AL AIN 1 November 2019: For at least 5,000 years, Al Ain, the garden city of the UAE, has been an oasis offering a supply of water and conditions suitable for agriculture.
Sheltered in the lee of the Hajar Mountains, it offers evidence of the way in which people have been able to survive in the harsh environment.
Not only a place of extensive palm-groves but also of important archaeological sites and historic buildings, its importance has been recognised internationally through its designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site, said Wam.
According to Helal Ahmed Al Kuwaiti, a Visitors’ Services Specialist at the Al Ain Oasis, lying at the heart of today’s modern city, the oasis was used by local people as a place where grains, vegetables and fruits could be grown, under the shelter of the date-palms, to provide their daily needs.
In recent times, he noted, the late UAE Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, devoted great attention to encouraging agriculture. As a result, the environs of Al Ain, once a desert, have been transformed into a lush green garden.
In the distant past, wheat was widely grown in the oasis. The farmers – Al Kuwaiti recalls – used to organise special celebrations for the harvest, with the farmers and their neighbours coming together to reap the crop, in a real show of community solidarity and cooperation. The celebrations concluded with every participant walking home with his quota of the crop.
Today, he says, the original Al Ain Oasis, the largest in Al Ain City, covers more than 1,200 hectares and contains more than 147,000 date palm trees producing 100 varieties of date.
The oasis is surrounded by a number of forts and castles including Al Jahili Fort, Al Murabba Fort and Al Ain Palace Museum, which served to defend this important population centre.
Within the oasis, the farms that are still being cultivated are irrigated by a complex shared water supply, based on both wells and working examples of the ‘falaj’, the UAE’s 3,000-year-old irrigation system.
In recent times, development and modernisation plans have included the introduction of a series of features. These include the planting of a three-layer of planting, small shrubs to hold back blowing sand and prevent desertification, and the vegetables and fruits, as well as other crops, grown under the protective shade of date-palms and sidr trees.
The Oasis Eco-Centre explains to visitors how the overall system works as well as the efforts being taken to preserve the delicate ecosystem and celebrate the invaluable contribution of Al Ain’s oasis farmers through a continued showcase of traditional farming methods. An exhibition showcases the ingenious network of channels (the ‘falaj’) that tap into underground wells and provide water for irrigation. This was cutting edge technology at the time that it was first developed in the Iron Age, around 3,000 years ago, in response to a decline in rainfall. It remains effective today.
The Eco-Centre also contains a model of the whole Al Ain Oasis system.