Integrated soil-plant approaches to increase crop productivity in harsh environments

Many countries have weather patterns and soil characteristics that place major constraint on food production systems over large tracts of land. Thus a major challenge for making better use of these marginal lands is not only to select but also to evaluate and optimize the adaptability and crop productivity under extreme climatic conditions (high temperatures and low rainfall) or where soils suffer from salinity, acidity or low plant nutrient status. Isotope and related nuclear techniques can provide unique quantitative information for evaluation of improved crop genotypes under varying harsh conditions and identifying integrated soil-plant management practices for optimizing crop productivity without compromising on soil health and the sustainability. Technical cooperation and coordination of research through the following Coordinated Research Projects are being provided to Member States to develop and test technologies that can enhance food security for people livelihoods in harsh environments.

Related Co-ordinated Research Projects

- Selection and evaluation of food (cereal and legume) crop genotypes tolerant to low nitrogen and phosphorus soils through the use of isotopic and nuclear-related techniques - D1.50.10
- Selection for greater agronomic water use efficiency in wheat and rice using carbon isotope discrimination - D1.20.08

Success story

Success stories in optimizing plant adaptability to harsh environments where soil nutrients are the major constraints.

The challenge

The hidden nature of roots below-ground coupled with the labour cost in assessing large number of roots in the field has hampered the search for plants with root characteristics that can effectively capture and utilize soil water and nutrients for plant growth. Another challenge is to assess and develop integrated soil-plant approach that optimize crop productivity without compromise soil health and degradation of water quantity and quality for long-term sustainability. Integrated soil-plant approaches to increase crop productivity in harsh environments


Evaluate rice genotypes adapted to dry environments A range of isotopes (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur), which are essential elements for plant growth are used to evaluate selected crops that can "match" the drought and infertile soils. These isotopes also provide quantitative estimates of sources, movements and pathways of water and nutrients within the soil and crop plants.

Successful Outputs

A field root methodology that is capable of discerning variations for root traits important for efficient nutrient and water uptake with minimum labour and expense has been developed and effectively used to identify and evaluate efficient rice, maize and beans lines in parts of Cuba, Mozambique and Mexico.

The ratios of different carbon isotopes in plants (the carbon isotope discrimination methodology), have been used effectively to evaluate rice and wheat genotypes adapted to dry environments in India, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Morocco.

Technology packages to tackle soil acidity constraint for crop production in the tropical acid soils of have been developed (2006 IAEA Proceedings series, IAEA STI/PUB/1285) with participation of 10 Member States from Africa and Latin America.