Chinese scientists have developed salt-tolerant strains of seawater rice that may be grown in coastal areas where crops are presently tough to cultivate. The news arrives as China works to safeguard local food and energy supplies in the face of geopolitical conflicts.
“China is looking at another method now, to develop grain varieties that can withstand the soil’s saltiness,” Zhang Zhaoxin, a researcher with China’s agricultural department, told Bloomberg.
The strains, dubbed “seawater rice” since they are farmed in salty soil near the shore, were developed by over-expressing a gene from chosen wild rice.
Last year, testing farms in Tianjin produced 4.6 metric tons per acre, which was greater than the national average for production of conventional rice varieties.
Since as least the 1950s, China has been researching salt-tolerant rice. The study was prompted by the fact that the country’s shoreline waters have risen faster than the global average over the last 40 years.
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Regulators have expressed concern over China’s dependence on its lengthy and low eastern coast for grain cultivation.
Yuan Longping, sometimes recognized as the “Father of Hybrid Rice,” proposed the concept of seawater rice in 2012. “We could feed 80 million more people” with salt-tolerant rice, he said in a documentary shown in 2020.
The Qingdao research centre hopes to grow 30 million tonnes of the crop on 6.7 million hectares of empty wasteland. Last October, the study team stated that it may achieve its objective of producing 6.7 million hectares of seawater rice in ten years.
In 2021, the group was given control of 400,000 hectares of land in order to increase production of salt-resistant rice.
“If China can be more self-sufficient in staple foods, it would be a contribution to the world’s food security too,” said Zhang. “The less China imports, the more other countries will have.”