x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE farmers seek government help to improve their yield

At the start of a festival showcasing local produce, Emirati farmers say they need subsidies in order to help them improve their yield and counter a global rise in food prices.

ABU DHABI // At the start of a festival showcasing local produce, Emirati farmers said yesterday they need subsidies in order to help them improve their yield and counter a global rise in food prices.

“We do all the work and get no subsidies,” said Mohamed Sayed al Hameli, a farmer from Al Gharbia who owns the “So Fresh” brand of produce. The brand includes local organic lettuce, tomatoes and peppers.

“We are struggling to break even, but hoping it gets better in the future. If the authorities are not helping me, I don’t think I can continue.”

Encouraged by Sheikh Zayed’s vision of a self-reliant country, Mr al Hameli, now 41, started farming in 1992. At that time, there were some subsidies, but they had been phased out by 1996.

“This was due to the support of Sheikh Zayed,” said Mr al Hameli. “We started it and liked it.”

Other subsidies, including the cash that farmers received from the Government for their crops of Rhodes grass, have also been removed. The purchasing of Rhodes, which is used in animal feed, was phased out because officials wanted farmers to stop growing a crop that accounted for three of every five litres of water used in agriculture.

Mr al Hameli now owns 280 greenhouses in Liwa, some on land he inherited from his father, and some he has since bought. But he said the income from them was not enough to sustain his family.

He said he would like seeds, equipment, fertilisers and technology to be subsidised.

While the Government assistance may be limited, the Farmer’s Service Centre, which opened last year, offers much of what Mr al Hameli is requesting, including modern irrigation methods, technical expertise, training and climate-adapted seeds.

He is still worried, though – especially about the UAE market being flooded by cheaper imported produce. “They dump it here and kill the prices,” he said. “We need anti-dumping laws.”

Emirati farmers should concentrate on seasonal produce, he said. In summer, for example, he can grow lettuces to sell at market for Dh1 a head, compared with up to Dh10 for an imported lettuce.

Last year, the country faced shortages during Ramadan of fresh herbs such as parsley and mint.

“I can contribute but we cannot yet cover the demands of the market,” he said. “We can sell for cheaper, but seasonal demands dictate prices. We can lower the prices sometimes.”

Following a bad harvest in India that led the government there to ban exports to meet domestic demand, the price of onions has risen sharply in recent months as suppliers scrambled to find stock elsewhere.

At the launch of the local produce campaign yesterday, farmers gathered at the Lulu supermarket in the Khalidiyah Mall to challenge myths about excessive pesticide use.

“There is a misconception in the market that locally grown vegetables excessively used pesticide,” said Yusuf Ali, the managing director of Lulu. “In fact, now they are less dependent on pesticides.

“Especially with international shortages, it is very important to be self-reliant. Initiatives such as this will help stabilise the food cost in the market.”

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae