Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Biosaline agroforestry: remediation of saline wastelands through the production of biosaline biomass (for bioenergy, fodder and biomaterials)

Final Report Summary - BIOSAFOR (Biosaline agroforestry: Remediation of saline wastelands through the production of biosaline biomass (for bioenergy, fodder and biomaterials))

The need for new sources of energy, and especially renewable energy, has in recent times led to fierce discussions on the competition between agricultural production for food or for energy. Producing energy on degraded or marginal land often appears as a solution to this dilemma. Several studies have investigated this potential; however they often paid little attention to the type of degradation, the constraints and the level of severity. Similarly, the present use, vegetation cover and biodiversity value of degraded and low productive areas was often neglected.

Even though natural saline environments may be found on all continents, their spatial increase in recent decades is directly or indirectly caused by human activities, such as irrigation practices, over abstraction of groundwater in coastal areas and rising sea level as a result of climate change.

The BIOSAFOR project objective was to systematically investigate the global potential of woody biomass for energy from salt affected land through the application of suitable Agroforestry (AF) practices which focussed on the tree component of AF systems. The project was equally aiming at contributing to the remediation of saline wastelands and at investigating their potential role in the regional and global demand for bioenergy and biomaterials.

Biosaline agriculture and forestry take a certain amount of salinity for granted and establish a new and different balance in soil and water, using salt tolerant species and adapted agricultural technologies. This also gives opportunities to use unconventional brackish or even saline water resources that would normally not be used for agriculture and thus increase productivity of previously unused land. Biosaline AF systems combine the advantages of AF systems with the utilisation of halophytes, i.e. salt tolerant trees in combination with conventional food corps, or halophytic fodder crops and grasses.

The study was structured in six distinct, yet interrelated, Work packages (WPs). Data were collected on the productivity of trees during their life cycle and regression curves were created. Moreover, a database with information on salinity, water availability, temperature ranges and soil quality for areas in southern India was completed. The data were then digitised and processed using a South Asian soil, water and terrain model (SASOTER) that indicated the cropping potential. The maps that were produced provided insight in the growth potential of specific areas for individual species. The system could be applied on all tree species, and other crops, given that the requirements of the species were known. In order to upscale the findings, a bottom up approach was combined with a top down approach, starting with a description of saline environments on the global scale combined with a Geographic information system (GIS) based global map. Furthermore, the most important constraints for sustainable implementation were identified and a number of recommendations and policy measures for further implementation of various biosaline AF systems were formulated.

Finally, the results were evaluated and analysed in order to:
1. explore the potential and options for biomass production in saline environments at a global scale;
2. contribute to the development of biosaline AF systems for various saline environments following a local (regional) approach;
3. develop recommendations in terms of the proposed technology and the necessary additional research;
4. identify policy measures for a positive economic performance, which concerned intercropping, low discount loans or subsidies, social acceptance, certification, salinity and carbon credits.