x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Home-grown organic products get stamp of approval from UAE ministry

The first organic produce market backed by the Ministry of Environment and Water has opened in Dubai.

The first organic market backed by the Ministry of Environment and Water opened in Dubai's Deira fish market today. Lee Hoagland / The National
The first organic market backed by the Ministry of Environment and Water opened in Dubai's Deira fish market today. Lee Hoagland / The National

DUBAI // A traditional souk-style organic produce market opened in Dubai today, boasting dozens of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Located at the Deira fish market, it is the first of many planned by the Ministry of Environment and Water.

"Having this small market is a step to encourage and promote organic production in the UAE," said Dr Rashed Ahmad Bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water.

"This is a starting point and it should give confidence to the consumer in [our] procedure to give organic certification which is very important. This is a quest for us to spread it to other organic [products] like meat and dairy."

The ministry currently organically certifies more than 27 farms, and aims to reach 100 before the end of next year.

"Farmers are ready to [start] this culture," said Mansour Ibrahim Mansour, the ministry's director of agriculture development. "They are looking to produce healthy food. I started with eight farms and I reached 23 within two months."

From organic cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and cabbage to bell peppers, cauliflower, potatoes and leafy greens, Ahmed Fathy grows between five and eight tonnes a month on his farm in Al Khawaneej.

"We sell to Union Co-op, Baker and Spice and Greenheart," he said. "This is our first traditional market and it's important to have a presence here because it will improve the market for organic food."

At the next stall, Adel Abou Taleb sells four bell peppers for Dh14, six tomatoes for Dh8.70 and two large broccoli florets for Dh14.80.

He grows 45 tonnes of organic, or adoua in Arabic, produce a month on his two farms in Al Rahba and Al Khawaneej. "The brand is called Integrated Green Resources and we sell in Spinney's already," he said.

But some farmers are struggling to cover their costs. "The most important thing is to show that we have organic products grown here," said Ahmad Ghalita, an organic farmer in Al Dhaid for the past 10 years.

"It used to be hard for us to sell before and we lowered our prices a lot to be able to take part in the market but it still doesn't cover our expenses."

He already sells to Union Co-op supermarkets, but hopes the new markets will help. "You need seven to eight guys to pack the produce alone," he said. "I hope the government will support us in the future by giving us spots in these markets."

Obaid Bin Ghubash, who owns two farms in Al Ain and Al Ushah, sells to the Dubai Mall's Organic Foods & Cafe, Baker and Spice, Sharjah Co-op and even exports to Bahrain. "We're hoping to cover our expenses eventually in the next year," he said.

Similar markets will open in Global Village and Souk Al Bahar this year and in Sharjah and Abu Dhabi next year. "This souk is traditional and it has different customers than in supermarkets," said Mr Mansour. "Locals come here, especially over the weekend, so we want them to know what organic is all about."

The ministry visits certified farms twice a year to analyse their soil and check for pesticides.

In the next few months, the market will be covered and air-conditioned. It will open on Fridays and Saturdays from 8am to 6pm.

"We want to encourage farmers because marketing is important for them," said Dr Bin Fahad. "This is a quest to secure our food security and give the UAE a competitive advantage."

The new markets will be competition for the private chain of organic markets, Ripe. Becky Balderstone, Ripe's founder, said she welcomed the challenge. "Anyone supporting local agriculture is a good thing," she said. "It's what were all about and it's what we 100 per cent believe in.

"We're trying to open to more markets, they're hard work and they take a lot of time to set up so if someone is willing to put effort in it, then it's a great idea."