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Salt water to grow fruits, vegetables in Dubai

The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture farm on Dubai-Al Ain road was a non-profit agricultural research centre established in 1999, made some groundbreaking research in cultivating local varieties of crops that are heat resistant and can grow in salty water.

One of the most significant work ICBA has been doing involves growing the seed quinoa. The centre has invested over 15 years of research in what is often called a superfood due to it being one of the rare plant that contains all amino acids.

“The ability to grow quinoa is one of the center’s biggest achievements,” said Dr. Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle, Chief Scientist at ICBA. “Quinoa is a crop from the Andes that is usually grown at about 1000m above sea level. Now we are growing it at sea level with much more heat.”

The longest running research on the ICBA farms is done on date palms. For over 20 years, 18 varieties of date palms, including Farad and Lulu, have been grown on varying levels of salinity, starting from starting from 0.4dS/m to 15 dS/m.

The rows and columns of date palm trees are arranged in a matrix system and closely monitored and cared for.

The UAE’s national Ghaf tree is a drought-resistant plant that holds a lot of importance for the region. According to Dr. Augusto, the role the tree plays in the agricultural ecosystem is huge.

The Ghaf produces proteins and essential oils. In addition to this, the tree also produces legume seeds that farmers can feed to animals. This is how we add value to food security. We ensure that the limited natural resources are used effectively. We also try to understand how the crops here operate and how their produce can be used to create new value chains.”

Earlier this year when the President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan visited ICBA, he planted a Ghaf tree.

One of ICBA's central roles is to support local farmers. "We give training courses about the science that we do," said Dr Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle.

"We show them what can be potentially done with what they have. We sensitize them to how best to use natural resources. But we also collect and analyze their local knowledge about good practices in farming.'

In addition to this, the center hosts a program called the Halophytic Kitchen Lab which brings a scientist, a nutritionist, and a chef to show the general public how to use Salicornia and other halophytic, or salt-loving, crops in everyday cooking. However, there is always a need for continuous research and innovation. "Our aim is to improve the region's food security," said Dr. Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle.

"We want to be a powerhouse in innovative agricultural technologies. We have come a long way in doing so but there is still more work to be done."

Published: Tue 26 Jul 2022, 2:25 PM AL-


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