Fatima Al Jallaf

Food security is of particular concern to Abu Dhabi and the UAE as the population of the Emirates continues to grow. A key component of a safe and secure economy is the ability of the Government of Abu Dhabi to provide sufficient quantity and quality of food to it people at an affordable price. This goal will become increasingly difficult to achieve as the population of Abu Dhabi and the UAE continues to grow. Current government projections show that the population of Abu Dhabi will grow at 5.24% annum (excluding labor camps) surpassing 4.5 million inhabitants by 2030.

Unfortunately, The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is located in a desert and experiences low annual rainfall, extreme summer temperatures, and has soil that is unsuitable for large-scale agricultural growth, making the goal of being totally self dependent unattainable. Despite this, agricultural production in Abu Dhabi has increased considerably in recent years. Although it is currently a small component of the total GDP – less than 1% in 2012 – agriculture is a crucial component of the Abu Dhabi’s government goal of diversifying its economy.

Technology can help alleviate some of the problems with agricultural soils and this help increase the sustainability and productivity of these soils. Recent work has shown that the engineering and production of micro- or nano- beads composed of biomaterials show promise for the slow release of nutrients into arid and low carbon containing soils. This work proposes to take advantage of this previous work, using as the base for the engineering of microbeads that will be able to sustain soil microbial communities while providing a source of nutrients and carbon to the arid soils.

This work is designed to engineering and produce microbeads capable of sustaining soil microbial communities. The key objectives of this study are:

  1. Analysis and identification of soil microbial communities in the UAE.
  2. Design and construct microbeads from local available biomass, such as date palm husks, and novel hydrogels.
  3. Test the capacity of these microbeads to sustain microbial communities in the environment of the UAE.

This project is of great importance to the UAE as it has the potential to help alleviate the poor conditions of the UAE soils and increase both the overall production of food from current agricultural farms and increase the availability of farmland for future agricultural use.