An expert from the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) advises a group of UAE farmers during the open day held at the ICBA headquarters in Al Ruwayyah. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) on Wednesday showcased agri-solutions and crops to more than 100 local farmers and representatives from agri-businesses.

The open day was held at the ICBA headquarters in Al Ruwayyah to kick off the centre’s series of events marking its 20th anniversary.

The event was aimed at encouraging farmers to use technologies developed by ICBA and its partners, which are tested and proven to perform well in local conditions.

Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, UAE Minister of State for Food Security, was present along other senior officials.

During the event, Al Muhairi congratulated ICBA for its significant contributions in applied research in developing farming technologies specifically for hyper-arid environments like the UAE.

A farmer at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

“Research and Development is a very important part of the steps to becoming food secure especially given the challenges we’re facing like climate change and increase in global food demand. So, having a centre dedicated to doing applied research on crops that grow in this saline environment using salt water, is getting us ready for the future,” Al Muhairi told Gulf News.

She said the achievements of the centre over the last two decades in improving the way we produce food will help other countries, especially in climate change resilience.

“[ICBA] is playing a pioneering role in ensuring that the challenges of climate change and other threats to agriculture are being successfully overcome so that no person – irrespective of where they live in the world – need to go hungry.”

Dr Ismahane Elouafi, Director-General of ICBA, said the centre for its first two decades focused on species that have been neglected for many years but by default are highly salt-tolerant, climate change resilient, and high in nutrition such as quinoa, pearl millet, and others.

The centre will partner with various entities over the next 20 years to focus on genomics.

“We have started a partnership with Beijing Genomic Institute of China to look at understanding the genomics of these crops more and by understanding better, we can breed better by using molecular technologies. We can eventually have hybrids in quinoa, hybrids in millet and so on,” Dr Al Ouafi told Gulf News.

The open day was aimed at encouraging farmers to use agri-technologies developed by ICBA and its partners. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

During the event, ICBA honoured the contribution of local farmers to food security in the UAE, especially those with pioneering work with ICBA in taking research results to the field.

Samir Fahmi Al Kahif, for example, who has a 20-hectare farm in Abu Dhabi, is one of the centre’s partners in growing quinoa.

“Quinoa is a salt-tolerant crop that is suitable for UAE conditions. We harvested half a tonne during our first year, one tonne in the second year and three tonnes in 2018. ICBA also provided us with advanced tools in remote sensing for our other crops to help save water by 60 per cent,” he said.

Abdul Rahman Rashid Al Shamsi, another farm owner who was recognised at the event, said he has been using ICBA’s technology for quinoa farming over the last four years, giving him a yield of two tonnes per year which he supplies to big restaurants and hotels in the country.

ICBA’s accomplishments/projects over the last 20 years

1) Date Palm farming using water with different levels of salinity

2) Drones for agriculture

4) Salicornia as biofuel

5) Forage production system

6) Quinoa farming

7) SCADA system that combines up-to-date, real-time data from weather stations with data from soil moisture and salinity sensors

8) Greenhouse and Net House which cuts down on the use of water and energy and keeps optimum quality and production of crops

9) Soil museum

10) Biochar: Can be used to improve soil fertility, moisture retention and organic matter in arid and semi-arid regions