A team of rice experts led by Yuan Longping, a leading agricultural scientist known as "the father of hybrid rice" in China, announced on Friday at an international forum on a saline-alkali tolerant type of rice called seawater rice that it has obtained 400,000 hectares of saline-alkali lands nationwide for producing and commercializing the rice this year. A farmer grows seawater rice in Sanya, Hainan province January 5, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua] "Contracts have been signed with companies and local governments of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and Gansu, Qinghai and Heilongjiang provinces," said Zhang Guodong, executive deputy director of Qingdao Saline-Alkali Tolerant Rice Research and Development Center, led by Yuan. Yuan, 90, who is chairman of the International Seawater Rice Forum, made a speech at the two-day event in Sanya, Hainan province . "We will strive to turn about 66,667 hectares of saline-alkali lands into saline-alkali rice growing demonstration areas in 2021, and achieve the goal of turning 6.67 million hectares of saline-alkali land into rice fields as soon as possible," said Yuan. Food security is a major issue for national development and people's well-being, and China needs to remain highly vigilant regarding grain security, especially amid the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Yuan, who is also an academician with Chinese Academy of Engineering. About two-thirds of the people in China depend on rice as a staple. Yuan, who developed the world's first hybrid rice in 1974, has set multiple world records in hybrid rice yields. The latest record was set in the super hybrid rice field in Yunnan province－7.3 metric tons per hectare. Yuan's team plans to complete reconstruction and renovation of 6.67 million hectares of saline-alkali lands in the next eight to 10 years, according to Zhang. Seawater rice was designed to grow in tidal flats or other areas with heavy salt concentrations and has been developed by plant-breeding experts through crossbreeding and other technologies. One type of seawater rice growing in Qingdao's Chengyang district, Shandong province, yielded 3.9 metric tons per hectare, experts said. In 2016, Yuan's team selected six testing centers with different soil conditions in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and in Heilongjiang, Shandong and Zhejiang provinces to grow seawater rice. "In 2020, we had great achievements in the breeding of saline-alkali tolerant rice varieties, cultivation with new agronomic management techniques and soil improvement. Eight saline-alkali tolerant hybrid rice demonstration centers in different saline-alkali ecological regions of China were established, with yields of over 500 kilograms per mu (500 kg per 1/15th of a hectare) in a demonstration center," said Yuan. He added that a smart agricultural innovation consortium and a collaborative innovation platform for China's seawater rice industry to promote the development of saline-alkali tolerant rice will be established this year. Yuan's plan is to plant saline-alkali tolerant rice on 6.67 million hectares in eight to 10 years for an average output of 300 kilograms per 1/15 of a hectare, for 30 billion kilograms of grain every year, to feed about 80 million people, according to officials with the Yuan team. Scientists said at the forum that they plan to integrate new technologies－internet, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and others－to promote extension of seawater rice growing and the development of a whole industrial chain, and then share that experience with the world. Seawater rice from China has also been successfully planted in the deserts of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, with the yield reaching 629 kilograms per 1/15th of a hectare, a result observed by experts from China and Dubai in June 2019. Chinese experts say the yield is on par with the advanced level of international rice planting in desert areas and saline-alkali soil.