Scientists in Dubai are developing crops like quinoa that can thrive in the salty soils intruding into the world's crop lands. Winning over enough people to eat them is proving a greater challenge. At an experimental farm within sight of the world's tallest skyscraper, researchers at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) are trying to help farmers in the Middle East and beyond to earn a living from unlikely plants known as halophytes. These plants, from trendy quinoa to obscure salicornia, flourish in salty and arid environments where staple crops like wheat or rice would wither. Concerns about climate change, population growth and the degradation of fertile farmlands add urgency to the work of ICBA, which runs on a shoestring budget of $15m (about R211m) a year. The UN estimates that food production must increase 60% in 30 years to meet demand, whereas gains in crop yields are slowing. "You can see the disaster coming. I can't understand why more people aren't a...

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