Dubai: Lebanon's organic food growers are looking to boost their profile in the UAE in the face of a lack of demand at home.

"On the level of consumption, the main place in the Middle East is in the UAE. A lot of people here are asking for organic products, especially the foreigners," said Therese Sfeir, quality manager at Quacerta, a Lebanese based company that provides certification to organic producers.

"In the past ten years, we've seen around a 50 per cent increase in organic producers in Lebanon, but the market share is very small, that's why we took the initiative to come here," she said.

Lebanese-based El Solh Agriculture, which specialises in organic produce, is also looking to tap into the UAE market. "We want to tell people in the Emirates that Lebanon is one of the producers that is slowly increasing for their consumers. We'd like to make people aware that we are in the same domain as every-one else," Hadi Al Solh, director of operations, El Solh Agriculture, told Gulf News.

According to Al Solh, only 1 per cent of Lebanese consumers buy organic produce. "I'm aware that there are customers in Dubai who look for the taste of Leban-ese products," he said.

The Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture too is promoting its organic produce industry in the UAE.

In the last year, the ministry has launched a number of initiatives aimed at boosting the local organic industry and introducing it to regional markets, including a countrywide certification and regulation programme.

In 2009, a survey conducted by YouGovSiraj found 61 per cent of the UAE's residents said they do not buy organic food because it was deemed too expensive. Due to political issues, the amount it costs to transport produce from Lebanon to Dubai is often more expensive than transporting it from Europe or Asia.

Shipment costs

"There are certain countries such as New Zealand, Australia and China where it's cheaper to ship fruit and vegetables to the UAE than from Leban-on. Because of issues at the border with Syria, we have to fly out produce which costs more than shipping, which is what other countries use. For example, right now organic Lebanese tomatoes are selling for $2 (Dh7.34) a kilogramme.

"If you want to export it you have to pay an extra dollar for shipment, 60 cents for labour, packing and so on. Then when it gets to the airport there's costs to clear it and then put it in the supermarket. So at the end they're not going to sell it for less than Dh30 to make a profit," said Al Solh.