Seawater + Halophyte Crops to ‘Green’ World’s Deserts

byJohn Brian Shannon
Originally published at johnbrianshannon.com

What could be better than creating rich cropland out of the world’s desert regions?

It’s a tempting idea. Some 33% of the world’s landmass is covered with desert landscape and 40,000 miles of it is located near oceans, having both abundant sunshine and unlimited saltwater within reasonable distance. In fact, prototype halophyte farming projects have already shown early signs of success.

NASA - Earth with Global Deserts
NASA – Earth with Global Deserts

Halophytes are those crops which are salt-tolerant and can survive the blistering heat of the world’s deserts. Many of the crops we presently grow have salt-resistant cousins — all they need is trenches or pipelines to deliver the water inland from the sea in order to thrive. Halophyte crops negate the need to remove the high salt content of ocean water, which in itself, is a very costly proposition with the average desalination plant costing many millions of dollars. As halophyte farms become established they can also improve growing conditions for non-halophyte plants.

Unlike blasting with explosives in rocky areas to create water supply trenches or canals (which is expensive and time-consuming) most deserts are sand, which means all that is required to begin creating usable farmland is minor startup funding, an excavator, a field plan, seeds, and labourers familiar with farming techniques.

Creating Wealth out of Sand and Seawater

Some of the poorest places on the planet are also ‘rich’ in deserts and are located near plentiful salt water resources, making them suitable candidates for halophyte farming. Economic benefits for poor countries are stable growth, lower unemployment, better balance-of-trade and less reliance on foreign food aid programmes. If you can grow your own food at low cost, why buy it from other countries?

Some informative (YouTube) halophyte farming videos are available below:

Greening Eritrea Part I (Martin Sheen narrates the early days of Eritrea’s very successful halophyte farming and inland seafood production)

Greening Eritrea Part II

Seawater irrigation agriculture projects for deserts (completely rainless regions)

2012 Yuma, Arizona Salicornia planting

Sahara Forest Project: From vision to reality

University of Phoenix Seawater Farming Overview

Growing Potatoes using Saltwater Farming Techniques in the Netherlands

Other successful examples exist in other coastal regions around the world

Helping to mitigate global sea level rises due to climate change, creating powerful economic zones out of desert, seawater and labour, lowering unemployment in poverty-stricken nations, removing carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the soil where it belongs helping plants to thrive — while dramatically increasing crop and seafood production are all benefits of using halophyte farming techniques in coastal desert regions of the world.

The first 25,000 miles of coastal desert out of a grand total of 40,000 miles of coastal desert globally can be converted to this kind of farming simply by showing up and using existing and simple halophyte farming methods and seed varieties. The other 15,000 miles of coastal desert regions could be viewed as Stage II of this process after the best candidate areas become fully cultivated, as these secondary regions may require more capital investment for conversion due to their somewhat more inland locations.

Huge opportunity awaits early investors in this rediscovered agricultural market. Cheap land, free ocean water, low cost seeds and local labour, and a reputation as exemplary businesspeople who solve local problems, add value and employment to poverty-stricken regions and lead growing nations forward, are in store for seawater/halophyte farming owner/operators and investors.

Further Reading

Published by

John Brian

Editorial Board at kleef&co. Published by the UNDP.