Morocco: Harnessing forgotten crops to combat global hunger and climate change

Phenoma’s Innovative Research in Benguérir

In the face of climate change and its severe impact on global food security, innovative solutions are emerging from the African continent. One such beacon of hope is Phenoma, a phenotyping platform at Mohamed VI University in Benguérir, Morocco. Here, researchers are dedicated to genetically improving various seeds to withstand extreme temperature variations while retaining their nutritional value.

Resilient and Nutritious Crops

Salma Rouichi, a Research Engineer and Ph.D. student at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, highlights the potential of these forgotten crops: “These are somewhat forgotten species but very resilient to various stresses, especially climate change. They are widely used in Africa as they are rich in nutrients and require minimal inputs and management. These robust species can address many issues related to climate change, drought, water stress, and salinity, thereby contributing to nutritional security.”

Real-World Conditions for Future Climates

Unlike many indoor phenotyping platforms that replicate real-world conditions, the Phenoma site in Benguérir presents climatic scenarios that might become increasingly common. According to Prof. Moez Amri, an expert in Genetics and Plant Breeding at the College of Agriculture and Environmental Science, UM6P, “Benguérir, with temperatures exceeding 50°C during the summer and only 150 millimeters of rainfall throughout the year or cropping season, represents a future climate scenario. The solutions we develop here could be applicable globally, meeting specific research needs not only in Morocco and Africa but around the world.”

Global Collaboration and Local Solutions

Phenoma collaborates with research institutions in the United States, Canada, and Asia, aiming to provide “made in Africa” solutions to global challenges. Salma Rouichi further explains, “We aim to answer scientific questions, improve crops, or create resilient varieties. The idea is ‘From Africa to Africa and from Africa to the world.’”

Addressing Global Hunger

The cumulative impacts of climate change, various conflicts, and the pandemic have hindered progress in reducing hunger across many nations. As a result, the number of undernourished people worldwide rose from 572 million to 735 million in 2023. Phenoma’s work in Benguérir represents a critical step towards reversing this trend by developing resilient, nutrient-rich crops that can thrive in harsh conditions and contribute to global food security.

By leveraging the unique climatic conditions of Benguérir, Phenoma is not only addressing local agricultural challenges but also contributing valuable insights and solutions to the global fight against food insecurity and climate change.