Too much salt: the growing threat that salinity poses to global food production

Agriculture Sustainable agricultural production Environmental health Salinity Irrigation Food industry and trade

Soil salinity is a brutal environmental issue that limits crop productivity, because most crop plants are sensitive to salt. Salinisation can be caused by natural processes, such as mineral weathering or the gradual withdrawal of an ocean. It can also come about through artificial processes, such as the use of irrigation and road salt. Poor irrigation techniques have increased salinity in much of the world’s farmland. Soil salinisation threatens major economic losses for countries with large agricultural sectors, both by lowering the available crop yield and the costly methods used in trying to solve the issue. So far attempts to deal with the problem have been largely unsuccessful, with the costs making the techniques inaccessible for smallholder farmers.

Key points:

  • Salt affected soils are present in more than 100 countries and irrigation is often a major contributing factor.
  • As irrigation is used to produce 40 per cent of the global food supply, an increase in salt-affected land caused by careless irrigation practices is likely to decrease global food security and economic productivity.
  • Salinisation is more likely to occur in arid and semi-arid climates, where there is a rising demand for water for irrigation and agricultural production.
  • There have been many attempts to solve the issue, but existing methods are often costly and are not easily accessible for smallholder farmers.
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