Ajyal Salima to enable healthier lives for children in Bahrain

The ‘Ajyal Salima’ nutrition education program was launched during a recent ceremony in Bahrain.
Updated 24 December 2018

Ajyal Salima to enable healthier lives for children in Bahrain

Dr. Walid bin Khalifa Al-Maneh, Bahraini Ministry of Health undersecretary, has launched the “Ajyal Salima” nutrition education program during a ceremony celebrating the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Health and Nestlé Middle East. The event was also attended by Assistant Undersecretary for Public Health Dr. Mariam Al-Hajjry and other officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education.

Al-Maneh highlighted that the Ministry of Health is undertaking the responsibility of devising policies and programs aimed at tackling unhealthy habits among children and youth, including poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles. He said that international surveys show obesity rates to have reached 40 percent and sedentary lifestyle rates 23 percent among 13-15-year-old students in Bahrain.

Al-Maneh said Ajyal Salima was first launched in the region in Lebanon in 2010, in partnership with the American University of Beirut, and has since spread to Dubai in 2012, Saudi Arabia in 2014, Jordan in 2015, and Palestine in 2016, implemented in collaboration with ministries of Health and Education and local health and education-focused nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in those countries. 

The undersecretary added that Ajyal Salima is in line with the goals of the World Health Organization to address childhood obesity and supports the eradication of malnutrition through sustainable development. The program fits with the Gulf region’s strategy for the prevention of non-communicable diseases, and includes train the trainers workshops developed and delivered by American University of Beirut experts.

Nehmatallah Younes, general business manager, Nestlé Bahrain, said: “From leading research in children nutrition, to product innovation and introducing healthier foods, to education and innovative nutrition and lifestyle programs and services, our global ambition is to help 50 million children lead healthier lives by 2030.” 

“Tackling the growing triple burden of malnutrition: Undernutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies can only happen through more partnerships between academia, the private and public sectors on programs such as the science-based Ajyal Salima,” said Dr. Carla Habib Mourad, lecturer of nutritional sciences at the American University of Beirut, and regional scientific coordinator for Ajyal Salima.

KAUST research to boost global date fruit production

Updated 16 October 2019

KAUST research to boost global date fruit production

Today on World Food Day, a team of plant scientists from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) has begun a major project to improve global date palm production and protection.

This project is the first time that the date palm genome has been studied so comprehensively. Dr. Ikram Blilou, professor of plant science at KAUST, and her research team in Saudi Arabia have collected samples from ancient date palms in the historical farm of Al-Dabeta, by the Quba Mosque in Madinah. 

“Our main goal is to improve date palm fruit production and quality in the Kingdom. With more than 2,000 existing varieties globally from which 400 grow in Saudi Arabia, we are concentrating on the ‘Ajwa’ date variety, because of its important societal and religious value for Saudi Arabia in particular,” said Dr. Blilou. 

Earlier this year, Dr. Blilou published in the scientific journal Plant Cell, findings that provide an insight into how desert plants are able to thrive in hostile habitats. The research teams within KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture are creating molecular and biotechnological tools to improve date palm agriculture by sequencing the genome of the Ajwa date palm.

“The date palm is one of the few fruit trees that, remarkably, can grow in the desert, a habitat with an arid climate where extreme temperature changes and drought conditions limit plant growth,” said Dr. Blilou. 

“Within KAUST’s Center for Desert Agriculture Research we are studying date palms using advanced genome sequencing techniques and have begun to develop new breeding strategies to help palms grow faster and healthier as well as making them more resistant to pathogens and pests like the red palm weevil.” 

According to the National Palms and Dates Center (NCPD), Saudi Arabia produces an estimated 1.1 million tons of dates per year, 15 percent of the world’s date production. In addition, export of dates from Saudi Arabia grew by 11.7 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

“Despite this economic importance, basic research into the date palm, including understanding mechanisms of growth and adaptation to the desert environment, is still in its early stages mainly because of the lack of molecular tools and the challenging nature of the plant. It requires a long generation time for flowering which can be four to five years and setting fruits that take 10 to 15 years,” said Dr. Rod Wing, professor of plant science and director of the KAUST Center for Desert Agriculture.

The next step for researchers at this center is to work on generating high-quality genomes for a large number of other varieties of date palms, bringing further potential benefits for date palm agriculture around the world.