"We don’t have water here, it’s a stupid idea to farm without water.” says Nils El Accad, CEO of Dubai-based Organic Foods and Café. He continues:“Most farmers rely upon desalinated water, which means the carbon footprint of food grown using it is much higher than if you air freight it in,” read the rest.
I did a job for the ministry of agriculture in the UAE some ten years ago, about the development of organic agriculture in UAE. My conclusion was quite the same: Date palms, sheep and camels are the traditional food produced in these very dry areas, and they can be produced sustainably. But all the vegetables, the strawberries and other food are better produced where there is more water around. Alternatively they can use waste water for irrigation of the food crops - now they use it for golf courses and lawns - equally ridiculous things in a desert. For using waste water they need to change their consumption patterns and use less harmful stuff.
Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has also come to similar conclusions, as I write about in Garden Earth:
In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia supported massive expansion of grain production based on subsidized irrigation. It was, by and large, very successful. In the 1990s, it became clear that it wasn’t sustainable. In some areas, ground water table dropped 5 meters per year and some farmers were drilling at 1000 meters to reach water. In response to this production of wheat was reduced from 4.5 million tons 1992 to 1.8 million tons 1993 and the production of barley dropped from 2.2 million tons to just 100,000 tons by year 2002. In 2002 the ministry of agriculture announced that it would cease feed production altogether because of its negative effect on water resources.
Local food production is in most cases a good idea, but there are many situations where some trade is also justifiable also from an "ecological" perspective. Alpine farms specialize in animal production, making cheese etc. They have bought grain for centuries, which is actually a better idea than plowing steep mountains. The same patter can be seen where farms in mountain areas in Italy and Greece grow olives and grapes, and buy grain from plains. A too fundamentalist approach to local self-sufficiency would in those cases be more damaging.