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Growing Vegetables in Seawater Could Help Feed Billions

On average as a human race, the global population increases by 83 million people every year. This means that the demand for food will continue to increase exponentially.

In order to meet this demand, we need to find new ways of producing food and ideally using what the planet has already provided us.  This concept has led to there a lot of research done on growing vegetables in seawater, which could be the answer to feeding billions.

The good news is that it is not just a theory - it has been tested in many countries, and it works!

The idea behind this project is that seawater has a lot of nutrients in it, which can be used as an alternative to soil.

Seawater can be a fertile ground for growing plants. The salt and saltwater environment is ideal for the growth of vegetables that require high levels of sodium and chloride.

One example is the kangkong, which has been cultivated in seawater for centuries and is widely eaten throughout Asia.

The Increasing Water Scarcity

The effects of climate change are subtle -- this is the challenge we face. One of those effects is water scarcity which continues to pose a severe threat to traditional agriculture.

Out of all the water on Earth, 98% is saline or salty, and only 2% is fresh water. It's an important resource that we need more of. Unfortunately, the water on Earth has been divided up so much that it may be inaccessible to many different countries.

In the US, the freshwater supply is in decline, leading to water becoming scarcer. In California, where most people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods - there are not enough water sources to support the farms; they've never seen anything like this level of drought ever before.

In India and China, the increasing pace of urbanization continues to strain water supplies.

"As a result, these three countries are already engaging in a variety of strategies to mitigate their impacts and better manage their water resources."

Even areas that are traditionally wet like the UK are now experiencing dry conditions, due to low rainfall and high water usage. In 2020, the UK received only half of its usual rainfall each year.

Are you in the midst of the hottest and driest season ever? You're not alone. The past spring was a tough one for rain, one of the worst on record. Places like England, Wales, and much of Spain had them during their driest springs. Much of that is attributed to an atmospheric event known as El Niño.

“However, to mitigate the impact of water scarcity the farm on Scotland's West Coast has been using this technique for two years and was only recently discovered,” according to Euronews Green.

The farm produces 13 tons of food per acre and has 50 percent less water usage than traditional land farming methods.

Saltwater; A Perfect Medium for Growing Sea Vegetables

Sea vegetables, which thrive in high-salt environments, are called halophytes and can flourish in semi-deserts and seashores.

Halophytes are a great way to eat or use raw materials in cosmetics, biofuels, or animal fodder. They also protect the coast from flooding and help save the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide.

Yanik Nyberg, the founder of Seawater Solutions, told Euronews Green, “We take this land, whether it’s degraded farmland or flood-affected lands, and we then build an artificial salt marsh ecosystem where we can extract food at the same time.”

Yanik adds, “We’ll pump seawater over this area, sometimes we flood it, and then we’ll begin to grow saline plants.”

Seawater Solutions is a revolutionary farming company who are the first in the UK to grow such plants (halophytic) by using land.

By adopting their artificial ecosystems, farmers stand to earn over €2,600 per year for each hectare.

As an added benefit, Seawater Solutions believes this could help save the world's oceans and make food production more sustainable.

Dowhill Farm is one of the most popular attractions in Ayrshire. They focus on promoting species, like samphire and sea aster, that are not usually considered as mainstream ingredients for food.

However, they aren’t just selling them to gourmet restaurants or fishmongers - they want everyone to enjoy the health benefits these plants offer.

“This means halophytes can be profitable in Britain, with Dowhill Farm selling produce for €22-32 per kilo with a yield of 20 tonnes per hectare - 10 times as much as they would grow in an open field,” Nyberg says according to Euronews Green.

Way to Combat Salinization of the Soil

The world is facing a new problem - soil salinization. We should not think that this problem is insurmountable.

Salinization is when saltwater comes into contact with the soil and makes it barren. So, farmers end up not being able to grow fruit and vegetables as usual because of the high level of salt in each area.

Scotland is undertaking a lot of work, but the Netherlands has shown that salt-tolerant crops, like potatoes and cabbages, can be grown in higher salt levels. Texel Farm, in the North Sea (North Sea), grows crops using a 50% sea and 50% freshwater mixture.

Euronews Green reports, “As salinization becomes a worldwide phenomenon, the foundation is looking for ways to alleviate the risks it poses on the environment.”

“The Salt Farm Foundation has a Sal Far project to see if different crops can thrive in salt-heavy soil. They've already set up 16 fields in seven countries on the North Sea,” adds Euronews Green.

The project is currently examining the effects of salinity on sugar beet, as well as wheat, canola, and saffron.

Climate Change Effects can be Experienced Firsthand

“Convincing professionals that they can use brackish water for irrigation is proving a challenge,” a project coordinator at salt farm foundation, told Euronews Green. Adding, “A lot of farmers and even scientists are afraid of introducing any kind of saline medium in agriculture.”

Seawater Solutions may have had success at Dowhill Farm, but they've also encountered challenges. For example, it's been hard to grow their community in the area and get newcomers involved.

Saltwater is another food option, but it might not be right for everyone. It's becoming more popular, as companies like Seawater Solutions and the Salt Farm Foundation study how to make salt work for agriculture.

The rewards are great - and if implemented wisely, this can be a surprisingly sustainable solution.

As climate change continues to affect Europe more and more, even more decisions will have to be made in the future to ensure that the agricultural industry is prosperous.

References

Seawater Solutions: Home, https://seawatersolutions.org/. Accessed 6 June 2022. ; Bottaro, Giulia. “Growing vegetables in seawater could be the answer to feeding billions.” Euronews, 25 May 2022, https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/05/24/growing-vegetables-in-seawater-could-be-the-answer-to-feeding-billions. Accessed 6 June 2022.; “Dutch Experiment Grows Vegetables in Sea Water.” VOA Learning English, 24 November 2014, https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/vegetables-are-grown-in-a-combination-of-fresh-and-sea-water/2526713.html. Accessed 6 June 2022. ; “Growing Crops in the Desert with Seawater | Freethink.” YouTube, 13 November 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvV-iPdORLc. Accessed 6 June 2022. ; McDill, Stuart. “Startup helps Scottish farmers grow gourmet plants with seawater.” Reuters, 26 November 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-climate-change-saltwater-farming-idUKKBN1Y01VR. Accessed 6 June 2022.

 

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