By bringing a saltwater infrastructure into the desert, the Sahara Forest Project opens up the possibility for commercial cultivation of halophytes. These plants can tolerate or even thrive in salty growing conditions. Halophytes are of interest to the Sahara Forest Project in two respects. First, they may be the only plants initially capable of producing in some salty desert regions, even with freshwater irrigation. They may also provide a natural and water-efficient means for soil remediation in brackish soils to allow the cultivation of more typical freshwater crops.
Many desert halophytes perform essential ecosystem services, acting as sand stabilizers and windbreaks. When planted in brackish and saline soils near the edges of SFP facilities, these species will naturally help protect the site infrastructure from flooding, sand storms, and erosion. Second, halophytes may provide opportunities to cultivate fodder and energy crops using saltwater – even seawater – for irrigation. This is a hugely exciting prospect given the current and projected world shortages in freshwater but remains a relatively unexplored research area.