Shaikh Zayed has been described as “the man who tamed the desert”.

His pledge to transform the country into a “green haven” resulted in increased cultivable land by manyfold during his lifetime, a senior official told Gulf News.

“When Shaikh Zayed became president in 1971, the UAE had only 2,530 hectares (6,250 acres) of cultivated land. He allotted funds for vast reclamation projects to increase the agricultural and forested areas. By the early 1990s, the area of cultivated land increased to 470,000 hectares (1,616,370 acres),” said Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

Despite the popular belief that agriculture was not suitable for the UAE due to its very hot climate, tough desert and scarce water resources, Shaikh Zayed was persistent and charted a clear path towards a greener UAE. “Fifty years ago, no one could believe that it was even possible to transform a barren land into the land of lush greenery we see today. For Shaikh Zayed’s vision, the sky was the limit,” he said.

Agriculture and civilisation

Shaikh Zayed’s steadfast efforts over the years led to the rapid growth of agriculture across all emirates. Agriculture also became one of the pillars of the national economy and a sign of civilisation as reflected in Shaikh Zayed’s famous statement: “Give me agriculture and I will give you civilisation.”

The transformation of vast stretches of barren desert into fields of wheat and orchards, and towns with sandy streets into garden cities is virtually unmatched in human history, Al Zeyoudi said.

Shaikh Zayed was a man of the land and environment all his life. While growing up alongside Bedouin tribesmen, he gained a deep understanding of the land and its people and how people could sustainably interact with their surroundings, the minister said.

He had an innate passion for nature conservation by using only what was needed and saving the rest for future generationsSince the time he became the ruler of Al Ain in 1946, Shaikh Zayed had a vision to transform the formerly dry and rocky area of Al Ain into a lush green land.

To turn his vision into reality, the founding father summoned prominent agricultural experts from around the world and took several measures to promote agriculture.

Modernising irrigation

Some of his first achievements were rebuilding the ancient irrigation system, Falaj, reclaiming new agricultural lands, building conduits, cutting canals, providing free water and expanding the date palm tree plantation, Al Zeyoudi said

These green achievements were made possible with the discovery of new supplies of fresh water. He renovated and expanded the traditional water resources such as underground aquifers in Al Ain, the covered Falaj channels that conduct water from mountain springs to plains and wells. The watering system was modernised with the wide use of centrifugal pumps and drip-irrigation system. Waste water in the cities was treated and recycled for agricultural use, Al Zeyoudi said. 

The greening efforts were complemented by the strictly enforced wildlife conservation. Shaikh Zayed allotted funds to restore endangered species through captive breeding programmes and reintroduced them into well-protected reserves. Al Ain Zoo was part of this initiative. 

Shaikh Zayed’s private nature reserve on the Sir Bani Yas Island became a haven of many animal species, including Oryx and Arabian gazelles.

The continuous expansion of the nature reserves, creation of artificial lakes and the non-stop greening of the country have turned the UAE into a garden in the desert.

“These are the everlasting gifts presented by Shaikh Zayed to this country,” the minister said.

Source: Gulf News