At the recent COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, governments promised to boost efforts to achieve environmental sustainability, in response to the increasing climate change impacts like droughts, hurricanes, and wildfires. However, commitment to climate promises does not just require the availability of plans to switch to clean energy and reduce emissions; it also requires the existence of methods to do so. And achieving efficient food systems and conserving water are pivotal to this sustainable transformation.
According to the latest study released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)(1), temperatures are expected to go 8 degrees Celsius higher in parts of Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Mediterranean coasts, such as those of Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt, will receive 10-20% less rainfall with 2 degrees Celsius warming, and sea levels will rise by 0.36 meters on average. Crop yields are expected to decline by 30%, freshwater resources could decrease by 30-70% by 2025, and disruptions in the delivery of essential services such as power, water, and sanitation, transportation, and telecommunications could become commonplace.
The irrevocable nature of these eventualities presents an existential threat to MENA nations, which are already grappling with food and water scarcity. So, many countries are making a variety of efforts in the field of environmental preservation, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates leading the way in taking concrete steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Today, with food scarcity set to deepen with pandemic-related disruptions, the need to align climate actions with the agricultural sector is greater than ever.
Establishing the priorities
Transitioning to low-carbon agricultural practices and optimizing the value chains in the region will be key to establishing climate-resilient food systems. Plausible solutions must touch upon reducing GHG emissions, saving water, retaining the supplied water, and improving the ecology. To this end, many nations are exploring climate-smart water management, policy reforms, and effective demand-supply allocation mechanisms. Such actions are being prioritized by nations like Jordan, where the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated water scarcity and led to high demand and costs.
Restorative agriculture, defined as the reclamation of degraded land by developing green cover, has the potential to create land suitable for food production. This strategy posits permaculture and food forests as potential solutions for land remediation in deserts. Breathable Sand, which finds application in water-efficient desert farming, could enable synergistic systems like food forests. In the long run, such models could help meet the food requirements of the local population, which is set to increase. In the meantime, the increased green cover could add to carbon sequestration and help mitigate climate change.
Innovative solutions like Breathable Sand are fit-for-purpose in desert farming, which requires addressing a host of geographical and climatic deterrents like seepage, high evaporation, salinity, etc. Thanks to its air permeability and water retention properties, Breathable Sand enables practitioners to conserve up to 80% water compared to conventional farming and simultaneously unlock high agricultural productivity due to optimal nutrient supply to the roots.
This practice also averts non-point source pollution by preserving fertilizers at the surface, thereby mitigating collateral damage to nearby ecology. While its application enhances “arability” in deserts, its use in existing “arable” lands leads to added yield and water conservation. In a nation like the UAE, which is nearly 80% desert, this cost-effective solution could change the food security equation by enabling localized production.
Zero-emission farm machinery
Another way to speed up sustainable transformation is by increasing the adoption of zero-emission farm machinery and equipment. Shifting from conventional fossil fuel-powered tractors, harvesters, and dryers to their low-carbon counterparts could be consequential, leading to multi-fold value. Besides the obvious climate impact, this shift can result in cost savings of up to $229 per tCO2e(2).
Even though market leaders have tested proof-of-concept and promising prototypes, no major commercial launches have been made thus far. Nevertheless, total-cost-of-ownership parity between tractors driven by internal combustion engines and those powered by low-carbon sources should be achievable by 2030 with multistakeholder engagement.
Controlled release and stabilized fertilizers
The shift from traditional fertilizers to controlled-release stabilizers could also reduce nitrous oxide emissions by up to 20%(2). Thus far, widely available commercial fertilizers are water-soluble, quick-release variants that enable consistent nitrogen delivery. Slow- or controlled-release stabilized fertilizers are sustainable alternatives, which ensure that applied nitrogen is available to plants only when needed. Thus far, however, the cost of controlled-release fertilizers is high compared to conventional ones, hampering widespread adoption. With policy-led interventions and market-driven developments, this could change.
The efficiency, resilience, and productivity of the agriculture sector and food systems have substantial social, economic, and political correlations. And with increasing consensus for sustainability and climate actions, as evident from recently concluded COP26, stakes have been raised. So, the MENA region, with its long-standing food and water woes, must ramp up its efforts by adopting plausible tech-driven solutions. The rate of adoption could define the course of its future.
ABOUT DAKE RECHSAND:
Dake Rechsand has developed innovative and transformative solutions in water conservation and sustainable farming. The company’s breakthrough breathable sand technology that transforms barren desert sand into high-yield, arable land, along with its signature IDER water-harvesting range, is empowering Desert Farming and Water Conservation. With a global presence that currently extends to the USA, the UAE, India, China and South Africa, the company is making a positive impact on food and water security in water-stressed regions. In 2022 the company is launching a Carbon Sequestration program of 50 million trees in the GCC region which includes Forestation and Food Forests.