Far greater international cooperation is required to solve the problem of saltier agricultural land. This is one of the conclusions of the four-day international conference on this problem, held last week at VHL University of Applied Sciences (VHL) in Leeuwarden. More than 200 specialists from all over the world took part in the conference. It was the first time that experts had come together to discuss solutions for the increasing salinity of the lands around the Wadden Sea and the North Sea.
More and more countries are faced with the salinity of (agricultural) land due to a rise in sea levels, subsidence and more frequent periods of drought. The 'Salin Futures' conference therefore focused on saline agriculture as a way to adapt to this climate change. Various options were discussed, including freshwater management in potentially salty soils, revitalisation of saline degraded areas, economy and the financing of crops and products.
The conference mainly focused on what the countries around the North Sea and the Wadden Sea can learn from nations that have been affected by the salinity problem for some time. Experts from Australia, Bangladesh, Senegal and the United States shared knowledge and experience on topics such as promising crops, salt-fresh water management, policy and innovation with practical experience.
Tuesday and Wednesday saw lectures, seminars and practical examples on the information market. Excursions to Texel, Terschelling and Emden (Germany) were organised on Thursday and Friday – these are places where various studies are already being conducted in this field.
The trip to Emden made clear that the problem is enormous. Representatives from universities and governments from Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Australia, Bangladesh, India and America, among other countries, said that vast tracts of their agricultural lands are in danger of being lost to saltwater and drought. This is a major threat in terms of the future of the agricultural sector and the production of sufficient food for the inhabitants of said countries.
More than 150 students were able to participate in the conference along with national and international professors, farmers and other stakeholders. A special shadow session was organised in which students of various guest speakers were introduced to saline cultivation. Professor Atiq Rahman – from the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies – clearly explained the requirement for saline agriculture in a densely populated country such as Bangladesh. The areas around the coast of Bangladesh could rapidly become saltier, and saline cultivation is almost indispensable in the future in order to ensure sufficient food production. Professor Dionysia Angeliki Lyra gave a guest lecture in which she introduced the issues surrounding the facilitation of saline cultivation and the work being done at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai. Professor Pier Vellinga and Professor Mindert de Vries both provided an introduction to the necessity of growing salty crops and outlined the context of saline agriculture. All of them presented the students with an urgent message: these innovative solutions are incredibly important in a world that is struggling with changing climate and population growth. Today’s researchers have offered an accurate description of the situation – it is up to today’s students to use this knowledge and transform this into future solutions.
The ‘Salin Futures’ conference is an initiative of the Wadden academy. It is part of the interregional project SalFar (Saline Farming), in which the province of Groningen – together with project partners from seven countries around the North Sea – seeks to find solutions to the salinity problem in agricultural lands. VHL is cooperating intensively with the Wadden Academy in the field of research and hosted this conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.