South Korea succeeds in cultivating rice in UAE desert

Korea's Rural Development Administration (RDA), the state-run agricultural research institute has succeeded in growing rice in a desert in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The research institute started to grow Asemi rice on a 1,890 m2 plot in the UAE's Sharjah desert in November 2019. The rice farming experiment was launched after leaders of the two countries agreed to develop smart farming technology during a summit in the UAE in 2018.

Rice production in UAE

The UAE asked Korea to try to produce rice in the UAE to improve the nation’s food security.  The yield is 763 kilograms of rice per 1,000 square meters, which is 40 percent higher than when harvested in South Korea. The increased crop productivity was possible as the rice growing area received more sunlight as well as appropriate nutrients.

Asemi rice was developed in 2013 by the RDA in an effort to make an export rice variety that could grow well even in non-tropical countries. The rice variety is a kind of japonica rice, which is mainly consumed in China, Korea and Japan because of its sticky and moist nature when cooked. The RDA will sow more Asemi seeds in August to see if double-cropping, i.e. growing two crops a year, is possible. By conducting follow-up experiments, the RDA also aims to secure the profitability of rice farming in the desert, as currently it costs too much to supply desalinated water to the rice growing areas. The agency said it costs about 20 million won ($16,419) per hectare to supply fresh water, while the product value in the same area is 5.65 million won. To solve the water supply issue, the RDA is currently reviewing several plans. Primarily they are considering using underground water instead of supplying fresh water derived from seawater. Alternatively they will try to reduce the water use by 30 percent by applying new cultivation methods which combine furrow cultivation and drip irrigation.

In addition to this rice project, several innovative projects/researches such as pest control in palm tree, desert-style greenhouse and monitoring system for plant health are being conducted by Korean experts.  The Netherlands is also active in the UAE including in the field of agricultural technology cooperation. LAN Seoul has kept in touch with Korean ministry of agriculture and the RDA to mediate trilateral cooperation between the three countries. As an effort to promote this initiative, the Netherlands and South Korea have discussed a trilateral seminar on agricultural policy and technology on the occasion of Dubai Expo 2020. Although the Expo has been postponed to next year due to Covid-19,  interested parties from all three countries could develop cooperation projects in the meantime.

Source: Korea Times.