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Desert farms yield same-day produce for UAE consumers

When you pass Coffee Pot Roundabout, you know you’re close to tonight’s dinner. And within minutes, you’re upon it: giant tents sprawl across the desert like something out of a sci-fi movie. Spanning over six thousand square metres each, these greenhouses are home to rows and rows of vines, all rising more than seven feet into the air.

Agriculture Engineer Mohammad Rashid Sulaiman Al Naqbi explains how his team uses everything from solar energy to imported seeds and bumblebees (both from the Netherlands) to improve crop yield at the farm. He breaks down the annual production by volume. Each hectare produces 300 tonnes of tomatoes over the course of a year. Since one kilo is approximately five tomatoes, that’s 1.5 million tomatoes per hectare. The company has 20 hectares under production and grows a range of outdoor and indoor crops, including potatoes and figs.

At Elite Agro, crops — tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers — are picked by hand every day and sorted (according to weight, colour, diameter and size) and packaged immediately on site before being bussed to supermarkets around the UAE. This means home chefs and dinner party divas in the UAE can now buy — and cook — produce that’s picked the same day, overturning the idea of fresh food in this desert country.

Martin Jorge Aguirre, Commercial Manager Fresh Produce at Spinneys, confesses that it’s always been a challenge to get customers to buy local produce — particularly at the premium end. “Last year was the first that we were able to offer local tomatoes over the whole year,” Aguirre says. Over that time, locally grown fruit and vegetables have gone from a 2 per cent share of the sales value of Spinneys’ fresh produce to 8 per cent. “Overall, we’ve seen an increase of sales of local items of over 200 per cent.”

So the brand created the UAE Spinneys Farmers Club. In 2015, the supermarket launched the club with three conventional farmers and four organic producers, including well-known players such as Emirates Hydroponic, Dar Al Fateh and Organic Oasis. The aim was to promote sales of sustainably sourced local produce. Certifications are key to boosting consumer confidence, and Spinneys required club members to meet international standards by getting accredited by organisations such as the NGO Global Gap, or for organic producers, from the EU, USDA or UK’s Soil Association, as well as the UAE’s own Emirates Authority For Standardisation and Metrology.

Read more at Gulf News

Publication date: 3/14/2017

 


 

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