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Seawater Rice: Scientists Discover Salt-tolerant Rice Varieties

Since at least the 1950s, China has been researching salt-tolerant rice. However, the name "seawater rice" has only recently gained popularity which can thrive well in salty land.

Shivani Meena
Rice Plantations
Rice Plantations

Northern China's Jinghai area is far from a rice-growing paradise. Over half of the land in this region, which runs along the coast of the Bohai Sea, is made up of salty, alkaline soil that crops can't grow in. Jinghai, on the other hand, produced 100 hectares of rice last fall. 

The key to the abundant harvest is the development of new salt-tolerant rice varieties by Chinese scientists to preserve food security, which has been challenged by rising sea levels, increased grain consumption, and supply chain disruptions. 

A deeper look at Seawater rice 

The strains, called "seawater rice" because they are farmed in salty soil near the sea, were produced by over-expressing a gene from chosen wild rice that is more tolerant to saline and alkali. Last year, test fields in Tianjin—the municipality that includes Jinghai—recorded a yield of 4.6 metric tonnes per acre, which was greater than the national average for normal rice variety production. 

The breakthrough comes as China seeks to protect domestic food and energy sources as global warming and geopolitical tensions make imports less dependable. The country has one-fifth of the world's population and that many mouths to feed, yet has less than 10% of the world's arable land. Meanwhile, grain consumption is rapidly increasing as the country becomes wealthier. 

The better use of saline terrain with salt-tolerant varieties 

The challenge has become more critical as a result of climate change. Over the last 40 years, China's coastal waters have risen faster than the world average, a concerning development that has given the country's reliance on grain production along its long and low eastern coast. Growing salt-tolerant rice on a big scale would help the government to make better use of the area's increasingly saline terrain. 

Farmers traditionally dilute their crops with significant volumes of fresh water to take advantage of salty soil. In certain coastal areas, the method is still widely employed. However, the practice uses a lot of water and doesn't always enhance yields enough to be profitable. 

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