Prospects of Saline Agriculture in the Arabian Peninsula (2004)
Posted by Prof. Dr. Willem VAN COTTHEM
Ghent University – Belgium
Having participated in all the meetings of the INCD (1992-1994) and all the meetings of the UNCCD-COP, the CST and the CRIC in 1994-2006, I had an opportunity to collect a lot of interesting books and publications on drought and desertification published in that period.
Background As important components in saline agriculture, halophytes can help to provide food for a growing world population. In addition to being potential crops in their own right, halophytes are also potential sources of salt-resistance genes that might help plant breeders and molecular biologists increase the salt tolerance of conventional crop plants. One especially promising halophyte is Suaeda salsa, a euhalophytic herb that occurs both on inland saline soils and in the intertidal zone.
The species produces dimorphic seeds: black seeds are sensitive to salinity and remain dormant in light under high salt concentrations, while brown seeds can germinate under high salinity (e.g. 600 mM NaCl) regardless of light. Consequently, the species is useful for studying the mechanisms by which dimorphic seeds are adapted to saline environments. S. salsa has succulent leaves and is highly salt tolerant (e.g. its optimal NaCl concentration for growth is 200 mM). A series of S. salsa genes related to salt tolerance have been cloned and their functions tested: these includeSsNHX1, SsHKT1, SsAPX, SsCAT1, SsP5CS and SsBADH. The species is economically important because its fresh branches have high value as a vegetable, and its seed oil is edible and rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Because it can remove salts and heavy metals from saline soils, S. salsacan also be used in the restoration of salinized or contaminated saline land.
Scope Because of its economic and ecological value in saline agriculture,S. salsa is one of the most important halophytes in China. In this review, the value of S. salsa as a source of food, medicine and forage is discussed. Its uses in the restoration of salinized or contaminated land and as a source of salt-resistance genes are also considered.
Background Freshwater comprises about a mere 2·5 % of total global water, of which approximately two-thirds is locked into glaciers at the polar ice caps and on mountains. In conjunction with this, in many instances irrigation with freshwater causes an increase in soil salinity due to overirrigation of agricultural land, inefficient water use and poor drainage of unsuitable soils. The problem of salinity was recognized a long time ago and, due to the importance of irrigated agriculture, numerous efforts have been devoted towards improving crop species for better utilization of saline soils and water. Irrigating plants with saline water is a challenge for practitioners and researchers throughout the world.
Scope Recruiting wild halophytes with economic potential was suggested several decades ago as a way to reduce the damage caused by salinization of soil and water. A range of cultivation systems for the utilization of halophytes have been developed, for the production of biofuel, purification of saline effluent in constructed wetlands, landscaping, cultivation of gourmet vegetables, and more. This review critically analyses past and present halophyte-based production systems in the context of genetics, physiology, agrotechnical issues and product value. There are still difficulties that need to be overcome, such as direct germination in saline conditions or genotype selection. However, more and more research is being directed not only towards determining salt tolerance of halophytes, but also to the improvement of agricultural traits for long-term progress.