By bringing a saltwater infrastructure into the desert, the Sahara Forest Project opens up the possibility for commercial cultivation of halophytes, plants that can tolerate or even thrive in salty growing conditions. Halophytes are of interest to the Sahara Forest Project in two respects. First, they may prove to be the only plants initially capable of growing 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 in order to allow the cultivation of more typical freshwater crops.
Many desert halophytes perform important ecosystem services, acting as sand stabilizers and wind breaks. These species, when planted in brackish and saline soils near the edges of SFP facilities, will naturally help protect the site infrastructure from flooding, sand storms, and erosion. Second, halophytes may provide opportunities for the cultivation of 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.