Bulletin 14 - July 1981: Afforestation and Agricultural Development in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi

Afforestation and Agricultural Development in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi

by M.I. Khan

1 Introduction

Except for the Liwa oasis, little afforestation or agricultural development work had been undertaken prior to 1975 either in the private or in the public sector in the Western region of Abu Dhabi. Work on the implementation of a number of afforestation projects in the public sector started in 1975. Extreme saline, arid and desert conditions prevailing in the Western region of Abu Dhabi make it the most difficult area for agricultural development in the whole of the United Arab Emirates. However, in spite of the harsh climatic and edaphic environmental conditions prevalent in this area, and after tackling various problems suitably, a substantial amount of progress has been achieved in the field of agricultural development over the past five years.

2. Review of Work 1975-80

Both the Forestry and Agriculture Departments of Abu Dhabi Municipality have their development projects in the Western region. The Forestry Department executes its afforestation and plantation projects either directly by employing its own technical staff and labour or by contracting with qualified International afforestation and landscaping companies. More than a dozen afforestation companies are so engaged at present in various parts of the Western region. The area of the individual afforestation projects leased out to the companies varies from 200 to 500 hectares. The companies are required to complete initial plantation operations in a period of one and a half years and then maintain the plantation of the desired species comprising mostly 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) 'Samar' (Acacia tortlis) and 'Sidr' (Zizyphys spinachristi) for a period of two years. After the successful culmination of the projects at the conclusion of the contract period of about three and half years, the plantations raised by the companies are handed over to the Forestry Department for subsequent maintenance and management. There are twenty-one projects covering a total area of over 7000 hectares now being executed by the companies in the Western region of Abu Dhabi. Of this, over 2000 hectares have been planted todate and the remaining 5000 hectares are in the process of being laid out and afforested.

As regards the direct projects, the Forestry Department in the Western region of Abu Dhabi is handling 27 projects spread allover the Western region including the Liwa oasis. The total area covered is over 5000 hectares and of this some 3000 hectares have already been planted and are being maintained and managed at present. The total area of the direct afforestation and plantation projects in the charge of the Agriculture Department is about 6000 hectares. Completed plantation of about 3000 hectares is reported up to the end of 1980. Thus a total of about 18000 hectares in the public sector is earmarked at the moment to be afforested in the Western region and of this over 8000 hectares have since been planted during the last about five years. The number of plants growing on the afforested area owned by the Government in the Western region is more than 1,600,000 at this juncture.

A good deal of planting with date palms and tree species has also been carried out on private farms and land holdings belonging to local people, especially in the Liwa area. During the last 5 years, a large number of tree seedlings were supplied to meet this local demand from government owned nurseries. The tree seedlings have been generally utilized to raise shelterbelts or wind breaks on private lands. The cultivation of date palms has also been considerably extended on private lands especially in the Liwa oasis during the last about 5 years.

Al Bujair Nursery

Among the various afforestation projects being executed in the Western region mention may be made of the Al Bujair nursery project which was started in 1977 to produce primarily tree seedlings required for our afforestation projects. The ground water at Al Bujair happens to contain less than 2000 parts per million of total dissolved salts which has been used to raise tree seedlings in a sheltered and partially covered nursery area of about one hectare, at the foot of a large sand dune, a few kilometers to the east of Beda Zayed-Liwa road. Al Bujair nursery can produce up to 300,000 transplantable tree seedlings annually. It is the main source of tree seedlings and plants of fodder bushes like Atriplex used in the afforestation projects of the Forestry Department and those distributed amongst the local farmers in the Western region. At Beda Saif, not far from Al Bujair, along the Beda Saif-Liwa road, a set of four green-houses each covering an area of 750 square meters is now being erected to enable us to have controlled environmental conditions for raising nursery plants and other plant material which could not be easily propagated earlier in the open nurseries.

Beda Zayed - Liwa Road Shelterbelt Project

A brief reference may also be made to the Beda Zayed - Liwa Road side shelterbelt project started towards the end of 1980. This project has been designed to protect the asphalted Liwa road which passes through high sand dune country by raising a protective tree shelterbelt for a distance of 55 kilometers from Beda Zayed township to Muzeira village, the present terminus of the Liwa road. The wind break will be raised with arid zone tree species in a 200 meters wide strip all along the windward i.e. the north western side of the Liwa road. It involves levelling of extremely uneven high sand dune terrain with heavy earth moving machinery for a distance of 55 kilometers and includes cutting, carriage and filling of hundreds of millions of cubic meters of dune sand and earth. The area to be levelled and planted in the form of a protective shelterbelt will cover about 1100 hectares. The project is expected to be completed in 1983.

Date Gardens

One of the plantation activities of both the Forestry and Agriculture Departments in the Western region is to raise date gardens which after their completion are allotted by the Government to local inhabitants and are handed over to them to be worked as their date palm and agricultural farms. These date farms cover an area of. either about 2 hectares (160m x 130m) or about 1.5 hectares (152m x 100m) each. Along the outer boundary of these date gardens is planted a shelterbelt of arid zone tree species like 'Ghaf' and 'Sidr' which is followed by another two peripheral rows of date plants at the spacing of 8m x 8m. Thus, the 2 hectares date garden contains 126 date plants and the 1.S hectare date garden is planted with 110 date plants. The central unplanted area of these farms measuring about 0.5 to 1 hectare is laid out with lined channels and is meant to be cultivated by the farm allottees for raising fodder and vegetable crops as required by them. The trees in the shelterbelts and the date trees are irrigated through drip irrigation system but the cultivation of agricultural crops in the middle of the farm is carried out by basin irrigation of small plots measuring about 16m x 4m laid out on the two sides of the lined irrigation channels. Fodder crops like lucerne, barley, sorgham millet, maize and sugar cane have been successfully raised on these farms. Vegetable crops like tomatoes, egg plants, carrots, radishes, cauliflower, cabbage, musk melons and water melons etc. are also being grown.

Whereas the Forestry Department is executing two date garden projects at Medina Zayed and at Al Kharima (Liwa) , the Agriculture Department date garden projects are located at Giathee, Beda Zayed, Zafra and Liwa. 105 date gardens at Giathee, 90 date gardens at Beda Zayed, 35 date gardens at Zafra and 30 date gardens at Liwa have been completed. Most of these have been handed over to local inhabitants for cultivation and management. The completed 260 date gardens at various places contain about 32,000 date plants. More date gardens are being laid out and raised at the above mentioned places for ultimate allotment to local people.

Raising of Fodder and Vegetable Crops and Fruit Trees

Besides cultivating these in the date gardens, a number of vegetable and fodder crops have also been raised successfully in sheltered localities in many of our afforestations projects. The limit of salinity without too adversely affecting the yield of these crops appears to be total dissolved salts up to 6000 ppm. However, as the sandy desert soils are deficient in organic matter and mineral nutrients they are to be treated with heavy doses of organic manure and chemical fertilizers for their proper development and successful cultivation.

The growing of fruit trees such as grafted 'Sidr', fig, pomegranate, citrus, guava, mangoes and phalsa etc. has also been attempted recently in a few places in the Western region. The high salinity of the soil and water appears to affect the establishment and growth of many fruit species adversely. Most of the fruit species grown at Al Bujair where the salinity of the ground water i.e. TDS is less than 2000 ppm appear to be doing better than other places with comparatively more brackish water. About 50 'sidr' plants grafted in situ with scions of superior varieties are doing well at Bujair and Beda Saif and have already started bearing good quality fruit.

Range Development

In the afforested area managed by the Forestry and Agriculture Departments, interplanting with fodder bushes such as Atriplex, 'Arta' (Calligonum comosum), 'Markh' (Leptadenia pyrotechnica) etc. is also being carried out. These fodder bushes are planted in between the tree species and are irrigated by drip irrigation. The bushes are repeatedly cut to provide green fodder for domestic livestock. They also provide feed for the natural and in some places introduced wildlife in the forest plantations.

A project for range development has recently been initiated by the Agriculture Department in the Bainuna area of the Western region. The area of these range improvement blocks which have been recently fenced is about 25000 hectares. It is planned to carry out plantation and range development operations in these large enclosed blocks to restore them to their full potential as natural grazing grounds. The project started in 1979 is in its initial stages at present.

Conserving and Developing in the Existing Natural Vegetation

Some pockets of natural vegetation consisting of 'Ghuram' (Avicennia), 'Arta' (Calligonum comosum) and 'Ghada' (Haloxylon pericum) etc. are still surviving. It will be advisable to demarcate, conserve and develop these patches of natural vegetation before they disappear altogether due to their destruction by increasing pressure of population. They would also be useful as natural grazing grounds and wildlife refuges. Whereas much attention is being given to creating new forests something must be done to protect and conserve the still surviving natural vegetation in some sheltered and favoured localities. Not much has been done to conserve and manage the natural vegetation so far.

Wildlife Introduction and Management

We have at our disposal now some sizeable areas of well stocked forest plantations which are suitable for wildlife introduction and management. A number of indigenous wildlife species like the hare, the fox and birds like the desert sparrow, the dove etc., have grown in numbers in the last few years. The gazelle has also been introduced in some plantations. A suitable wildlife introduction and management plan needs to be prepared and implemented for the afforested areas which can provide adequate feed and shelter for Wildlife in the western region.


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