Could Rice Help Solve China’s Pollution Problem?


Could Rice Really Solve China’s Pollution Problems?

China has long had an issue with pollution. It is claimed to contain the greatest amount of pollution, with that over 1 million deaths in 2010 as a result. Beijing is widely reported to be one of the most polluted cities in the world. With China’s industrial economy, this is perhaps not so surprising. However, a large amount of pollution comes from an area which one might not expect: agriculture. The use of nitrogen-based fertilisers has had dramatic effects on air, water, and soil quality in China.

With only 7% of the world’s farmland, China uses 35% of all the world’s nitrogen fertilisers. This is beginning to have severe environmental consequences.

Rice: Nitrogen Related Pollution

Excess nitrogen can have a number of negative effects on the environment. It can kill fish and other marine life, reduce crop productivity, and poison the water supply. A major consequence of nitrogen fertilisers has been air pollution. When nitrogen oxides react in the air, they interact with industrial pollution to form a dense fog known as smog. Not only can smog cause health problems such as asthma, its presence in the air promotes global warming. Rice is a staple of the Chinese diet. It needs nitrogen-based fertilisers in order to grow effectively. However, this may soon be about to change.

Traditionally, a great deal of Chinese rice is grown in the northern provinces. The genetic make-up of the rice grown in northern China means that it cannot easily absorb nitrogen-based substances from the soil. Because of this, Nitrogen-based fertilisers are used to provide these vital nutrients. However, with genetic modification, this could no longer be the case. Scientists have proposed cloning a gene from indica rice, and placing it into the native species. The gene is known as a ‘nitric booster’, and it improves the ability for plants to absorb nitrogen-based nutrients from the soil. As a result, much lower levels of fertiliser need to be used.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that when genetically modified, the rice species could achieve the same yield with only half as much fertiliser. Thus, reducing related pollution by half.

This scientific breakthrough could have a significant effect on pollution.  By reducing fertiliser usage, nitrogen pollution will decrease. This will contribute towards a reduction in smog, reducing the incidence of pollution-related health complications. Also, China’s contribution to global pollution will decrease, and marine life will be less at risk. Although this is only the beginning, developments like this may help promote a shift towards a greater desire to tackle pollution in China. Though it has yet to be implemented, it shows steps in the right direction. With a rapidly ageing population, even small pollution prevention suggestions are better than nothing.

If you like this article you may be interested in “The Drinkable Book: What You Need to Know”.


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