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Thu 3 Apr 2008 04:00 AM

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Food imports could hamper UAE development

The UAE is in danger of becoming over dependent on foreign food sources as it lacks adequate reserves and has limited production, industry insiders have claimed.

The UAE is in danger of becoming over dependent on foreign food sources as it lacks adequate reserves and has limited production, industry insiders have claimed.

The country's 4.5 million population, which comprises 80% expatriates, relies heavily on imported food, explained organiser of regional agri-business trade event AGRA Middle East, Jim Meltz.

With US $3.5 to $4 billion spent every year on food imports, it is vital that the UAE focus on sustaining itself agriculturally, he added.

"It's always beneficial for a country to be self-sufficient. Look at Saudi Arabia. It's light years ahead of us in the UAE, because it produces so much. The same can be said for Iran: because of the blockades on it, it had to produce," he said.

While the Middle East was witnessing significant agricultural development, the GCC countries still relied on the rest of the world for 90% of their food requirements, according to Meltz, which could leave countries "wide open to price speculation".

The region had already turned 7237km² of once barren desert into cultivable land but the more than 900 hotels planned for construction across the region by 2020 could undermine these efforts, he said.

"As the hospitality sector develops, the consequent requirement for food products including poultry, fish and seafood is rising dramatically."

Quantities of fruit and vegetables being imported to the Middle East are also increasing, as the local supply is "too far below the demand of the market" according to supplier Federal Foods.

"Since the UAE Dirham is pegged to the US Dollar, we are forced to pay more for European products," added product manager Sajid Abdullah.

"Rising crude oil prices have increased freight costs, resulting in higher costs of imports.

For chefs, there was little choice but to pass on these rising costs to customers, conceded Al Murooj Rotana Hotel & Suites Dubai's executive chef Joachim Textor.

"We purchase 5000kg to 8500kg of fruit and vegetables each month, depending on business, and mainly source produce from Holland, Belgium, France, Lebanon, Greece and Australia," he explained.

"The customer has to understand that they have to pay a bit more sometimes in order to get fresh seasonal products that are flown into Dubai.

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CHETAN BHATT 11 years ago

I agree with the comments of UAE relying on food imports. What all the GCC countries now should do is to start cultivating grains and some food products instead converting the land area into a concrete jungle! More important than anything else is to be able to feed ourselves. The govt should invest in this now. I hope that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed will take some serious steps to do this.