Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Around 20 to 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables get binned or composted globally just because they are “ugly” and UAE estimates are not far behind, local producers said.

The figures were released on Monday during the launch of the national campaign ‘I’m Perfect’ to reduce food waste by encouraging the public and commercial establishments to use and buy ‘imperfect’ fruits and vegetables. The Ministry of Environment and Water and Blue Planet Green People spearheaded the campaign that was launched in celebration of World Food Day.

The campaign aims to change people’s mindsets that fruit and vegetable rejects, while they may look different in size or colour, are not inferior in quality or nutritional content.

Renu Ojha, general manager of Blue Planet Green People, said statistics on fruit and vegetable wastage in the UAE is scant although the global statistics still apply based on their observation.

“When we started the campaign, the first thing we did was to validate this fact because it’s a global number. This number stays the same all throughout the globe but it should not be higher in the UAE for a reason that we have a lot of the produce grown in greenhouses or in a controlled environment,” Ojha said.

In the UAE, some 4,000 farmers locally grow more than 40 varieties of fruits and vegetables in around 30,000 farms spread across the country but mainly in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai. Of these, 60 are certified organic farms by the Emirates Authority For Standardisation and Metrology.

But an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the produce that doesn’t fit the aesthetic standards of supermarkets don’t get past farm gates, are rejected right away, and end up in the compost, Ojha said. Produce that never get to supermarket shelves though the UAE grows them in abundance are tomatoes, potatoes, beetroots and mostly root crops, and even the popular kale.

“Suppose I’m a farmer and when I get a seed, when I sow it it’s like giving birth, you really don’t know what kind of a kid you’ll get. It’s the same with a plant. If after 45 days, I figure out my cucumbers were actually c-shaped, what do I do with them? It will no way be accepted, especially in the UAE market which is extremely particular with the quality and how things look,” Ojha said.

Ojha said supporting local produce helps the environment as their carbon footprint is low since the produce doesn’t have to travel long distances by air and burn fuel to get to our plates. Also, it helps the family budget.

“The direct benefit is you save 30 to 40 per cent. Premium conventional and local organic produce are at the same price,” Ojha said.

Eng A. Hafiz Mousa, project manager of Al Shuwib Organic Farms which is one of the supporters of the campaign, agreed. “Buying local and organic boosts your health and helps you save money.”