The International Center of Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), a non-profit organization founded in 1999 in the United Arab Emirates, is transplanting and growing salt-loving superfoods in the Dubai desert to increase food diversity. “Freshwater is becoming more and more scarce,” explains ICBA agronomist Dionysia Angeliki Lyra. “We have to focus on how we can utilize low-quality, saline water resources for food production.” The ICBA has a unique collection of 13,000 seeds and has brought non-traditional crops to the desert, including quinoa from the Andes in South America. Scientists have discovered that five of the 1,200 varieties of quinoa can grow in extreme weather. Salicornia is another plant native to the southern United States that requires saline water to survive. The crop was moved to the Dubai desert and used to produce food. It is also being tested as a biofuel.

With overall food consumption anticipated to increase by 59 to 98 percent by 2050, ICBA’s work is part of a global push to identify alternative ways to produce food. However, Joshua Katz, partner at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, believes that more than one system would be required in the future to maintain food security due to rising temperatures and catastrophic weather occurrences. The ICBA now produces approximately 200 kilograms of quinoa and 500 kilograms of salicornia for research and seeding, as well as collaborating with a food firm in Dubai to develop salicornia-based food products to increase market adoption.