by Jeff Smith
In the harsh climate of northwestern Uzbekistan, farmers are cultivating wild licorice on land that is salt-ridden near drainage canals.
The tops of the shrubs, established either from roots or seed, are cut for livestock fodder and, by the third year, some farmers dig up the roots to export for profit to Japan, South Korea, and the Ukraine. Extract from licorice roots is used worldwide in medicines, candy, food, alcohol and even cosmetics.
Today, the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) also is eyeing licorice as a potential low-cost option to rehabilitate soil stripped of its fertility because of high salinity. Farmers in the region already have abandoned an estimated 30,000 hectares of land degraded by over-irrigation in the Aral Sea Basin to support a cotton and wheat economy dating back to the Soviet era. Licorice is a salt-tolerant plant that not only thrives in such tough conditions but helps regenerate the soil.
“The key is the deep-rooted nature of licorice and its ability to drop the water table, thereby preventing salt from rising to the surface of the soil,” says Andrew Noble, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and a soil scientist by background. In effect, salt collected in the soil is gradually flushed out, enabling the land to be irrigated again for wheat and cotton.
Andrew Noble, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Water Land and Ecosystems, participated in the Global Soil Week October 27-31, 2013.