Soil salinization is a major threat to food security from irrigated agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions of the world. The Aralo-Caspian lowlands, a prime example of marginal and saline environments, face serious threats to sustaining the ever-growing population and the livelihoods of local farmer groups. Water scarcity and variable climatic conditions have resulted in the use of low-quality, mineralized water for irrigation which has adversely affected agricultural output and farmer incomes, further threatening the fragile balance.

Halophytic plants (broadly defined for the purpose of this proposal to include highly salt-tolerant crops) cultivated for human or livestock consumption may provide an avenue to maintain the agricultural productivity of saline croplands. Many studies of halophyte cultivation have been field or lab-based and have assessed halophyte growth dynamics over the short term (e.g., one or two growing seasons).

The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) ICBA in close collaboration with Nevada University, Reno (USA), National University of Uzbekistan, Samarkand State university and Institute of Karakul Sheep Breeding and Desert Ecology Research launched the integrated, interdisciplinary project on “Utilization of low quality water for halophytic forage and renewable energy production”. This project was leaded by Dr Kristina Toderich (Regional representative of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture for Central Asia and Caucasus), supported by Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) science and funded by USAID.

The specific objectives of this video clip are to: 1) summarize growth and salt uptake rates of several species of halophytes; 2) characterize food production potential of these halophytes for livestock and humans; 3) model arid halophytic food production and salt removal; 4) assess economic feasibility and tradeoffs of using halophytic plants for food security and salt removal; 5) through extension activities, determine conditions in which farmers are willing to plant halophytic plants for improving productivity of marginal lands in the Kyzylkum Desert (Uzbekistan).

Performed laboratory and field experiments with various ecological groups of halophytes to study chemical composition of plant biomass and demonstrate their potential for use as forage for livestock or for other purposes. To provide another gradient and condition of salinity, the planting of valuable forage halophytes and crops are encourage to be done by using artesian thermal ground water near Kyzylkesek settlement with participatory work of small poor resource community (farmers, animal herders and land managers). Experiments on the establishment of irrigated halophytic rangelands (in pure stands or intercropped with different salt tolerant crops ) at the Kyzylkesek site by using underground artesian water showed that increased fodder availability near the desert settlements will improve survival of the livestock, provide new jobs for local community, consequently the income of agropastoralists.

A key outcome of the project included three field training seminars for young men and women at local farmer level on technology of cultivation and seed production of selected new valuable crops adapted to the local environment. In addition, three farmer/community-based seed multiplication units on salt-tolerant cereals, legumes and forage perennial plants were set up. Approximately 5% of female farmers were involved in Self-Help Groups activities on agroforestry trials, cultivation of dual-purpose crops and halophyte on farmer and household lands. At least 15 women were trained in seed quality legumes, oil crops, fodder shrubs and cereals production, specifically sorghum and pearl millet.

ICBA along with partner institutions will further promote biosaline technologies based on utilization of halophytes as well as water and land management in the area. This will help define improved strategies and carry out field experiments, training of trainers, capacity building for farmers and pastoralists, and support events such workshops and farm-fairs.

See also