x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Superfood could be super answer for UAE

Quinoa, the ancient superfood of South America’s Inca civilisation, might become the solution to the UAE’s food security issues.

Growing quinoa in the UAE has been extremely successful in trials and could boost food security. Jaime Puebla / The National
Growing quinoa in the UAE has been extremely successful in trials and could boost food security. Jaime Puebla / The National

ABU DHABI // Quinoa, the ancient superfood of South America’s Inca civilisation, might become the solution to the UAE’s food security issues.

With its tolerance for salinity and nutritious protein content, the grain crop has been researched for the past 10 years for domestication in desert 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 tested strains of quinoa to learn about their potential in saline environments.

Dr Nanduri Rao, plant genetic resources Scientist at International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, confirmed that quinoa had exceptional adaptation qualities for environments such as the UAE.

“Trials in the UAE resulted in the identification of four quinoa genotypes that are suitable for sandy soils such as those in the Arabian Peninsula,” he said.

Quinoa planted in the UAE has matched the highest yields reported from countries where it is traditionally cultivated, such as Bolivia, where domestication of the wild grain occurred about 5,000 years ago.

“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.”

Tested quinoa varieties produced impressive results of 10.5 tonnes per hectare, even with high salinity when planted in abandoned saline farms and where traditional crops cannot be grown. The team is planting samples around the UAE, to test for mass production.

Besides its stress tolerance, quinoa is one of the most nutritious food crops. “It is far superior to the commonly grown staple food crops, such as wheat, rice, and corn,” said Dr Rao.

A F, a horticulturalist who works on gene species in the Arabian Peninsula, said growing quinoa here would also help other countries. “Quinoa, as we are consuming it today, is creating shortages in countries where indigenous people depend on it as a staple of their diet. By domesticating it to a desert environment, we might be onto something here,” he said.

nalwasmi@thenational.ae