Two packaging and grading centres in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region and Al Ain aim to ensure local produce is not overlooked on store shelves. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) has said the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture will be reduced by 25 per cent in the emirate by 2013 as part of a sustainable agriculture strategy.

Officials of the ADFCA and Farmers Service Centre (FSC) also announced on Tuesday that they plan to increase the market share of local produce to 40 per cent in the next five years. They also reiterated a plan announced in October last year to reduce water consumption by 40 per cent by 2013, by stopping the cultivation of some water-intensive crops like Rhodes grass, among other measures.

The officials were speaking at a press conference at ADFCA on Tuesday to officially launch a campaign titled ‘Zera'atona' (Our agriculture) which aims to achieve a sustainable agriculture strategy.

"Problems of chemical fertilizer and chemical pesticide are a global issue but we plan to reduce their use by 25 per cent by 2013," Mubarak Ali Mohammad Al Mansouri, executive director of Agriculture Sector, said.

"We are resorting to biological and mechanical control of pests to do away with chemical pesticides,"Al Mansouri said.

By 2013, 90 per cent of the local produce will be fully compliant with international standards, he said.

"Abu Dhabi has about 24,000 farms and we have a new initiative to measure the exact consumption of water in some farms [as part of water conservation measures]," Khalifa Al Ali, the managing director and board member of FSC, said.

Rhodes grass, grown as an animal feed, was consuming about 70 per cent of water used in irrigation, he said. The gradual phasing out of the crop had led to an improvement in the situation, he said. "The available cultivable lands are limited in the country so we are trying to promote greenhouses in the farms to the maximum extent," said Mohammad Jalal Al Reyaysa, director of communication and community service at ADFCA.

Greenhouses economise on land and water use, Al he said adding that all these measures will assure farmers of a fair income.

A system is in place to address farmers' concerns, and oversee all aspects of sustainable agriculture in the emirate, he said. ADFCA is also coordinating with Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development to increase the market share of local produce, he added.

Local produce to sell under new label: Farmers Service Centre to partner with major hypermarkets and retail chains as part of marketing strategy

Customers can easily identity high-quality vegetables and fruits produced in Abu Dhabi from now on with the produce being sold under a new brand name, Hisadu Khairatina (local harvest).

The brand name will promote the marketing of local produce, a senior official told Gulf News. Abu Dhabi boasts an abundance of high-quality local produce and the new brand name seeks to address the marketing void, said Khalifa Al Ali, managing director and board member of the Farmers Service Centre (FSC) which was set up about one-and-a-half years ago.

Now farmers can focus on their primary job and forget about the marketing aspect which will be taken care of by the FSC. The FSC is signing up with major hypermarkets and retail chains to market local produce, apart from its own stores, Al Ali said.

He said customers had been hesitant to buy local produce for want of proper packaging.

"We have set up two packaging and grading centres in Western Region and Al Ain to address that issue. Now the local produce is packaged and graded properly."

Farmers have also seen their earnings rise as a result of initiatives taken up by the FSC, he said.

"They can simply give the produce to FSC and we will market them properly," Al Ali said.