Scientists in Dubai are growing a new kind of food crop in salt marshes along the Persian Gulf coast. A variety of salt-resistant succulent, Salicornia are typically sold in gourmet shops in Europe, but they have other uses as well.
Native to North America, Europe, South Africa, and South Asia, Salicornia succulents grow in salt marshes, on beaches and among mangroves – all of which are available along Dubai’s coast.
Scientists with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture are conducting a trial with 12 different genotypes from the US and elsewhere, saline crop expert Dr Shoaib Ismail told The National.
Their aim is to determine which of the genus’ selected can be produced as food to feed the local population; this will relieve the emirate’s reliance on exporters for 85 percent of its food.
“Salicornia has very high oil content but it was never bred,” the center’s directory general Dr Ismahane Elouafi told the paper.
“We’re starting a new collection of salicornia and we’re setting up a much larger trial in Umm Al Quwain with the Ministry of Environment and Water next year as we will be closer to the coast.”
This allows them to irrigate the plants without using precious resources, although the water they do use has to be flushed back towards the Gulf to avoid contaminating the soil. Dubai already has serious water issues; they can’t afford to compromise what groundwater they do have.
Dr Ismail said that in order for the project to be viable, the Salicornia crops need to have multiple functions.
Depending on what variety they use, the plant can be used to produce seed or as food, and ash from glasswort and saltwort plants can be used to make glass and soap.
Salicornia may also be raised as an alternative biofuel; to explore this possibility, experimental fields have already been planted Saudi Arabia and Eritrea.
:: The National