Eating homegrown produce has positive environmental and health benefits
We all benefit from eating locally and supporting farmers
Against all odds, agriculture and the tilling of the arid land have been part of the fabric of the UAE, even before the country was first formed, particularly in Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Ain. Those living here had a deep understanding of the earth, its paucity of water and the testing environmental conditions that prevailed. Miraculously, between 1971 and 2011 the number of farms in the UAE rose from 4,000 to 35,704, according to government figures, as generations of Emirati farmers worked methodically in the blistering heat to produce fruit and vegetables. Against that backdrop, the news that many farmers in Fujairah have scaled back production or shut up shop altogether because cultivating produce is increasingly unworkable is particularly tragic. Farmers are reliant on costly desalinated water while cheap imports and mass-produced supermarket produce means they are unable to compete. Today a kilo of cucumbers in Fujairah fetches less than a dirham. In January, frustrated farmers across the UAE said water scarcity had forced them to cut back or close their farms.
Worldwide, the health benefits of eating farm-to-table produce and being able to trace the origins of what you consume have been much-vaunted in recent years. Homegrown fruit and vegetables which have not travelled thousands of miles are tastier, more nutritious and less susceptible to contamination. Buying and eating locally also means that agricultural profits are reinvested in local economies while the environmental benefits of shortening the distance from harvest to table are clear.
Farmers who pioneer organic agriculture deserve credit and encouragement from both customers and the government. We can all do our bit to support them, from buying locally to visiting farms and backing those trying to sustain a living from the land. A government programme last year sought to increase production by subsidising equipment, providing expertise and connecting farms with supermarkets. This year, Abu Dhabi Farmers Service Centre agreed to convert 100 farms for organic agriculture over the next four years. But more must be done to support growers, many of whom are currently choosing between closing their farms and growing only dates. Given the health and environmental benefits of local agriculture, it is in our best interests to help sustain the industry.