It highlights the role of researchers and scientists in developing agricultural techniques and methods which preserve the environment, said Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, as he honoured winners of the award.
The UAE's particular attention to the development of agriculture, namely, the date palm, has prompted increased investment in the agricultural sector and a greater use of modern technology, said a top UN agriculture official at the presentation ceremony held at the Emirates Palace hotel.
"The UAE accounts for six per cent of global date production and ranks seventh in the world. This sector is therefore one of the priorities in the plan prepared by the government in the context of economic diversification," said Dr Jacques Diouf, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Eight winners, representing various countries in the region, have been chosen out of 131 regional and international participants for the third edition of the award.
The prize was established in 2008 by His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Ruler of Dubai, to highlight the role of the date palm and the efforts being made in various fields in this regard.
Dr Diouf said a programme of date palm research and development, coordinated by the UAE University together with the United Nations agencies, has produced a cutting-edge laboratory for tissue culture.
"Thanks to this modernisation, the university provides support and advice to other date-producing countries," he said.
However, Dr Diouf suggested, there was a need to increase the supply of quality plant material for local and regional needs and to go beyond the present framework of date production by government plantations and a limited number of private farmers.
The development of the date palm, with support from FAO, which has participated in the formulation of a trust fund country project, will give impetus to large-scale in vitro propagation.
It would serve to further boost date palm production in the Emirates, the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel.
Dr Diouf warned that as was the case in 2008, international agricultural markets were again confronted today with higher food commodity prices which could undermine world food security.
The winners were provided with certificates, trophies and prize money during the awards ceremony. The first and second prize winners received Dh300,000 and Dh200,000 respectively.
"The world population will increase from 6.9 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050. Economic progress, notably in the emerging countries, puts more resources in the hands of the poor categories of the population who spend 50 per cent of their income on food. World food demand will surge as a result. This will require food production to increase by 70 per cent in the world and by 100 per cent in the developing countries," he said.
However, he said, investment is not keeping up. "The share of agriculture in official development assistance fell from 19 per cent in 1980 to 3 per cent in 2006. Currently, it stands at around 5 per cent. Developing countries only allocate 5 per cent of their national budgets to the sector, instead of 10 per cent, despite its contribution to gross domestic product, exports and the balance of payments."
Warning that the situation is the chronicle of a disaster foretold, the top UN agriculture official said more than 100 million tonnes of cereals are diverted from food to biofuels for the transport sector on account of subsidies valued at some $13 billion and tariff protection by the developed countries, not to mention the impact of droughts, floods, hurricanes and other events exacerbated by climate change and the speculation on agricultural commodity futures markets.
Dr Diouf advised that despite land and water constraints, the UAE should therefore attach great importance to this economic and cultural sector and, in doing so, pursue the policy of the visionary Shaikh Zayed, who said, "Give me agriculture and I will give you a civilisation".
Date palm vital to region's sustainable development, says expert at Khalifa Date Palm Award
List of honour
First Category: Distinguished Research/Studies
First place: Date Palm Genom project by Ebrahim S. Al Musallam, Saudi Arabia
Second Place: Potential of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Technology for Date Palm, International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, UAE
Second Category: Distinguished Producers
First place: A model Date Palm production farm, Abdullah Mohammad Arar, of Jordan
Second Place: Tissue Culture Date Plantation in Kuwait, Abdul Wahab Ali Naki Al Naki, from Kuwait.
Third Category: The Best New Technique
First Place: withheld
Second place: A new detection machine for the red palm weevil, engineering authority of the Defence Ministry, Egypt
Fourth Category: The Best Development Project
First place: Modern collaborative commercial date palm plantation in the republic of Namibia, Al Dhahra Agriculture Company, UAE.
Second place: Date Palm development project in Oman, Agriculture and Fisheries Development Fund, Sultanate of Oman
Fifth Category: Distinguished figure
Bel Hassan Mohammad, Morocco.