About 80% of the UAE’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables is imported, and officials hope its visits to farmers and landowners in the country would encourage more to adopt modern agricultural and harvesting techniques to boost yield and contribute to the commercial marketing of fresh produce in the country.
“Enhancing the productivity of local agriculture is crucial to ensuring the UAE is food-secure in the future,” said His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.
“We can fulfil this goal through diversifying food sources. Food diversification relies on recognising the different objectives and contributions of traditional landholders and commercial farmers, and establishing programmes to support both to ensure the sustainable use of resources.
“The support the state offers to farmers should be commensurate [sic] with their contribution as an incentive for them to become actively involved in commercial production.”
Dr Al Zeyoudi said, presently, only about 5% of landholders were involved in commercial production, while less than 1% contribute to the local food supply.
“We need to develop programmes to increase the engagement of landholders and farmers in the adoption of sustainable management practices, and encourage them to become commercial farmers,” he stressed.
The Minister admitted that the low economic return from local agriculture was discouraging more landlords from becoming commercial farmers or upgrading their mechanisms and work systems.
Therefore, MOCCAE is working on “stepping up research and development efforts”, especially to slash production costs for farmers and to increase output volume. At the same time, MOCCAE will attempt to market certain crops more effectively and explore new varieties that can be grown locally.
He also said that achieving food diversity (and security) in the UAE required further developing the agriculture sector though creating markets for locally-produced food commodities, at home and abroad.
He further acknowledged that development of the sector also required providing specialised guidance to landowners and farmers and facilitating the production of crop varieties with high economic returns for farmers that suit the UAE environment, as well as promoting UAE organic food produce.
Dr Al Zeyoudi noted that local vegetable production currently provided only about 20% of the market demand for fresh produce. While a wide range of crop types are cultivated in the UAE, most are only harvested over a short season, with the majority in late winter or early spring.
There are a few exceptions that are produced in greenhouses and extend over a season, whereas only one crop is produced for most of the year.
“Storing these crops to make them available in the markets all year round consumes a considerable amount of energy for cooling, which increases their final cost,” he explained.
Tradition vs innovation
The Minister elaborated that most farmers were reluctant to adopt modern farming techniques and prefer field production, because it is generally seen to be the easiest and most profitable approach. However, field production demands a high consumption of water even with modern irrigation methods.
He said the sustainability and quality of locally-produced vegetables could be improved through promoting innovative production systems that increased output and quality, and reduced the environmental footprint. These include advanced greenhouse design, hydroponics, vertical agriculture, netted systems and closed-system greenhouses.
Furthermore, developing marketing schemes and supply chains for small-scale producers will help achieve the sustainability of local vegetable production, he said.