Scientists should stop trying to genetically modify crops like rice and wheat to make them resistant to salty water, but instead focus on boosting production of naturally salt-tolerant edible plants. That’s the verdict of Dutch researchers, who suggest cross-fertilizing wild varieties of plants such as samphire and sea kale, which happily grow in brackish water.
As the world finds freshwater increasingly hard to come by, farmers are being put under greater pressure not to waste so much on agriculture. But the world needs to eat, of course. Harvesting plants that anyway grow in salty conditions would save freshwater for drinking, and there are plenty of vegetable options: spinach and beetroot can be tried, for example.
Another advantage of samphire – which is like asparagus – is that its seeds contain a lot of oil; more than sunflower seeds or soybean. This gives it great biofuel potential.
Would you give up rice for samphire or sea kale?
These ‘new’ sources of food sound interesting, perhaps some way of marketing the potential of them. I would cook with them, certainly at least to try them. Will we see a sustainable crop marketing board to champion and promote them. Changes in the staple diet have happened numerous times in the past, for example switching from Rye to Wheat (Rye grew in marshy places, during the Medieval era with the problem of the growth of fungus Ergot, it contaminated the flour and poisonied people with LSD and sending them mad and hence leading to the famous witch trials). So there may be issues (hopefully mnor) to overcome before we see it safe and acceptable to people to eat.
Let’s see them used as ingredients on “Masterchef” or “Ready, Steady, Cook” two popular TV programmes that appeal to a large audience or “The Food programme” on BBC Radio 4.
Alternatively Seawater greenhouses also offer a another solution (though different technology) to make clean water in arid areas.
How interesting. I was speaking today to a Swedish researcher here in Kathmandu who is trying to persuade his Pakistani colleagues that potatoes are a much more sensible crop to grow in arid conditions than rice. He wasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm!