Rice gives hope
Does he have the solution to world hunger in his hands?
Scientists have bred a perennial rice plant that could greatly simplify rice cultivation.
Chinese agronomist Fengyi Hu is helping with the development of a new rice variety.
Rice is a staple food in much of the world. However, cultivation is very laborious: every year, rice farmers bend over for weeks to plant each individual seedling. International biologists and agronomists have therefore been researching permanent variation for decades.
Biologists from China’s Yunnan University made such a variant available to South Chinese farmers for planting in early 2018. The new breed, called Perennial Rice 23, comes from crossing an Asian rice variety with an African wild rice variety.
The American scientific journal “Science” now publishes a study led by Chinese geneticist and agronomist Fengyi Hu, which shows the results of the harvest. It offers hope: Two-year crops of PR23 plants showed a slightly higher yield over five years than conventional annual rice over four years: 8.8 tonnes per hectare – before harvests collapsed in the fifth year and farmers had to plant new plants.
Less work, less water, lower costs
Compared to annual rice, PR23 requires less fertilizer because more nutrients remain in the soil. Deeper roots also hold more water in the soil, preventing erosion.
Permanent rice also offers farmers financial advantages: the cost of petrol for plowing and for the seedlings themselves is only the same as conventional rice in the first year: the equivalent of around 2,600 francs per hectare. In the following years, financial costs are reduced by more than half. And farmers save working time: one hectare needs 68 to 77 days less to cultivate in the following years.
The only downside: with less intensive management, the insects multiply faster – it remains to be seen whether PR23 needs more pesticides.
So overall good news. What the study doesn’t say is whether rice also tastes better. However, this is probably negligible given the impending food shortages.