Saltwater AgricultureWater

Sharing knowledge to tackle salinity

Many past solutions to manage salinity merely moved the problem downstream – or from the field to regional scale. A knowledge base developed by ICARDA and partners, under two global CGIAR Research Programs, helps planners address salinity problems simultaneously at the different scales.

Source: ICARDA

The build-up of salts in soil is a chronic problem that affects the livelihoods of millions of farmers producing food on irrigated agricultural lands in the world’s dry areas. Salinization stunts crops, lowers yields, and reduces the world’s irrigated area by 1-2% a year. Farmers’ incomes fall and some are even forced to abandon their land. Set against this backdrop, failing to tackle salinity effectively is a critical obstacle to national and regional food security.

To complicate matters for planners and policy makers, efforts at the farm scale in many areas hamper or even negate efforts at the wider scale, and vice versa. Countries need to integrate small-scale and large-scale approaches if they are to deliver lasting solutions to soil salinity.  And as for solutions, one size does not fit all – from reducing and managing salinity specific approaches, to the problem of specific farming systems.

Working with country partners, ICARDA scientists encourage an integrated approach – working at both the farm and regional scales. The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems led by ICARDA focuses on food production systems and options for farmers to cope with salinity in their fields. Work under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems focuses on salinity management at the regional scale.

As part of both of these programs, ICARDA researchers are now integrating the farm scale and regional approaches of the two programs to provide sustainable salinity management solutions.

In cooperation with national, regional, and international research and development partners, ICARDA scientists are compiling many years of practical experience in field level salinity management into a database of research-based strategies that agricultural planners can use to cope with soil salinity. The database provides experiences of how salinity has been managed in specific situations.

Making this knowledge widely available will help farmers and water managers understand the best salinity management options for their particular circumstances. It provides guidance on selecting and prioritizing best-bet salinity strategies.

Scientists look at a broad range of factors in their assessments. They evaluate the technical aspects of water, soils, crops, and livestock, and also consider factors such as the farming system, common agronomical practices, climate change, and farmers’ opinions on problems and solutions. All this information is recorded in a purpose-built database.

Currently, the database runs on stand-alone desktop computers and laptops. However, online web-based access is in the pipeline. The system will also be adjusted so that it can be used on mobile devices using android and other operating systems.

These assessments are a unique resource. They capture the location and role of farms in the landscape – linking salinity at the farm and regional scales. This perspective is crucial for developing coordinated management solutions that avoid moving the problem of salinity from one area to another further downstream.

The salinity wiki captures local, national, and regional knowledge

Assessing and understanding the problem is only the first step in choosing best-bet solutions. There are many ways of addressing salinity, for example, by improving soil and water management, selecting appropriate crops, practicing conservation agriculture, or improving drainage. But not all solutions are successful in all farm conditions.

As part of this project, ICARDA scientists are creating a ‘salinity wiki’ to encourage the exchange of information and experience between national, regional, and international partners to contribute ideas and solutions for dealing with salinity.

Choosing best-bet options for managing salinity

Relating conditions on the farm to the regional context requires expertise and experience, and is challenging to capture in a practical database. Using information in the assessment database and salinity wiki, ICARDA scientists, and national, regional, and international research and development partners are developing a web-based tool to make it easier to prioritize management options that link the farm and regional scales.

ICARDA’s work in the CGIAR Research Programs is geared to research for development. This means moving beyond understanding what the problem is in a particular area to understanding what the opportunities and solutions are, and ensuring that the opportunities are feasible and the solutions are realistic. The work with farmers and water managers in regions affected by soil salinization to develop and implement science- based techniques for improving agriculture will guide the improvement of integrated salinity management in dry areas across the world.

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