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Tackling salinity in sub-Saharan Africa

2 May 2024
The impacts of salinization extend beyond agriculture. This is the conclusion of research by the Institute of Environmental Studies (IVM), in collaboration with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). They carried out a comprehensive research project covering twelve countries in sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal, The Gambia and Burkina Faso, across Chad, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, to Ethiopia, Kenya and Mozambique. The goal of the project was to address the multiple challenges posed by salinity.

Salinisation of soil and groundwater is a major constraint on agriculture across sub-Saharan Africa. Exacerbated by climate change, this pervasive problem has profound impact on the region’s environment, economy, and communities. Therefore, the researchers composed a comprehensive report with country profiles and in-depth analysis of the research questions. In addition, a policy brief summarising the key findings was published by environmental scientists Kate Negacz, Janina Smaoui and Pim van Tongeren. The researchers found that the impacts of salinity extend beyond agriculture.  

Salinity management 
The research focused on three key questions. First, what is the current state of salinisation of groundwater and soils in these countries? Second, which regions are most affected by salinisation, and what are the current and future impacts? Finally, how do international cooperative initiatives address these challenges, and what is the governance landscape for salinity management in this region? 

Gaps in understanding 
The research shows that while salinity has received considerable attention in certain regions, such as coastal areas or the Horn of Africa, there are still gaps in understanding its prevalence and impacts in landlocked countries such as Mali, Chad, and South Sudan. Limited data availability hampers efforts to assess the full extent of salinity, highlighting the need for more comprehensive research, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. 

Room for improvement 
The impacts of salinity extend beyond agriculture, affecting economic development, land use, migration patterns and biodiversity. Reduced yields, rising unemployment and gender inequality are just some of the far-reaching consequences for communities. Despite these challenges, cooperative initiatives are actively addressing salinity in the region, with a focus on operational activities, information sharing and networking. Led primarily by public and private actors, these initiatives prioritise food and water security and climate adaptation, although there is room for improvement in monitoring and evaluation practices. 

International attention 
Finally, the project's findings have already attracted attention on international platforms, including a presentation at the FAO's International Network on Salt-affected Soils (INSAS) webinar in March 2024. Further discussions are planned in Nairobi, Kenya, where stakeholders from farmers to policymakers will gather to further explore the project's implications.