from news reports
A Dutch team has developed a potato crop through traditional breeding methods that is tolerant to salt water. Their project beat more than 500 competitors from 90 countries to win an award sponsored by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Inspired by sea kale, Dutch farmer Marc van Rijsselberghe set up Salt Farm Texel in the north of the Netherlands and collaborated with Dr Arjen de Vos from the Free University in Amsterdam to look at the possibility of cultivating crops using non-fresh water. “The world’s water is 89% salinated, 50% of agricultural land is threatened by salt water, and there are millions of people living in salt-contaminated areas.
“Up until now everyone has been concentrating on how to turn the salt water into fresh water; we are looking at what nature has already provided us with”, van Rijsselberghe told the Guardian.
The process of desalination is expensive and requires much energy. The salt-tolerant potato plants, however, were watered with diluted sea water. The variety is four times more salt tolerant than regular potato varieties. The project used a trial and error approach and then screened different potato cultivars of which only two showed increased salt tolerance and were used for further development of the saline potato. Some of the Texel seed potatoes are already on their way to Pakistan where 4.2 million hectares of land is salt affected and farmers are often forced to use brackish groundwater to water their crops, which reduces yields and the quality of the crops. If the potatoes adapt to the Asian climate, they could transform the lives of farmers not only in Pakistan. According to Dutch team, there is no risk of overdosing on salt when eating crops fed by sea water. “What we find is that, if you tease a plant with salt, it compensates with more sugar,” said de Vos. The salt is mostly retained in the leaves of the plant. Peter Melchett, policy director of Soil Association, welcomed the new potato variety: “This is another example of conventional breeding beating GM technology by years. These non-GM salt-tolerant potatoes are already being grown yet ‘saline tolerance’ has always been one of the great (as yet unfulfilled) promises of pro-GM campaigners.”