Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

Al Ain and Liwa Historical Date Palm Oases, United Arab Emirates

GIAHS since 2015


Detailed Information



Site location:   Al Ain and Liwa Historical Date Palm Oases – United Arab Emirates

Area of GIAHS: 350 ha for Al Ain and 70 km for Liwa

Population working for this system: -

Topological Characteristics: non fertile sandy soils

Climatic Classification: dry sub-tropical and high temperature climate

Ethnic Groups/Indigenous People: -

Primary Income Sources: tourism

Global importance

Al Ain and Liwa historical date palm oases are part of the agricultural heritage of the country. They constitute as globally significant in-situ repositories of date palm genetic resources, and are home to ancient falaj irrigation systems, which bear testimony to human agricultural and technological ingenuity.

Developed over millennia to create sustainable palm-based agricultural systems, these oases are not relevant anymore for the food needs of the country as most of the products are imported. However, knowledge and genetic resources are still a wealth to keep alive and to valorize in a growing touristic region.

Food and livelihood security

In the pre-oil era, dates trade had contributed to the livelihood of local communities for a long period. However its contribution to the livelihood in the communities is relatively diminishing due to wealth based on oil revenues. Still, dates and other agricultural products are the main source of food and nutrition in the communities. Indeed, 73% of Liwans are still employed in agriculture.

UAE is the seventh major date producing country in the world, with 6% of the world's total date production. Date palm accounts for 15% of total area of crop cultivation in UAE, with Al Ain and Liwa occupying the central role for national date production. Nevertheless, most of the country’s food needs are imported from other parts of the world.

Biodiversity and ecosystem functions

The Arabian Peninsula is both a center of origin for the date palm and also historically the most important production zone for date palm, with the highest sophistication and diversity of date consumption. According to recent estimates, there are at least 200 cultivars of date palms in the UAE, of which some 70 are economically salient.

Besides date palm, Al Ain and Liwa oases also harbour a range of fruit species such as lemon, orange, mango, banana, grapes, figs and pomegranate. Also, field crops such as alfalfa, wheat, and barley are cultivated as well as vegetables including eggplant, onion, tomatoes, carrots etc.

Knowledge systems and adapted technologies

First of all, the oasis agro-ecosystem is a standard model for a spatially heterogeneous, three-layered inter-cropping system of date palms, fruit trees and annual crops. The composition and configuration of the three-layer system creates different profiles of horizontal wind speed, relative air temperature and relative air humidity.

Moreover, Aflaj irrigation system is traditional man made channels, found both above and below ground, used to collect groundwater, spring water and surface water and transport it, by gravity, to a demand area. Most of them are subterranean and are constructed channels, which are accessed via vertical shafts. Their source is a mother well, which feeds the main channel by gravity. However, none of the Al Ain Aflaj is currently working fully under natural flow conditions, rather they are now largely supplemented from pumped groundwater.

Cultures, value systems and social organization

To this day, the areas are considered by many to be the spiritual heart of the region. Like no other religion, Islam holds dates and the date palm in great esteem. The Holy Koran mentions dates and the date palm in many suras (chapters) and verses. Daily fasting during Ramadan is broken every evening with the fruit.

Oases are also part of the culture in the desert. The trunks of date palms are providing construction material for different purposes, notably for traditional Arish houses, the authentic Emirati architecture with a 7,000-year history of human habitation in the Arabian Peninsula.

Remarkable Landscapes, Land and Water resources Management features

Oases have shaped the landscapes is the desert and allowed the settlement of communities. Being Green Island in this dry region, oases are the first step of cities’ development until the 60’s before oil was discovered. Because of its extensive oases, tree-lines avenues and numerous parks, Al Ain is often referred to as the “the garden city”. Al Ain is the second largest city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in the fourth largest in the United Arab Emirates.