A newly developed strain of rice can be grown in salty water instead of the traditional rice paddy, according to a report in South China Morning Post.
The new strain has been under development for over forty years, but in the past has not been successful enough for large-scale production. Last month a research team led by 87 year old Yuan Longping, known as China’s “father of hybrid rice”, doubled the output of seawater rice.
China has one million square kilometres of land where plants struggle to grow because of high salinity or alkalinity levels in the soil. If a tenth of that area could be planted with salt-resistant rice, it could boost China’s rice production by nearly 20%. That would produce 50 million tonnes of food, enough to feed 200 million people.
Early efforts in the 1970s led to the development of eight salt-resistant species, but their production was only about a third of ordinary paddy rice. The strain developed by Yuan's team is double their production, making it a little better than standard rice.
The new strain is called “Yuan Mi” in honour of the team leader, and is now on sale in China. At 50 Yuan per kilo (AUS$9.85), it is eight times the cost of ordinary rice. The rice has a unique texture and pleasant flavour, according to the company selling it.
In addition, the new strain's ability to grow in salty soil means it is hardier than ordinary rice, and has higher resistance to some diseases and insects.
So far the rice cannot grow in pure seawater, only in diluted salty water. Researchers believe it will take years more research to develop a species that can grow in pure seawater.