An Emirati businessman steeped in a rich farming tradition is reaping the rewards of his enterprising approach to agriculture.
A real estate boss by day, Abdullatif Al Banna, 56, spends many an evening tending to the thousands of pineapples he grows each year at his farm in the desert of Al Aweer in Dubai.
May is the month when he harvests more than 4,000 of the tropical fruit, spread across four greenhouses.
They are grown hydroponically ― without soil and using water-based nutrient solutions.
“The pineapples are very sweet. I don’t think we can buy pineapples that are this sweet from the market,” Mr. Al Banna said as he collected the fruit from the plants.
The farm was established in 2005 for growing dates.
But a decade ago, Mr. Al Banna decided to experiment with pineapples and find a way to ensure they thrive in the challenging UAE desert climate.
“I brought 300 pineapple plants to check which environment they grow best in. We put some under the open sky, some inside a greenhouse, and some underneath the shade of trees,” he said. “The ones in the greenhouse were the most successful.”
He also owns a farm in Ras Al Khaimah, where cucumbers, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and chilies are grown in 40 greenhouses.
It’s not easy to grow pineapples in the UAE’s extreme climate, Mr. Al Banna says.
“It requires a cool greenhouse, with not more than 30°C, 29°C or 28°C temperature, and a little bit of humidity. We are saving 90 percent of the water because of the hydroponics system.”
Each greenhouse covers an area of 8 meters by 34 meters. They are equipped with fans and automated irrigation that work round the clock throughout the year. The pineapples are planted in reservoirs filled with perlite — a volcanic glass with relatively high water content.