With the rapidly increasing population and ever-increasing consumption of resources, the world is facing a food crisis.
Local solutions to providing food are gaining ground, especially in times of epidemics, such as the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, which frequently causes hiccups in movements of goods and individuals.
Saline agriculture has been posited as one such solution to the global food crisis, contributing to an increase in the local production of some crops. This method of growing food as one solution to the crisis has been put forward by six experts and agricultural stakeholders during an online webinar organized by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last week.
‘The current situation that the world is living in during the COVID-19 pandemic gives us many lessons, among them the important role salt agriculture can play in supporting countries and societies in providing food locally,’ said Mohamed Hussein Al-Emadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the FAO.
‘This is especially in countries that face the problem of saline soils, which are common in the Middle East,’ Al-Emadi added, ‘These countries face the problem of food fragility, and depend on importing a large portion of their food.’
The pandemic and lockdown measures have pushed the world to focus on opportunities to produce food locally, following the disruption to imports of products and equipment used in agriculture. Local food production is, of course, dependent on the availability and potential of water and soil.
Dionysia-Angeliki Lyra, an expert with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), notes that the world’s population is projected to increase by 1.7 billion by 2050.
This will increase the pressure on agricultural resources and food, and will increase food production by as much as 60%. This is difficult to achieve due to the high rates of soil degradation, which are further exacerbated by climate change.
However, saline agriculture can help in mitigating the effects and impacts of climate change whilst contributing to improved food security and improving degraded soils. It also has the potential to relieve pressure on good quality water and soil, whilst also helping local communities become more resilient and adapt to climate change.
At the same time, it exploits dry areas and low-quality water resources, whilst providing new sources of food. Saline agriculture would have the added benefit of increasing animal feed, biofuels, and fabric, whilst also providing job opportunities, particularly for women and youth.
According to the participants in the discussion, various saline plants can either be used for their medicinal properties, or as food for humans such as quinoa, sea kale, millet. Plants such as Atriplex, or saltbushes, and grasses such as panicum, can be used for animal feed.