UAE wants more landowners to become farmers to secure local fresh food supply chain
The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) conducted a series of visits to farmers and landowners in the UAE to encourage the use of modern agricultural and harvesting techniques in order to boost production and adapt the yield for commercial marketing.
“Enhancing the productivity of local agriculture is crucial to ensuring the UAE is food-secure in the future,” says Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment. “We can fulfill this goal through diversifying food sources. Food diversification relies on recognizing the different objectives and contributions of traditional landholders and commercial farmers, and establishing programs to support both to ensure the sustainable use of resources.”
According to Al Zeyoudi, only about five percent of landholders are involved in commercial production, whilst less than one percent contribute to local food supply.
Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.
“The support the state offers to farmers should be commensurate with their contribution as an incentive for them to become actively involved in commercial production,” he said. “We need to develop programs to increase the engagement of landholders and farmers in the adoption of sustainable management practices, and encourage them to become commercial farmers.”
The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment’s figures indicate that while a wide range of crops are cultivated in the UAE, most are only harvested over a short season, with the majority offered in late winter or early spring.
In addition, just 20% of the UAE’s fresh produce demand is met by local supply.
The sustainability and quality of locally produced vegetables, Al Zeyoudi says, can be improved through promoting innovative production systems that increase output and quality, and reduce environmental footprint.
These include advanced greenhouse design, hydroponics, vertical agriculture, netted systems and closed-system greenhouses. In addition, developing marketing schemes and supply chains for small-scale producers will help achieve the sustainability of local vegetable production.
Farmers are reluctant to adopt modern farming techniques and prefer field production, as it is generally the easiest and most profitable approach. However, field production demands a high consumption of water even with the use of modern irrigation methods.
Low economic return from local agriculture is discouraging landlords from upgrading their mechanisms and work systems. “This is why MOCCAE works on stepping up research and development efforts to slash production costs and increase its volume, and – at the same time – market certain crops more effectively and explore new varieties that can be grown locally,” he says.
He pointed out that achieving food diversity in the UAE entails developing the agriculture sector though creating markets for locally produced food commodities (Made in UAE) at home and abroad.
It also requires providing specialized guidance, adopting policies to support certain products, encouraging the production of crop varieties with high economic returns that suit the UAE environment and, finally, promoting UAE organic food produce.
He cited beekeeping as one of the major local industries that need support, such as research, to establish best practices.