Have you heard about organic farming and its growing popularity around the globe? This type of farming is environmentally friendly and healthier for both the farmers and consumers. The sustainable, environment-friendly farming practice has gained much traction in the past few years, especially considering its economic feasibility. The scenario in the UAE is no different, as the country now offers plenty of opportunities for organic farming investors. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about organic farming in UAE, from what it is to the advantages and steps involved in obtaining organic certification and starting organic farming in UAE.
Organic farming is a type of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost, and biological pest control. Organic farmers do not use synthetic (artificial) fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators, or livestock feed additives.
Instead, organic farmers often use manure and compost to feed their plants and rotate their crops to control weeds and pests. They also use beneficial insects and birds to help keep pests under control and grow their organic produce.
There are many advantages of organic farming, like:
- Environmental benefits
For organic farming, farmers rely on natural processes, such as crop rotation and composting, to improve and maintain soil health. These practices help to store carbon in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Health benefits
Foods that are are often fresher because they are not treated with synthetic preservatives. They are also less likely to contaminate harmful chemicals, such as pesticides and growth hormones.
- Economic benefits
Organic farming can be more profitable than conventional farming because organic products sell for a premium price. Also, organic farmers save money on synthetic inputs, such as fertilisers and pesticides.
- Social benefits
Organic farming is often associated with a more sustainable way of life. Organic farmers often have a stronger connection to the land and their local community.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported in its 2021 World of Organic Agriculture report that at present at least 3.1 million farmers from 187 countries are now practising organic farming with 72.3 million hectares of land.
Furthermore, the global organic produce industry is currently worth over $250 billion and is expected to grow to $437 billion by the year 2026, as published by Statista.
Not surprisingly, the UAE is no exception to this organic farming trend as the country is quickly turning into a hotbed for organic farming investments. Let’s look at a few compelling reasons for you to invest in organic farming in UAE.
- Great Strategic location
The UAE is strategically located between Europe and Asia, making it the perfect place to grow organic produce that can be exported to both continents. The country’s proximity to the world’s busiest shipping lanes also makes it easier and cheaper to transport organic produce from the UAE to the rest of the world.
- Favourable climatic conditions
UAE’s climate is ideal for growing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The country has a tropical desert climate with hot and humid summers and warm winters.
- Soil rich in minerals
You will find sandy soil in UAE that is rich in minerals and ideal for growing a wide variety of crops. This soil type makes it easier for various plants to absorb nutrients easily.
- Relaxed taxation policies
The country also offers a number of incentives for agricultural businesses, such as tax exemptions and subsidies. You can take 100% of the profit and investment outside the UAE.
- Government support
In UAE, the government has set up several initiatives to promote the industry and support organic farming in UAE. The government has also created a number of free zones suitable for agri-tech businesses.
UAE’s organic food market size stood at $37.45 million in 2021, and it ranks among the top 30 countries globally in terms of forecasted growth rate.
Before we discuss the steps you will take to initiate your venture of organic farming in UAE, let’s get a clear idea on how the UAE government classifies organic farming.
Your licensing requirement will largely depend on the type of organic farming you pursue in Dubai. At present, there are three major categories of organic farming, as follows:
- Aquaculture: The aquaculture category includes the farming and production of any fish and other water-borne animals. According to the Aquaculture farming guide published by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), the existing aquaculture farms based in the UAE focus on producing the following fishes:
- Sea Bream
- Black Tilapia
- Red Tilapia
- Indian White Prawn
- Nile Tilapia
In addition, MOCCAE encourages new investors to farm the following fish types, as their demand is likely to increase in the near future:
Currently, there are four aquaculture systems in the UAE: sea cage, Recirculating Aquaculture System (suitable for the coastal capital area), in-land aquaculture, and intertidal.
- Livestock production and farming: The livestock category involves farming animals and livestock in the UAE. Some of the farming animals include cows, horses, sheep, goats, camels, and ostriches.
- Agricultural activity: Finally, the agricultural category includes all types of crops you may grow in the UAE and anything that is not classified under the aquaculture and livestock category.
Your licensing and certification requirement for organic farming in UAE will depend on two key factors: farming type and farming capacity. We have already discussed the farming types above. Now, let’s get familiar with the farming capacity.
To conduct any business in the UAE, you will need a trade licence, which is also known as a commercial licence. Based on your scale of operation, production quantity, and distribution channels there are three types of licence you can apply for when doing organic farming in UAE, as follows:
- Professional Licence. Examples include: Growing citrus fruits, farming cows, egg production, and growing vegetables.
- Commercial Licence. Examples include: Seeds trading, animal and bird feed trading, trading of animals, and aquaculture.
- Industrial Licence. Examples include: Organic fertiliser manufacturing, and organic pesticide manufacturing.
In most cases, you will need to secure a professional licence from the Department of Economy and Tourism in Dubai (DED) to start your organic farming in UAE. If you want to trade simultaneously, you will need an additional commercial or trading licence. For a few large-capacity industrial and manufacturing operations you may need an industrial licence.
Now that you know the basic licence and operation types related to the UAE farming business, let’s go through the steps of beginning your organic farming business in the UAE.
When you decide to open an organic farm in UAE, depending on your farming types, nature of the operation, and farming location, you may require permissions, approvals, and certificates from multiple authorities and municipalities.
The basic steps are as follows:
When opening any businesses in Dubai, you will need approval from the DED or equivalent arthritis for other regions in the UAE. DED has established a fairly straightforward process to obtain a trade licence of the professional category.
You must also choose a trading name at this stage, which you will use for all future communications with the regulatory bodies. If you want to use your name as a business name, the UAE government requires you to avoid any abbreviations and only stick to the complete form of your name.
The DED approval is a two-step process: initial approval and final approval. The initial approval does not require land rent and lease documents. You can get the initial approval within a few minutes from the Invest Dubai website within minutes through a guided online registration portal. DED has also set up authorised service centres at many locations across Dubai, where you can visit physically with the documents and avail of the service.
You can then use the initial approval certificate to proceed with your organic farming project’s land rental or leasing process. At this stage, you may also require permission from a few external authorities who will evaluate your project physically before issuing approval.
If your organic farming project is based in Dubai, you may need approval from one or more of the following authorities at this stage:
- Dubai Customs (if your organic farming in UAE involves the export or import of equipment and agricultural products to or from abroad)
- Food Safety Department at the Dubai Municipality
- Environmental Health Section at Dubai Municipality
Once you acquire land leasing and municipal permission, you must apply for a farm licence.
UAE MOCCAE supervises the licensing procedure for all three farming activities –
- Agricultural Activity Licence,
- Livestock Farm Licence, and
- Aquaculture Production Farm Licence.
All three of the processes take approximately three working days to complete. You will typically need the following documents:
- Trade name certification from DED or relevant authority
- Lease or ownership contract
- Actual photographs of the site
- Environmental and municipal licence, if applicable.
Once you apply for a licence by submitting your production plan and land leasing approvals from the relevant authorities, MOCCAE representatives will carry out a physical inspection at your planned production facility. They will either approve your licence or provide recommendations for further improvement in specific areas.
The following flow chart prepared by the MOCCAE will give you a good idea about the steps involved in the licensing process.
The steps we have discussed are identical for organic and non-organic farms. However, since you will extensively focus on organic farming in UAE, there are a few additional approvals you will need, especially if you import any raw materials.
Organic produce and organic foods are regulated products in the UAE because customers may often pay a premium price for organic Agri products, and you may also enjoy incentives from the government to invest in organic produce.
Therefore, you must apply for organic certification from the regulatory bodies. UAE’s MOIAT oversees the organic certification application and approval process. Formally, the certificate is known as Conformity Certificates for Regulated Products, or Emirates Conformity Assessment Scheme (ECAS). The approval process takes up to three business days.
While applying for the ECAS certification, you must submit additional lab test results and organic certification for all your imported raw materials (seeds, for instance), which you might use for organic farming in UAE.
Once you acquire your organic farming certification and all other relevant licences, you can go back to resume your previous application with DED to apply for a full commercial licence in Dubai. You can simply upload all the documents in the Invest Dubai portal, pay the required fees and get your certification within a few minutes.
The actual cost of starting organic farming in UAE depends on many factors, including location, relevant authorities involved in the process, and nature of farming. The following list includes some regulatory fees you might need to pay.
- Initial Approval: AED 120
- Trade name booking: AED 600
- Licence application fees
- Aquaculture production: AED 500 per year
- Agricultural activity: AED 500 for each activity per year, AED 200 if sample testing is required, AED 1,500 for establishing nursery
- Animal production: AED 2,000 per year
- Organic certification: AED 1,800 (ECAS)
- Commercial licence: AED 600
- Municipal or environmental approval: As applicable.
To get your project rolling, you may have a budget of AED 10,000 to AED 30,000 based on the scope of the project
Organic farming in UAE has massive prospects to grow substantially as an industry. The application process depends on the specific farming type you plan to do. For instance, if you plan to take your business online, you may need a separate eCommerce approval. Professional advice and careful evaluation of your organic farming project will save you precious time and resources down the road.