With the serious and growing scarcity of freshwater that suitable for agricultural crops, Chinese scientist is now developing rice that can grow in saltwaters.
The research is a good material, with the incumbent statistics citing more than half the global population relies on rice to survive, but meeting that demand is difficult due to the increasing scarcity of freshwater, which is required for rice cultivation.
The research development is a brainchild of an 87-year-old Chinese scientist named Yuan Longping who currently developing a new high-yield strain of rice that grows in saltwater.
Talking about the country geographical structure, China is composed of swamps, bogs, and clay-like or salty coastal waters make up roughly a third of the total arable land of the country.
Growing rice in these areas is nearly impossible because salt stresses plants’ water-absorption process. Specifically, saltwater makes photosynthesis and respiration more difficult for stalks and slows their growth to death.
According to World Bank, salt from coastal flooding and tides has left just a fraction of China’s total land open to freshwater rice farming, and in Dongying, a region on China’s eastern coast, 40 percent of land has a salt concentration higher than 0.5 percent.
Experts expect the rising waters from global climate change to exacerbate this problem.
In his research, Longping planted 200 different saltwater-tolerant rice strains at the Qindao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center on the Yellow Sea.
In a report of China’s Xinhua News Agency, his efforts yielded 8,030 pounds of rice per acre. For comparison, most commercial U.S. growers harvest between 7,200-7,600 pounds per acre annually.
Though promising, Longping’s experiment did not mimic the actual conditions in China, instead using water with a much lower salt concentration than could be found in nature.
“It’s still only maybe 10 percent the level of salt in sea water,” Assistant Director General for Agriculture at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) Ren Wang told Business Insider, so the “salt-proof” rice does have a long way to go before it could help ordinary farmers.
As of the moment, Beijing already produces more rice than any other country on Earth, but if Chinese farmers had access to rice that grows in saltwater, they could plant it in the vast saltwater lands of their country, increasing the nation’s food supply significantly, Wang told Business Insider.
Furthermore, Longping’s rice could also free up freshwater lands that are currently reserved for rice to grow other foods.
Longping’s early success with rice that grows in saltwater also comes at a time when rice producers are reporting particularly unfavorable conditions.
In fact, UN FAO’s 2017 global rice production forecast, Sri Lanka and South Korea are experiencing “abnormal dryness,” and Bangladesh recently suffered the worst flooding to hit South Asia in a decade.
Moreover, Nepal and India were also hit by floods and droughts this year, and citizens of those nations will consequently see an increase in prices.