NEW DELHI, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- India says it will initiate a pilot project to see if salt-tolerant cash crops can be grown in the country's salty coastal areas.
In the pilot effort, an area in Tamil Nadu state will house dozens of species of halophytes, or salt-loving plants, that can be cultivated as cash crops, the BBC reported this week.
Halophytes, found naturally throughout the coastal areas of India, can be used to produce edible oils, medicines, vegetables, and cattle and fish feed.
Researchers say salt-resistant plants are important for people living in coastal areas where vast stretches of land have become saline and unsuitable for any other form of cultivation.
The project, funded by the Indian government, is a historic step towards eco-conservation, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh says.
The research could transform agricultural production in coastal areas, becoming increasingly saline not only in India but in other parts of South Asia as well, scientists say.
"Global warming causes sea waters to rise and as such inundated areas will increase substantially in years to come, turning large amount of coastal land saline and unfit for regular crops," the project's director, V. Selvam, says.
Studies in the United States and East Africa have suggested halophytes such as sea asparagus can be grown as commercial crops.