Farming Deserts In China – Sand For Rice & Soil Via Licorice

A couple of videos from China Central TV. This is also broadcast locally on a sub-channel of a local UHF station.

There are two different methods of interest here. The first one is to treat sand so that it traps water via surface tension. Instead of using cement ponds or plastic liners. By doing this, they can create rice ponds out of sand and not much else. Then “animal waste” is added as fertilizer. The claim is water comes from rainfall and storage systems, but not said is how much area of water is collected for what area of rice grown.

Still, it does reclaim sand and desert to grow rice. Kind of puts a dent in that whole “running out of farm land” idea. Just over a minute long:

The next video is about recovering desert to general purpose farms. It would work well as long as you have a lot of idle cheap labor and patience. There’s a scene where they are building a “straw wall” by having folks push straws or sticks, by hand, into the sand. These checkerboards of “straw” slow sand motion long enough to establish soil and stabilize sand dunes.

The other surprise, for me, was the use of licorice as the first crop. It would seem licorice is in the pea / legume family and is a drought adapted nitrogen fixer with lots of deep roots. Stabilizes the sand, builds soil and fertilizer levels, and provides an income crop. So with a little ingenuity and the right species, desert creation is reversed and lands reverted to farming.

Describes the 3 main species of Licorice, their uses, and some about cultivation. In the original, the three species names are links to photo galleries.


Licorice – Glycyrrhiza

See our Stock Photos of Black Cohosh:

American Licorice Glycyrrhiza lepidota

Chinese Licorice Glycyrrhiza uralensis

European Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra

(Please note: images previewed from the above link are for viewing purposes only. Previews are presented for possible licensing on a one-time, non-exclusive basis, in one version only. If selections are made and licensing fee and use established in writing, no usage rights will be granted until payment is received in full. They may not be “captured”, copied, or stored in any media presently available or developed in the future. Ownership, possession and copyright, of the photographs are retained by Steven Foster. No other rights expressed or implied. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Thank you!) Contact Steven Foster for more licensing fee and terms.

by Steven Foster © 2009

We have come to associate licorice as a flavor, at once loved by many and disliked by others. The flavor that conjures “licorice” in our minds is not what it seems. What we have come to associate as licorice flavor is actually anise. Formulations for licorice candies contain anise oil as the primary flavor, with licorice root itself used as a sweetener, a sort of background flavor. Licorice is one of those herbs that crosses the lines among fragrance, flavor and medicinal herb. The source plant is a member of the pea family. The most familiar licorice is European licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra. On medicinal markets Chinese licorice Glycyrrhiza uralensis is also commonly used. It is probably the most abundant species in the American market given that the Chinese commercial licorice root is cheaper than its European counterpart.

Origins and History
The genus Glycyrrhiza includes about 20 species native to Europe, Asia, North and South America as well as Australia. The English name licorice is derived from “liquiritia,” itself a corruption of the ancient name Glycyrrhiza, which now serves as the scientific generic name for the plant group.

The photos are well worth a look and the full write-up very interesting. I was surprised by the comment that there are 20 species. Clearly a lot of material to work with is being ignored as only 2 are commonly farmed. European and Chinese.

American licorice
The root was also used for treating fever in children. It has a strong bitter taste, which then becomes sweet. In Texas, it is called amolillo, which refers to the foaming produced by stirring the root in water. In Texas folk tradition, the root tea was used to reduce fever in women after childbirth and to help expel the placenta. Other than a few relatively obscure folk uses of the plant by European settlers and indigenous groups, the plant is little known in the United States.

European licorice
European licorice, on the other hand, is a plant with a rich historical tradition. In Europe it is found in dry open habitats in the south and east, and has been cultivated throughout the continent where it is naturalized in almost all countries, except Scandinavia.
Chinese licorice
Chinese licorice mainly comes from Glycyrrhiza uralensis. It is found in dry grassy plains, and sunny mountainsides from much of northern China, especially the Asian steppes to the west. Most of the supply comes from northwest China. While it is the main species used in Asia, European licorice also occurs in wild desert regions, dry plains, grassy plains with salty alkaline soil, and fallow wastelands that were once used for producing rice, wheat, and millet in northwest China.

So that looks to be one very useful plant. There’s a lot more in the write-up so if interested, hit the link.

The video is a bit repetitive (you get to see the same sand auger a few times) and at about 3 minutes they do a P.C. pitch for solar panels in the desert. It does make sense in a 3rd World environment with no grid and no real electric supply. Useful for daylight A/C and power during the working day. At about 4 1/2 minutes they get back to the whole planting and licorice use story line. At one point they talk about reducing the rate of “desert farmland”. I suspect they meant “desertification of farm land”.

With that, here’s the video. 12 1/2 minutes:

I’m sure very similar things could be done globally. In Saudi Arabia there are large greenhouses producing vegetable and salad greens using desalinized sea water. Then there is the solar greenhouse that makes its own water.

Given the amount of desert and sea water in the world, the notion that we will ever “run out” of food is a bit silly. All it takes is some will to do it and a price to support the product. Any scarcity will bring both. Famine and starvation are political and logistics problems, not food production problems.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in Emergency Preparation and Risks, Food and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Farming Deserts In China – Sand For Rice & Soil Via Licorice

  1. John F. Hultquist says:

    Very interesting. Thanks.

    I’ve never been a fan of licorice (or liquorice) but Australians seem to have a thing for it.
    Here’s one: Kookaburra
    Maybe they have discovered some tricks too.

  2. John F. Hultquist says:

    I was trying to remember why I ended up reading about OZ Liquorice. I just remembered.
    It started here: Rare Black Kookaburra
    Rare black kookaburra spotted in Western Australia believed to be first sighting in state for decades

  3. cdquarles says:

    You have to be careful with licorice, just like you have to be careful with castor beans. Too much will kill you. Somewhat less will just kill your kidneys and that will kill you, if you can’t get a transplant.

  4. agimarc says:

    Thai sweet basil smells like licorice.

    What no credit to CO2 emissions currently helping green the deserts? Cheers –

  5. E.M.Smith says:


    Is that like the anise flavor folks think is licorice or like the real plant?…

    @John H.F.:

    Bit of bird watching, eh?
    I always liked the word “kookaburra” but can never remember what it is.


    LD50? Is it like 2 packs of candy or a quart?

    Guess it would be easy to diagnose… Black teeth and mouth, stained fingers and shirt, smell of licorice…

    “Death By Licorice” would be an interesting British Murder Mystery title ;-)

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