Submitted to: Desertification for the Third Millennium
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: June 15, 2001
Publication Date: April 1, 2003
Citation: JARADAT, A.A. HALOPHYTES FOR SUSTAINABLE BIOSALINIE FARMING SYSTEMS IN THE MIDDLE EAST. ALSHARHAN, A.A. ET AL. EDITORS. A.A. BALKEMA/SWETS & ZEITLINGER, ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS. DESERTIFICATION FOR THE THIRD MILLENNIUM. 2003. P. 187-203. Interpretive Summary: Freshwater supplies in the Middle East are being depleted and irrigated farmlands are undergoing salinization at disturbing rates. Salinity is one of the most critical problems of irrigated agriculture, especially in the Persian Gulf region. Because of the aridity in this region, the salt buildup is contributing to the process of desertification. The agricultural use of saline water or soils can benefit many countries in the Middle East. Salt-tolerant plants can utilize land and water unsuitable for salt-sensitive crops for the economic production of food, feed, fiber, fuel and other products. Halophytes, most of them indigenous to the Middle East, are plants that grow in soils or waters containing significant amounts of inorganic salts, can harness saline resources that are generally neglected and are usually considered impediments rather than opportunities for development. Many halophytic species appear to have significant economic potential for desert and coastal agriculture. In addition, the productivity of cultivated halophytes, as compared with traditional crops, is high. Many types of agricultural commodities now produced by conventional crops could likely be obtained from halophytes. Products such as animal fodder and forage, grains, oil, vegetables, fruits and bioenergy are already being obtained from halophytes. However, the long-term sustainability of farming systems based on halophytes will depend on the economic value of inputs and outputs, their environmental impact, future food needs and economics. Halophytes may provide a sensible alternative for many developing countries in the Middle East and provide resource-poor farmers with an additional source of income.
Technical Abstract: Naturally occurring saline environments in the Middle East provided necessary selection pressure for the evolution of highly salt-tolerant plants, especially for grazing. Approximately 211 halophytic species distributed over 29 plant families are recorded in the Middle East; in comparison, the world flora lists some 885 species of halophytic angiosperms distributed over 250 genera. Indigenous and exotic halophytes constitute an untapped genetic resource that can be used in developing crops under salinity. These wild plants, if domesticated, can utilize saline water and soil resources for sustainable agricultural production. Their seeds, fruits, roots, tubers, or foliage can be used directly or indirectly as human food. A minimum of 50 species of seed-bearing halophytes are potential sources of grain and oil; these include halophytes with seed quality comparable to, or better than, that of wheat; and species with seed that are rich in energy, protein and fat content. Other halophytes are candidates as tuber-, vegetable- or fodder-producing crops. A number of fruit-producing halophytes can be used as rootstocks or grafts to produce economic fruit yields using saline water and soil resources. Salt-tolerant trees and shrubs constitute a rich source of energy as fuelwood, source of liquid or gaseous fuels. In addition, genetic resources have been identified among the halophytes as sources for pulp, fiber, essential oils, gums, oils, resins, bioactive derivatives, and as landscape and ornamental plants. However, the most important contribution of halophytes towards sustainable farming systems in the Middle East is their potential as fodder grasses, legumes, shrubs and trees. Long-term sustainability of farming systems based on these halophytes depends on the economic value of inputs and outputs, their environmental impact, future food needs, economics, the extent to which freshwater ecosystems are withheld from further agricultural development and development of agronomic practices appropriate for new farming systems.