The UAE has made strides in its agricultural industry during Covid-19, and any observer can notice that food security has become a national priority.Not only that, consumers are embracing and supporting local movements
The tavern/cellar door/restaurant, which historically was typically used to serve travelers, is a medieval form of a farm-to-table (or farm-to-table) establishment that’s fading away in the modern world. The first “documented” attempts at the farm-to-table concept in California nearly 50 years ago sparked a movement for restaurants to offer “deli meals” sourced from local markets.
In modern times, it’s both healthy (you can’t usually go wrong eating wholesome food prepared with fresh, local ingredients) and economically. When restaurants and retailers source food locally, they help support small farmers who may not have the resources to compete with large agribusiness. This in turn helps boost the local economy as money spent on locally produced food stays in the community.
Due to its geographical/environmental conditions, the UAE has historically relied on imported food to meet its needs. Importers are adept at sourcing options from all over the world, making the switch/transition to local products a daunting task. But one group in the agriculture and food industries is determined: Local farmers are getting creative with giving restaurants more variety, and restaurants are taking up the challenge and getting creative with offerings based on local products and embracing their seasonality.
The UAE has made strides in its agro-processing industry during Covid-19, and any observer can notice that food security has become a national priority. Not only that, but consumers who embrace and support the local movement have now solidified the farm-to-table approach, and it’s not “unheard of” anymore.
By 2023, restaurants that truly believe in the healing power of food (don’t forget the word restaurant comes from the Latin, restaurare, to renew) can now source quality local produce, not just lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers!
While the farm-to-table movement has clear benefits for all involved (farmers, restaurateurs, consumers and the economy as a whole), the UAE also needs to address some major challenges. One of the main challenges is the cost of locally sourced organic and sustainably produced food. Small-scale farmers may not have the economies of scale to compete with large agribusinesses, which can lead to higher prices for consumers. However, as the farm-to-table movement continues to grow, prices are expected to become more competitive as more farmers adopt sustainable farming practices.
Another major hurdle is the seasonality of produce. For example, it’s the height of farming season and our company, Spill the Bean, sources local organic eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroot, chard, iceberg lettuce and herbs from November through April. Soon enough, we’ll have to tweak and tweak the menu…however, we’re fully aware of the limitations of growing anything in this part of the world during the notoriously hot summer months.
What is still “missing” from the UAE’s own farm-to-table movement is traceability, which has become easier to achieve with the advancement of blockchain technology and its associated applications. The farm to table concept itself didn’t exist in the UAE a few years ago and seeing all the tech startups popping up around the UAE we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before we see local restaurants using apps like this to track the globe and locally grown food to provide the transparency that many ethical consumers demand.
The farm-to-table movement has begun in the UAE for the benefit of all parties. Propelling it to even greater heights is the continued patronage of consumers: consumers will demand restaurants provide traceability of the food they consume; consumers will agree to pay extra for more equitable, “ethically traded” and more nutritious food cost. Then, I can safely say that chefs and restaurants will respond with more creativity.
(Hannad Abi Haydar is the co-founder of Spill The Bean, a sustainable “specialty” coffee shop in Dubai. He is also a food safety expert, engineer and home gardener.)