Back in March 2015, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) alarmingly declared that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) “could not continue to import large amounts of food because the increasing volatile prices resulting from climate change and fluctuations in price oils”
To make his point clearer, the said that “In 2000, GCC countries spent about 25 billion dollars importing food and it is projected that, by 2020, your import bill will be about 52 to 56 billion dollars a year,” he said. “That’s a lot of money and if oil prices stabilize at 50 to 60 dollars, [which] is about half what it was this time last year, the solution is not in importing more food.”
He advised the authorities of the region to investigate which areas had the potential to invest in large scale agricultural projects for the future, and he also advised them to promote small and medium scale local businesses to incentivize farming. He assured that there are some areas in which there is enough water to properly irrigate the crops, on a daily basis, and that such natural resource could be wisely optimized. “One drop can give you a crop today and you can optimize with micro-irrigation systems and fertilizer application to get to the roots,” he said. “So there are opportunities to optimize the productivity level of small and medium scale enterprises.”
Now, a very simple and even neglected grain as Quinoa, is on the top of all conversations since it may represent a surprisingly good solution for the food economy and production of the countries that conform the United Arab Emirates.
The quinoa is a very rich grain native from South America, especially Bolivia, where it is commonly known as “the mother grain” It is a very traditional product of the Andes region; for instance, historians believe that it was widely harvested in ancient times, by some indigenous cultures like the Incas. Quinoa has many advantages, like for example, being a gluten-free product, and contains a lot of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron and omega 3. It is a complete protein, this means that it offers all of the nine essential amino acids that are exceedingly good for the human health. So the good news is that this grain is not only a good solution for the economy of this countries, but it is also a very healthy option to feed their population with. The harvesting of this grain will ensure the food security of the countries that conform the United Arab Emirates. Quinoa has a high tolerance for salinity, and its crops have been investigated during the past ten years in order to see if they can be sustainable in deserted environments. The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, working with Abu Dhabi’s Ministry of Environment and Water and the Abu Dhabi Farmer Service Centre, has been conducting some studies and trials with quinoa to learn about their potential in saline environments. And it seems that the results have been overall positive, in fact, Dr Nanduri Rao, plant genetic resources Scientist at International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, affirmed that quinoa had outstanding adaptation qualities for environments such as the ones in the UAE region.
The main objective of the studies that have been conducted is to domesticate the Quinoa crops in roder to make it adaptable to sandy soils and desert environments. The trails that have been made in the UAE soils have allowed the identification of of four quinoa genotypes, which result to be sustainable for the specific conditions of the region. The plantations of Quinoa that currently exist in the Arab peninsula have reached the same level of productivity as the ones that are obtained in the original places of the grain, such as Bolivia. “This makes quinoa a crop of choice for marginal environments, and I encourage farmers to plant it in their fields,” said Dr Rao. “Also, the fact that it can withstand high salinity, which water in the UAE is known for, means it has great potential.” He then highlighted the fantastic nutritional benefits of Quinoa by adding that “It is far superior to the commonly grown staple food crops, such as wheat, rice, and corn”
The small crop was planted locally for the first time in December by three agriculture research centres under the umbrella of the Ministry of Environment and Water. After a promising harvest last month, officials hope to be able to persuade local farmers of the benefits of growing the crop.
The first Quinoa crops were planted in December 2013 in the deserted region by three agriculture research centers that were supported by the Ministry of Environment and Water. The Quinoa varieties that have been used in the trials, have given excellent results, producing an impressive amount of tons per hectare, in places that have soils with a high level of salinity, where more common crops cannot be harvested. Thanks to this hopeful results, the authorities are supporting the project and the technical team is planning to see if it can be grown for mass production. Reffering to the trial that was conducted in experimental fields of quinoa in Ghayathi in the Western Region, in Dibbah, Ras Al Khaimah and Al Dhaid, the Minister of Environment and Water, Dr Rashid bin Fahad, declared that “This is a very encouraging experiment and has very good potential.”
The UAE authorities hope to encourage the local farmers and investors to start producing Quinoa, since it may be the key for a more sustainable economy for their countries, and it has the plus of offering a wide range of benefits for the consumer’s health.