A team of scientists from China has successfully grown and harvested rice in Dubai’s deserts by using a hybrid rice strain that can grow in saltwater.
According to China Daily, the high yield from the rice planted on the outskirts of the city back in January has exceeded expectations, prompting the scientists to expand it even more. The rice harvest from last week, which yielded 7,500 kilograms per hectare, is more than double that the global average of 3,000 kilograms per hectare.
The ambitious project is a collaboration between China’s research center into saltwater rice with billionaire Sheikh Saeed Bin Ahmed Al Maktoum. Maktoum is a member of the ruling party who is also the president of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, CEO and chairman of the Emirates Group, chairman of Dubai World, and Noor Takaful insurance company.
Both parties have also agreed to promote seawater rice across countries in the Middle East and North Africa in a bid to reduce the risk of future food shortages.
The scientists are now looking into setting up a 100-hectare experimental farm later this year, which they plan to eventually use in 2019. They aim to expand the project further after 2020 with the goal of covering at least 83,600 square kilometers (32,278 square miles), which is 10% of the United Arab Emirates.
The research into saltwater rice started in the 1970s with the discovery of a species of wild rice that grew near a mangrove forest in the southern province of Guangdong by a researcher named Chen Risheng.
Researchers spent four decades developing the salt-resistant rice through cross-breeding and genetic screening.
Last year, another research team from China reportedly developed a technology that transforms desert lands into arable soil which could grow crops and natural vegetation.