QNRF Newsletter Archive

Truffles set to become a home-grown delicacy

A selection of truffles harvested from Ras Laffan, Qatar
A unique partnership between researchers in Finland and Qatar is aiming to make the cultivation of desert truffles a sustainable ecological and agricultural concern for the region. The work, funded by QNRF, brings together Dr. Asmaa Al-Qaradawi of Aquamed Research and Education in Doha and Dr. Salem Shamekh, Director of the Juva Truffle Center in Finland. Dr. Shamekh had shown that it is possible to cultivate and farm European truffles in Finland, despite the country's harsh winters. He is now hoping, along with Dr. Al-Qaradawi, that his expertise can also be applied to desert environments.

Desert truffles belonging to the genus Terfezia and Tirmania, are native to Qatar and as such are well-adapted to the desert environment. These fungi are mycorrhizal - that is, they grow in a mutualistic association with the roots of another plant, in this case the desert sunflower, Helianthemum spp.. The geographic range of these fungi extends from across the Mediterranean to the Middle East. Desert truffles have been used in Arabian Gulf countries for both food and medicine since time immemorial. Known locally as Al-Fagaa, truffles are in high demand in Arab countries. Last year in Qatar, Tirmania nivalis sold for 200 Euros/kg.

In establishing a sustainable agro-industry for desert truffles in Qatar, it is important to face three important challenges, namely; the incorporation of traditional knowledge into restoration programmes, the promotion of applied research, and demonstration of restoration in conjunction with natural resource management. It is intended that the current project will address all of these concerns.
Looking for truffles

Searching for truffles in Ras Laffan
Work began at the start of this year with field work in Ras Laffan and Al-Khor to determine the variety and size of naturally-growing desert truffles. The promising results were presented at the 6th International Workshop on Edible Mycorrhizal Mushrooms held from 16-20th April 2011 in Rabat.

The project will have many impacts on Qatari society. As a signatory to the UN Convention on Biodiversity, Qatar is expected to set an example in areas such as sustainable use of biodiversity, in-situ conservation and the use of indigenous knowledge. This project will carry on the work of a third cycle UREP project (ID: 189 - Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the Sustainable Management of Desert Truffles in Qatar) in supporting all of these areas.

In determining suitable sites for truffle orchards, the project will help in the restoration of Qatar's degraded arid lands. Indeed, it may even prove possible to cultivate both desert and European truffles (which are much sought-after, and attract the highest prices - up to 2,000 Euros/kg.) - leading to the establishment of a viable agro-industry within the state.

It is also intended that the collaboration will be the start of a long-term Qatari-Finnish research program, involving the exchange of master and doctoral students between universities in the two countries.

Finally, there are also plans to launch an Aridlands Truffle Working Group, which aims to bring together researchers, farmers, agro-ecologists and traditional knowledge bearers to provide support for Qatari stakeholders who wish to work with truffles for business or conservation purposes with a forum where it is possible to exchange ideas and practices among a diverse group of peers.

NPRP: 09-175-1-030
Desert Truffle Mycorrhizae in Qatar: Development of a Sustainable Agro-Industry in a Changing Climate
LPI Name: Dr. Asmaa Al-Qaradawi
Link to project on QNRF website. 

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