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United Arab Emirates

Economy, agriculture and food security

In 2005, the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United Arab Emirates was US$129.7 billion. The main source of income is the revenue from oil exports. The total economically active population was 2.7 million (59 percent of the total population), of which 86 percent was male and 14 percent female. Agriculture employed an estimated 4 percent of the labour force and accounted for 2 percent of the country’s GDP. The entire labour force working in agriculture is male.

For management purposes, the former Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) (current Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW)) has divided the area it covers (i.e. all the Emirates except Abu Dhabi) into three zones or districts as follows: Eastern (Fujayrah and Shariqah), Central (Dubai, Part of Shariqah, Umm Al Qaywayn, Ajman and part of Ras Al Khaymah), and Northern (most of Ras Al Khaymah). This division is not related to the borders of the Emirates or any other administrative partitioning. The total number of farms in the UAE is 38 548 (2003), of which 60 percent in Abu Dhabi, 16 percent in the Central and Eastern zones and the remainder in the Northern zone. Farms produce primarily date palms, fodder and vegetable crops. The government purchases date production from farmers at a maximum of 70 kg per tree and at a price depending on quality. Fodder production is also purchased by the government but only in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. In the other emirates, fodder is sold in the local market for local consumption or for export to neighbouring countries. The same applies to vegetable crops throughout the country.

In each of the three zones it covers, the MAF has a centre staffed with engineers and technicians to support farmers. The services to farmers focus on the provision of subsidies, for example for cultivation (free of charge), crop protection (50 percent free with the exception of general campaigns which are totally free), veterinary services and fertilizers (50 percent free). This system of subsidies does not concern private companies specialized in the intensive production of vegetable crops. Some extension advisory services are also provided, but they deal mainly with agricultural practices; advisory services for irrigation are actually lacking for several reasons including the fact that the extension staff are not qualified in this area. The number of extension agents is 46, 8, 13 and 13, respectively in Abu Dhabi, the Eastern, the Central and the Northern zones (FAO, 2004).

In the UAE, traditional knowledge and traditions are very important. While creating a modern country, the government aims to conserve the heritage of the past. Today’s UAE residents come from different Arabian groups, some of which had a traditional nomadic lifestyle, breeding camels and goats; most of them were settled in the Liwa Oasis to work in simple agriculture and palm plantations. In the coastal area, groups used to work in fishing and pearl hunting. In the Al Ain Oasis, other groups work in agriculture, especially in date plantations using underground water and aflaj irrigation. In the northern emirates where, relatively, there is more rainfall, people can work in agriculture all year round. In the Hajjar Mountains of Al Fujayrah, terrace farming is practised, while in Dubai, Shariqah & Galfar (Ras Al Khaymah) people are trading with boats and modern ships (MOEW, 2006).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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