One need not reiterate that 2020 has been a tough year for all over the world. The farmers in the UAE have been forced to change how they do things in ways that were never imagined. It was hard to ignore the disruption to food systems. The pandemic highlighted just how unprotected were the food systems in the UAE. The importance of organic farming in UAE was never so evident before.
As you drive away from Dubai and head straight to Al Ain, you can see a shift in the landscape. Here, the lush green of the leafy palm trees are more prominent and you find the organic farms in these areas.
Most of these farms use natural techniques to manage pests. The leaves of the neem tree are placed in big buckets of water and allowed to sit for hours in the sun. Then they are sprayed on the vegetables growing on the organic farm.
These organic farms in the UAE use a system of intercropping or crop separation. Meaning they simultaneously cultivate two or more crops on the same field to keep unwanted pests. So between rows of eggplant, you will find alternate rows of onions and celery. As each crop invites different pests. Hence this is an efficient way to keep pests away from the main crop.
What is Organic Farming?
A handful of farms in the UAE have been developing organic produce and contributing to the local food system in their small way throughout the years. They strive to produce high quality, great-tasting organic produce for the UAE. The pandemic has forced the UAE to look at things differently due to the disruptions in the global supply chains.
Food security has become a household concern nationwide. Modern technology is promising but has some clear limitations, especially in agricultural technology and indoor farming methods. Thus, an integrated approach to agriculture that will be resilient and will be able to protect the environment is the need of the hour.
Benefits of Organic Farming in UAE
Most of the regular non-organic food we eat, 46% contains residues of one or more pesticides, and their levels are increasing dramatically. Whereas, in 2003 the equivalent figure was just 25%. The four main reasons to choose locally grown organic produce are as follows. It guarantees the quality of a brand like Emirates Bio Farm.
- Avoid eating chemicals: You should eat organically grown foods. Because it is the only way to avoid the mixture of chemicals present in commercially grown food. To summarize, toxic and persistent pesticides accumulate in the water, soil, and our bodies.
- Get more benefit from nutrients: Fruits and vegetables that you grow organically have more nutrients than regular grown foods. Hence, these foods are mostly pesticide-free.
- Preserve our ecosystems: Organic farming supports farming practices that is in line with nature and the complete ecosystem. Preservation of crop rotation and soil in the UAE will create healthy soil. This is a continuous ongoing process that keeps improving.
- Support local farming: Vegetables and fruits lose both flavor and nutrients when they reach your dinner table. Subsequently, fresh produce is picked every morning from the farm and is delivered to your local market.
Organic Farming in UAE
Organic farming in the UAE has developed by leaps and bounds. It has developed in all areas like producers, area, the number of crops grown, market, and regulation. In the last decade, UAE had only 34 organic farms with a total certified area of 3905 hectares. In this area, more than 62 crop varieties were grown. UAE is one of the primary producers of such palm dates, with about 1000 tons of organic dates produced yearly.
Organic livestock farming is still in progress in the UAE. Organic farming has extensively contributed to the recycling of farming waste such as damaged dates, palm fronds, and other agricultural wastes. Good organic farming ensures a sustainable environment for soil and preserves the organisms living in it.
Role of the UAE Government
The support from the Ministry is enormous as they make regular visits to these farms. The Ministry’s keenness to communicate with farmers and identify the challenges they face demonstrates the UAE government’s stance on organic farming.
The government is eagerly trying to solve problems that are preventing the development of organic farms in the UAE. The government is trying to take steps to raise the organic production sector.
The Ministry aims to support and encourage the involvement of Emirati farmers in local organic farming. It is also promoting the usage of the latest techniques. Particularly to produce safe food products while preserving ecological resources.
The Ministry has been working on developing the organic farming sector by providing organic inputs and products. It has authorized the use of the Emirati “Organic” trademark. This would help to differentiate organic products from other commodities. Thus protecting organic producers and helping them gain consumer’s trust.
The Ministry conducts several training programs for farmers to help them upgrade to organic farming. They hold lectures and field workshops to train farmers, engineers and agricultural advisors. Training is provided on best practices. In addition, they also provide them with knowledge from farmers experienced in organic agriculture.
Organic farming has been drawing great interest from farmers. Due to the increasing demand for local organic products from Emiratis and other residents. The growing market has prompted the Ministry to raise awareness of organic farming and its role in preserving natural resources.
In 2012, the first market for organic products was opened at Dubai’s Hamriyah market. It was done as a venture between the Ministry and the Dubai Municipality. In 2014, another organic market was opened at the Global Village. This coincided with the Dubai Shopping Festival. This has served as an excellent opportunity for the festival’s visitors.
Organic Food Market in UAE
The organic food market of the UAE is booming, and the supply cannot meet demand. This has created opportunities for the organic farming and food industry. There are a number of reasons for this growing demand in organic food.
One of the main reasons is that the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW) has launched several awareness programs. These programs address organic farming, environmental issues, health issues, as well as affordability. The Ministry has established a large number of organic farmers’ markets. This has helped farmers sell their products and increased awareness about organic food among consumers.
The farmer’s markets allow consumers to meet organic farmers and buy locally grown organic products. This helps in developing the markets and establishing social networks. To meet the growing demand, the UAE imports many products, including several vegetables, fruit-like oranges, bananas, kiwis, dairy products, apples, and other processed products. A study conducted by the Ministry in the last decade revealed that 300 tons of locally produced organic vegetables in four months were sold in a single retail store alone.
Standards For Organic Farming in UAE
The UAE has produced standards and regulations which are in line with those used globally. This ensures that organic products both imported and produced locally meet the international organic farming standards. UAE has fully implemented its organic farming regulations. It can be said that MOEW is responsible for developing the norms and rules, while the Emirates Authority for Standardization & Metrology (ESMA) is responsible for inspection and certification.
The organic farming standards and regulations of the United Arab Emirates include:
- The UAE organic farming law of 2009 regulates the general principles of organic farming.
- The Ministerial Decision No. 84 of 2012 identifies the practical principles that the operators and operations shall take to convert to organic farming.
- Emirates Organic Foods Certification Scheme: The national certifying body Emirates Authority for Standardization & Metrology (ESMA), and its certification covers the following six categories:
- Fresh/chilled/frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Canned food products.
- Fresh and canned juices.
- Meats and fish.
- Eggs or Milk.
- Dairy Products and Honey.
Support Program for Organic Farming
The government of UAE organizes a training program on organic farming for farmers and workers. That’s why, the program covers different training topics such as laws and regulations, pest management, soil fertility management, livestock production, marketing, and several other related issues.
The capacity building sessions include training on vegetable packaging and labelling and public awareness. The session is organized by the UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water. The program includes opening farmers’ organic markets and helps farmers to participate in food exhibition events.
First Organic Market in UAE
The opening of the first organic market in 2014. To begin with, it was a part of the ministry’s strategic efforts to achieve food security and safety. Besides, its purpose was to popularize the culture of organic products consumption and farming in UAE society. The aim of the market is to promote healthy alternative products that are produced by methods.
Additionally, The methods should ensure the protection and sustainability of the environment. Emirates Bio Farm located in Al Ain, UAE is the largest organic farm in the UAE. It specializes in producing certified organic fruits, vegetables, and eggs by using sustainable farming practices.
Subsequently, you need to choose organic foods for both health benefits and environmental benefits. The agricultural industry is the prime contributor to climate change. Hence, it is essential to support regenerative methods of agriculture that promote soil health and biodiversity. Therefore, organic farming practices become important. The more consumers demand organic products, the more support this farming method will receive and will help our planet Earth.