BAHRAIN'S biggest farmer's market will be back permanently later this year. Thousands of people visited the weekly market, which will be relocated to Howrat A'ali from the Agriculture Centre in Budaiya to allow more farmers to exhibit their produce.
Municipalities and Agriculture Affairs Minister Dr Juma Al Ka'abi said plans were also being studied to introduce training courses in gardening technologies and investment in nurseries.
Held every Saturday, the market aimed to provide a platform for Bahraini farmers to sell their produce, mainly vegetables, directly to consumers.
It initially accommodated 26 farmers and ran between last December and May.
"We are now planning to accommodate 60 farmers, which is more than double the number of those exhibiting in our Agriculture Centre in Budaiya, with plans to move from the centre to Howrat A'ali, which is by far more spacious," said Dr Al Ka'abi.
"It was a small project in the beginning, but an average attendance of 10,000 visitors every Saturday has meant that we had to study other options if we wanted to continue in the future.
"We were originally aiming for a conceptual success to increase awareness about Bahrain's agriculture, but we ended up with farmers signing deals with hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, which has helped open up a new market for local produce.
"In the new location, we may introduce training courses in gardening technologies like hydroponics and small investment in nurseries in a bid to further encourage gardening within the community."
Ministry senior horticulturist Amani Abu Idris, who was behind establishing the market, said farmers have been planting new local crops to meet the increasing demand.
"Many farmers were hesitant at the beginning to exhibit with us last December because they were afraid the market was a waste of time," she said.
"We initially started with 20 but with more requests from other farmers after an unexpected success, that number increased to 26, but many applicants were kept on the waiting lists.
"With interest from hotels, restaurants and supermarkets, farmers have started planting new crops that they were not sure would be successful in the market to meet the growing demand.
"Local produce is cheaper, fresher and better looking than imported ones."
Ms Abu Idris said farmers who took part in the market have signed on with local organisations.
"The Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa signed contracts with five farmers, who have also showcased their produce in a mini-bazaar at the hotel which was attended by Deputy Premier Shaikh Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, who was amazed that some vegetables and fruits were being planted locally," she explained.
"The Ritz has also agreed to hold a gathering for chefs from all hotels to promote local produce and raise awareness about shifting from imports to getting supplies from Bahraini farmers.
"Kempinski Grand and Ixir Hotel, Bahrain City Centre has also signed a long-term deal with a local farmer from Karranah, who exhibited with us."
She added Alosra and Waitrose have also set up sections for local produce at all their branches.
"The flow of local produce has increased due to the farmer's market and instead of just selling 20 per cent of their products daily a year ago, now they are selling more than 80pc daily."
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