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Innovation turns barren land green

By XIE CHUANJIAO | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-08 08:04

'Father of hybrid rice' grows crops in barren saline-alkaline areas

A new technological breakthrough proposed by China's "father of hybrid rice" Yuan Longping has increased rice yields by nearly 20 percent on land considered too saline and alkaline to be useful for crops.

The techniques are expected to be used domestically and abroad, officials said on Thursday.

The aim is to improve saline-alkaline land so that it can be used to grow more rice, said Zhang Guodong, executive director of Qingdao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center in Shandong province.

The center has started building four demonstration centers, in the north and south of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in Daqing in Heilongjiang province and in Qingdao, each with over 66 hectares of experimental paddies. They would be used to determine the best ways to cultivate saline-alkali land, increase yields and reduce planting costs.

In September, the Qingdao demonstration center harvested four types saline-alkali resistant rice, with the highest yield reaching 9.3 metric tons per hectare, much higher than expected.

"One of the key steps to make it commercially viable is to cultivate highly resistant rice adapted to the environments of different saline-alkaline wastelands," Zhang said.

Zhang said the research center is likely to build five to 10 more demonstration bases over the next two to three years across China to develop the best way to promote the technology.

"The Qingdao R&D center also plans to use the new technology in countries of Southeast Asia and the Middle East," said Zhang, who added he could not provide details because negotiations are underway.

Yuan's new breakthrough, called the Four-Dimensional Optimizing Method, is designed to tailor-make different solutions for different soils, according to the 87-year-old scientist.

"One of difficulties is to get rid of salinity in the soil," Yuan said at the second session of International Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Forum in Qingdao on Thursday.

The forum attracted more than 300 experts, scholars and entrepreneurs from home and abroad to discuss saline-alkali tolerant rice.

Yuan said the only two solutions for boosting productivity are increasing the yield and expanding the planting area.

"Now it seems the latter is a more effective way because there are hundreds of millions of hectares of saline-alkali land in the world," he said.

"China alone has about 100 million hectares of saline-alkali soil, and that area is still increasing year by year. Rice is the first choice of crop for improving the soil," Yuan said.

He said he hopes global crop security issues can be effectively dealt with through further development of salinealkali tolerant rice.

"Rice itself has the biological function of reducing salt and is the preferred food crop for improving saline-alkali soil," said Ai Jichang, a government relations officer with the World Food Programme China Office.

"At present, more than half of the world's population lives on rice as a staple food. The comprehensive improvement technology for saline-alkali soil proposed by Yuan Longping's team is of great strategic significance for promoting integrated research and the commercial extension of rice improvement in saline-alkali soil, ensuring national food security," Ai said.

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