Dr. Merle Jensen
Wednesday, January 15, 2020,
The Arizona Senior Academy Building
The story of farming in the Abu Dhabi Desert began at University of Arizona’s Environmental Research Laboratory (ERL) and its project in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, through a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. In the l960’s, Dr. Merle Jensen and his colleagues sought to enable food production in the desert. They were convinced that desert regions could supply large quantities of food in a controlled environment. Dr. Jensen will discuss the resulting concept of “power–water–food” for desert communities that addresses the challenges of such a project. Initial work in Mexico provided a system for growing vegetable crops. When Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi learned of Jensen’s achievement, he funded a project to build and operate this type of facility on the island of Saadiyat, a harsh, waterless expanse of white sand, with only 1 inch of annual rainfall, and inhabited only by Bedouin fishermen living in simple palm frond huts. Key obstacles were lack of water, frequent sand storms and desiccating winds heavy with salt. Yet Abu Dhabi was a perfect candidate for producing food in controlled environment agricultural facilities. The result is a highly integrated system that makes the most efficient use of power generated from nuclear plant cooling to desalinate water for crops. Dr. Jensen operated the successful farm that produced two tons of high quality vegetables per day. The farm also enabled the research for creating new heat- and insect-resistant varieties of vegetables. Dr Jensen will give us a glimpse of changes on the island 50 years ago and today.
Dr. Merle H. Jensen is professor emeritus of Plant Sciences. Having graduated from California State Polytechnic, Cornell and Rutgers Universities, he was Assistant Dean for Agriculture Sponsored Research and Associate Director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Arizona. In addition, he was a member of a World Bank mission to the Middle East to assess the agriculture development needs and prospects in the Occupied Territories.
Written by Maria Dobozy, Academy Village Volunteer