Bulletin 21 - November 1983: Plant Nurseries in Abu Dhabi

Plant Nurseries in Abu Dhabi

by M.I.R. Khan


The raising and maintenance of plant nurseries in Abu Dhabi is a recent activity which started in the late sixties to provide plants and seedlings for the plantation and afforestation projects which were started about the same time on the initiative and under the directives of H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi. Since then, with the expansion of plantation, agricultural and landscaping projects, the raising of various types of nurseries has made considerable progress in both public and private sectors. More recently, indoor decorative plants are being acquired and kept by an increasing number of people in their offices, shops, business premises, and residential buildings.

The great variety of plants found in Abu Dhabi today are either raised locally or imported from abroad. These latter which are mostly ornamental or fruit plants come from Holland, Belgium, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The indoor ornamental plants come mostly from Holland and a very few from Belgium. There is a fair number of flower shops located in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain which import and sell indoor decorative plants and cut flowers. The cut flowers are imported mostly from Holland though some are brought in from Belgium and Beirut. Fruit plants such as Lemon, Lime and other citrus species, Fig, Olive, Pomegranate, Grapevine, Guava, Chicko, Banana, Phalsa, Graftea Ber, Mango, Jaman, Tamarind, Coconut, Palm, and Date Palm etc. have been imported mostly from Iran, Pakistan and India.

In the following pages a current account of various types of existing plant nurseries both in the public and private sectors of Abu Dhabi Emirate is recorded. The information was collected by the author himself visiting most of the nurseries in September and October 1982. The nurseries of the Western Region including Abu Dhabi, and those of the Eastern Region including AI Ain, are dealt with separately.

Nurseries in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi

Plant nurseries in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi have appeared both in the public and the private sectors. In the public sector the nurseries have been raised by the Agriculture Department and the Forestry Department of the Abu Dhabi Municipality and more recently by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. An up-to-date account of these nurseries in the public sector is given in the following paragraphs:

(a) Public Sector Nurseries:

  1. The Forestry Department has a number of plant nurseries located at different places in the Western region such as at Al Bujair, Al Babha, Madina Zayed, Habshan etc. The largest and the most important nursery of the Forestry Department is situated at Al Bujair in the interior of the desert to the east of the Beda Zayed - Liwa asphalted road. In all these nurseries tree seedings of 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera), 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis), 'Sidr' (Zizyphus spinachristi) and 'Rak' (Salvadora persica) are being raised. The annual production of tree seedlings in these nurseries at present is about 750,000. Recently, the Forestry Department has erected a set of four greenhouses over an area of 3000 square meters at Beda Saif along the Beda Zayed - Liwa road. These greenhouses with a controlled environment are to be used to raise required plants and vegetables.
  2. The Agricultural Department has its plant nurseries both on the island of Abu Dhabi and outside. Its two large nurseries, Khalidya and Manhal nursery along with the greenhouses nursery, are located within Abu Dhabi. They raise both ornamental plants and forest tree seedlings. Its major nursery away from Abu Dhabi island is at Bainoonah. The nurseries in the Western region raise mostly forest tree seedlings. The total annual production of all the nurseries of the Agriculture Department would be of the order of about 4,000,000 plants, about 3,000,000 plants being raised within Abu Dhabi and about 1,000,000 on the mainland.
  3. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is at present in the process of setting up a plant nursery on an area of about 2 hectares at Ruwais. Half of the 1700 nursery beds, each measuring 4 m x 2 m, are covered with Tildenet and half are in the open. There are also two small green-houses covering an area of 600 square meters. This nursery is expected to produce about 1,000,000 ornamental plants annually for the maintenance of the landscaping projects of ADNOC. The layout of the nursery is scheduled to be completed by the contractor by the end of 1982.
  4. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Resources distributed 634 kg of vegetable seeds during 1980 amongst the farmers in the Western region.

(b) Private Sector Nurseries:

Carnival Nursery, Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi
This establishment has about 50,000 plants comprising both forest tree seedlings and Ornamental species. Some are raised locally and others have been imported. The sale price is between Dh 5.00 and Dh 200 per plant. The owner also owns the Carnival Flower Shop which deals in the import and sale of indoor plants and cut flowers.
Khalidiya Nurseries Co., Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi
This contains about 150,000 plants of shade and ornamental species, both raised locally and imported from abroad. The sale price ranges from Dh 5.00 to Dh 200.00 per plant. The owner also runs Ismeliana Flower Shop which imports and sells indoor plants and cut flowers.
Al Mualla Nursery, km35, Beda Zayed - Liwa Road
This private nursery in the Western region is raising about 150,000 forest tree saplings of 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) and 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis) annually. The plants are sold to the afforestation companies in the Western region at Dh 3.50 per plant. The nursery was set up about 2 years ago.
Indoor Decorative Plant Shops in Abu Dhabi
There are a number of Flower shops in Abu Dhabi which import and sell indoor ornamental plants. Plants such as Aralias, Asparagus, Azaleas, Begonia, Coeluses, Crotons, Diffenbachia, Geraniums, Ferns, Hedra, Iris, Lilies, Monstera, Orchids, Philodendron, primulas, Saxifragaceae, Solonaceae, Vitaceae etc. are imported by air and sold at prices ranging from Dh 10/- to Dh 500/- per plant.

The shops dealing in the import and sale of indoor decorative plants in Abu Dhabi visited by the author were:

  1. Abela Supermarket.
  2. Agriculture Materials Co.
  3. Al Ahlia prisunic Supermarket.
  4. Al Hamily Flower Shop.
  5. Carnival Flowers Shop.
  6. Daffodil Flower Shop.
  7. Gardenia Flower Shop.
  8. Green Oasis Co.
  9. Gulf Flowers Exhibition.
  10. Ismeliana Flower Shop.
  11. Jasmine Flower Shop.
  12. Mermaid Industrial Co.
  13. National Industrial Co.
  14. Oleander Flower Shop.
  15. Spinney's Supermarket.
  16. Violetta Flower Shop.
  17. Waad Flower Shop.
  18. White Rose Agri. Est.

The number of indoor decorative plants sold by these shops is estimated to be of the order of about 1.5 to 2 million plants annually.

Recently, the Abu Dhabi Municipality greenhouse nursery has also started producing indoor plants locally. They have also opened a shop to sell these plants to the public. The price of the indoor plants sold at the Municipality shop ranges between Dh 5/- to Dh 50/- per plant.

Nurseries in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi

Both climatic and soil factors are more favourable for plant growth in the Eastern region of Abu Dhabi. Al Ain is a part of the historic Buraimi oasis which has been cultivated since time immemorial. There is considerable scope for the development of agriculture here and in adjoining areas.

Plant nurseries for raising forest tree plants, fruit plants and vegetables seedlings have also grown in both public and private sectors. A brief account of most of these nurseries is given in the following paragraphs.

(a) Public Sector Nurseries:

  1. The Forestry Department's main nursery is in Al Ain opposite the Hilton Hotel. It produces about 1.3 million forest tree seedlings annually, mostly of 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) , 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis) , 'Sidr' (Zizyphus spinachristi) , 'Rak' (Salvadora persica) , 'Nim' (Melia indica), Atriplex etc. Other smaller nurseries of the Forestry Department are located at Abu Samra, Rawda, Khazna etc. and altogether they produce 1.5 million seedlings annually. These plants are used for afforestation projects and for the maintenance of old plantations.
  2. The Public Gardens Department, Al Ain, have their nurseries and greenhouses over an area of seven hectares. They raise both forest tree seedlings and a variety of ornamental plants. Their annual production of plants is about 3 million saplings and seedlings, which are utilized in new projects and for the maintenance of their existing parks and gardens. A large number of plants are also distributed amongst the public.
  3. The Agriculture Department, Al Ain, grow in the nurseries of their 55 hectare Experimental Farm, not only forest tree saplings and fruit plants but also vegetable seedlings. Most of the plants grown in the nurseries of the Agriculture Department are meant for distribution amongst the public. About 700,000 saplings of forest trees like eucalypts, casuarinas and acacias and fruit plants like figs, guavas, papayas and lemons are given free to farmers every year.

During 1979, 16,610 kg of seeds and 55,554 vegetable seedlings and in 1980, 37,500 kg of seeds and 147,906 vegetable seedlings were distributed free amongst the farmers in the Eastern Region by the Al Ain Agriculture Department.

(b) Private Sector Nurseries:

Osman Nursery
This is owned by Mr. Mohammad Ashraf and is a relatively small one in the Qattarah district of Al Ain. It contained only 15000 plants of 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis). Their sale price ranged between Dh 2.00 to Dh 2.50 per plant which are sold to afforestation companies. The owner has decided to wind up this nursery as he found that on account of excessive competition the business was not profitable enough.
Al Raza Agriculture Establishment Nursery
This plot is situated in the Qattara district of Al Ain and is owned by Mr. Asghar Hussain. It contained about 100,000, six month old 'Ghaf' (prosopis spicigera) plants. The sale price ranged between Dh 1.00 to Dh 1.50 per plant.
Al Rumaithi Nursery
This nursery was previously a joint venture but it is now solely owned by a national. It is located in the Al Khabisi district of Al Ain and contained about 50,000 plants mostly of 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera).
Ghazi Agriculture Establishment Nursery
This is also in the Qattarah district of Al Ain and is owned by Mr. Ashiq Hussain. It contained about 50,000, eight month old plants of 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) priced at Dh 2.00 to Dh 2.50 per plant.
Pakistani Nursery
This is also located in the Qattarah district of Al Ain and owned by Messrs. Ghulam Kasim and Masroor Hussain Shah. It contained about 175,000 plants, mostly 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) and some 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis) raised for sale to afforestation companies at Dh 1.50 to Dh 2.00 per plant.
Al Ain Agricultural Corporation Nursery
This is in Hili and is owned by Mr. Manzoor Hussain Khan. It has about 250,000 plants, mostly 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) and some 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis) in Al Ain and about 200,000 plants in Ras Al Khaimah at Dh 2.00 to Dh 3.00 per plant.
Al Hadesi Nursery
This is locatea in the Masoodi district of Al Ain and sells only ornamental plants. The plants are raised to be sold to landscaping companies and other interested persons.

The above are the licensed private nursery companies working in Al Ain. In addition there are also some small private nursery units which sell their plants to licensed nursery companies. It would be seen that the private nurseries in Al Ain put together are producing about 1.5 to 2 million plants annually.

Hotex-Dhafir Nursery, Sueihan
Situated at Sueihan this is a joint venture between Messrs. Hotex International Ltd. of New Zealand and Messrs. Al Dhafir of Abu Dhabi. It has a large variety including many from New Zealand and contained about 50,000 plants.

Some Aspects of Nursery Businesses

Some important matters about the plant nurseries business in Abu Dhabi are briefly discussed below:

(a) Propagation of the Date Palm: The date palm has separate male and female plants. It is not propagated from seed but from root suckers produced by the mother plants around the base of their stems. As such there are no specific date palm nurseries. The root suckers are detached from the mother plants and then taken to the new planting site.

The date palm is the most important fruit plant of Abu Dhabi Emirate and there is a great demand for root suckers of suitable varieties. The freshly cut root suckers are sometimes stored in holding nurseries. The date palm root suckers are also imported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Oman and Pakistan.

(b) Local Nursery Techniques: A number of variable nursery techniques are being followed to raise nursery plants locally in Abu Dhabi. A large number of plants are being raised from seed. Hard-coated seeds like that of 'Ghaf' (Prosopis spicigera) , 'Samar' (Acacia tortilis) , and 'Qarat' (Acacia arabica) are pretreated by being soaked in hot water for 24 to 48 hours to soften their coats. The seeds may be sown directly in plant containers or may first be sown in trough-shaped receptacles and from them a week or two old seedlings like those of Eucalyptus and Casuarina are then transferred to individual plant containers. Some plants are propagated vegetatively from root suckers, cuttings, branches etc. such as the Date Palm, Oleander (Nerium odoratum) and Clerodendron etc. Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is propagated from its stubbles or rhizomes.

Planting is generally started in polythene bags, plastic containers or sometimes in soil beds. The containers and soil beds may be level with the ground or they may be in the form of shallow pits. The soil medium in the containers and beds consists of soil, sweet sand and organic manure mixed together in suitable proportions. Sometimes a light dose of compound fertilizer is added to the mixture.

Irrigation is carried out by sprinklers or, if the water is brackish,. by flooding in shallow sunken beds with hoses. Chemical fertilizers are generally applied with water, and leaf fertilizers are sometimes sprayed onto young foliage.

In order to avoid heat and cold injuries to plants, the nursery beds are provided with overhead shade of different materials allowing various intensities of sun light to penetrate. Sometimes sensitive plants are raised in green houses under controlled environmental conditions. Protective sprays with insecticides and, fungicides are also carried out in most of the nurseries.

Mature nursery plants raised in containers are at intervals lifted, moved and their roots pruned. This is invariably done a week or two before they are taken out for transplanting in the field. In order to produce large sized transplants, young seedlings are sometime transferred to large sized containers wherein they can further expand.

Temporary holding nurseries are occasionally set up at the planting sites. Selected plants are kept in the holding nurseries for a few weeks till they are actually planted in the field.

(c) Cost of Plant Production: The cost of production of locally raised nursery plants consists of land rent including the cost of irrigation water generally taken out from tube wells plus the cost of fertilizers, insecticides, labour and overheads which can be very variable.

The cost of producing forest tree seedlings in the private nurseries in Al Ain varies from Dh 0.5 to Dh 1.0 per plant. The cost price of these seedlings in the public sector nurseries can be more than double these figures. Overhead charges in public sector nurseries are much higher.

Imported plants cost considerably more and are much more expensive to buy. Those imported by land from Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan and by sea from Iran, Pakistan and India are comparatively less expensive.

(d) Plant Nursery Law: In Abu Dhabi plant nurseries are at present established after taking out licences from the Municipalities. Realizing that the business of plant nurseries is not adequately regulated, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Resources has decided to promulgate a plant nursery law in the UAE.

After the issue of the proposed nursery law, all nursery operators will have to take out a license from the Ministry of Agriculture and carry out their nursery business in accordance with the provisions of this law which will protect plant resources and curb diseases and pests.

Any violations of the law will be punishable by heavy fines. This should result in the elimination of some unscrupulous and incompetent nursery operators which now exist.

(e) Export of Plants from Abu Dhabi: Some nursery plants have been exported from Abu Dhabi to Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. One Italian Agricultural Company, Messrs. Piante Marcelle have in the past exported some shade and ornamental plants from Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia but there appears to be no regular trade at present for the export of plants from Abu Dhabi to adjoining countries.

In order to exclude the import of any soil-borne diseases and pests, no foreign soil from outside the Arabian peninsula is allowed to be imported into Saudi Arabia with the roots of plants. However, plants with soil from the UAE would be permitted to enter Saudi Arabia. Thus an export trade for the export of suitable plants from Abu Dhabi to ecologically similar adjoining countries, especially Saudi Arabia, could be developed.

(f) Future scope of the Nursery Business: In spite of severe competition in the nursery business in the UAE, there would appear to be a reasonable scope in certain aspects of plant production and marketing. Some of these aspects, as envisaged by the author, are briefly discussed below:

Local Production of Ornamental, Indoor and Fruit Plants
Whereas there is severe competition for the production of forest tree seedlings, the competition is not that severe in the case of ornamental, indoor and fruit plants. Thus it would be advisable to take up the local cheaper production of these categories of plants under controlled environmental conditions. There is still a considerable margin between the cost of production and sale price of these plants in the UAE.
Own Production of Plants for Afforestation and Landscaping Projects
It would be very worthwhile for a contracting afforestation or landscaping company to have its own nurseries for the cheaper and timely production of healthy planting stock. Many projects have suffered in the past on account of the expensive and untimely availability of the required planting material.
Production and Marketing of Superior and Certified Strains and Varieties of Plants
It is hoped that with the enforcement of the proposed Plant Nursery Law in the near future, the nursery business in the UAE will be better regulated and organised. That would also be the appropriate time to produce and market superior and certified strains and varieties of forest, fruit and ornamental plants. It would require considerable research effort and demonstration work to develop and establish genetically superior strains and varieties of desired plant species. This would also need the cooperation and collaboration of governmental bodies such as the Digdaga Agricultural Research Station, the Central Agricultural Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Resources and the Al Ain Experimental Agricultural Research Farm of the Al Ain Agriculture Department.


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