Scientists in China have developed rice that can be grown for high yields in salt water, potentially feeding 200 million people.
The rice was grown on a salty beach in the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong, using diluted seawater from the Yellow Sea. A research team led by Yuan Longping, who has been heading efforts to develop farmable salt water rice since the 1970s and is known as the ‘father of hybrid rice,’ recently managed to more than double its yield, making it suitable for commercialisation, according to the South China Morning Post.
China currently has one million square kilometres of agriculturally derelict wasteland due to high salinity or alkalinity, an area the size of Ethiopia, so the breakthrough could provide extra food for millions of people. Longping estimates that if a tenth of this area was planted with salt-resistant rice, it would increase China’s rice production by close to 20%.
Another benefit of growing rice in salt water is a reduced need for pesticides, as many pests can't tolerate the conditions.
However, there is some scepticism. Talking to the Post, wasteland treatment expert Liu Guangfei said the rice could not be planted in the majority of alkaline and saline soils inland, because it was “mainly resistant to sodium chloride .. inland areas had high levels of sodium sulphate, which could be detrimental to the rice.” The salt would also make the land unusable for any other crop in the future, he said.
It's also worth pointing out that in the areas where the rice has been grown thus far, the salt content of the water, which is a mix of salt and fresh, is typically less than 1%, reports RT.
Named ‘Yuan Mi’ in Longping’s honour, the sea rice is already on sale – six tonnes since August – but at 50 yuan (US$7.50) a kilo, is currently eight times more expensive than conventional rice.