Since the formation of the UAE, the availability of capital and the demand for fresh produce has encouraged agricultural development. Previously, agriculture was not formal and was used to meet the daily needs of families and to keep livestock healthy. Agriculture did not turn into a source of wellbeing until after His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became the ruler of Al Ain in 1946.
Over the centuries, the Bedouins spent the winter moving in search of pastures for their cattle and camels, and would return in the summer to the oases spread across low-lying areas of the sand dunes which yeilded fresh dates.
HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, realized the importance of agriculture to attain stability and link citizens to their lands. One of his first achievements, after taking office in Al Ain, was to change the irrigation system and rebuild the old aflaj, which had lost value because of neglect.
A new aflaj was dug to expand the irrigation network to a size suitable for agriculture. Sheikh Zayed himself dug the Sarooj Falaj in Al Ain and when finished, insisted on the cancellation of the water and irrigation trade, starting with himself and his family. He publicly announced to waive all rights and profits that he had inherited from the water trade by the Al Nahyan Dynasty. Zayed also requested a meeting with the elders of Al Ain as well as local water dealers and told them of his decision to cancel the water trade (source: UAE Electronic Encyclopedia).
Since that date, agriculture has grown at a rapid pace in Abu Dhabi and the other Emirates as it became a source of stability and safety assurance. It also became one of the pillars of the national economy and a sign of civilization as translated in Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s famous statement, “give me agriculture and I will give you civilization”.
Many believe that there is no room for agriculture in the Emirates owing to the very hot climate, tough desert, and scarce resources and capabilities, as the desert represent 7.8 million hectares of the country’s total area. However, the determination of Sheikh Zayed and his brothers, Their Highnesses Rulers of the Emirates surmounted all these difficulties. They conquered the desert by planting millions of trees and forest farms.
The era of conquering the desert began when His Highness Sheikh Zayed became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966, succeeding his older brother Sheikh Shakhboot. Sheikh Zayed realized that oil alone is not enough to build a civilization, so, he started building infrastructure with a strong economic base, founded on industry and agriculture. He later succeeded in planting vegetation in large areas of the desert, by levelling dunes and preparing for agriculture. He achieved this by brushing a layer of clay on the land, dividing them into farms, and encircled them with trees and plants to protect them against the wind. He then distributed these farms to citizens, trained farmers in agriculture, and educated them on ways to rationalize water consumption. In addition, he worked on the construction of dams, seawater desalination, and planting mangrove trees.