Ministry of Economic Affairs

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Dutch saline agricultural knowledge brings breakthrough in food security

Dutch researchers have found a way of cultivating specific crops on salinised agricultural soil which had previously been written off. This is a genuine innovation as food production on salinised soil had always been considered impossible. Specific varieties of potatoes, carrots, red onions, white cabbage and broccoli appear to thrive if they are irrigated with salt water at the roots using special methods. If this special cultivation method and these specific crops are used, it will once again be possible to use huge areas of salinised soil to grow food: a major breakthrough in food security. The results of the research, which was commissioned by Minister for Agriculture Van Dam (Economic Affairs) and carried out by public and private knowledge parties, was sent to the Dutch House of Representatives today.

Minister for Agriculture Van Dam: 'On a global scale, one billion hectares of agricultural land have been lost to salinisation. With our knowledge and our crops, this land can once again be used for food production. The use of our knowledge and crops offers export opportunities for the Dutch agricultural sector, but above all it marks an important breakthrough for the global food supply.'

Follow-up to groundbreaking research

In 2016, Van Dam made 200,000 euros available to carry out the research and to apply the cultivation techniques in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ghana. In these areas, salinised agricultural land is now being cultivated once again. Today, the Minister announced the release of another 400,000 euros for setting up a knowledge centre which is intended to transmit this special Dutch cultivation expertise all over the world. Thanks to the extra budget, it is now possible to examine whether salinised and otherwise unusable land could once again be used for food production in Egypt and Colombia, for instance.

Global issue of salinisation

Salinisation is a global issue, with around one billion hectares of salinised soil. In the Netherlands, around 125,000 hectares of soil will have become salinised by 2030. This is because the sea level is rising, while the land is subsiding and dry summers mean that less fresh water is available. The result: increasing levels of salinity in the soil and unusable agricultural land. Efforts are being made all over the world to combat this threat to food production, for example by means of plant breeding and soil desalination. Until now, these efforts had not been successful.

Consortium of researchers

In 2016, the Ministry of Economic Affairs commissioned research into salt-tolerant crops and suitable irrigation techniques. This research project led to the groundbreaking insight that certain crops can tolerate salt water, as long as the correct irrigation method is used: at the root, instead of being sprayed on the leaves. A consortium consisting of Salt Farm Texel, Leiden University, Wageningen University, VU Amsterdam and the Wadden Academy have now combined all the data in the report entitled 'Crop Salt Tolerance'.