Ringed by inhospitable desert and assailed by fierce temperatures for much of the year, Dubai isn’t the most natural of settings for bold farming experiments. What little grows here is largely cultivated in air-conditioned greenhouses. So depleted is the local aquifer that it’s forecast to run completely dry within the next half-century.
But if the scientists and agronomists at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) get it right, the Gulf’s glitzy commercial hub may soon be responsible for one of the most significant regional food innovations in recent memory.
As the Middle East’s groundwater stores have ebbed, and the mercury has soared, staple crops such as wheat, barley and rice have suffered in the increasingly hostile conditions. Desperate to maintain agricultural yields at a time when populations are also booming, some experts have come to wonder: might quinoa, the hardy, much-vaunted “super food” of the Andes, offer a solution?