Salty solutions

Exploiting sea water for agriculture is a recent phenomenon that has gained importance in the face of rising population and dwindling water resources. Researchers screening saltwater plants from deserts and saline and alkaline soils scattered around the globe have stumbled on to a plant which is proving beneficial to humans.

Salicornia species is a plant thriving on saline water collected from the coastlines of the US. It possesses vast potential for forage grains and oilseeds, besides bearing beneficial byproducts for rural communities and industry. Research has also led to the development of a Salicornia variety that is well suited to tough coastal conditions in the Middle East and semi-arid areas (Ceres, Vo127, No 2).

Researchers at the University 0f Arizona, US and the Archer Daniels Midland Company, carried out tests of the Salicornia oil, extracted from its seeds. The results indicate that the oil is an excellent quality vegetable oil that could safely be used in food and cosmetics.

The biomass left after oil-extrat:- tion is 42 per cent protein. About 65. 70 per cent of the salt from the residues can be removed by washing it in seawater, rendering it edible for livestock. Fertilisers are also not needed for growing the plant as seawater contains sufficient nutrients.