Banana (ripe and raw), drumstick, coconut, jackfruit, okra, mangoes, shallots and yard-long bean are among the major fruits and vegetables that are imported from Kerala. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Dubai: The import of an estimated 100 tonnes of fruits and vegetables is likely to be affected from Wednesday as the UAE on Tuesday banned fresh produce from the Nipah virus-hit Kerala state in India.

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE) on Tuesday said the ban is based on information received and published on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website on the registration of the Nipah virus (NiV) outbreak in Kerala.

The natural host of the virus is a fruit bat of the Pteropodidae family, according to the WHO.

“Preliminary information indicates that the main host of the disease is the fruit bat, where the virus is transmitted through secretions from the bat to the fruit that it feeds on or touches,” the ministry said.

“Mangoes, dates and bananas are the bat’s most preferred fruit. There have been cases of transmission of the disease among humans and between humans and animals as well.”

The ministry said its ban is based on Federal Law No. 10 of 2015 on food safety and through its management of the fast food alert system and in order to take the necessary precautionary measures. It also issued a circular to local authorities, including the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority and the municipalities of Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah to prevent the entry of all kinds of fresh vegetables and fruits from Kerala, India, the statement added.

“The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment spares no effort to provide healthy and safe food to consumers in accordance with best international practices in order to enhance consumer confidence in the safety of food traded in the country.

“The UAE places the highest priority on food safety and relies on stringent control systems with regard to imported food in order to protect consumer health,” it said.

The ban in the UAE came amid reports from Kerala about dwindling sales of fruits and vegetables even as the latest tests had ruled out bats being the carrier of the deadly brain-damaging Nipah virus that has killed over a dozen people and infected several others.

Shortly after the ban was announced, Indian Ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri told Gulf News that the embassy has taken up the matter with the UAE. “We have taken up the matter with the relevant authorities in the government of UAE who have promised to look into the matter and get back to us,” Suri said.

Meanwhile, industry experts said the ban would also impact the imports of fruits and vegetables from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, as majority of these produce flown into the UAE are actually grown in those states.

The sorting and exporting are done in Kerala due to the high number of traders, who also supply the produce to their local market, and better connectivity to the Gulf countries, they said.

Banana (ripe and raw), drumstick, coconut, jackfruit, okra, mangoes, yardlong beans, shallots, banana leaves, curry leaves etc are among the fresh produces that usually come from Kerala.

“About 100 tonnes of fruits and vegetables are imported to the UAE from the three airports in Kerala every day. The interesting fact is that most of these are grown in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka,” said Sameer K. Mohammad, managing director of Jaleel Holdings.

The company owns Jaleel Trading which is one of the leading wholesale suppliers of Indian fruits and vegetables to supermarkets and retail traders in Al Aweer Fruits and Vegetable Market in Dubai, one of the largest markets in the country.

“We have not received any circulars regarding the ban. But export has stopped to the UAE from Kerala since yesterday after they received some notification,” he said.

V. Nandakumar, chief communications officer of Lulu Group, said the popular retailer catering to a large section of Keralites in the UAE imports about 20 to 25 tonnes of fruits and vegetables via Kerala airports.

“We don’t see any hiccups or issue with regards to supply here as it is just a portion of our imports. We have already started making alternative arrangements through our offices in other states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and a bit from Sri Lanka to sustain the supply of produce.”

Industry experts said local markets are likely to be affected for a couple of days till the exporters of fresh produce from other states redirect their cargo from Kerala.

Meanwhile, expats from Kerala, who form the majority of Indians in the UAE, and popular restaurants run by Keralites said they are waiting and watching to see if the supplies and prices would be affected.

“I don’t want to miss our staple food items from Kerala if there is no threat to our health. I hope this ban is not likely to stay for long; it will not impact us much as the UAE has products coming from various parts of India and other countries,” said Pradeep Balan, a vegetarian.

“We have already stocked up on jackfruits which we are using as our main item in our iftars this year. We need to see how it goes with other fruits and vegetables in the coming days,” said Vijeesh Varghese, executive chef of Calicut Notebook restaurant.

Ban on live animals from Letsemeng

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment on Tuesday banned the import of all kinds of live animals (sheep, goats, cattle, buffaloes, camels and gazelles) and their non-heat-treated by-products from South Africa.

These products are banned from the Rift Valley Fever-infected Letsemeng province.

However, thermally treated products from all parts of South Africa have been cleared for import.

The decision to issue the ban as a precautionary measure was based on a notification from the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of the outbreak of Rift Valley Fever disease in South Africa, the ministry stated.

Tips to eat fruits safely

The Ministry of Climate Change and Environment called upon the public to take the following precautionary measures when they purchase and eat fresh fruits:

■ Make sure that the fruits are ripe, fresh and non-withered, wet, colour-changed or overripe.

■ Before eating fruit, make sure that there are no visible defects on them, such as pests’ infections, cuts, dirt or deformities.

■ Make sure that the fruits are free from any strange smell or taste.

■ The package should not contain any damaged fruit.

■ Wash fresh vegetables and fruits well before eating them.

■ Do not consume juices unless you confirm the source.