Alternative technologies to boost Mideast farming

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

"Industry experts have long advocated continued investment in relevant technology and equipment to increase the region's ability to produce food locally and reduce reliance on imported produce," said Goutam Malhotra, Exhibition Manager, 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 under way in Abu Dhabi, for example, that 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, to be held on March 29 to 31, 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 comprising 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 are 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."


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