Crop Productivity and Diversification

ICBA is intensively pursuing identifying sustainable solutions for agricultural production in marginal environments characterized by deteriorating quality of soil and water resources.

Global agricultural food production needs to increase between 50 and 70% by 2050 to match the projected population growth. Due to the scarcity of new arable agricultural land, increasing food production will require finding sustainable means to increase the productivity of existing agricultural lands as well as development means to produce food in marginal lands.

Abiotic stresses such as water scarcity, temperature extremes and salinity, and increasing marginality of production systems are emerging as major constraints to improved agricultural productivity resulting in food and nutrition security challenges in many arid and semi-arid regions.  

At the same time, in many countries, scarce freshwater resources are increasingly being diverted to growing urban areas leaving agriculture with low-quality brackish and salty waters that adversely effect agricultural productivity as most of the commonly cultivated crops are salt-sensitive. Furthermore, in many agricultural areas, uncontrolled extraction has depleted the groundwater reserves and has, in some places, caused seawater intrusion.

A main focus of the ICBA's applied research program is screening, evaluating and assessing different crop varieties with the objective of introducing new genotypes of nutritious and stress-tolerant crops appropriate for the marginal environments we target. As ICBA considers diversification of production systems based on salt-tolerant alternative crops as a promising opportunity to increase agricultural production in marginal lands.

Since its establishment in 1999, ICBA has been instrumental in conserving genetic resources from around the world, and will continue to enrich its gene bank with plant species from marginal environments. So far, ICBA's Gene Bank boasts a collection of more than 12,600 accessions of some 230 species with proven or potential salt tolerance. This collection provides a unique source of genetic diversity to scientists working on problems of salinity in agricultural production systems.

In 2014, ICBA launched its Plant Biotechnology Laboratory with the objective of combining genetics and genomic approaches to develop new crops through genetic engineering. The new lab will facilitate work to develop biotechnology methods to create crop varieties that are productive and resilient in marginal conditions, it will also work on strengthening the capacity of national partners in multiplying seed of salt-tolerant crops.

The main focus areas for applied research and development under this thematic area are:

  1. Salt-tolerant Crops
  2. Molecular Biology and Biotechnology to Improve Plant Tolerance to Salinity Stress
  3. Plant Genetic Resources
  4. Crop Modelling