This new strain of salt water rice could feed 200 million people

In brief

An 87-year-old scientist named Yuan Longping has successfully developed rice that can be grown using saltwater. While his rice could prevent food scarcity as global climate change floods the world, the new strain has a long way to go before it can be widely adopted.

China: Old Country, New Tricks

More than half the global population relies on rice to survive, but meeting that demand is difficult due to the increasing scarcity of freshwater, which is required for rice cultivation. To get around the problem, an 87-year-old Chinese scientist named Yuan Longping is developing a new high-yield strain of rice that grows in saltwater.

Swamps, bogs, and clay-like or salty coastal waters make up roughly a third of the total arable land in China. Growing rice in these locales is nearly impossible because salt stresses plants’ water-absorption process. Specifically, saltwater makes photosynthesis and respiration more difficult for stalks and slows their growth to death.

Salt from coastal flooding and tides has left just a fraction of China’s total land open to freshwater rice farming, and in Dongying, a region on China’s eastern coast, 40 percent of land has a salt concentration higher than 0.5 percent, according to the World Bank. Experts expect the rising waters from global climate change to exacerbate this problem.

For his research, Longping planted 200 different saltwater-tolerant rice strains at the Qindao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center on the Yellow Sea. According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, his efforts yielded 8,030 pounds of rice per acre. For comparison, most commercial U.S. growers harvest between 7,200-7,600 pounds per acre annually.

Though promising, Longping’s experiment did not mimic the actual conditions in China, instead using water with a much lo