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Population growth spurs food consumption gains in UAE

Staff Writer |
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) projected to consume about 1.03 million tonnes of wheat in the 2016-17 marketing year.

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This is up 8% from 2015-16, according to a report from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The increase in consumption reflects the UAE’s steadily growing population and tourism industry, the FAS said in the report published Aug. 18.

“Annual figures released by the UAE’s tourism departments show UAE attracted over 14 million visitors in 2015,” the FAS said. “Growing flight networks and local airlines have also boosted the in-flight catering industry.”

Wheat imports, meanwhile, are expected to increase by 3% to 1.073 million tonnes in 2016-17, up from 1.04 million tonnes in 2015-16.

“Russia, Canada, Turkey, Australia and India wheat remains more competitive than other sources, especially U.S. wheat, due to lower prices, lower freight costs, and proximity to the UAE,” the FAS said.

In 2015-16, the top wheat origin was Russia, followed by Canada, Turkey, Australia and India.

The FAS said rice consumption in the UAE in the 2016-17 marketing year is expected to reach 836,000 tonnes, up 16% from 2015-16 and 226,000 tonnes larger than the USDA’s estimate of 610,000 tonnes.

“Rice is a favorite food staple for the majority of people living in the UAE,” the FAS noted in the report.

“The country has one of the highest per capita consumption rates of rice in the world. As incomes increase, people can afford to switch to high-value products such as meat, dairy products, fruits, and vegetables which could lead to a fall in rice consumption.

“The disproportionate high per capita consumption of rice in the UAE could be due to the skewed income distribution. While the overall per capita income of the UAE is high and would put it in the developed countries bracket, its per capita consumption of rice is more towards that of a developing country.

“The reason for this is that a substantial proportion of the population is expatriate Asian labor contracted at low wages mainly from India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

“Many of these laborers are provided food in the camps by their sponsors and rice is the cheapest staple food. Rice-based dishes are the cheapest meal that can be purchased at lower-end restaurants catering to this segment of the population.

“Emiratis and other Arab nationals are also regular rice consumers with Biryani, Mandi, and Madhbi being popular rice-based dishes. However, a high percentage of the rice is wasted especially in large banquets, weddings, and events.

“Indian basmati rice is the most popular rice in the UAE. India is the largest basmati exporter, accounting for over 80% of global trade, with the remainder primarily from Pakistan.”

In 2016-17, rice imports are expected to reach 1.29 million tonnes, up 3% from 2015-16.

“This increase is in proportion to the increase in population and consumption,” the FAS said. “The major rice suppliers are India, Pakistan and Thailand. They remain more competitive than other sources due to preferable rice type (basmati rice), lower prices and lower freight costs.”

In 2015-16, the top origin was India, followed by Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam.

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