In a true agricultural breakthrough, Chinese scientists in Qingdao, East China’s Shandong Province, have managed to grow high-yield rice in salt water.
Scientists from the Qingdao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center have been testing the new strain for some time, but only now is it ready for commercialisation.
This new saltwater-resistant rice was achieved by pumping and diluting seawater in controlled concentrations from the Yellow Sea into the rice paddy fields.
Research leader Yuan Longping, the alleged father of this hybrid strain of rice, says saltwater cultivation could boost China’s rice production by almost 20 percent and feed more than 200 million people.
There are already certain types of wild rice that can survive salinity, but those natural strains typically have a yield of between 1.125 to 2.25 tonnes per hectare.
Contrastingly, these four new types of rice developed by Chinese scientists will have a mammoth estimated output between 6.5 and 9.3 tonnes per hectare.
Yuan Longping said the increased productivity will certainly encourage farmers to grow more of this modified rice in the near future.
“If a farmer tries to grow some types of saline-tolerant rice now, they most likely will get 1,500 kilograms per hectare. That is just not profitable and not even worth the effort,” Yuan told Xinhuanet.
Additionally, farmers can reduce their use of pesticides since the salt contained in the water acts as a natural disinfectant which repels pathogenic bacteria.
The increased productivity could also change the country’s landscapes and agricultural industry. Right now, China has around one hundred million hectares of saline-alkali soil, which amounts to one-fifth of the cultivable land.
Yuan Ce Biological Technology, a Qingdao-based start-up and business partner of Yuan Longping’s research team, set up an online store in August to sell the new variety at 50 yuan ($7.50) per kilo, roughly eight times more expensive than traditional rice.
The site has sold already nearly six tonnes of the new strain, with one thousand orders processed just last month.
The company expects to reach a sales revenue of $1.5 million dollars by the end of the year.
The saline-resistant rice is currently sold in packs of one, five and ten kilograms.
This new variety is grown in fresh water diluted with seawater, and scientists say it will take a couple more years of research to come up with a species that can grow in pure seawater.
I have a very scientific question though: does this mean you don’t have to add salt when you cook with it?