A worker at a cucumber farm in Dhaid
A worker at a cucumber farm in Dhaid. Number of farms in the country has increased over the years and residents are more inclined to buy local produce. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News

Dubai: Hydroponic farming, which is catching on in the UAE among many urban farmers, cannot be qualified as organic even if the produce grown through this method are not aided by any chemical fertilisers or pesticides, the UAE regulatory authorities have said.

In a statement to Gulf News, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) said that hydroponic farming cannot be certified as organic because the plant is not grown directly on the soil.

Being responsible for the country’s environment and agriculture activities MOCCAE regulates organic and other farming activities through ministerial resolution number 84 of the year 2012, which is part of the regulation of the federal law number five of the year 2009 on organic inputs and products.

Dh30000

fine for promoting non-organic produce as organic

Implementing MOCCAE’s regulations among others, Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) also confirmed that fruits and vegetables grown using hydroponic methods are not organic.

What is hydroponics and why is it trending?

Hydroponics is a technology for growing terrestrial plants with their roots in nutrient solutions (water with dissolved fertilisers) rather than soil, says an ESMA spokesperson.

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A kale farm. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News Archives

According to the official, hydroponics farming is gaining in popularity, particularly in arid regions like we have here and in urban atmosphere because it does away with reliance on natural requirements for farming. It is also cost effective and highly productive, but it cannot be classified as organic.

“Organic products are grown naturally without the use of any prohibited chemical pesticides and fertilisers. It is a system where all the farm inputs are to be taken in the farm itself and all the seeds have to be organic and non-genetically modified organisms (GMO). This is not the case with hydroponics,” he explained.

MOCCAE registers and approves the seeds in the UAE and all GMO seeds are banned in the country, while ESMA certifies all the organic farms and products.

94

number of organic farms in UAE in 2018

“We inspect the farms and monitor all the activities in the organic farms and certify the products grown in these farms. All organic products need to have our ‘UAE Organic’ labels. Hydroponic products cannot be certified as such because the technique doesn’t fall under the description of organic,” said the official.

Regulations

He added that under the UAE law there are stringent rules for a farm to attain the organic status.

“If any farmer wants organic certification for his products, he has to apply with ESMA and present to us the farm’s organic system plan, which includes the plan for the crops he will plant for the whole year, he will have to provide test reports from approved laboratories of the soil, of the produce, seeds and compost he will be using in the farm,” said the official.

He added that the organic farmers also have to produce records of their harvest for ESMA to evaluate the yield.

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Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman/Gulf News

Once this is done, ESMA inspectors visit the farm to make sure there is no contamination to the farm from aerial drift, from sandstorm carrying chemicals from other farms.

“The UAE organic law requires organic farms to be properly segregated from other farms with clear physical barriers and protection mechanisms. So with all these elaborate and stringent requirements that hydroponics do not meet, no hydroponic farmer can claim his produce to be organic,” he said.

He said that apart from hydroponics being not naturally grown, the primary concern about it is that the nutrients the plants absorb can be taken from any source and is mostly chemical based.

Organic growth

Interestingly, despite all the restrictions organic farming is increasing in popularity across the UAE.

The UAE currently has 94 certified organic farms growing a variety of produce, up from 32 in 2016, witnessing a three-fold growth.

32

number of organic farms in UAE in 2016

At 31 Abu Dhabi has the highest number of organic farms, followed by Dubai with 23, while Sharjah has 11.

An astonishing variety of organic fruits and vegetables are grown in the country, ranging from eggplants and capsicum to dates, figs and grapes.

On farming

■ Hydroponic: Hydroponics is a technology for growing terrestrial plants with their roots in nutrient solutions (water with dissolved fertilisers) rather than soil

Organic: Organic products are grown naturally without the use of any prohibited chemical pesticides and fertilisers. It is a system where all the farm inputs are to be taken in the farm itself and all the seeds have to be organic and non-genetically modified

GMO: All genetically modified organisms (GMO) are banned in the UAE.

Law: MOCCAE resolution number 84 of the year 2012, under the federal law number five of the year 2009 governs organic inputs and products in the UAE