Rice grown in desert, using seawater with over double the global average yields

One day large sections of desert could be turned into rice paddy fields. Chinese scientists have successfully grown and harvested rice in the deserts of Dubai after developing a strain that allows the crop to grow in saltwater.

China’s “father of hybrid rice” Yuan Longping, has already grown rice in diluted sea-water and is now bringing the technique to the Middle East. In the Middle East fresh water is too precious to use for growing water-intensive crops.

The high yield reported – 7,500kg per hectare compared with the global average of 3,000kg per hectare – has encouraged scientists to expand the project.

They now plan to set up a 100-hectare experimental farm later this year, put it into regular use next year and then start expanding after 2020.

Eventually, the report said, the goal is to cover around 10 percent of the United Arab Emirates, which has a total area of 83,600 sq km (32,278 sq miles), with paddy fields – although details as to how this will be achieved have yet to be disclosed.

Israel or Australia have been developing desalination techniques to convert seawater for use in agriculture, but China has been working to develop strains of salt-resistant rice for the past four decades.

China has one million square kilometers of waste land – an area the size of Ethiopia – where plants struggle to grow because of high salinity or alkalinity levels in the soil.

If a tenth of this area was planted with saltwater rice, it could boost China’s rice production by nearly 20 percent, producing 50 million tonnes of food – enough to feed 200 million people.

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