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Title: The food-water dilemma of agriculture in arid regions : assessing Abu Dhabi water options for domestic agriculture
Author: Al Tenaiji, Ameena Ali Kulaib
ISNI:       0000 0004 7968 343X
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2019
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Agriculture is by far the largest water user, both worldwide and in arid regions such as the Abu Dhabi Emirate (ADE). ADE is the largest region in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is characterised by negligible surface water and groundwater recharge resources with limited recharge capacity. Moreover, growing agricultural expansion in ADE through heavy subsidies and ambitious field planning is increasing the pressure on this non-renewable groundwater, as demonstrated by the constant decline of the water table and deterioration of groundwater quality. Despite the government push to achieve food self-sufficiency, current domestic agricultural production is only able to contribute a small fraction of the Emirate's food needs and the majority is still imported. In recent years, the ADE government has expressed concerns over the significant impacts of high water use on groundwater, which is predicted to be completely depleted in a few decades' time. However, only limited anecdotal data exists on groundwater usage and associated farming practices, making it difficult for the government to devise suitable strategies and policies needed to address the agricultural water use challenges in the region. This project will investigate the current farming practices, their impacts on groundwater, and how they are influenced by existing agricultural policies, with the aim of developing an appropriate framework for ensuring sustainable management and regulation of agricultural production and its water use. The research employed a mixed-methods approach that was initiated by a comprehensive review of relevant extant literature and data synthesis of the available secondary data. This was followed by a large face-to face survey with farmers to understand their current practices. Later, semi-structured interviews were conducted with experts from relevant entities regarding their roles and policies used for the regulation and management of agricultural water. The study's key findings provide a comprehensive empirical data set, the first in the region that has the essential inputs for policy development and future agricultural strategy. The findings show that agriculture in ADE uses 71% of the groundwater for over 76% of the farms; 80% goes to irrigate palm trees, which is more heritage driven than commercial. Palm tree cultivation yields produce an excessive 441% self-sufficiency, of which the majority are used as animal feed. This production is poorly managed, as it consumes a high water quantity (22,745 m3/ha) with low water productivity (0.6 kg/m3 and $1/m3). The study demonstrates that a change in palm tree cultivation practices, such as self-sufficiency ratio, water use, yield rate, etc., would help to sustain a suitable groundwater abstraction rate while meeting the local market needs at the same time. The cultivation of vegetable crops via open-field farming also reveals low production performance due to its less reliable supply, accounting for only 27% of the self-sufficiency target. Such crops consume a considerable amount of water (16,527 m3/ha to 30,422 m3/ha) and yield low water productivity (0.2 kg/m3 and $0.3/m3 to 5.9 kg/m3 and $5.3/m3). Cucumbers, cultivated in greenhouses, are the only vegetable with a low water use (10,096 m3/ha) and high water productivity performance (33.8 kg/m3 and $23.7/m3). Limiting open-field farming and focusing on cultivation technology such as greenhouses will help to reduce the total water consumption by more than 95%. The study further shows that the current regulation and management of agricultural water use policies and practices are highly fragmented, and that there is a lack of an integrated approach for dealing holistically with agriculture, water and food security issues. Therefore, an Agriculture-Water Policy Framework (AWPF) has been developed, based on the key study findings and best practice from the literature, to provide guidance for the decisionmaking process. The AWPF consists of seven primary steps that are interlinked in an iterative sequential process. These steps involve a systematic and integrated approach with a feedback loop to offer guidelines for making decisions relating to the development, analysis and implementation of sustainable agricultural water use, strategies and policies.
Supervisor: Braimah, N. ; Hill, R. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Groundwater sustainability ; Food security ; Water scarcity ; Abu Dhabi farming ; Agriculture-water policy framework