Two date palm oases in the UAE were yesterday recognised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, for their importance as repositories of genetic resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
The Al Ain and Liwa oases, which are known as marvels of ancient hydrology, and are the centre of date grove production in the UAE, joined a growing number of ecosystems that are formally recognised by the UN organisation.
Speaking at the annual Khalifa International Date Palm Award Ceremony, FAO Director-General, Jose Graziano da Silva, said, "For many Arab countries, date palms are much more than simply food, they are an integral part of your history and cultural identity."
Da Silva designated both oases as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems, GIAHS, and praised the UAE's active conservation efforts. The GIAHS Initiative promotes public understanding, awareness, and national and international recognition of agricultural heritage systems.
"Advancing towards the future while preserving your roots is not always an easy task, but the UAE have been able to do that with their sustainable date palm production."
Throughout the UAE, the date palm is valued for its nutritional benefits, contributions to ecosystems and role in preserving traditional knowledge.
There are thirteen countries recognised as GIAHS sites around the world and which contribute to sustainable food production as "living, evolving systems resulting from the connection of human communities and their territories," said the Director-General.
In recent years, the UAE has implemented an active and dynamic conservation programme to revitalise these oases through measures such as protection against urban encroachment, restoration of ancient irrigation systems, known locally as falaj, and the re-introduction of traditional agricultural management.
"These efforts preserve knowledge transmitted through generations and ensure that tomorrow, as yesterday, date palms will continue to mean food security for the United Arab Emirates," Da Silva said.
FAO, which has been supporting date palm research and production worldwide for half a century, is collaborating with the UAE on two new projects, the Director-General said, including one relating to pest management, and another to map water use and production.
Cooperating on water management is also one of FAO's major priorities in the region, as it remains a big challenge for agriculture in water-scarce countries like the UAE. Recognising this challenge, Da Silva also signed a partnership agreement with the Emirates-based International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture. The partnership aims to strengthen research co-operation between the two organisations to help member countries boost their agricultural productivity and food security by finding solutions to water scarcity in marginal environments.