Background

As the world population is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 (UNDESA, 2017), food and nutrition security is high on the global agenda. Achieving zero hunger comes second in the list of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goal envisions a world in 2030 where hunger is ended, food security achieved, nutrition improved, and sustainable agriculture promoted. As ambitious as it may be, there is a big question mark hanging over future food security due to declining quality and quantity of natural resources, including arable lands and freshwater resources, for agricultural production.

Climate change and salinization of land and water resources, among other things, already undermine global efforts on food security. Salinization is causing huge economic losses today in many countries where agriculture is a major contributor to GDP.

In view of these worrying trends, it is more important than ever before to enhance productivity and utility of lands and water resources degraded by salinity and other factors to meet future food demand.

These resources should be viewed as assets rather than liabilities. Every type of land and water suitable for agricultural production should be used as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization projects a need to produce 70% more food by 2050, including a 50% rise in annual cereal production to about 3 billion tonnes.

As food production requires lots of water, it is important to tap into the huge potential of saline water resources, as well as other types of non-fresh water, in addition to improving water efficiency and productivity. This is because the competing demands of the agricultural, energy, industrial and domestic sectors for 0.25 percent of the available good quality water on earth will only intensify in view of urbanization and population growth.

It is also necessary to focus more on underutilized, forgotten crops as overdependence on staple crops like rice, wheat and maize, which are not well adapted to abiotic constraints prevalent in marginal environments, puts future global food security at risk. Some of these crops have already been used for food, feed and biofuel production on a commercial scale. So crop diversification is key to agricultural productivity in marginal environments especially in the context of climate change.

Therefore, it is essential to step up strategic investments and efforts to restore and use marginal land and water resources for food production. This will help to generate considerable economic and environmental returns. The problem can, thus, be turned into a major opportunity to boost global food security.