First Published: 2017-09-13

UAE's ICBA strives to fight food insecurity
Research centre founded in 1999 aims to enhance productivity, agricultural sustainability in face of food crisis faced by world's most vulnerable regions.
Middle East Online

By Ismahane El Ouafi, along with young trainees at the ICBA research centre

ICBA's chief exec does not miss an occasion to raise awareness among decision makers

DUBAI - At the dawn of the technological era, in order to overcome economical and social challenges, it is important to develop innovative methods that could be practised in the agricultural sector. In fact, the eradication of poverty is top priority for sustainable economies to prevent the looming food crisis.

It is important to study operational methods and to transform business models - which must include a “Technological/Innovative” dimension - especially for developing countries which are the most affected by this crisis, namely Africa. It is in fact the only continent that has not managed to fully exploit its resources.

How can competition be enhanced in an increasingly complex economic environment, while guaranteeing the sustainable use of natural resources and the supply of ecosystem services? How to give rural populations the means to stimulate and diversify their economy?

Research and innovation could help us answer these questions.

- ICBA, an innovative research centre -

This is exactly the ambition of geneticist Ms. Ismahane El Ouafi. She is also the executive director of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), a non-profit agricultural research centre. The centre was founded in 1999 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This research centre is developing a set of R&D programmes that aim to enhance the productivity and agricultural sustainability of marginalized and salty environments. The centre is mainly relying on innovation by adopting a multidisciplinary approach aimed at tackling the challenges related to water, environment, agricultural incomes and food security.

ICBAS’ innovative studies encompass the evaluation of natural resources, the adjustment to climate change, the productivity and cultural diversification, aquaculture, bioenergies along with analysis of agricultural policies.

Ms. Ouafi and her team's work revolves around several sector related to agriculture in marginalized areas. For instance, the centre focuses on enhancing plantations that cope with areas of high salinity.

This is no simple feat, especially considering the rapid growth of the world’s population and that arable land has reached its maximum level of exploitation. The objective is to boost the production capacities in infertile areas, greenhouses and even in green spaces.

These are the main solutions that the ICBA centre is constantly working to develop. Ms. El Ouafi does not miss an occasion to raise awareness among decision makers to prevent an approaching food crisis.

The efforts of El Ouafi are recognized worldwide, which earned her an entry to the top -20 Muslim Science’s ranking of the most influential scientific women in the Muslim world. She is also among the 100 most powerful Arab women in a scientific sector, according to CEO Magazine -Middle East.

It should be noted that ICBA operates in a number of countries around the world, including the MENA region, Central Asia, Caucasus, South and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

- Youth : the driving force behind ICBA -

Young men and women work alongside ICBA in an attempt to innovate methods of food and nutrition security.

The centre - whose mission is working in partnership with different stakeholders with whom the development and the dissemination of knowledge is a strategic goal - created a knowledge hub. This hub boasts specialized trainings that concern the management and sustainable use of limited resources for agricultural production in marginalized areas.

On another note, the centre is putting its efforts into transmitting expertise related to innovative agricultural solutions. In the framework of its CSR policy, the centre brings assistance to young people. This assistance is ensured through internships in concrete projects or direct support for Start-ups founded by committed students to the development of agricultural activities, such as Quinoa crops.

Quinoa seeds are known for their numerous benefits, such as their nutritional intake and their resistance under abiotic constraints and salinity. These benefits lured young people coming from different cultures and backgrounds as well as the leaders of prominent projects with an economical dimension, such as Karelle Bassole from The Ivory Coast, Mazoun Abdulla Mohamed Aldahmani from the United Arab Emirates, Hamza Khaliq Khan from India and Imane El Majidi From Morocco. The latter is engaged in a socially-oriented project of “women empowerment”, which aims to help women from the region of Marrakesh to be more independent by providing them with a part of the revenues generated from selling the cultivated Quinoa.

These training courses are adapted to the needs of each student. It can go from few days of field or remote work to long-term training courses of one to six years. These courses are carried under the auspices of the centre’s executive director Ms. El Ouafi along with other doctors with an expertise in innovative agriculture, such as Ms. Henda Mahmoudi and Mr. Mohamed Shahid, who will share their expertise with trainees through field experience and laboratory research.

 

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