Salt Water Irrigation: the Solution Explained

This History/ Introduction

It may be surprising that one of the most successful countries was built on a swamp. Amsterdam literally means a “dam in a watering area”, so it is shocking to recall a thriving country with magnificent architecture previously as a swampy marshland. In its original form, it was impossible to build upon or grow any foods. To combat this issue, they built canals and polders to hold up the water, which allowed the land to dry, and people were able to reclaim the land of this former swamp (Betsky 6). This created tensions with water management and for those who lived above the land. Human occupation of Amsterdam continued to expand throughout the middle ages when increasingly more dikes were built around the marshes to pump out water creating lush green meadows. Being built along the water definitely worked to the Dutch advantage because it was a great place for the Dutch to trade and set sail for the world. Although there were many advantages, this also came with a large cost. In the 14th century floods destroyed large sections of the new Dutch land, and in response they built even higher dikes to protect the land. Unfortunately, the flooding is still an ongoing problem in the Netherlands to this day.

Zakerias. Steam Workshop::Noordoostpolder – Flevoland, NL, 1 Apr. 2015,

The temporary solution

Land reclamation has been a persistent issue in the Netherlands as excess water is extremely common. In the Noordoostpolder, some landowners up until the 19th century were responsible for drying out their own land. According to an in depth history of the Noordoostpolder, Much of the soil on the newly leased land was deficient, and made it very difficult to grow crops on (Ch.9). This had led to bankruptcy and poverty. By 1942, the soil was saved by quickly removing water with ditches, trenches, and channels. The ditches were then taken over by drainage pipes. They created new plans to fight off the droughts and excess water to improve the structure of the soil and a system to prevent weed growth. They strategically planted certain vegetation in order to improve fertilization. Clovers were planted due to their deep rooting, which can improve soil drainage and green fertilization. The Dutch planted crops like oats, barely, and rye to help the soil structure and create less weed growth and prevented dispersion of sandy soils. They also created a clay and sand mixture below the soil to help with drought-sensitive soil. This way the plants would stop rooting once they reached the clay and sand layer

Brown, Emma. “Drought in the Netherlands: There’s Now a Water Shortage in the Country.” 
DutchReview, 3 Aug. 2018,

Having good soil is vital for successful crops. If there isn’t enough agriculture growth, then the polder can not feed their people. This directly affects SDG 2 of ending hunger, promoting food security, and sustainable agriculture. This is a great example of promoting sustainable agriculture, because it is improving the sustainment of the economic viability of the agriculture systems. This enhances the quality of life for farmers and neighboring communities, increases farm productivity/ income, and is beneficial for the environment.

Even after completely revamping the Dutch agricultural system, the farmers were still faced with many more challenges. The flooding can still persist with ongoing heavy rainfall. In 1998, the Noordoostpolder had a massive floor which destroyed the majority of its agricultural land (Ch.8). This led to major food shortages as harvests were demolished. Sadly, the special planting plan was not sufficient for the Noordoostpolder to escape flooding. To this day, the municipalities of Noordoostpolder and Waterschap Zuiderzeeland are still trying to find solutions to their drainage problems. 

The long term solution

Luckily, there could be a solution to all of these problems. George Putic, a reporter from VOA News, wrote that a farm in the Netherlands was able to grow healthy and tasty plants in soil that was irrigated with salt water.  Salinization kills irrigated farmland by 1-2% around the world annually, but this doesn’t have to be the case. A Dutch farmer Marc Van Rijsselberghe is an experimental farmer that has been testing out salt water irrigation systems with some trial and error. In order to ~test the waters~ he put a variety of plants in fresh and sea water to see which varieties survive and die. Van Rijsselberghe collaborated with scientists to divide his farm into 8 plots with a network of irrigation pipes. They were able to separate the pipes to bring fresh water and sea water consisting of 8 levels of salinity. Miraculously, the majority of the test plots grew the crops. Unfortunately, the lives of some plants were lost, but they were sacrificed for the greater good. Van Rijsselberghe said the vegetables were slightly smaller, but they held more sugar and salt. He actually claimed that the extra salt and sugar added more flavor to the vegetables. With the salt water, he was able to grow carrots, cabbage, onion, beetroot, and potatoes. The potatoes grew the best with the saline water, and they shipped them to Pakistan, a country extremely vulnerable to saline water. The farm was simply filling the gap for potato needs in Pakistan, but in the future they could teach them the methods of saline irrigation.

Salt Farm Texel, 2019,

With the ability to use salt water irrigation the Dutch could positively affect the second United Nations Sustainable Development Goal. Although the Netherlands do not struggle feeding their people, major challenges remain in efficient crop production and crop yield. Saline irrigation has the means to fix these challenges and create benefits for other countries SDG 2. Firstly, this is an extremely sustainable agricultural method by combatting their flooding problems by taking the excess water for irrigation. Secondly, this would also solve their drought issues. If they are struggling to source fresh water in certain areas, they could use the salt water to grow their harvest. Irrigation accounts for 63% of freshwater usage. Fresh water is a precious resource as droughts are persistent around the world. With this new technology of irrigation, other countries could eventually solve their drought problems as well. Thirdly, the Dutch could also play a role in ending hunger and decreasing food insecurity for other countries. Many countries in the global south are experiencing more intense climate change. In the future years, their temperatures are predicted to increase to the point that they may not be able to harvest as 

many crops. With the global south’s increasing population, food insecurity will only become greater. With salt water agriculture, they may be able to export their vegetables to the global south to potentially decrease food shortages. Fourthly, with more experimenting with saline irrigation, they could potentially teach other countries how to use this technology. Countries that are vulnerable to saline water could apply this method and no longer experience food insecurity.


From the very beginning, the Dutch have had numerous issues with flooding and growing crops. This is largely due to its foundation of being built on a swamp, but with new technology they may be able to fight off this issue for good. This has tried to incorporate new agricultural methods with strategic planting and sand/clay layers to decrease flooding and droughts. Luckily, with the newly found technology of salt-water irrigation, they may be able to solve their own problems along with helping other countries. Salt-water irrigation may be their best solution, because they can use the excess salt-water to irrigate vegetables, they no longer will have a shortage of freshwater and experience drought, and they can export their salt-water crops to countries experiencing food insecurity. 

Works Cited

Brown, Emma. “Drought in the Netherlands: There’s Now a Water Shortage in the Country.” 

DutchReview, 3 Aug. 2018,


False Flat Why Dutch Design Is so Good, by Aaron Betsky and Adam Eeuwens, Phaidon, 2008,

 pp. 6–10. 

Putic, George. “Dutch Experiment Shows Farming With Salty Water Possible.” Voice of 

America, Nov. 2014,



Salt Farm Texel, 2019,

Zakerias. Steam Workshop::Noordoostpolder – Flevoland, NL, 1 Apr. 2015, 

“8 – Draining and Staying Dry: Dikes and Pumping Stations.” Dranining and Staying Dry 

“9 – Cultivation: Cultivating Wild Lands.” Cultivation


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