Ancient crop beats salt
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CTA. 1996. Ancient crop beats salt. Spore 61. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47251
Amaranth, an ancient cereal plant from South America, is making a comeback. Researchers have found that the plant tolerates saline soils and produces very nutritious food from land that has been abandoned to salt. Millions of hectares of farmland...
Amaranth, an ancient cereal plant from South America, is making a comeback. Researchers have found that the plant tolerates saline soils and produces very nutritious food from land that has been abandoned to salt. Millions of hectares of farmland have been rendered useless to agriculture because inefficient irrigation systems, flooding and the encroaching sea have brought salts to the surface. At the moment these lands support coarse grasses or halophytic (salt tolerant) plants that are unsuitable for human consumption. The amaranths were the major cereals eaten by people living in Peru and Bolivia before the Spanish Conquest: subsequently maize relegated them to a minor role. Recently British and Chinese researchers at Coventry University, in the UK, have found that some species of amaranth can tolerate concentrations of salt that are as high as 50% seawater. Traditional cereal crops would be killed at these concentrations. This means that they should be able to cope with the conditions that are now found in north-east China where large areas of the Yellow river delta are being lost to agriculture. For eight years British researchers and scientists from Shandong Teachers University have tested hundreds of different crops, and the amaranths look the most promising. The plant is able to exclude salt when it is growing, unlike halophytic plants which accumulate salt. Amaranths can yield an extremely nutritious grain which has a protein value almost equivalent to that of milk and much higher than that of traditional cereals. It also produces a green-leaf vegetable and is a useful forage crop for animals. They grow quickly, being ready for harvest in just three months. Another important trait is that they are C4 plants. C4 plants, such as maize and sugarcane, are far more efficient at trapping sunlight and absorbing nutrients than other crops. Field tests will start in China in November. If successful, they will be tried in Pakistan and north-west India where thousands of hectares of land have been abandoned because of increasing salinity. Dr Phil Harris Department of Biological Sciences University of Coventry Coventry CV1 5FB UK