Why biryani could be luxury in UAE soon

Experts in consumer protection agree with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that expects food prices to rise next year due to climate changes which could reduce production of cereals, especially rice.

Another reason for the likely rise in rice prices is the ban on export of rice by Egypt.

The experts said measures like long-term contracts with foodstuff exporting countries are needed to curb rising food prices in the Arab world.  Raising awareness of consumers to reduce food consumption is also needed.

They also felt that the gap between universities and co-operative societies needs to be bridged and universities should conduct research into local food security.

Meanwhile, Farid Shamandi, director-general of the Union Co-operative Society in Dubai, expects a 20 per cent rise in rice prices next year due to floods in Pakistan and Thailand which are major rice producers.

“There are enough local stocks of rice till the end of this year. Union Co-operative Society has stocks of about 160,000 tons of various types of rice, which is enough for consumers of all UAE emirates for three months,” he said.

Shamandi said Union Co-op’s rice prices will not change till 2012 because the society has an exclusive agency for importing Indian basmati rice.

However, Hassan Al Katheeri, an expert in markets and consumption, warned of manipulations by traders like short-weighting not only in rice but other products like juices and electric wires.

Al Katheeri also warned of mixing of lower quality products with higher quality ones. He said random samples of imports should be checked.

Al Katheeri pointed to the absence of food research in universities and the existence of a gap between universities and consumer protection associations. He said most of the research does not focus on consumers who must be urged to compare prices of different food products and rationalise consumption. “If we are unable to control prices of food prices, we must urge consumers to reduce consumption of high-priced products and use alternatives,” he aid.

The food shortage in the Arab world is worth about Dh30 billion a year. About 90 per cent of the food consumed, particularly frozen foodstuff, is imported, he said.

Al Katheeri urged cooperative societies to co-ordinate with each other and sign long-term contracts of up to 10 years with the suppliers of food products and the governments of food producing countries.

To ensure that food products are available regardless of emergencies like floods, alternative sources should be explored. For example, if Egyptian rice is not available, Pakistan could be an alternative, he said.

He said the problem is not confined to rice alone. Lack of far-sightedness of officials and co-operative societies also results in shortages and rise in prices of sacrificial sheep every year.

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