Scientists in China have developed a variety of rice that can be grown in salt water, which they say could create enough food for around 200 million people.
The idea is not new but until now researchers have been unable to create a product that is commercially viable.
This particular variety was grown in a field close to the Yellow Sea city of Qingdao in China’s Shandong province. The team planted 200 different varieties to examine which, if any, could adapt to the salty conditions.
Fresh seawater was pumped to the fields, diluted with fresh water and then channelled into the rice paddies.
The scientists were hoping to produce 4.5 tonnes of rice per hectare (6.25 rai) but the crops exceeded expectations, with one case producing 9.3 tonnes per hectare.
“The test results greatly exceeded our expectations,” Liu Shiping, a professor of agriculture at Yangzhou University.
Salinity is a big problem in China, with one million square kilometres being unable to sustain crops due to high salt levels. It is hoped that this new development will mean that some of this land can now be used to grow rice.
The new type of rice was developed by a team led by 87-year old Yuan Longping. He, along with the Chinese government have been experimenting with growing rice in salty conditions since the 1970’s.
Mr Yuan said: “If a farmer tries to grow some types of saline-tolerant rice now, they most likely will get 1,500 kilogrammes per hectare. That is just not profitable and not even worth the effort.
“Farmers will have an incentive to grow the rice if we can double the yield.”
Salt water rice currently costs around six times as much as ordinary rice although this is expected to fall substantially in the future. The new rice has been praised for its flavour and texture as well as having a number of health benefits including being high in calcium.