News & Interviews
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
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
Swaminathan to Head National Commission on Farmers
The Hindu May 29, 2004
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
Improvement: A Dying Breed by Jonathan Knight in Nature ~ February 6,
"Public sector research into classical crop breeding is withering..."
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
Drought and salinity are major constraints on crop production and food security,
and have adverse impact
especiallyon 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
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.
Specialist for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO) Office in
Professor of Plant Physiology at the Plant Stress Unit,
Sussex and Coordinator of the SALTMED Project.
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.
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.
Specialist for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization UNESCO Office 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
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
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
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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