Is this the way to “Make the desert bloom”?

12 August 2018 by Roy Preece

It has been a dream for centuries and a symbol of paradise to make plants grow in the desert. What they need is fresh water, but that is rare in a desert, except in an oasis, or after a very rare rainstorm.

Now plant breeders at the Sea Rice Centre in Qingdao in Eastern China have produced a sort of rice plant that will grow in salty water and in the desert sands.

This exciting project started way back in the 1970s.  As so often in the story of plant breeding the scientists found a wild species that had a useful characteristic; in this case a wild rice plant that could grow in salty mangrove swamps in Guangdong.

Over many decades and generations of rice the breeders managed to ‘fix’ this characteristic in more productive strains of the rice plant. Indeed, trials have shown that this strain can be highly productive too.

Large scale production has been successfully achieved in cooperation with the desert Gulf state of Dubai.

These rich Middle Eastern states take the water out of seawater for human use using very expensive methods, too expensive to be used for large scale food production. Unfortunately some fresh water is still needed to dilute the seawater which is just too salty.

The rice has great potential for China itself which has large areas of arid waste land. Some of this rice is already on sale there and one man said it was very tasty, just like the rice he enjoyed when he was a child!

The importance of rice in the Chinese's life has been vividly illustrated in one of our popular titles: the Chinese Farmers' Calendar and captured lively by this video.