No one would ever expect an organic food distributor to favor importing food to locally-grown produce, except in the Middle East. Despite efforts from people like Baker & Spice’s Yael Mejia, who is working furiously to improve the quality of local food, most of the United Arab Emirates receive their nutrition in large crates from afar. And we thought this was a bad thing.
Not so, according to the head of a leading organic food store in Dubai. Nils El Accad told Arabian Business that it makes more sense for the UAE to freight its food in from other countries than to grow it locally. His ideas may seem completely anti-green coming from an organic food distributor, but his logic is fairly sound. Well – almost.
CEO of Dubai-based Organic Foods and Cafe, Mr. Accad told the paper that since most UAE farmers use desalinated water to irrigate their crops, which requires a massive energy outlay and is ruinous to marine environments as a result of excess salt brine being pumped into the Gulf, locally-grown food has a higher carbon footprint than food produced in other countries.
He adds that other farmers who use scarce groundwater for agricultural projects put the Emirates’ long-term food security at tremendous risk, since over-extraction has rendered the finite resource increasingly saline. He worries that a day will come when dire food shortages will not be easily rectified, since the remaining freshwater will have been wasted.
But how does Mr. Accad propose to solve this problem? According to him, food brought in from Egypt has a negative carbon footprint since his producer uses compost, which rejuvenates the soil and uses no fertilizers or pesticides. The carbon footprint required to ship the produce from Egypt to the United Arab Emirates, he claims, is less than that generated locally.
Furthermore, instead of looking to Africa’s breadbasket like many of the Gulf countries, Mr. Accad encourages importers to look to Pakistan for organic produce. He told the paper that not only does the country have plenty of water and good soil, they have a labor force that could easily be trained to produce organic food. For the United Arab Emirates.
That would be OK, except as one Arabian Business reader pointed out, Pakistan is embroiled in a political conflict that does not seem to be on the wane, and Pakistan might also want to keep some of its produce for itself.
Some of the solutions not proposed by Mr. Accad for a deeply troubling reality for residents of the dry desert of the UAE, include recycling grey and black water, enforcing stricter conservation rules, and harvesting what little rain does fall.
And then, while at it, perhaps scale back on some of those obscene building projects?
More on organic agriculture in the Middle East: