Biosalinity Awareness Project

...understanding the impact of salinization and implications for future agriculture

Global Perspective
Soil, Water & Plants
Salt-Tolerant Plants
Biosaline Agriculture
Current Research
News & Interviews
Books & Articles
Seed Sources
Project Members


News & Interviews


The Greening of Eritrea Desert Development Foundation ~ A Video on the Innovative Work of Carl Hodges and Seawater Farms Eritrea

Greening the Desert Permaculture Research Institute  ~ A Multimedia Presentation on Biosaline Agriculture in Jordan's Dead Sea Valley

The Salt That Ate Australia BBC Radio 4 Program Costing the Earth  ~ April 1, 2004 "Australia is being eaten alive by salt, from the depths of the bush to the hearts of the cities..."

Plant Genetics and the Environment Julian Schroeder, Plant Biologist at University of California at San Diego ~ Archived Video on UCSD-TV
Science Matters

Print Media

M.S. Swaminathan to Head National Commission on Farmers
The Hindu May 29, 2004

Gene Firm Pioneers Desert Crops
Guardian Unlimited Special Report May 21, 2004

Transgenic Drought- and Salt-Tolerant Plants Öko-Institut e.V. Genetic Engineering Newsletter Special Issue 15 ~ February 2004

Crop Improvement: A Dying Breed by Jonathan Knight in Nature ~ February 6, 2003 "Public sector research into classical crop breeding is withering..."

Dividing Waters by Sandra Postel for Área de Hidráulica e Irrigação (UNESP)
"Water may seem to be everywhere, but for a rising portion of the world's population, there may soon be hardly a drop to drink or to use for growing food, supporting industries and cities, and preserving life-giving ecosystems."


International Atomic Energy Administration: Identification and pyramiding of mutated genes ~ novel approaches for improving crop tolerance to salinity and drought

Researchable question. Drought and salinity are major constraints on crop production and food security, and have adverse impact especially on socio-economic aspect in developing countries, so the development of crops with tolerance is a priority. A major constraint to improved tolerance is a lack of understanding of its complex genetic basis and the difficulty in efficiently combining favourable alleles into an optimal genotype, which has led to the limited success of previous efforts at improvement using conventional techniques. This CRP will address the problems associated with screening natural and mutated germplasm, and identifying and pyramiding genes contributing to abiotic stress tolerance, and will use marker-assisted methods and induced mutations to accelerate improvement. It will focus on those cereals and grain legumes, which are important for food security at least at the local level.

Description of improved technology to be developed: Many claims have been made for the improvement of drought and salinity tolerance using biotechnology, but there have been few, if any, successful examples of these resulting in increased yields in farmers fields. In view of the complex relationships between, and the number of traits involved in, tolerance to both drought and salinity, the innovative idea of gene and trait pyramiding, using molecular-assisted breeding, mutation and other biotechnologies, combined with the participation of farmers, is likely to provide the best route towards the development of region-specific tolerant crop germplasm. In addition, it offers the opportunity to gain significant improvement in the tolerance of crops to these stresses which has so far not been made at the level of yield on the farm.

Change from previous CRPs. The combination of biotechnological and participatory aspects in this CRP would not only be a first for IAEA, but would put this project at the vanguard of current research thinking.

Benefit to be provided to developing countries. Yield losses due to drought and salinity can reach up to 80%, depending on the timing, intensity, and duration of the stress coupled with other location-specific environmental factors. Problems are particularly severe in developing countries in arid and semiarid regions, with both devastating short-term effects on the livelihoods of poor people and long-term effects on food security at a number of levels, and are likely to increase in future as competition for water increases. As well as drought, it is estimated that worldwide more than 13% of cultivated lands and around 33% of irrigated agricultural lands are affected by high salinity: these are estimated to be increasing at about 10% annually. Such land could be agriculturally productive if more salt tolerant species or cultivars were available. The successful results of this CRP would help reduce the gaps between the potential and the average yields obtained on farmers' fields under stress conditions, which is a constant challenge to sustained food security for the benefit of resource‑poor farmers.

Use of nuclear techniques within the CRP: The project will use radiation-induced mutations in the breeding work and to assist in gene identification, using the powerful new technique of TILLING. In addition, it provides a number of other opportunities for the use of nuclear techniques. Screening for salt tolerance will involve the use of 22Na as a tracer to study the uptake of sodium. Soil water content will be measured using neutron probes. Carbon isotope discrimination and other radioisotopes will be used to measure transpiration efficiency and water use efficiency in the crops studied.

DOWNLOAD THE APPLICATION FORM FOR SUBMITTING PROJECT PROPOSAL. The project proposals should reach us by 20 September 2004.


Dr. Benno Böer
Progam Specialist for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Office in Doha, Qatar.

Dr. Timothy Flowers
Professor of Plant Physiology at the Plant Stress Unit, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex and Coordinator of the SALTMED Project.

Dr. Nicholas Yensen
Founder of NyPa International, a family of companies addressing the constraints of salt-affected soils and water through the introduction of salt-tolerant cultivars and appropriate technologies.

Dr. Helmut Lieth
Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück and Coordinator of the European Union’s Concerted Action on Halophyte Utilization.

Interview with Dr. Benno Böer
Progam Specialist for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO Office in Doha, Qatar.

Q. In addition to providing funding and expertise, what is UNESCO's (Office in Doha) role in promoting sustainable halophyte cultivation and developing coastal farming systems based on seawater irrigation?

A. UNESCO is not a funding agency.  UNESCO provides seed-funding for some projects, and catalyses networking.  We bring people together, and try to have them work together on good ideas, relevant to UNESCO's mandate.  Seawater utilisation is one of these good ideas, since it redresses the enormous pressure on limited freshwater resources in arid lands.

The Doha Office promotes the overall idea of biosaline agriculture in coastal areas, especially where seawater can be utilised.  We promote the idea of conservation through utilisation.  For example, in Sudan, we are currently trying to develop a mangrove plantation project that aims to restore the natural mangroves (which are subject to heavy grazing pressure), and to plant more mangroves in coastal sabkhat for livestock fodder.

We actively help in developing fund raising campaigns, and raise extra-budgetary funds.  We also help to identify suitable experts for halophyte activities, and therefore work closely with The International Society for Mangove Ecosystems (ISME), as well as with The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), The International Society for Halophyte Utilisation (ISHU), and other relevant groups in the field.

Via promoting the idea of Biosphere Reserves, UNESCO also works towards the conservation of natural halophytes, which, of course, are essential germplasm elements for halophyte cultivation.

Q. Can you elaborate upon current trends in the
Middle East and North Africa that would support an optimistic outlook for halophytic cash crops?  Are any of the UNESCO-supported pilot farms or demonstration projects being replicated on a larger-scale as a result of their success?  If not, what is the status of these projects and what changes are being implemented?

A. In order to have the idea of cash-crop-halophytes accepted, it is essential to generate awareness and put more effort into marketing.  One of the problems is that success stories are not being reported.  The truth is that in the green areas of many cities in the Gulf, the freshwater dependant bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) is already being replaced by the seawater tolerant succulent Sesuvium portulacastrum.

Small-scale mangrove plantations are being established largely for environmental beautification, or awareness campaigns - it is now time to develop farms in coastal areas, planting mangroves in rows and irrigating them with full strength seawater.  This is for the production of man-made high productive ecosystem.  My experience is, however, that there is still a huge lack of understanding, and people prefer freshwater irrigation, even in areas where there is no freshwater.

In summary, there is still a long way to go even though there are some success stories.

Q. Sabkhat or saltflats which predominate in the Middle East are often considered infertile wastelands.  How are the Arab states now attempting to convert sabkha habitats into highly productive man-made agro-ecosystems?

A. UNESCO has a dialogue with the Ministry of Agriculture in Sudan, and is currently in the process of revising a UNESCO proposal for a large mangrove plantation there, and we are also trying to raise funds for this.  UNESCO
also has a dialogue with the Qatari Friends of the Environment Centre, and we have suggested the development of  a mangrove plantation of 100.000 or more trees in Qatar.

At the same time UNESCO Office in Doha is developing a book series "Sabkha Ecosystems", which provides science-based knowledge on how to conserve and develop sabkha ecosystems.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your recent fact-finding missions to the Sudan?  Are there any lessons to be learned from their utilization of saline soils/water and salt-tolerant cash crops?

A. Yes, there are many lessons to be learnt, however, they are not yet ready for reporting to the public.  I am optimistic that we can do something based on mangrove plantation to contribute towards poverty eradication in coastal Sudan.  In most places, the number of livestock is above the ecological carrying capacity, and has caused the natural vegetation to be converted into a "anthropogenic" vegetation consisting of halophytic, poisonous, and thorny shrubs of limited suitability for livestock.  The livestock turn to the mangroves, and these are also highly impacted by grazing.  Only a few seedlings manage to establish in the intertidal zone.  We therefore suggest "Conservation through Utilization" in order to produce livestock fodder, and to conserve natural mangrove stands at the same time.

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