UAE's Mirak cuts farming in Iran after strike

Najieb Khoory, Mirak's co-owner and Managing Director points out to an image of one of their strawberry's farm on the computer screen at their office in Fruit and Vegetable Market in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Kamran Jebreili/AP)

Reuters | Jun 14, 2009

The UAE's largest private agriculture firm has scaled back its activities in Iran following a strike by farmers there earlier this year, an executive said on Sunday.

Dubai-based Mirak Agricultural Services holds more than 200 hectares of farmland in the United Arab Emirates and 16 hectares in Iran.

The company plans to focus expansion in the Gulf Arab state, Nejdeh Ghadimi, assistant managing director, told Reuters in an interview.

"We have confined our activity in Iran to a smaller area ...with (fewer) people ...This happened after a number of workers staged strikes," he said. He declined to give more details on the strikes.

Mirak owns a farm in Heshetgerd, west of Iran's capital Tehran. Ghadimi said it was easier to control immigrant workers in the UAE than farm labourers in Iran, where unions were strong.

"In countries like Iran, you don't have people coming in from the subcontinent," he said. "In the UAE you can control the farmers by placing restrictions on their visa."

Regulations in the UAE allow employers to hold workers' passports during the contracted period.

The number of farm labourers in Mirak's agricultural operations in Iran has now been cut by half to 50 from 100, he said.

"Now we can control the people more easily and there are no more troublemakers," he said.

Mirak produces around 4,500 tonnes of fruit and vegetables every year, the majority of which is sold into the UAE and Gulf markets, said Ghadimi.

Mirak bought the farm in Iran over 20 years ago.

Gulf Arab countries have spent billions of dollars in the past few years to buy farmland, mostly in Africa and Asia, as they aim to increase food security.

In April, the United Nations expressed concern that farmers' rights in developing nations could be compromised as rich countries buy farmland to secure food supplies.

The government of the southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan, which borders Iran, blocked deals in April with UAE private investors seeking to acquire farmland over concerns about farmers rights.

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