China develops salt tolerant rice; Seawater rice to add to China’s food security

Dubbed as “seawater rice” because it’s grown in salty soil near the sea, China reported the strains were created by over-expressing a gene from selected wild rice that’s more resistant to saline and alkali. Test fields have recorded a yield of 4.6 tonnes per acre last year, higher than the national average for production of standard rice varieties.

The breakthrough comes as China searches for ways to secure domestic food and energy supplies as global warming and geopolitical tensions make imports less reliable. The nation has one-fifth of the world’s population, and that many mouths to feed, with less than 10% of the Earth’s arable land. Meanwhile, grain consumption is rising quickly as the country becomes richer.

“Seeds are the ‘chips’ of agriculture,” said Wan Jili, a manager at Qingdao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center, drawing a parallel between the crucial role semiconductors play in the development of new technologies and their role in the ongoing trade war between the US and China. Seawater rice could help improve China’s grain production in the face of an “extremely complicated situation regarding climate change and global food security,” she said.

Climate change has made the task more urgent. China’s coastal waters have risen faster than the global average over the last 40 years, a worrying trend given the country’s deep reliance on its long and low eastern coast for grain production. Successfully growing salt-tolerant rice on a large scale would allow the country to utilise more of the increasingly salty land in the area. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels around the world could rise as much as 59 centi metres by the end of the century if the planet warms by 2 degrees Celsius. Oceans surrounding the US will swell faster within the next three decades than they did in the past century, according to a report this week led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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