UAE Stores Might Soon Carry Only Local and Organic Produce
Supermarket shelves in the UAE could soon see the majority of its produce housed and farmed locally, rather than exported from outside; more importantly, organic food may soon take over local supermarkets in a way never seen before.
During the Federal National Council (FNC) session held in Abu Dhabi on 14th March, 2017, Dr Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the Minister of Climate Change and Environment, answered two vital questions presented to him by Ras Al Khaimah FNC members – regarding support for organic and hydroponic produce, and the increase in local produce, as opposed to imported produce, particularly from countries of conflict.
FNC member Naema Al Sharhan said local produce is often neglected because of competing imported produce, which sometimes arrive from countries facing conflict, and could thus cause harm to residents’ health. Al Sharhan suggested a ban on imported produce during seasons of high agricultural yield.
However, Dr Al Zeyoudi said that the Ministry has plans to further support local agricultural produce. He noted that a new strategy will come into effect by June this year, although he did not specify the details. “It is being studied; I cannot give numbers and commit to them. But once the correct numbers are released, we will announce them.”
The Minister pointed out that the strategies are being considered in their 2017-2021 plan to diversify food production. He also noted that the Ministry is promoting local fruits and vegetables by cooperating with local supermarkets, including Lulu and Union Co-Ops.
Dr Al Zeyoudi noted that more residents today are purchasing local produce, in particular zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and dates, rather than opting for imported produce. “Our local dates are being exported to 45 countries around the world. The future strategy is to increase investments and products sold abroad.”
He also noted that a nation-wide campaign was implemented, in order to fight palm-tree eating insects and increase the production and quality of dates. Infected palm trees decreased from 4.09 per cent at the end of 2015, well down to 1.84 per cent by the end of 2016. He further added that all plans are directed towards encouraging organic farming and hydroponics, which has seen positive results so far.
In 2009, UAE had 10 hydroponic houses, which cover three dunam (approximately 3,000 sq mts) in size, however the number increased to a whopping 1000 by 2016, covering 227 dunam (227,000 sq mts) in size. Moreover, the area occupied by organic farming in the UAE increased from 2,360 dunams in 2009, to 45,890 in 2016.
However, FNC member Salem Al Shehhi, argued that farmers in the UAE are suffering due to the high costs of equipment.
Dr Al Zeyoudi explained that the Ministry is supporting farmers by providing affordable equipment for organic and hydroponic farming. He said that costs are cut in half for farmers, in terms of equipment purchases, soil, pest control, productive seeds, covers/protectors for farming houses, as well as lab services to test produce and provide guidance to farmers.