Farming the desert: Agriculture in the oil frontier, the case of the United Arab Emirates, 1940s to 1990s

Source of Publication

British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies


© 2017 British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. This article examines the social and political factors that contributed to the development of agriculture in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the 1940s onwards, expanding upon Jason Moore’s concept of the ‘commodity frontier’. Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, agricultural production emerged as a ‘secondary commodity frontier’ propelled by the primary commodity in the region—oil. The example of the UAE illustrates how the dynamics inherent in the primary commodity frontier can generate ‘secondary frontiers’. Furthermore, commodity frontiers are not necessarily exclusively motivated by market forces, as emphasized by Jason Moore. Indeed, the spread of agriculture in the UAE was not primarily tied to the export of any particular crop. Rather, the newly formed state after 1971, like colonial forces prior to this period, promoted agriculture in part to improve local people’s standard of living. Modern agriculture, furthermore, transformed local power structures and facilitated the country’s transition from a traditional to a modern state and its integration into a global capitalist economy.

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Author First name, Last name, Institution

Sabrina Joseph, Zayed University