LET THE DESERT BLOOM

China these days is constantly on the move. In a vast desert on the outskirts of Dubai, Chinese scientists looked across a field of ‘drought-resistant’ rice they had planted in the sand and diluted seawater and realised that a four-decade struggle had come to an end.

‘The result was extremely satisfying,’ said Dudele, an official at the Chinese Research Centre pioneering the salt-resistant rice, which many believe could solve food shortages in the world’s most uncultivable regions. ‘We learned that we could grow rice in the desert and we were very happy. We analysed the results and now know how much we can produce,’ he told the Sunday Telegraph.

Rice is commonly grown in freshwater and soil rather than sand and sea-water. And in Dubai, where temperatures can reach a scorching 122 f (50 centigrade) in the day and sandstorms are common, the challenge is more severe. Scientists at the Sea Rice Research & Development Centre in Qingdao, Eastern China, produced more than 3 tons per acre of one strain of salt-resistant rice, which was planted in the dusty Emirate in January. Researchers currently grow the sea-water rice in the salty beaches of Qingdao on the Yellow Sea, and the 50 million acres of Chinese wasteland – an area almost the size of Great Britain – has now been identified for cultivation.

Yuan Longping, China’s ‘father of hybrid rice’ who leads the Qingdao Centre, told the Chinese media the results were better than he had expected and his team is now seeking to expand its research. Plans have been drawn up to establish a 250 acre experimental farm later this year, before ambitious proposals to cover at least 10 per cent of the territory of the United Arab Emirates in paddy fields are rolled out.

Zhang Guodong, deputy director of the Centre, said the company was also considering sea-water rice agreements with several Asian countries including Vietnam, India and Sri Lanka. The company will also establish artificial oases across the Middle East and North Africa which Chinese media said will ‘benefit all Arab countries and help them get rid of poverty and hunger as well as improve the environment.’

China’s entrepreneurial ventures such as these are certainly to be admired since the benefits will be immense, especially to countries where the relief of poverty would be a great humanitarian achievement.

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