DUBAI // In addition to difficult environmental conditions, vegetable growers face increasing competition from abroad.
Small producers' lack of a marketing budget can leave them struggling to keep up with the many countries bidding to sell their produce in the UAE. Eighty-five per cent of food is imported.
"The competition from Oman, Lebanon, Syria and the Netherlands is high," said Ramzi Mkadmini, All Freshco General Trading's manager at Dubai's central fruit and vegetable market. "The UAE can't compete."
The company buys its tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflowers and green leaf vegetables from four farms in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. But most produce - such as tropical fruits, certain lettuces and some varieties of tomatoes - cannot be found in the UAE, said Mr Mkadmini.
Shokrollah Ali, managing director of Shokri Hassan Trading in Dubai, believes the same thing.
Although he gets five tonnes of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, courgettes and aubergines daily from four farms in Al Ain, Liwa and Ras Al Khaimah, he said the business was not profitable, especially when the UAE does not produce any fruits.
"There's too much competition here in the UAE because many items come from Oman, which affects the business," he added. "It's bad enough they have to alter many things, such as soil and water, to make agriculture work."
Rashid Khamis Burshaid, a farmer in Khor Fakkan, said most of his peers had trouble selling produce.
"It's a great difficulty because you can't market your produce easily," he said. "Imports are making it extremely hard for local farmers to sell their products."
Small farms are usually dependent on the support of the Government or consumers to survive. The answer for bigger farms is often to use a dealer to ensure their produce is sold - as is the case for Al Dahra Farm in Al Ain.
"Marketing is a big problem farmers face," said Laith Al Ogaili, the farm's manager. "Because the UAE is an open market, it can pose huge issues for them."
He called for regulations to limit competition from imports.