Irrigation makes it possible for crops to grow in regions that receive little rainfall, helping farmers produce much-needed nourishment for communities that need it. However, evaporation from the irrigated water leaves behind salts that, over time, render the soil far less fertile. So how do we satisfy the world’s growing food needs under these conditions? Create food crops that love salt.
As Bloomberg reports, scientists at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai are cultivating halophytes, a group of plants that includes quinoa, salicornia and sarcocornia. These crops thrive in arid and salivated conditions that are inhospitable to more traditional crops such as rice, corn and wheat.
The center has bred five types of quinoa that have a particular affinity for salty earth and is introducing them in Morocco and Egypt. They’ll need to catch on quickly: According to the United Nations, food production will need to increase 60% over the next 30 years to meet demand. “You can see the disaster coming,” Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA’s director general, told Bloomberg.
Next, ICBS will focus its energy on teaching chefs and home cooks how to use these protein-rich, gluten-free plants. “Changing the eating habits of a thousand years is not an easy job,” said Wajih Syed, co-founder of Kinwa Foods.
But these crops could be a game-changer for some populations, such as the Aral Sea region, where an estimated 2 million people are undernourished, 53% of children have vitamin A deficiency, and 24% of adults do not receive enough zinc, according to the U.N. Worldwide, 53% of children have vitamin A deficiency, and 24% of adults do not receive enough zinc. And 36% of women and 37% of children younger than 5 are anemia, the World Bank reports.
“[Quinoa] has high content of zinc, iron, copper and other nutrients, and is especially useful for people with anemia,” said Kristina Toderich, ICBA Regional Coordinator in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Another great thing about halophytes, it turns out? They appear to show promise as a source of renewable energy.
To learn more about the ICBA and its work, visit its website.
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