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UAE Government backs local organic produce

ABU DHABI // A new government programme is making local organic produce not only more readily available in supermarkets around the country but also more affordable in comparison with its more expensive, imported counterpart.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment has made a concerted push in recent years to subsidise farming equipment, provide expertise and connect local farmers with supermarkets to help market their products.

On Tuesday, Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, launched the programme whereby local produce will be made available in shops around the country.

“It’s part of the country’s strategic goal to produce more food and we, of course, need to research new technologies and ways to make organic food a viable option for everyone,” said Dr Al Zeyoudi at the opening of a Lulu hypermarket at Mushrif Mall.

Last week, he spoke at the Federal National Council about how his ministry would continue to support the sale of local produce, address the challenges the industry faced and that it soon planned to sign an agreement with Carrefour to market local fruit and vegetables.

Local produce becoming more prevalent includes zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplants. Dr Al Zeyoudi said the ministry had investments in other countries, and dates are being exported to 45 countries.

The idea is to work with farmers across the country using organic, hydroponic and commercially grown produce and support them in getting it into local supermarkets at competitive prices.

The growth of organic farm land in the UAE has gone from 2,360 acres in 2009 to 45,890 acres last year. The ministry also provided farming equipment, including tools for organic and hydroponic farming, at half price.

In some cases, support for the organic and local farmers from the ministry is allowing them to market produce at a price point equal to or lower than imported counterparts – as is the case with tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, capsicum and cucumber.

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“My dream is to have all the organic prices be lower than usual. We want to push nutritious products to the market,” said Rashid Al Kitbi, who’s been growing organic for the last 10 years on his farm.

He said that not much research has been done on the effects of chemicals used in modern pesticides and inorganic farming supplements, to the extent that being safe and eating organic not only provides more nutrition but also a safeguard against diseases.

Mr Al Kitbi teaches workshops around the UAE on ways in which urban farming can be done and ways to promote healthy diets in the country.

“Look at all these modern diseases, cancer and what not. It needs to be researched but, when you eat food the way it was intended, you feel it inside that you’re doing something good for your body and good for your family,” said the Emirati.

The organic UAE brand, which is mostly in line with European organic standards, is now available in Union Co-Ops around the country and in Lulu Hypermarkets in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Tawfik Ibrahim, executive chef of Yadoo’s House, an Emirati restaurant, said that organic produce is sometimes at a reasonable price point that allows him to buy local.

“It honestly all depends but, whenever we can, we try to buy local as long as the quality is up to par. Of course sometimes, what we need is not available but we try as much as we can,” he said.

Cooking Emirati dishes requires fresh ingredients but that is not an issue when buying local.

“That’s what’s nice about buying local, you don’t have to worry about freshness. But when it comes to organic, sometimes it’s too expensive,” he said.

More supermarkets will soon be involved in the programme, allowing for more local products to be sold in those shops, said a spokesman from the ministry.

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The National