If you ask Tajwar Awal, a director at the Lal Teer Seed Limited in Bangladesh, he will tell you one of the most crucial problems facing world food production is the prevalence of salt.
That’s right, the salt content in the water and the soil. With changing weather patterns, Bangladesh, as with many other coastal countries, is facing increasing salinization. His company hopes to do something about it, having launched the first specialized research and development center of its kind in Bangladesh this year.
“Salt tolerance issues are taking a toll the world over,” said Awal, a son of Lal Teer’s founder and a technical director. “The ocean waters are slowly coming to land and at more drastic rates.”
When the water recedes, it leaves a residue of salt in the soil, hampering healthy crop growth and yield. “One of the problems the world over is that research in this area is very minimal. We’re in the healthy seed business, creating seeds that can survive salt content,” said Awal.
Salt tolerance issues are taking a toll the world over … The ocean waters are slowly coming to land and at more drastic rules.
Lal Teer is in the early stages of its research and development in this area, though it has been producing seeds for some time to resist salinization, drought, over-watering, and pests.
In this regard, Lal Teer is working with Securing Water for Food (SWFF), a global program in its fifth year aimed at producing more food with less water. The program is backed by USAID, and the governments of Sweden, the Netherlands and South Africa.
The company is seeking assistance from the SWFF technical team to identify partners in its research into salinization. They are in talks with the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
“Any country with a coastal belt can be impacted by salinization,” said Awal, ticking off Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Myanmar, among others. With an R&D plant located in the south of Bangladesh, the Lal Teer team has been collecting and breeding local germplasm and crossing it with other varieties in a “why not?” scientific exploration aimed at solving one of agriculture’s most pressing issues.
One of the reasons Lal Teer wants to solve the problem is that failed or diminished crops in the rural coastal areas are causing farmers to throw in the towel and move to urban areas, thereby impacting the food supply.
“If we want to keep farmers tending the land—and it is crucial to our food supply—then it is important that we attack the salinization problem head-on,” said Awal.
Many countries have droughts, said Awal, but Bangladesh is actually inundated much of the time with water.
“The problem is that it is contaminated with salt, silt, and waste from factories. If we find the key to desalinization, we can save our fast-depleting underground sources,” he said.
The Lal Teer R&D plant looking into salinization was launched just nine months ago. “It’s early,” said Awal. “We haven’t been successful yet though we have tested a number of varieties—some are showing promise, but we are still not satisfied.”
Awal said a company in the Netherlands had approached Lal Teer to start the research station. However, that particular company, for whatever reason, closed down, “So, we are currently in search of partners from around the world who have even more expertise in the area than we do,” he said.
The lack of year-round, usable water for food is an increasing problem with the world’s population expected to top nine billion by the year 2050.
Experts currently predict that sufficient water by that date could fall short by two-thirds of the population.
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.