Neil Palmer/IWMI

Salt is great for french fries but not for fields

Around 5,000 acres of farmland in arid and semi-arid regions are lost every day to damage caused by salt, according to a recent UN report with contributions from scientists at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and WLE. This problem has already affected one-fifth of irrigated land in the world, an area equivalent to the size of France, and will continue to worsen without new land and water management practices.

Salinization (the accumulation of salt in soil) occurs in areas with little rainfall and poor drainage. Normal salt levels in soil are between 0 – 175 milligrams of salt per liter. When levels reach 3,500 milligrams per liter, crop production plummets.

However, salinization is not permanent. The report explains several methods which can reverse soil degradation; these include planting trees, growing salt-tolerant crops and digging ditches and drains around plots to prevent water logging. According to research from IWMI and WLE scientists in Central Asia, growing salt-loving licorice is one solution to lower salinity levels. After three to four years, farmers can once again plant staple crops.

According to Andrew Noble, Director of WLE, “Investing in restoring degraded land like this makes much more sense than opening up new agricultural land because in most cases the systems are already in place to get water to the land and move the product to market; all you have to do is rehabilitate the land.”