While much of the recent focus has been on the reliance on imported foods in the Middle East, the home-grown organic food sector is thriving. A recent report by the Ministry of Environment and Water revealed that there are now over 40 organic farms in the UAE, spanning a total area of about 3,890 hectares, growing a range of 62 products. But growing organic produce in this region does not come without its challenges.
Lokesh Aswani, managing director of Dubai-based Down To Earth Organic, said: “Since the awareness on the benefits of organic has increased, more consumers are skewing towards organic over conventional. Ideally, the farmers must be growing as per the demands in the market, but given the current weather scenario there are only certain crops that do well. Most farms are already growing weather-agreeable vegetables.”
While organic food typically costs 20 to 100% more than food grown by traditional farming, there is an undeniable increase in demand from consumers in the Middle East.
Aswani said: “The residents of Dubai have been dealing with issues like sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise and improper nutrition, but now more and more people are choosing the right kind of food and lifestyle.
“This was first seen with expats who are habituated with consumption of organic produce in their respective countries, However it is very encouraging to see more local families switching to organic and supporting local farms now.
“More and more farmers markets are coming up around the city, which are also providing an opportunity for consumers to interact with these organic farmers and understand the local production abilities.”
The number of organic farms has also been bolstered by various schemes to encourage local production. In October this year, The UAE Ministry of Environment announced that it is making progress in agricultural development regarding organic planting techniques.
The ministry said that strides were being made in enhancing food security and stepping up bio-security, including projects to guide and support planters and farmers. Among the initiatives, high quality agricultural production requirements are to be provided at a reduced rate, along with pesticide services and programmes, in order to help farmers adopt new agricultural techniques such as aqua farming and organic farming.