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Abu Dhabi Farmers' Services Centre (ADFSC) won the Farm Innovation in Agriculture Award for its "Growing for Market" initiative at the AGRA Middle East Awards recently in Dubai.
Designed with the objective to promote an understanding of horticultural production systems, the "Growing for Market" initiative helps farmers improve the production of horticultural products for the UAE market, while also achieving sustainable returns.
Furthermore, the "Growing for Market" initiative is a way for the ADFSC Field Crops Unit to effect change on the many small family farms throughout the Abu Dhabi Emirate.
"This initiative has been a very hands-on approach," said Chris Hirst, CEO of ADFSC. "The ADFSC Field Crops Unit has been working closely with extension engineers to develop on-farm demonstration sites that very clearly highlight technological methods that are proven to work and that should lead to more reliable production and, as a result, more income for farmers." "Growing for Market" involves several variables, the most obvious of which is supplying demand. For local agriculture, this has meant that farmers must diversify what they grow while drawing out the length of the season.
By diversifying what is grown farmers are able to be more competitive in the market with products like broccoli and basil that were rarely, if ever, commercially grown in Abu Dhabi in the past.
Also, the length of the season is very important. Traditionally, the harvest season in the UAE was very short, creating a glut of product in the markets during the limited weeks it was available. With this project, ADFSC has emphasised the importance of staggered plantings to draw out the harvest season over a number of months.
"Diversifying what is grown is important because local consumers are used to a wide range of produce," said Hirst. "If farmers are only growing tomatoes and cucumbers they're not taking advantage of the demand for higher-priced vegetables." Hirst continued, saying that because of the prohibitively hot summers, the Abu Dhabi growing season takes place in the cooler months. "Those farmers that are able to draw this short growing period out will make much more money than those who might rely on more traditional planting and harvesting methods." During the 2011-12 growing season, the on-farm demonstrations were concentrated in the Western Region because that is where ADFSC originally worked.
By the 2012-13 season, the organisation set up 50% more demonstrations and located them in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi as well.