Indian curry leaves making their way into UAE despite ban

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Indian curry leavesare easily available in the market despite a ban in the UAE. The leaves are smuggled via Oman which has not banned the import of Indian curry leaves so far. The traders first import the leaves to Oman and from there it is brought to the UAE via land. The Indian curry leaves are mixed with the Sri Lankan curry leaves, hidden inside trailers and kept with other vegetables to avoid being seen by inspectors.

Dubai Municipality had issued a circular with effect from 14 June, 2010to all the inspectors at the Dubai port that import of fresh curry leaves from India will be banned as per the Ministry of Environment and Water decision number 2010/649 of June 1, 2010.

A municipality official commented that they constantly monitor shipments from India after a serious food poisoning incident in Al Qusais in Dubai in which a few children died. The investigators concluded that the food last consumed by the victims had curry leaves that contained more than the allowed level of pesticide.

Dubai Municipality officials inspected and fined many traders for illegally selling smuggled Indian curry leaves, but the trade continues to flourish in the region. Leading hoteliers and restaurant owners said they are not aware of the ban on Indian curry leaves and they procure it from the Al Awir market suppliers and supermarkets.

An official from Calicut Paragon, an Indian restaurant chain in the UAE, said: “We are getting curry leaves from Al Awir market and traders said it is produced in Al Ain and Oman. These curry leaves come from local suppliers.”

The price has nearly doubled in the local retail chains after the Indian ban.A box of curry leaves is now sold at Dh200-250. The traders still make good money even after paying a fine of Dh 2,500.

After the ban, traders switched to Sri Lankan variety of curry leaves. After Dubai Municipality banned import of Indian curry leaves, its prices shot up in the market.

The price of a kilo of curry leaves is now Dh30 and a small packet costs Dh 3. The price was only Dh 10 per kilo before the ban. Now traders spend Dh4,500 to bring one trailer of curry leaves into the UAE through Oman border. said a trader.

The vendors do not sell the leaves directly. They keep the boxes of leaves inside parked containers or trailers to avoid getting caught.

Indian curry leaves coming to the UAE are grown in Tamil Nadu state and brought to Kerala for export through the state’s airports. Since it takes four to five days for the product to reach UAE, farmers use strong pesticides to preserve the aroma and the green colour of the curry leaves.

While some traders are ignorant of the health hazards involved, others are doing it on customer demand. Even though Sri Lankan curry leaves are available, nobody is buying it because it does not have the strong aroma of Indian curry leaves. People who are used to Indian curry leaves wont use alternative products, said a Sri Lankan curry leaves trader.

Sources: emirates24/7, Khaleej Times

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