What is it about?

Over the years, desalination has become a key player in managing our precious water resources, especially in dry coastal regions. While it has primarily served cities and high-revenue industries, the agriculture sector is now facing growing demands for irrigation, opening up exciting possibilities. In this review, we dive deep into the sustainability of using desalinated seawater for irrigation. We shed light on its limitations and potential, addressing the challenges we face along the way. We can't ignore the fact that using desalinated water for irrigation consumes a lot of energy, has the potential to contribute to climate change, and raises agronomy-related concerns. But fear not! We have evidence that suggests we can tackle these challenges head-on with carefully tailored strategies. Here's the thing: traditional approaches that simply label practices as good or bad and focus on one aspect won't cut it when evaluating the sustainability of desalination. The issues involved are complex and interconnected, calling for a fresh perspective. That's where the climate-water-energy-food (CWEF) nexus concept comes in. It's like a comprehensive framework that allows us to assess sustainability from all angles. By adopting the CWEF nexus approach, we gain a better understanding of the potential challenges of using desalinated water for irrigation. We're talking about social, economic, and environmental concerns all bundled together. To effectively manage these challenges, we need to customize desalination projects based on specific regional conditions. We can employ either preventative or corrective strategies to ensure we're on the right track. By embracing the CWEF nexus approach, we can make informed decisions about the future use of desalinated water for irrigation, working towards broader sustainability goals. Let's navigate this exciting journey together!

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Why is it important?

The research presented in the abstract highlights the increasing use of desalinated water for irrigation in the agriculture sector and explores the importance of assessing its sustainability. Here are the reasons why this research is important: Addressing water scarcity: Water scarcity is a significant global challenge, particularly in coastal semi-arid to arid regions where desalination is often employed. The agriculture sector, which requires large amounts of water for irrigation, is turning to desalinated water as a potential solution to address water scarcity. Understanding the sustainability of using desalinated water for irrigation is crucial for managing water resources effectively and ensuring long-term agricultural productivity. Overcoming challenges of desalination: Desalination involves energy-intensive processes, economic considerations, and potential environmental and agronomic impacts. These challenges need to be carefully evaluated to determine the feasibility and sustainability of desalinated water for irrigation. The research aims to shed light on these challenges and propose strategies to address them effectively, allowing for the responsible use of desalinated water in agriculture. Climate change and the agriculture sector: The expansion of desalination into agriculture is influenced by climate change, which has both positive and negative impacts. Climate change can exacerbate water scarcity issues and increase the demand for irrigation water. Understanding the interactions between desalination, climate change, and agriculture is essential for assessing the potential outcomes and ensuring that the use of desalinated water aligns with broader sustainability goals. A comprehensive sustainability framework: The research proposes the adoption of the climate-water-energy-food (CWEF) nexus approach as a comprehensive framework for assessing the sustainability of desalinated water for irrigation. This approach considers the interconnectedness of social, economic, and environmental factors, providing a more holistic understanding of the challenges and impacts associated with desalination projects. By using this framework, informed decisions can be made regarding the future utilization of desalinated water for irrigation, contributing to broader sustainability goals. Overall, this research is important because it addresses the need for sustainable solutions to water scarcity in agriculture, explores the challenges and potential impacts of using desalinated water for irrigation, and provides a comprehensive framework for evaluating the sustainability of desalination projects in the context of the climate-water-energy-food nexus. Its findings can inform decision-making and contribute to more responsible and effective water resource management in agricultural systems.


For close to a year, we embarked on a mission to explore every nook and cranny of desalination, specifically focusing on its potential within the agriculture industry while keeping sustainability in mind. It was not easy by any stretch, but the knowledge I gained was totally worth it.

Babak Zolghadr-Asli
University of Exeter

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The sustainability of desalination as a remedy to the water crisis in the agriculture sector: An analysis from the climate-water-energy-food nexus perspective, Agricultural Water Management, August 2023, Elsevier,
DOI: 10.1016/j.agwat.2023.108407.
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