ABU DHABI: Fatma Al Kalbani, Director of Plant Health and Development Department at the Ministry of Environment and Water, MoEW, has said that Quinoa has emerged in recent times as one of the leading agricultural crops in the region and is now attracting significant international interest as a major contributor to global food security.
In a statement issued today, Al Kalbani said that it has also topped the agenda of the United Nations, which declared 2013 as the ‘International Year of Quinoa’ in recognition of its importance in securing the future of present and future generations.
Quinoa grain has been a basic food staple for people of the Andean region in South America for over 6,000 years. Amidst growing awareness of its importance, many countries are now taking advantage of its economic benefits as they rely on its genetic diversity and its high adaptability to various agricultural and environmental conditions.
The MoEW official clarified that the UAE has realised early on that the quinoa crop plays an important role in achieving food security. “Citing studies and applied researches, the Ministry of Environment and Water has been conducting a series of preliminary experiments and research to study the possibility of using quinoa as an alternative to the marginal environments,” she said, adding that the experiments showed that quinoa can survive the UAE environment–withstanding high level of salinity and growing in nutrient-poor soil such as sand and dry environment with rainfall of less than 200 mm. The crop also reduces water consumption through the use of drip irrigation technique.
Al Kalbani added that based on MoEW’s vision of attaining sustainable environment and strategic direction aimed at achieving food and water security, the Ministry has launched a major project in collaboration with the ‘International Center for Biosaline Agriculture’ to evaluate and develop the cultivation of quinoa alternative to marginal environments.
The project is in line with its continuous commitment to achieve sustainability of domestic production and is part of the UAE Government’s strategic priorities by 2021. Its objectives revolve around identification of the quinoa with the production and use systems, and determine tolerability of quinoa strains against salinity, temperature, and evaluate the impact of these factors on the growth and productivity and nutritional value levels.
The project will also focus on determining optimal agricultural practices to increase production and transfer of knowledge to local farmers, thus improving agricultural productivity and contributing to food security and national economy.
Al Kalbani stated that the experiments conducted at the Ministry’s agricultural research centres showed the successful cultivation of four out of eight quinoa varieties, which were planted using three systems of agricultural processes: irrigation, fertilization and prevention. It was observed that November is the best time to start planting quinoa in the UAE, while April is the best month for harvesting.
She also confirmed that positive results significantly bolstered the Ministry’s efforts to disseminate and apply the quinoa technology in local farms as the crop is easy to cultivate under the country’s weather conditions and nutrient-poor soil and incorporating the cultivation of quinoa within the agricultural production system to produce large quantities to meet the needs of the local market.
“As the Ministry is currently working within the extension programmes through agricultural engineers and extension agents to add quinoa cultivation within agricultural crops and training farmers on its production, three farms have been selected to be the main areas of quinoa cultivation, representing an important and promising beginning to the country’s efforts to promote it to local farmers,” she concluded.