x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE project sorts the wheat from the chaff

Forage crops chosen by Dubai's International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) include barley, pearl millet and sorghum, to improve food for livestock.

DUBAI // Thousands of species of crops and seeds were evaluated to determine which would thrive in a desert environment.

Between 20 and 25 of each were collected and distributed to each country taking part in the project.

Forage crops chosen by Dubai's International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) include barley, pearl millet and sorghum, to improve food for livestock. More diverse crops introduced include quinoa.

"People are saying it's the year of quinoa," said Dr Abdullah Dakheel, the project head at ICBA.

"It comes from Latin America, it's highly salt tolerant and can produce in very marginal conditions."

The crop was tested on model farms in the UAE and worked extremely well.

"We produced seven to nine tonnes per hectare per crop, so it is double the production of barley or wheat here," Dr Dakheel said. "We have five to six crops identified and some others that are vegetatively produced, like grasses."

Safflower was another seed chosen. "It is a very important culinary and medicinal crop," he said. "It's like saffron and it grows here superbly."

Researchers evaluated 600 genotypes and they were found to grow extremely well in the UAE.

"They tolerate stress and produce a high amount," Dr Dakheel said. "It's the best oil, healthier than sunflower, and the seed at the same time can be crushed and used in food. The flower is also used for dye."

ICBA is focusing on "cash crops" and dual-purpose forage crops for the project.

"This is the combination that we're looking at in each country," Dr Dakheel said. "We want to increase diversity to tolerate the change so we are finding new material and new genotypes.

"We're also looking for summer and winter crops so we try to provide to the farming community diversity in winter, summer, and perennial crops, which grow during the year."

cmalek@thenational.ae