What We Can Do About Food and Water Security – Part I

This week: two innovative ideas provide solutions to food and water insecurity in arid regions old and new.

One of the most basic survival issues faced by humanity is food and water security: How can we ensure that we will have essential nourishment for the future of humankind? Drinking water is in short supply in some places where a supply of groundwater may not last that long. With increasing water scarcity, gradual changes in Earth’s climate and a growing world population, we must all start thinking about long-term solutions. A free piece of advice: cut the oil lobbying.

Sparing arid agriculture with a resilient halophyte

The United Arab Emirates has a harsh climate: there is low annual rainfall, poor soil, and smaller amounts of available groundwater. Soil erosion and salinization are big problems for farmers. That’s why, in Dubai last month at the Global Forum on Innovations for Marginal Environments, experts convened to explore the proposed advancements in agriculture and food production.

According to the UN, 70% more food must be produced annually by 2050 in order to feed the global population. 

At the forum, solutions to the problem of food security in marginalized environments were presented to decision-makers from over 60 countries.

For some, the key to securing food production in arid regions is to help the farmers by providing them with more reliable and resilient crop species. New crops must produce dependable yields in arid and salty conditions.

One of the types of plants they looked at were “halophytes.” These are plants that can tolerate saltwater. In order for a crop to solve food scarcity, its halophyte also needs to be resilient in the face of drought for most of the time.

Also located in Dubai, the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) proceeded toward the goal by screening different plant genes in a seed bank.

Humans are currently only using a miniscule portion of the known, edible plant species that can be grown on Earth. When ICBA scientists screened the seeds for favorable traits, they ended up finding two promising candidates: quinoa and salicornia.

Salicornia can grow in a desert—in addition to tolerating seawater irrigation. You could call it sea asparagus, as it is also referred to in North American restaurants & grocery stores, or continue to sound like you’re having a stroke while trying to say California.

Dubbed the “miracle crop” by the Mayans, quinoa can be cultivated in hot and salty conditions too. It only needs half the water that wheat and barley do and can be cultivated in a drought. Quinoa could be essential for future food crises because it can be cultivated en masse in desert-like regions. This attribute is uncommon for crops, and it could be a genius switch on the part of farmers. Not to mention, quinoa is highly nutritious.

Now, a quinoa-salicornia diet may not pique your appetite. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that. Since quinoa often substitutes rice, there are many potential dishes to be made. I found recipes for quinoa breakfast tacos and salicornia salad whose preparation is simple.

If you’re interested in eating these plants, you should also consider taking a course to learn how to grow them yourself!

All of this means that as food scarcity becomes more apparent, even marginalized environments will have options when it comes to agriculture. Until next time, be well!

Justin Capra
Student journalist from New Jersey. Enjoyer of breakfast foods. Covering all things on Unikorn but mostly well-being.

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