Water scarcity, declining productivity of arable land, increasing soil and water salinity, and hyper-arid conditions are some of the main constraints facing agricultural production in the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC). For example, soil and water salinity in irrigated agriculture is the main cause of low agricultural yields in GCC countries, which has led to the abandonment of many farms. What is more, continuing population growth and climate change impact are only adding to these problems.
As there are concerns about future food and water security in the region, governments and international and national research and development organizations work together to develop and disseminate solutions among farmers and specialists in the agricultural sector to tackle these problems.
For example, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) implements different capacity-building and knowledge-sharing initiatives in the region to equip farmers, specialists and decision-makers with necessary knowledge and skills. As part of this work, ICBA recently organized a workshop with the Arabian Gulf University (AGU) for farmers and specialists from the agricultural sector and decision-makers on the impacts of soil salinity and climate change on food and water security in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
The workshop is part of a bilateral project, which ICBA initiated with AGU to use diversified technologies to map soil properties and salinity in Bahrain and the UAE for sustainable use of soil resources, and eventually replicate results in other GCC countries and publish soil salinity maps of the GCC countries.
Held at the AGU premises in Bahrain on 7-8 February 2017, the event brought together over 30 participants, including farmers, researchers, professionals, and policymakers to look at tools and technologies for soil salinity evaluation and management.
ICBA scientists Dr. Abdullah Alshankiti and Dr. Shabbir Ahmad Shahid gave presentations on the center’s work on ensuring agricultural sustainability and agricultural intensification using innovative and low-cost agricultural methods and inputs like compost and biochar. Compost and biochar are well suited to agricultural production in GCC countries, where soil is predominantly sandy, and water contains a high concentration of salts.
Biochar production, a 2,000-year-old practice, is a process in which date palm and conocarpus waste is converted into a soil enhancer that can help to retain more carbon, boost yields, and increase soil biodiversity. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.