Issues: Withering agricultural farms
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A worker shows the date palm trees that have withered due to diseases and shortage of water in a farm in Manama area of Ajman.
Al Dhaid, which once had a lot of green farms with tall trees all around, is today turning into a flat-land with hundreds of agricultural farms dried up because of lack of water.
The city on the Sharjah-Fujairah Highway was surrounded by over 2,000 cultivating pieces of land and private farmhouses, and was one of the largest sources of green products in the country.
Recently, a uae newspaper toured the area, visited a number of farms around Al Dhaid (Sharjah), Falaj Al Mu’alla (Umm Al Quwain), Siji (Fujairah), Naseem and Manama (Ajman) and Madam (Sharjah) and spoke to farmers to learn about the causes behind the dying agricultural fields. In every five farms, only one was found with green trees — some with only a few.
Twenty-five to 30 years ago, both Al Dhaid and Ras Al Khaimah were the lush green fields of the country. From Al Dhaid to Ras Al Khaimah, there were farms everywhere with cultivation throughout the year because of more frequent rains and seasonal rivers bringing water from the nearby Hajar Mountains. During those days, agriculture was one of the most important sectors of Ras Al Khaimah, while Dhaid was famous for its green farmhouses.
Where has water gone?
“All these farms are dying because of shortage of water. The level of ground water, which has been the main source for these farms, has gone to over 1,500 metres down,” said Abdullah Saleh, a farmer from Yemen who has lived in the area since his childhood.
Explaining the reason for drying farms, an official from the Al Dhaid Municipality said the water table has gone down due to over-exploitation of ground water and no rain.
The official, who requested anonymity, explained: “Al Dhaid, Ras Al Khaimah and other nearby areas had more rain than other parts of the country, supporting the underground reserves. The rivers were also more frequently flooded with water that were diverted to storage facilities and then supplied to these farms.
“Today, we have little rain and the rivers are also dried up as no water comes from the nearby mountains. Another reason is over-exploitation of ground waters at these farms, which has dropped the limited reserves level deep underground.”
However, he added, the government is drawing a plan for the farmers that assures supplies and educates farmers how to use the water wisely.
Good old days
Each of the farms had 200 to 2,500 palm trees, 50 to 100 mango, lemon and chikoo trees in addition to vegetables and a variety of melons.
According to Saleh, during good days, each farm had three to ten workers. “But today, there is only one farmer in each farm doing a watchman’s job and protecting the remaining trees and plants.”
Dad Mohammed, another farmer who has been working in the area for almost 30 years, said a large number of farms were turned into scrap yards or those to keep animals. “Those farms where animals and birds — sheep, goats, hens and roosters — are kept are supplied with water by tankers and their feed is brought from nearby markets,” he explained.
Mohammed said the farm where he works had 500 palm trees, 50 mango and 70 chikoo trees and a huge number of wild almond trees earlier. “Today, we have about 200 surviving palms but only 50 of them are productive. Only one mango and ten chikoo trees are left while not a single wild almond tree has survived because of water shortage and simmering heat,” he regrets.
Samir Dadal also has a similar story to narrate. He works in a nearby farm which had 2,500 palm trees and a huge number of mango and lemon trees when water was not a problem.
He added: “Before, we had great harvests. Our farm used to earn from Dh80,000 to Dh200,000 each season from dates alone. Now there is a limited number of productive palm trees. From the yield, we keep some dates for ourselves, some are taken by the owner and the rest are distributed by him among his friends and relatives.”
Another farmer, Pasand Abbas, said the situation is getting worse as owners also have little interest in their farms. “There was a time when owners along with their family members never missed to visit their farmhouses during weekends. Now the owners come here only once in a month, to bring us ration and to hand over our salaries,” he said.