x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati Life: organic food is healthy for farmers and consumers

To date, 28 Emirati farms have been certified as organic by the Emirates Authority for Standardization & Metrology under the Ministry of Environment and Water.

The existence of an organic movement first became apparent to me in the late 1990s while living in California. Produce with organic labelling and farmers' markets touting all-organic foods began sprouting up in every neighbourhood.

Believing that the organic alternative provided more nutritious and environmentally friendly products, an increasing number of consumers sought them out. As organic products came at a significantly higher price than their standard counterparts, this was no cheap choice. But it was a choice made not only by those who could afford it, but also by many less affluent individuals such as my university classmates, who were willing to sacrifice more of what little they had for peace of mind.

Although the appeal of organic produce was growing in the US, it was still a small part of the market at the time I left the US.

Returning from California's fertile Central Valley, one of the world's most productive agricultural areas, to what I believed was the UAE's dry, barren desert, I was surprised to find any farms, let alone organic ones.

Not only were local farms beginning the transition to an organic model, but the government had also established a system to certify organic farms and foods.

To date, 28 Emirati farms have been certified as organic by the Emirates Authority for Standardization & Metrology under the Ministry of Environment and Water.

Although this is just a fraction of the more than 35,000 farms across the country, many more are in the process of, or considering, the switch to organic farming.

This is a direct result of the increase in the demand for organic foods by Emirati consumers, which stems from their belief in the taste and environmental and health benefits of such products.

With the absence of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that can harm local wildlife, plants, insects and groundwater, organic farming methods promote local biodiversity and improve water quality.

Some of the organic methods used include breeding and releasing crop-beneficial insects and deterring parrots from vegetables and fruits by providing them with food such as sunflowers.

In addition to the benefits of organic methods, consuming local produce significantly reduces the carbon footprint created to transport these products from around the globe.

Some disagree with this view, saying that the use of desalinated and groundwater for irrigation significantly increases the foods' carbon footprint and squanders a precious and valuable resource.

But this stance discredits the continuous improvements in water use made by the farming community such as better irrigation techniques and natural cooling systems, as well as the benefit to the local communities and their economies.

The sight of locally produced organic food in the aisles of the supermarkets and stalls of markets has always surprised me due to its presence and price.But as the numbers of local organic farms rises, I hope to see an increase in availability as well as a decrease in price in the future.

 

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter for The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US

 

tsubaihi@thenational.ae

 

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