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    ‘Sea Rice’ Trial Could Expand to 20 Million Hectares

    Hybrid grain guarantees food security by increasing arable land and crop output.

    A type of rice that grows in diluted salt water could be planted across 20 million hectares of agricultural wasteland, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported Sunday.

    According to CCTV, 176 alkali-tolerant rice varieties bred by Chinese scientists will be trial-planted to find the best strain for future consumption.

    The Chinese government invested in research of high-yield hybrid grains during the population boom of the 1970s. The development of salt-resistant grains began in 1986 with researcher Chen Risheng, who is known as the “Father of Sea Rice.”

    Almost 30 years later, agricultural scientist Yuan Longping established the Qingdao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center in 2014, aiming to increase yields and the amount of arable land available. Sea rice first became available commercially in 2017, when the center partnered with a startup to sell the grain online.

    The center’s deputy director, Zhang Guodong, said that out of approximately 100 million hectares of saline and alkaline land around the nation, researchers had identified about 20 million hectares that could be planted with sea rice. Suitable sites include areas of the Yellow River Delta, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and northeastern China.

    Yet the breakthrough comes at a time when China has a surplus of rice. Earlier this year, the government announced a shift in focus from increasing and stabilizing rice production to reducing a growing mountain of unsold stock.

    New foods can also cause contention among consumers and regulators: Though hybrid varieties like sea rice are well-supported in China, genetically modified rice is less welcome.

    Editor: Qian Jinghua.

    (Header image: An aerial view of ‘sea rice’ fields in Nantong, Jiangsu province, Dec. 1, 2017. Zhu Haochen/VCG)