x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Home is where the celery heart is

Sixty-five per cent of UAE residents prefer locally grown food to food that is imported, according to a recent survey.

Yousrey Elsharkawi, a food business consultant. examines local produce at a supermarket in the Abu Hail area in Deira. Pawan Singh / The National
Yousrey Elsharkawi, a food business consultant. examines local produce at a supermarket in the Abu Hail area in Deira. Pawan Singh / The National

More than half of UAE residents claim they buy food grown or raised locally - and nowhere more than in Abu Dhabi.

Across the emirates, 65 per cent of consumers said they preferred local produce, according to a survey by Al Aan TV. This rises to almost three quarters of residents in the capital - 72 per cent - more than in Dubai (62 per cent) or Sharjah (57 per cent).

"This number gives us an indicator that Abu Dhabi residents really trust in the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority's work," said Mohamed Jalal Al Reyaysa, the authority's communications director. The food authority aims to increase the number of people buying local through its "Zera'atona" (our agriculture) campaign.

"Local produce will start being branded and in that sense, consumers will be able to recognise home-grown food," said Mr Al Reyaysa. "We are trying to catch up with countries around the world and consumers are really starting to put their trust into local produce."

Yousrey Elsharkawi, a food security expert, took the results as an indication that residents were interested in self-sufficiency.

"It shows they want to help in improving the country's agricultural sector," he said.

Thirty per cent of the people who said they bought local food said its quality was better.

Twenty-four per cent said local food is cheaper than imported, and 20 per cent bought locally to support local farmers. Twelve per cent thought local food safer, which Mr Elsharkawi doubted because many countries that export food to the UAE "have a good criteria for food safety and good agricultural practices".

Many of those who did not buy locally grown food gave similar reasons to those who did, with 23 per cent saying the imported food was better quality.

"It all depends where you import the food from," said Sven Mostegl, a food consultant.

"The UAE's population consists of more than 100 nationalities and [regulators] need to ensure food security for these people," Mr Elsharkawi said. "A lot of food needs to be brought from outside because foreign nationalities are looking for the equivalent of their local food."

cmalek@thenational.ae