Dr Thani Bin Ahmad Al Zeyoudi and Yousuf Ali M.A. after they inaugurated the Harvest Week at Khalidiya Mall in Abu Dhabi on Monday. They also signed a ‘pledge for sustainability’. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: In a growing sign of the UAE’s move towards food sustainability, 20 per cent of its food consumption came from local produce in 2018 amounting to Dh35 million in sales.

The figures were announced on Monday during a ‘pledge for sustainability’ signing between the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) and Lulu Group International. Under the agreement, Lulu Group will aim to increase its local produce sales by 5, 10 and 15 per cent over the next the three years.

“If we really want to achieve food security we have to produce our food locally. We’re looking at the numbers that we’re producing — almost 20 per cent of our consumption comes from local production in vegetables and fruits. [The number for] the dates is almost 24 per cent,” said Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment.

Dr. Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment looks at the local produce of vegetables explained by Yousuf Ai M.A., Chairman and Managing Director of Lulu Group International after they inaugurated the Harvest Week at Khalidiya Mall in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Photo: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News (story: Sami)

“This means we are doing good so far in terms of the percentage we’re consuming locally. We are noticing over the last three years a 5-10 per cent increase in the sales which is a good direction,” he added.

“The market share of local farm produce has increased exponentially in recent years, with sales exceeding Dh35 million so far in 2018. This clearly testifies to the quality of local farm products and its ability to compete with imported produce in both the domestic and international markets,” he said.

Looking ahead, Dr Al Zeyoudi said the ministry would be helping farmers get direct access to major supermarkets across the country in a bid to boost sales.

“One further step which we’re going to take forward is the proper marketing for the local products. We want to ensure that farmers don’t go to mediators, that they go directly to the outlets or we ensure that the outlets reach out to the farmers bypassing all the mediators that usually try to reduce the revenues to the farmers,” he explained.

Dr. Thani Bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment looks at the local produce of vegetables explained by Yousuf Ai M.A., Chairman and Managing Director of Lulu Group International after they inaugurated the Harvest Week at Khalidiya Mall in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Photo: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News (story: Sami)

Dr Al Zeyoudi also stressed that the onus was more on quality over quantity.

“The quality of our products is something which we really put our names on, we don’t want the farmers to focus on the quantities [they produce], we want the quality to be their main priority.”

The minister also highlighted the ministry’s interactions and awareness campaigns with local farmers to ensure their farming practices are carried out according to clean and sustainable irrigation practices.

Growing market

V Nandakumar, chief communications officer at Lulu Group International, said its hypermarkets were now offering 120 different kinds of locally made produce, with the market still growing.

“The UAE has predominately been an importing country, and so we started this initiative joining with local farms to give them a platform to showcase and sell their food products to our shoppers and to also make our customers aware that these local products are available on the market. Currently we have a range of 120 types of produce, these include cucumbers, strawberries, peppers, lettuce and many different other types of fruits and vegetables,” he added.

“The local produce at the moment accounts for almost 9-12 per cent of our sales, and with the pledge signing we have just made our goal to gradually increase those numbers over the next three years so that at least 17-20 per cent of our products are locally sourced,” he said.