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New report on saline agriculture initiatives

29 August 2022
The SALAD project team releases a report about initiatives on saline agriculture in the Mediterranean and North Sea regions.

In this report, we map the institutional landscape of governing saline agriculture. International and transnational cooperative initiatives on saline agriculture have the objective to improve the resilience of food production in saline and potentially saline agricultural areas. You can find more information regarding the SALAD project on the project website:

The FAO’s annual flagship report The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World revealed some alarming developments with regard to the global food security in 2022. This report links the continued rise of world hunger to unequal patterns of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it points out that macroeconomic developments marked by substantial global inflation rates cause unprecedented spikes in food prices leading to a decreased availability of healthy diets for over three billion people. In addition, climate change causes environmental pressures which pose a threat to global food systems. Salinisation (increased salt content of soil or water) is a main problem among these environmental issues that put food security under pressure. More persistent droughts, floods and sea-level rise are expected to increase this challenge making it one of the most common land degradation processes and one of the main challenges of contemporary agriculture. Therefore, adapting to the global phenomenon of salinisation through saline agriculture will increase food and water security and support sustainable development.  

International cooperative initiatives (ICIs) have become an increasingly important element of the environmental governance architecture in the past decades. Over the past 10 years, a myriad of ICIs have emerged around the topic of salinisation and saline agriculture. These initiatives involve non-state and subnational actors, often working in collaboration with national governments and intergovernmental organisations. ICIs operate across national borders and perform governance functions related to implementation of salinity-related projects as well as provision of information and funds to achieve common goals. As such, they provide an opportunity to address the global challenge of soil and water salinisation. Until now, little is known about the institutional landscape of saline agriculture ICIs. Because the emergence of ICIs on saline agriculture provides new opportunities for effective governance beyond the formal international regime, there is a need to better understand key characteristics of this new institutional landscape for governing biodiversity. Therefore, the SALAD team created and analysed a database containing 99 international and transnational cooperative initiatives on saline agriculture.

The report maps and visualises the structure of the landscape. It explores the actor constellations of ICIs, the temporal changes in their numbers, governance functions of ICIs, key thematic areas related to salinity, SDGs, geographic coverage and finally accountability mechanisms. The results show a few overarching trends in the sample of 99 initiatives selected for the analysis. The results indicate that initiatives can play an important role in the governance landscape of saline agriculture and can contribute to the up-scaling of saline agriculture by advancing the scientific research and participating in the policy debate. However, findings suggest that the fragmented landscape of initiatives is predominated by public actors and research institutions. This potentially hampers benefit sharing and up-scaling opportunities. There is an increase in the number of cooperative initiatives focusing on saline agriculture over time, particularly in years 2019-2020, suggesting increased interest or need for these initiatives. Their main governance functions are operational activities followed by information sharing and networking. However, for up-scaling more ICIs are needed that commit to funding & standards and commitments’ activities. Thematically, most of the initiatives focus on the development of new crop varieties and water and soil management practices. The key SDGs addressed by them are SDG2 “Zero hunger”, SDG13 “Climate action”, SDG6 “Clean water and sanitation” and SDG8 “Decent work and economic growth”. Our results indicate that most of the initiatives do not report publicly, but those with reports exhibit high verification rates. Implementation of these accountability mechanisms is crucial for tracking the performance of the initiatives in terms of output, outcome and impact. The lack of employment of these mechanisms might obstruct effectiveness. Furthermore, the short duration and research focus of the international and transnational cooperative initiatives indicate a discrepancy between science and practice, which could hamper upscaling opportunities. More focus should be put on mobilising and transferring knowledge in order to make it accessible to a wider audience, thus increasing uptake, implementation and impact.

These analyses provide a better understanding of the institutional landscape for governing saline agriculture including non- and sub-state actors. The reports not only provide insights into the status quo but also point towards the implications of ICIs actions for the policy debate. The report offers useful insights for policy makers, environmental organisations and researchers alike, thus contributing to global food and water security and sustainable development. Future research could focus on comparative analysis of interactions among other governance areas such as climate change or biodiversity, as interdependencies allow for mutual learning. The authors argue that this exchange should not be limited to academic and public institutions, but include, inspire and empower all those who are affected by salinised lands in order to ensure community food security

Authors: Katarzyna Negacz, Pim van Tongeren, Lucia Ferrone, Federico Martellozzo, Filippo Randeli.

Technical Report:

Saline agriculture initiatives in Mediterranean and North Sea Region