Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) is working to develop agricultural solutions in regions facing biophysical and socioeconomic constraints around the world.
With an international reach, ICBA works in more than 40 countries considered “marginal environments” Tarifa Alzaabi, Director General for ICBA tells Food Tank. These countries may face challenges including low soil fertility, water scarcity, steep terrain, difficulties accessing markets, and restrictive land tenure. Through the use of high and low technologies, the responsible management of natural resources, educational outreach, and capacity building, ICBA supports local food production in these regions.
To advance this work, ICBA is conducting research on resilient crops. “When we speak about resilient crops, we’re talking about salt, drought, and heat resilient crops,” Alzaabi tells Food Tank. Examples include quinoa, amaranth, and millet. They are also investing in research into halophytic—or salt-tolerant—crops that can grow in soil with high levels of saline without using fresh water.
These solutions will become increasingly important as the climate crisis advances. “Climate change modeling and adaptation is something we really need to look at,” Alzaabi says. “It’s about the forecast and looking how much of that climate change impact will be hitting us and looking at the crop production, increasing temperatures, and all these changes that we are witnessing. [The climate crisis] is fast moving.”
But promoting these crops also requires education among consumers. Eaters will require “some sort of new techniques to make them adapt to new foods or new systems…food is personal,” Alzaabi says. For this reason, ICBA is also working to bridge the gap between scientific research and the public. These activities engage farmers, chefs, and consumers as ICBA works to raise awareness of these crops and ensure that communities understand both their flavor profiles and benefits.
“We are all responsible for the health of the next generation because, again, when you speak about foods you are also speaking about nutritional value,” Alzaabi tells Food Tank, “you’re speaking about the healthy generation that you would like to see in the future.”
Listen to the full conversation with Tarifa Alzaabi on “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear more about ICBA’s approach to promoting climate resilient crops, ensuring that solutions meet farmers’ needs, and the organization’s youth engagement initiatives that strive to support future generations.
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Photo courtesy of Raju Jangid, Wikimedia Commons