government incentives and subsidies are used to encourage domestic production. Roses and chrysanthemums are grown for export to Europe.

Agriculture and Fishing

Agricultural production—centred largely in the emirates of Raʾs al-Khaymah and Al-Fujayrah, in the two exclaves of ʿAjmān, and at Al-ʿAyn—has expanded considerably through the increased use of wells and pumps to provide water for irrigation. However, agriculture contributes only a small fraction of gross domestic product (GDP) and employs less than one-tenth of the workforce. Dates are a major crop, as are tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants, and the United Arab Emirates is nearly self-sufficient in fruit and vegetable production. The country also produces enough eggs, poultry, fish, and dairy products to meet its own needs but must import most other foodstuffs, notably grains. The Arid Lands Research Centre at Al-ʿAyn experiments with raising crops in a desert environment. Most commercial fishing is concentrated in Umm al-Qaywayn, and the emirates have one of the largest fishing sectors in the Arab world.

  • Al-Deeb, M. A., & Enan, M. R. (2010). First record of a phoretic astigmatid mite (Sancassania sp.; Acaridae: Astigmata) on Oryctes agamemnon (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) in UAE. Int. J. Agric. Biol.12, 157-160.
  • Al-Mulla, M. (2011, November). UAE State of the Water Report. In 2nd Arab Water Forum (pp.20-23).
  • Ashraf, M., Q̈ztürk, M. A., & Ahmad, M. S. A. (2010). Plant adaptation and phytoremediation. Dordrecht: Springer.
  • Assi, A., Al-Shamisi, M., & Jama, M. (2010, May). Prediction of monthly average daily global solar radiation in Al Ain City–UAE using artificial neural networks. In Proceedings of the 25th European photovoltaic solar energy conference (pp. 508-512).
  • Bailis, R., & Yu, E. (2012). Environmental and social implications of integrated seawater agriculture systems producing Salicornia bigelovii for biofuel.Biofuels3(5), 555-574.
  • Shahin, S. M., & Salem, M. A. (2014). The cost of landscaping beauty in the United Arab Emirates (UAE): Call for quick actions to save the irrigation resources. Proceedings of ICMTSET.


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