Sustainable Food In UAE

Just when I was writing last post What is Sustainable FoodI realized the need to write about ‘Sustainable Food in UAE’. Because when we talk about UAE, there is drastic change in basic parameters to call the food sustainable for UAE.

Is Vegan Food Sustainable in UAE?

Vegan food is best for health and planet but let me remind you that might not  be the case in countries like UAE, when vegan food is grown by using traditional farming techniques! Let me explain, why Vegan might not be always sustainable in UAE? Growing food in UAE through traditional farming has huge challenges. There is no naturally occurring soil in UAE so soil is bought from other countries. Lot of water is used for farming, the harsh summer increases that demand even more. But as there is no natural source of water in UAE, desalinated water is used for farming. Desalination treatment of water consume lot of energy, so carbon foot print of food grown locally through traditional farming is higher and increases pressure on natural resources. So it’s difficult to call locally grown food in UAE by traditional farming ‘Sustainable Food’ because of it’s higher carbon emission.
But vegan food grown by using hydroponics is sustainable in UAE, as hydroponics is more water efficient than traditional farming, so carbon emissions are much lesser.
Will not comment much about organic food, though there are many organic farms in UAE; Organic certification locally is still at infancy stage. Local organic certification is following other certification bodies in Europe and US, which might not fit well here locally. We need to have organic certification designed specially for the region.

Proposed Solutions to make Locally grown food, sustainable

Only if water desalination is done by using renewable energy or traditional farmers exclusively use treated water(recycled grey water) use for farming instead of desalinated water; then locally grown organic vegan food in UAE can be sustainable!
To make traditional farming more sustainable in UAE, government can initiate few new systems like,
1. Reusing specific organic waste to create compost and soil as end product and using that soil for farming instead of buying and shipping it from other places.
2. Providing treated grey water for farms for irrigation, so that they won’t use desalinated water. This system will need investment but in long run will save more energy and reduce pressure on sewage disposal system too.
3. These above two systems can be implemented in every community instead of citywide and community food gardens can be formed.

Just few of my thoughts about how can we make the food growing in UAE more sustainable.

Buying Sustainable food in UAE

For now, while buying sustainable food in UAE, we need to keep few things in mind. Like buying apples in UAE coming all the way from France or US would be less sustainable than buying Iranian apples. So I would say buying food from countries closer to UAE, gives us fresher food with less carbon emissions involved in transportation. Other factor is buying seasonal fruits and vegetables. Though we get almost all kind of food in UAE throughout the year, it makes more sense to buy seasonal food, which is preserved lesser and will be more fresh and  will definitely have more nutrition! For organic food, we need to ask questions, read labels, do our research to find authentic organic food.

When buying locally grown vegetables and fruits, choose the ones which are grown in hydroponics farms. I know it’s difficult to find, specially because people are not aware that food grown by using hydroponics are equally nutritious, hydroponics farmers here are not mentioning it with their products. Whereas it’s actually better if they proudly mention it for their veggies and herbs ‘local & sustainable’
Traditionally Emaratis used to eat meat as growing food was not common before water desalination process came to UAE. So having meat in UAE was sustainable then, but now having meat produced industrially elsewhere or in UAE at the cost of natural resources like water and energy is not sustainable. But seafood is sustainable in UAE, only when we are buying or consuming sustainable fishes. Refer choose wisely to find which are sustainable fish.
Also read post sustainable food, to learn more about what is sustainable food, what exactly is organic food, what are ways to of sustainable food consumption & waste disposal.

Jabel Ali Golf Resort’s Bio-Garden

Sustainable Food Growing in UAE

So what could be most sustainable method of growing food in UAE? I am so glad, I found the answer.

Growing capsicum in aquaponics

Recently I was invited to celebrate Earth Day at Jabel Ali Golf  Resort at their on site bio-garden, as part of their environmental and sustainability efforts. I was delighted to see sustainable food growing, which I have been looking for a long time in UAE. It ticked so many boxes of my idea of ‘Sustainable food in UAE’.

Growing lettuce in Aquaponics

Recently many hotels world wide are growing their own food to make hotels more sustainable and self sufficient. It was amazing to see, the same started happening in UAE. JA Golf Resort, already a Green Globe Certified property raise money to fund this Bio-garden by selling cooking oil from kitchen to convert into diesel. Their HSE manager told me that their recycled grey water is used to irrigate golf course. So they need to use desalinated water for irrigation of bio garden. But the best part is, this bio-garden is not just traditional garden, They have installed aquaponics systems through out the garden, which they are going to develop more in future. That makes this garden very sustainable. This is a great solution to growing food in UAE sustainably.

What is Aquaponics

Aquaponics is growing plants by fertilizing them with waste water from fish in a sustainable closed system. The water travel to plants with fish waste in it, which acts as fertilizer. The water gets filtered when it travels through plant and clean water travels back to fish tank. On larger scale it is key solution to mitigating food insecurity, climate change, ground water pollution and  mining.

Aquaponics systems are completely organic and they 4 to 6 times more productive than traditional gardening. Aquaponics systems use 90% less water than conventional gardens. This system has other advantages like less maintenance as no weed, fewer pests and no watering and fertilization needed.So that makes Aquaponics, one the most sustainable farming option in UAE

Aquaponics System at JA Golf Resort

Jabel Ali Golf Resort uses Tilapia Fish in aquaponics system to grow thyme, spring onion, cherry

Fresh Herbs from Bio-Garden

tomatoes, pear tomatoes, rose merry, mint, lettuce, basil and capsicum. The resort’s kitchen are generally self sufficient for herbs requirements and use the bio-garden produce in preparing meals for the guests. They also have traditional garden where they grow herbs like basil, lemon trees but the gardener of Bio-garden told us, most of the herbs grown traditionally do not survive summer. Which they need to plant again in winter. Being a family friendly resort, they also arrange Bio-Garden kids day, It’s a great way to educate our kids about how food grows and may be even about sustainable food. On the occasion of Earth Day, the guests planted 50 lemon trees. Lemon trees grown & thrive even in heat of UAE, that’s why they selected to plant lemon trees. The produce grown in that garden was freshly picked for snacks and drinks prepared for us that day. The smells and taste of fresh herbs and lemons was one thing stayed with me from that evening!

Sustainable food has that power of bringing us not only nutrition but authentic experience of savoring food, empowering workforce in food industry, conserving our resources and well being of everyone; we, our future generations and our planet!

Earth Day celebration by planting lemon tree! Getting dirty is part of gardening!
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2 Comments on "Sustainable Food In UAE"

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Hello Amruta,

I really wonder how I missed your blog for so long! I am so glad to get connected with like minded people like you! It is wonderful reading about sustainable eating and thanks a tonne for the post!

Hi Faiza,

I am glad you liked the post and found it helpful! Please keep in touch!

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Hi, I am Amruta, Thank you for visiting my blog!

I am a Sustainability Professional. I have worked on many green building projects in the

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