Growing food crops in the desert is a tricky business - especially if you want to adhere to the practices necessary for the produce to be certified as organic. But there are farmers in the UAE who are growing and selling a range of organic fruit and vegetables. Similarly, there are people raising livestock in extremely challenging conditions. None of these farmers is currently expecting, or expected, to make huge profits. For many of them, the goal is to break even.
As The National hasreported, an organic produce market that opened at the Deira Fish Market in Dubai this week is the first of several planned under the watchful eye of the Ministry of Environment and Water.
And last week, the Executive Council announced the creation of an Abu Dhabi Department for Food Monitoring to coordinate with government authorities and others in the sector to encourage the marketing of local produce. The department will support best practices in animal husbandry by, among other things, providing veterinary assistance, such as vaccinations, and advising farmers how to ensure their livestock are well-nourished while minimising or eliminating the wastage of precious feed.
Both of these initiatives will contribute to food security in the UAE. But, of course, realism dictates that only so much can be grown in the desert, and that unlimited subsidies or other assistance for farmers will not create a viable path to self-sufficiency.
As the population increases and consumer tastes broaden, there will continue to be a need to import certain types of fresh food. Just as the UAE exports oil to nations that either don't have that resource or lack the means to extract it cost-effectively, we will always have to import food from places that can produce it more efficiently.
So, it makes sense to focus on niche markets, which is why the encouragement of small-scale organic farming is a good initiative. Organic fruit and vegetables can attract a premium price, meaning that efficient growers could reach a point where the economics of supply and demand add up. Similarly, it makes sense to support camel farming. Camels are not only important to the UAE for heritage and cultural reasons, they are a native species that can survive where other livestock cannot.
In the end, it's a matter of doing what you can with what you have.