Dubai-based ICBA picked up the award for its work in developing agriculture, including date palm cultivation, in harsh desert conditions. Last year the organisation concluded a 15-year study into the impact of salinity on date palm varieties across the Arabian peninsula.
Dates face salty tests
According to the study’s preliminary results, date palm varieties showed significant variation in both vegetative growth and fruit yields, depending on the salinity level they were exposed to. In the study’s first experiment, Bahri and Lulu varieties from the UAE proved to be most salt-resistant, while a second experiment on Saudi date palm varieties revealed Sukkary, Ruthan and Shaqri types performed the best.
ICBA director general Ismahane Elouafi said: “We are honoured to have received this special award and are deeply thankful for continued support and recognition of our work by the government of the UAE. We greatly appreciate the Khalifa Award and view it as additional encouragement to step up our research and innovation efforts in the UAE and other countries where we work.”
“Our centre aims to enhance agricultural productivity and resilience in marginal environments through improved technologies and the appropriate genetic material. In particular our scientists carry out extensive research to improve productivity and resilience of date palms. As this holy tree plays an important role in the livelihoods of farmers in the Gulf region, we look for ways to improve its productivity under the changing environment, including salinity and water shortage,” she added.
Award grows richer and wider
Originally started as the Khalifa International Date Palm Award, the award has now widened its scope to cover agricultural innovation in general. At the award ceremony this month its organising body announced that from the next edition of the award, in 2017, prize money would more than triple, to AED 1m (US$272,260).
In December 2015, the Khalifa Award’s general secretary, Abdelwahab Zayed, was appointed as the FAO’s goodwill ambassador for the UAE. Zayed also serves as agricultural advisor to the UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs.
Last year, Khalifa Award winners included a number ofgenetic research projects, looking to sequence the date palm genome for further study and development. Along with issues around climate change and water scarcity, the Middle East’s date palms are also under threat from pests such as the Red Palm Weevil, and infestations including Bayoud disease and phytoplasma infections.