image: sea kale
Around the world, many agricultural areas are becoming less productive as salt levels in water supplies increase. Only 1% of the Earth’s water is freshwater.
“Salinisation is irreversible,” says Professor Jelte Rozema from the department of systems ecology at the Free University, Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. “Sooner or later mankind has to accept the world is becoming more saline.”
The scientists say we will have to make use of salty environments for agriculture. Farmland is becoming increasingly salty as global sea levels rise, but plants which already thrive in salty areas may provide a ready food source, say researchers writing in the journal Science.
What crops are being suggested?
Future crops could come from plant species that grow in brackish water, around the mouths of rivers, where salt and freshwater mix, say the researchers.
Plants such as sea kale and asparagus-like samphire, which grow along the coast in many countries have been eaten for thousands of years, but it is only recently that their potential has been seen as a substitute for more traditional commercial crops. In The Netherlands sea kale is now farmed commercially and finds a ready market says Professor Rozema.
The researchers say plant breeders also need to look at domesticated plants that are salt tolerant, spinach and beetroot are closely related to samphire, and crops such as sugar beet can grow well in salty conditions.
These scientists seem to be implying changes in our eating habits are going to have to happen. Well, I can’t see lots of people willingly giving up their favourite vegetables for the selection suggested above.