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UAE organic farmers: 'Help us improve'

Locally grown organic produce is not marketed well enough, experts from the food industry said on Monday.

A group of farmers, retailers, chefs, restaurant owners and government representatives gathered during a networking event organised by Local Food UAE to discuss how the situation could be improved.

“Sharing of information and transparency is the biggest problem,” said Sheikha Juma, an Emirati who owns a farm in Dubai. “When it comes to local farmers, we have an issue with division of labour. All farmers are competing for the same cake while, if you go to Europe or the US, farmers are specialised in a specific product.”

She said the UAE’s farmers grow between 20 to 50 products, competing with the same limited clientele. “They’re not able to reach the consumers because of a marketing problem,” she said. “The country isn’t huge so farmers should work together and dictate who does what to excel in it and give other farmers the allowance to do what they’re good at. When they learn how to collaborate, then the advantage will be with them, which will increase revenues.”

Farmers were said to need more training in the post-packing processes. “Ninety-nine per cent of the farmers don’t know how to sell [their produce],” said Ahmed Al Romaithi, manager of the Zaarie programme, which finances organic farmers as part of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development.

“Their limits as a farmer end by boxing the produce. After that, they don’t deal with it. I visited many farms across the UAE and it’s all the same problem.”

He recently set up a meeting between 15 farmers and retailers to create channels of communication. “It’s helping now and they’re selling more,” he said. “If they don’t sustain their farms, they will have to close down. Supermarkets like local organic food because it’s as fresh as they can get and we plan on having them in more supermarkets, including Lulu Hypermarket, by January or February.”

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