What option do we have to provide enough food for the world?

Prof. Yuan Long Ping, China’s national treasure and father of hybrid rice, said “waterfalls” rice or varieties with grains overflowing from the panicle of the “super hybrid rice,” could address the world’s problems on food sufficiency.

The overflowing grains, which he likened into cascades of water that stream toward a bounty, have potential yield of 13.5 t/ha. Developed in China, the variety is 60% higher than its 8.25 t/ha-record in 1990s.

In his keynote address during the recent 1st National Hybrid Rice Congress at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in Science City of Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, Long Ping said a hectare of rice production area provides food for 27 people. By 2050, however, a hectare will have to support 43 people.

“Facing a severe situation of population growth plus cropland reduction, it is obvious that the only way to solve food shortage is to greatly enhance yield level of food crops per unit land area through science and technology,” Long Ping, who believes that rice wastage should be considered a crime, said.

Long Ping said the “waterfalls” rice was developed as a part of the super hybrid rice breeding in China that started in 1996 with a target of 10.5 tons/ha.

Now on its third phase, Longping announced that the breeding program with a time frame of 2006-2015, had achieved its 13.5 tons/ha-target in 2011 and may increase some more.

Asked during the congress’ open forum, Long Ping believes the Philippines can be self-sufficient in rice in the next five years provided that strong government support is in place.

“The government has a major role [in hybrid rice development]. It should pay attention to the development of hybrid rice technologies through policies that will encourage farmers to plant and the private sector to produce hybrid rice seeds,” the 2001 Magsaysay awardee for government service said.

Field demonstrations showed that hybrid rice has 20%- yield advantage over improved inbred varieties. It made China, which was once faced with imminent food famine because of inadequate rice production, the largest food-sufficient country in the world, with surplus production being exported to other countries.

Other countries that cultivate hybrid rice include India with 1,800,000 ha; Vietnam, 700,000 ha; Philippines, 191,000 ha; Bangladesh, 800,000 ha; and the United States of America, 400,000 ha.

Long Ping and the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center  tie up to develop hybrid rice “for the benefit of the people in the whole world.” The center has trained more than 3,000 researchers, technicians, and agricultural officials from 60 countries including the Philippines.

In response to Long Ping’s presentation, Dr. Gerald Ravelo, Senior Rice Breeder of SeedWorks Phils., said the promise of hybrid rice may be realized in the Philippines but “under a different situation.”

“The same program structure may be tried in the Philippines but with different management practices focusing on climate change, adaptation to pests and diseases, and other crop stresses as factors to look into. Production should also be sustained through governments if we want sufficiency,” Ravelo said.

Meanwhile, Eduardo Jimmy Quilang, PhilRice deputy executive director for development, believes that hybrid has already proven its role in feeding the world.

“With biotechnology applied to hybrid rice research, 20-25 tons/hectare may be achieved in the future. In our country, however, we have yet a long way to go toward breaking yield plateaus. But like self-sufficiency, it’s possible,” he said.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is a government corporate entity attached to the Department of Agriculture created through Executive Order 1061 on 5 November 1985 (as amended) to help develop high-yielding and cost-reducing technologies so farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos.

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Philippine Rice Research Institute