Salt-tolerant Crops and Halophytes

ICBA works with partners to improve food security and nutrition security through screening, identifying, and developing nutritious salt, heat and drought tolerant crop varieties that can be adopted by farmers in marginal environments.

ICBA has worked for a number of years on key annual conventional crops, such as sorghum, pearl millet and barley. The process of selection for both salt- and drought-tolerant genotypes were followed on introduction and large scale adaptation in many countries in Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Sub Saharan Africa regions. A number of ICBA evaluated genotypes were used by national agricultural partners to develop new varieties that proved much better both for salinity tolerance and yield, as compared to local material.

In recent years, ICBA’s research focused on screening, identifying and developing salt-and heat-tolerant crops that are not commonly grown in the marginal areas targeted by ICBA, but that have strong prospects as variable alternative crops. These include quinoa, mustard, sesbania, safflower and triticale. All are salinity and heat stress tolerant, require less water to grow, and have a wide range of uses such as food, feed, and industrial. This makes them promising candidates for the diversification of production systems and economic use of marginal quality soil and water resources.

Quinoa is a facultative halophyte that can grow successfully in poor soils (including pure sand) and in environments with annual rainfall as little as 200 mm. In recent years, quinoa has been receiving worldwide attention as a multi-purpose agro-industrial crop that can thrive in extreme soil and climatic conditions. ICBA has been intensively working on evaluating the potential of quinoa as an alternative food and feed crop for salt-affected areas since 2006. Prospects for wide-scale adoption and production across marginal environments are very promising with a few genotypes already identified as potential candidates for wider-scale adaptation testing.

Another crop that has generated a lot of interest is ICBA's work on Salicornia. Salicornia is a halophyte that can grow with sea water and has a big potential for biofuel (from seeds), vegetable and residual biomass as animal feed. Since 2014, ICBA has been working on evaluating all available genotypes of Salicornia and the production aspect of the crop through agronomic practices and in-bred seed lines.

In addition to quinoa and Salicornia ICBA is also working on other promising crops.

Sesbania has shown to have excellent potential as an alternative legume to replace alfalfa in forage production systems, and cutting management was shown to significantly improve biomass yields.

Mustard is cultivated for its tender green leaves and seeds which are a source of edible oil and also used as a condiment.

Safflower is a moderately salt-tolerant multipurpose oilseed crop with great potential for development as a forage crop.

Triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye, is another promising crop that is increasing used as a feed crop for cattle, swine and poultry and it can be used as an alternative for corn and soybean.