Left Menu
Development News Edition

INTERVIEW-Moroccan scientist hunts for resilient plants to feed a warming Middle East

INTERVIEW-Moroccan scientist hunts for resilient plants to feed a warming Middle East
(Representative Image) Image Credit: Wikimedia

Ismahane Elouafi was on her way to becoming a fighter pilot in the Moroccan army when the country decided to shelve plans for female captains. So she ended up at an agricultural university.

The military's loss is a gain for the fight against world hunger as 48-year-old Elouafi is among those leading the search for edible plants able to survive climate change. Based in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, where temperatures can exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122°F), Elouafi and her team are nurturing crops such as quinoa that could feed a hotter planet.

"Marginal environments are going to be the norm of tomorrow, so we'd better be ready for it and have solutions," said Elouafi, director-general of the Dubai-based International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). The Arab Gulf's punishing heat and salt-tainted earth are ideal for testing plants in what scientists call "marginal environments".

These are lands where poor soil and scarce freshwater make farming extremely challenging. Globally, around 1.7 billion people - or 1 in 5 people - live in marginal environments but that number could surge if temperatures rise further and cause water shortages.

In a dusty compound hemmed in by skyscrapers, Elouafi and a team of horticulturists are nurturing breeds of grass, date palms and vegetables that could feed heat-afflicted populations in the Middle East and other countries including Gambia, Ethiopia and Tajikistan. Salicornia, or samphire, has emerged as a frontrunner.

The saline-tasting bright green stalks often served with seafood in trendy European restaurants, can thrive in dry, salty soil and be used as food for animals and biofuel. "It is doable (to make these lands productive) but it requires investment in research and in science," Elouafi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in her office, one of the few low-rise buildings in Dubai's Academic City.


The Middle East is on the frontline of climate change. Food security is an acute concern, particularly for Gulf countries that rely on imports of staple grains from other nations that could themselves experience shortages.

In a bid to lessen their dependence on other economies, wealthy Arab countries have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in organizations like the ICBA. In Qatar, botanists are hunting for breeds of grass able to withstand high temperatures on open-air football pitches when the country hosts the 2022 World Cup.

Growing up surrounded by books - her academic father once sacrificed funds for a family holiday to buy encyclopedias from a door-to-door salesman - helped Elouafi when she had to switch from a military high school to study agriculture, she said. A plant geneticist fluent in French, Spanish, English and Arabic, Elouafi is one of a handful of women leading agricultural science and research in the Arab world and is keen for more women to take the lead in the industry.

Every day, 2,000 hectares of land around the world are degraded by salt which severely reduces soil fertility, she said. In addition, the United Nations says the equivalent of one soccer pitch of soil is eroded every five seconds, and more than 90% of all the Earth's soils could be degraded by 2050.

"In a few years, if we don't stop what we're doing to planet earth, we would all be living in marginal environments," Elouafi said.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)



JNU Administration's 100-meter challenge before JNUSU

For the first time in its history, Jawaharlal Nehru University JNU Administration is seeking permanent deployment of local police to keep protesting students at 100 meters away from the Administrative Block. It would be interesting to see h...

Sentiment Analysis of Twitter users during COP25: Governments losing trust on Climate Action

Sentiment analysis of Twitter users during COP25 in Madrid, being held from December 2-13, shows widespread fear on climate change due to global warming but almost no trust on governments in meeting the emission targets. In the analysis the...

These innovators are making humanitarian response more efficient

These alarming trends prompt a call for the world to not only address the ongoing crisis but also to adopt innovative approaches to fulfill the growing humanitarian needs in such emergencies. ...

Hyderabad Encounter: A sentiment analysis of public mood on day of encounter

Sentiment analysis of twitter users revealed that they showered salutes on Hyderabad police for eliminating alleged gang rapists of the veterinary doctor but only a few believe in cops version of successive events leading to encounter....


Latest News

US concerned about implications of CAB

The United States is concerned about the implications of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in India, a top American diplomat responsible for monitoring international religious freedom said on Friday. One of Indias great strengths is its Consti...

WRAPUP 5-U.S.-China trade deal cuts tariffs for Beijing promise of big farm purchases

The United States and China cooled their trade war on Friday, announcing a Phase one agreement that reduces some U.S. tariffs in exchange for what U.S. officials said would be a big jump in Chinese purchases of American farm products and ot...

UPDATE 1-Athletics-New Zealand Olympic legend Snell dies at age 80

Famed New Zealand Olympic middle-distance runner Peter Snell has died in Dallas at age 80, the New Zealand Herald reported on Saturday.The newspaper reported sports historian and friend Ron Palenski confirmed Snell had died at his Texas hom...

India's story has just begun: Amitabh Kant

The series of pathbreaking and ambitious reforms unleashed by the Modi government in the last few years will make India a very competitive and productively-efficient economy in the long run, a top Indian official said on Friday. There is a ...

Give Feedback