What is Saline Agriculture?
Saline agriculture is a form of agriculture that makes use of salt tolerant crop varieties (both of conventional crops as well as halophytes) and improved farming practices to increase the yield under saline conditions. It requires an approach that integrates different aspects of crop, soil and water to ensure the sustainable use of saline resources. Additionally, the local climatic conditions and the socio-economic context will also require tailor-made solutions in order to develop scalable solutions.
Why focus on Saline Agriculture?
It is generally assumed that food production has to increase by at least 70% by 2050 to feed the growing world population. This seems far away, but that’s less than 30 years from now! New arable land and fresh water is scarce and increasing the yield per hectare in many commercial farms will not be enough to reach this 70% production increase. One of the ignored resources in the world are the salt affected areas and saline water resources. Recently, a publication by FAO-GSP (FAO, 2021) showed that at least 833 million hectares are salt affected globally (based on 73% of the land areas mapped so far), affecting up to 1.5 billion people in their ability to produce food. Every day an additional 2000 hectares of arable land is affected by salinity (source: FAO) and this is expected to increase even further under current climate change predictions. But what if salt affected land can become highly productive? Can these saline resources be used to improve the livelihood of farmers, and can it be applied on a large scale so it can contribute to global food security?
Potential impact of Saline Agriculture
Saline agriculture will help farmers to adapt to the increasing saline conditions, in a sustainable and profitable way. Also, if salt affected soils are put into production (again), then millions of hectares of new arable land do not have to be developed to feed the growing world population and natural ecosystems and the associated biodiversity can be saved. Also, salt tolerant crops can be cultivated in combination with agro-forestry. The nature-based solutions will help to diversify farmers’ output, improve their livelihoods, and at the same time help to protect, manage and restore ecosystems in order to protect and improve biodiversity. Our approach also focusses on improving soil fertility, increasing the organic matter of the soil and regenerate the salt-affected soils. The organic matter captures CO2and can be seen as a form of carbon farming. With the assumption that 1 hectare can feed up to 5 people, this means that that saline agriculture really has the potential to feed the growing world population, without making use of new arable land. If also the saline water resources of the world can be used for agriculture this would mean that saline agriculture has the potential to greatly reduce water scarcity in the world, since this would mean that the water availability for agriculture can be doubled , since there is about equal amounts of fresh and brackish water on the planet. Crop damage in salt-affected irrigated areas is estimated at US$ 27.3 billion every year (Qadir et al., 2014), but this also indicates the potential market opportunities. So, adapting to salinity and introducing saline agriculture can create jobs, improve incomes, reduce malnutrition, and kick-start an economy that focusses on sustainable growth!