You are on page 1of 40


International Rice Research Institute October-December 2007, Vol. 6, No. 4

Rice prices: what next?

Rice with less water
Vietnam and Laos
Making the uplands productive

Rice in China
Feeding the world’s most populous country
ISSN 1655-5422
Vol. 6, No. 4

Editorial . ............................................................... 4 Three heads are better than one . .............. 34

Feeding billions—together In the face of steeply rising rice prices, three of the
world’s leading international agricultural research
institutes plan to combine their activities in Africa
News ......................................................................... 5 and so create a powerful new force focused on
Rice prices still rising boosting African rice production
Asia-Pacific nations urged to study biofuels
South Asian floods devastate rice lands New books ............................................................ 36
Rice vaccine offers hope for fighting cholera Water management in irrigated rice: coping
Journalists’ eyes opened to rice with water scarcity
Ancient grains
Recipe ..................................................................... 36
Sticky rice, prawn, and water chestnut dumplings
People ...................................................................... 8
Chair change
Keeping up with IRRI staff Rice Facts .............................................................. 37
Where now for the global rice market?
Achievements and appointments
What do the coming years hold for the world’s
most important grain?
Looking up in the uplands ............................. 10 CHINA SECTION
In the mountains of Vietnam and Laos, life on the
farm is tough. But more productive rice crops can A hybrid history ................................................ 22 Grain of Truth . .................................................. 38
give farmers the security they need to improve Hybrid rice has helped China feed one-fifth of Challenges for rice production in China
their income and help the environment. humanity and avoid mass hunger. Rice Today
investigates the international collaboration behind
this history-altering technology.
Where science meets art ................................ 17 On the cover:
As he prepares for retirement after 15 years at the Xiaoguang Yang (left) and
International Rice Research Institute, molecular Maps ....................................................................... 26 Huaqi Wang, researchers at
biologist John Bennett reveals himself as a scientist Relocating rice production in China China Agricultural University
(CAU), examine aerobic
who not only appreciates art—he blurs the
rice—which yields well in
distinction between art and science
High and dry ....................................................... 28 unflooded fields—at the CAU
As Chinese farmers face a worsening irrigation crisis, experimental station on the
they need a way to grow rice with less water. outskirts of Beijing. Read more
Snapshot .............................................................. 20 about aerobic rice in China
Paddies in the mountains Aerobic rice may be the answer. on pages 28-33.

cover photo Adam Barclay International Rice Research Institute

publisher Duncan Macintosh DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
editor Adam Barclay Web (IRRI):
art director Juan Lazaro IV Web (Library):
designer and production supervisor George Reyes Web (Rice Knowledge Bank):
contributing editors Gene Hettel, Bill Hardy, Meg Mondoñedo
Africa editor Savitri Mohapatra (Africa Rice Center – WARDA) Rice Today editorial
environment editor Greg Fanslow telephone: (+63-2) 580-5600 or (+63-2) 844-3351 to 53, ext 2725;
photo editor Ariel Javellana fax: (+63-2) 580-5699 or (+63-2) 845-0606; email:
photo researcher Jose Raymond Panaligan
circulation Chrisanto Quintana
printer Primex Printers, Inc.

Rice Today is published by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication
leading international rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with should not be construed as expressing IRRI policy or opinion on the legal status of any
offices in 13 other countries, IRRI is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on country, territory, city, or area, or its authorities, or the delimitation of its frontiers or
improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, boundaries.
particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of Rice Today welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. Potential contributors
15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research are encouraged to query first, rather than submit unsolicited materials. Rice Today
(CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. For more information, visit assumes no responsibility for loss of or damage to unsolicited submissions, which should
the CGIAR Web site ( be accompanied by sufficient return postage.

Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2007 NonCommercial: This work may not be used for commercial purposes.

This magazine is copyrighted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and is ShareAlike: If this work is altered, transformed, or built upon, the resulting work must be
licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 distributed only under the same or similar license to this one.
License (Unported). Unless otherwise noted, users are free to copy, duplicate, or reproduce, • For any reuse or distribution, the license terms of this work must be made clear to others.
and distribute, display, or transmit any of the articles or portions of the articles, and to make • Any of the above conditions can be waived if permission is obtained from the copyright holder.
translations, adaptations, or other derivative works under the following conditions: • Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author’s moral rights.
• Fair dealing and other rights are in no way affected by the above.
Attribution: The work must be attributed, but not in any way that suggests endorsement • To view the full text of this license, visit
by IRRI or the author(s).

Rice prices still rising Rice export prices

In addition, the 23 September

nternational rice prices continue to edition of India’s Economic Times 480
rise, maintaining an upward trend newspaper noted that India’s rice
since March, according to the Food and production is struggling to meet
Agriculture Organization’s Rice Market domestic demand. India was 430
Monitor. Prices of aromatic rice, in consistently exporting 5 million tons US$2/4%
particular, have continued to surge, due of rice every year, but, “Instead of Thai 100% B
to low export availability. Record-low keeping pace with demand, this kharif 380 Viet 5%
Pak Irri-25%
rice reserves, extreme weather events, [the summer, or monsoon, season],
Thai A1 Super
fickle monsoon rains, pest and disease production has been stagnant at 80
outbreaks, and a weakening U.S. dollar million tons, according to the first
are some of the key factors that have advance crop estimates … With wheat
combined to push up prices. harvests already whimsical, the last 280
A recent page-one story in the 28 thing India needs is unpredictable rice
September edition of the Wall Street production. We managed to tide over
Journal said that, “Rising prices and the wheat shortage only by pushing 230
surging demand for the crops that more rice into ration shops. If rice
supply half of the world’s calories are itself is scarce, India would be in the
producing the biggest changes in global proverbial hot soup.” 180



food markets in 30 years, altering the In the face of the rising prices,

economic landscape for everyone from Vietnam has banned further exports
consumers and farmers to corporate until 2008. The September decision, Source: FAO Rice Price Update October 2007
giants and the world’s poor.” The story by the agriculture ministry, is designed
quoted Dan Basse, president of Chicago- to ensure domestic food security. weather and pest infestations may
based commodity forecasting company Vietnam’s 2007 export target of 4 lower production, which, in September,
AgResource Co., as saying that, “The million tons has already been reached. was down 200,000 tons compared to
days of cheap grain are gone.” There are also concerns that extreme the same period in 2006.

Asia-Pacific nations urged to study biofuels

T he nations of Asia and the Pacific

are being urged to study biofuels
with greater care, before deciding on
In the Asian region, both China
and India are gearing up for substantial
investments in biofuels. Malaysia and
regional food securit y and the
sustainability of key agricultural
systems in Asia
how they will use their agricultural Indonesia are investing heavily in oil palm ● To summarize the current under-
industries to generate energy. plantations for biodiesel production. The standing of bioenergy options for key
Scientists say there is an urgent Philippines has mandated the blending crops and cropping systems in Asia
need to support the current rush toward of gasoline with 5% biofuel. ● To identify key options and research
major decisions on biofuel policies in However, at the same time, China pr ior ities for designing and
Asia and the Pacific with solid research has banned the use of maize—a vital evaluating integrated food-bioenergy
and unbiased information about their crop for national food security—in the production systems for Asia
potential benefits, impact, and risks. production of biofuels. ● To develop a framework for research
The appeal was issued at the end The consultation focused on several on biofuels in key agricultural
of a recent Expert Consultation on issues: systems of Asia and agree on follow-
Biofuels organized by the Asia Pacific ● To discuss how bioenergy production up activities, including meetings with
Association of Agricultural Research may have an impact on global and public and private sector partners.
Institutions (APAARI) together with
the Philippine-based International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the
International Crops Research Institute
for the Semi-Arid Tropics in India,
the Washington-based International
Food Policy Research Institute, and
the International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center in Mex ico.
The consultation was held at IRRI’s
Adam Barclay

An experimental biofuel rice field

headquarters in the Philippines on 27- in Japan’s Southern Tohoku region.
29 August.

Rice Today October-December 2007 


Journalists’ eyes opened to rice

W estern journalists had their eyes

opened to rice farming, Asian
style, at the 51st Annual Congress
of the International Federation of
Agricultural Journalists in Japan on
17-23 September. It was the first time

National Taiwan University

the Congress was held in Asia.
Many participants—who were
predominantly from Europe and North
America—had little prior exposure to
Asian agriculture. The week involved
seminars, debates, and v isits to
Japanese artist Mitsuake Tanabe helps unroll a smaller version of the giant drawing of a wild rice seed he
has donated to National Taiwan University. Mr. Tanabe has been devoted to the restoration of wild rice in agricultural sites in the cities of Tokyo
the international arena for many years. He creates giant works of art using wild rice as the theme to pro- and Sendai, and the Southern Tohoku
mote the idea of rice conservation. One example is the massive 7.5-ton Momi (Japanese for unhulled rice) region. Rice dominated the visits
that he produced especially for IRRI’s Riceworld Museum, and which was unveiled there on 18 August 1994.
and the ensuing discussions, as non-
Asian participants began to appreciate
South Asian floods devastate rice lands the importance of rice to Japan in

S evere floods, which killed more than

2,000 people and displaced millions,
have devastated rice-growing areas in
US$40 million dollars. Agricultural
experts there said that rice would be
unable to survive more than a few days
particular and Asia in general.
Rice-focused activities included
visits to mills, organic rice farms,
India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. of complete submergence. and biofuel research stations, and
In low-lying Bangladesh, where 40% One promising sign, however, was demonstrations of planting equipment.
of the country was hit by floods, there the performance of a new submergence- Early in the week, many journalists
were concerns that the disaster would tolerant rice variety developed by IRRI viewed rice in Asia as a mere agricultural
stem the growth of the agriculture- (see From genes to farmers’ fields, pages commodity, to be produced and traded
dominated economy. 28-31 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 4). according to economic whims. In
The heavy rains and f looding, Trial crops of Swarna-Sub1 were this light, some participants found it
which extended through June, July, totally submerged for 10 days. But, difficult to comprehend some of Japan’s
and August, affected several million when the floodwaters receded, the crop rice policies—such as 700–800% tariffs
hectares of farmland, most of which made a near-full recovery. According on imports and high domestic prices.
was dominated by rice. In the worst- to the Bangladesh Rice Research By t he end of t he Congress,
hit Indian state of Bihar, damage to Institute, the technology may offer however, most delegates had gained
crops and property covering 1.1 million protection to millions of farmers hit by a sense of the enormous cultural,
hectares was estimated at around floods each year. historical, and social importance of
rice to Japan. When viewing the rice
industry through this lens, previously
Rice vaccine offers hope for fighting cholera arcane policies began to make sense.

A team of Japanese researchers has

developed a rice-based vaccine that
offers mice protection against cholera.
According to the researchers’ report
on 26 June 2007 in the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences
Although some journalists did not agree
with all of Japan’s decisions on rice,
they at least gained an understanding
The team is optimistic that such a (USA), the mice’s immune system of the thinking behind them.
vaccine could also provide humans consequently produced antibodies that
with resistance to the bacterium, which neutralized the cholera toxin.
kills thousands of people each year, There are several advantages to
mostly in developing countries. such orally administered protection,
To m o n o r i No c h i , f r o m t h e compared to the current injected
University of Tokyo’s Institute of vaccine. The rice vaccine can be stored
Medical Science, and colleagues at room temperature for at least 1.5
inserted a gene from the bacterium, years, making storage cheaper and safer
Vibrio cholerae, into the genome of a than that of conventional vaccine, which
rice plant. The gene caused the rice to must be refrigerated. Second, there is no
express a subunit of the cholera toxin need for potentially dangerous syringes, view a GPS-
that causes disease. A small amount which also make the treatment more enabled rice
of the subunit accumulated in the rice expensive. Such a vaccine is thus ideal planter, which
Adam Barclay

does not require

grains, which were powdered and fed for mass vaccinations in developing a driver.
to mice. countries.

 Rice Today October-December 2007

Ancient grains
The photograph at right shows small attachment
points of 6,500–7,000-year-old rice spikelets
(a spikelet is a unit of the rice flower). Dating
from 5000 to 4500 BC, the spikelets were
excavated in April 2006 at Tian Luo Shan

Dorian Fuller, University College London

in Zhejiang Province, China, by University
College London archeologist Dorian Fuller
and his collaborators from Zhejiang Provincial
Institute of Archaeology, the Institute of
Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social
Science, and the School of Archaeology and
“The spikelets were left after the grain had
been removed from rice for consumption,”
said Dr. Fuller. “They allow us to study the
proportion of rice at that time that was
adapted to human cultivation, compared with
wild rice.” scrub and then to maintain paddy-style wet indicated that the species that make up most
grassland vegetation. Flooding was probably of today’s cultivated rice, Oryza sativa, evolved
EARLY PADDY CULTIVATION controlled by bunds (short earthen walls). around 10,000 years ago from red-colored wild
In China, UK and Chinese researchers have Around 150 years later, the site was abandoned rice in the Himalayan Plains. The research
uncovered a snapshot of rice farming almost because of inundation from rising seawater, team, led by former IRRI scientist Susan
8,000 years ago. The study by Yongqiang a result of warming temperatures after the McCouch, now professor of plant breeding and
Zong et al, reported in the 27 September preceding glacial period. genetics at Cornell University, found that nearly
2007 issue of Nature, analyzed the organic The study provides evidence that rice 98% of all today’s white rice is a product of a
contents of soil sediments in Kuahuqiao, in cultivation began in coastal wetlands of single DNA mutation that is not seen in any
the Lower Yangtze region of China, a center of eastern China. wild red rice species. The mutation deletes part
rice domestication. Some 7,700 years before of a protein that helps determine grain color.
present, the Neolithic communities there chose RICE EVOLUTION The white varieties may have been favored
lowland swamps for rice cultivation. These Meanwhile, a paper published in the August because they cooked faster than nonwhite rice
early farmers used fire to first clear wetland 2007 issue of the online journal PLoS Genetics that was also consumed at that time.

Certification for IRRI farm of rice technology supporting food Papa Abdoulaye Seck said that a crisis
IR R I’s E x per iment Station (ES) security. could be averted if African governments
Env ironmental Management focus on boosting regional production
System was ISO 14001 certified in China joins rice body and avoid dependence on imports.
August. According to ES manager China has become a member of the Dr. Seck predicted the trend would
A r nold Manza, ISO 14001 is an International Rice Commission (IRC). continue due to rising demand in the
internationally recognized standard Founded in 1949 by the The Food and growing populations of Asia coupled
for env ironmenta lly sustainable Agriculture Organization of the United with a reduction in land under rice.
systems, and as such demonstrates Nations, the IRC—currently with
IRRI’s commitment to environmental more than 60 member countries and Thailand, IRRI sign rice pact
sustainability. The award required regions—promotes cooperation among Thailand’s Ministry of Agriculture
strict environmental policies to be members in rice production, storage, and Cooperatives and IRR I have
planned, implemented, and monitored distribution, and consumption. The signed an agreement to expand their
for compliance. One example of the Commission also discusses rice-related existing bilateral cooperation in rice
environmental progress on the ES is science and technology and economic development to increase the value of
the 95% reduction in pesticide use since issues, and encourages and coordinates Thai rice, according to Thai Agriculture
the station was first created. research cooperation. and Cooperatives Minister Thira
Sutabutr. The agreement was signed by
Indonesian award Africa rice shortage? Mr. Thira and IRRI Director General
Indonesia’s 2007 Achmad Bakrie Diminishing imports from Asia are Robert Zeigler in Thailand on 27 June.
Award, presented for outstanding threatening a rice shortage in Kenya— Under the terms of the agreement,
achievement by a person or institution, and possibly all of Africa—according cooperation between Thailand and
has gone to the Indonesian Center for to agricultural experts there. However, IRRI would be upgraded from the
Rice Research for its development Africa Rice Center Director General department level to the ministry level.

Rice Today October-December 2007 

Chair Change down officially after almost 4 years in IRRI BOARD MEMBER Tony Fischer
looks at a traditional Lao rice

the position. IRRI’s independent 15-
he International variety after the September
member Board of Trustees meets twice board meeting.
R ic e Re se a rch
a year to set the Institute’s policies and
Institute (IR R I)
review its research agenda.
has announced the
The Board met on 19-21 September
appointment of
2007 in Vientiane, Laos, to confirm the
leading Australian
Queensland DPI

new appointment, which is effective 1

agricultural scientist
January 2008.
Elizabeth Woods
Dr. Woods is currently Foundation
(pictured, left) as the
Professor of Agribusiness at the
new chair of its Board of Trustees. A
School of Natural and Rural Systems
former Rhodes Scholar and winner of
Management at the University of
several honors in Australian agriculture,
Queensland in Australia. She
Dr. Woods is recognized as an expert in
previously chaired Australia’s Rural
tropical and subtropical agriculture
Industries Research and Development
and agribusiness.
She takes over from Keijiro
Dr. Woods, who was elected to the
Otsuka, a respected agricultural
IRRI board two years ago, takes over on the needs of rice farmers and others
economist from Japan, who is stepping
as chair at a time of unprecedented in the rice supply chain, including
challenge and opportunity in rice the many women who are playing
Eun-Jeong Lee with local children research and production. “World food increasingly important roles in their
after the board meeting in Laos. reserves, including those for rice, are family farms and professions.
low and cereal prices are high. In this Dr. Otsuka said that one of his most
context, my priorities will be to focus important achievements as board chair
IRRI on its core mission—to improve was helping to reorient IRRI’s mission
the efficiency and sustainability of rice to focus more sharply on poverty
production,” Dr. Woods said. reduction in poor rainfed areas in
“IRRI needs to continue to further Asia, but also including sub-Saharan
strengthen its work with all its partners Africa. “This new focus is backed by
in the national agricultural systems a very strong commitment to rice
around the world, as well as with research and the use of science to solve
other international research centers, problems—something that has always
to maintain its impact, especially in been key to IRRI’s success,” he said.
such important areas as adapting rice Also leaving the board after 6
Ben Samson (2)

production to climate change.” years’ service are Eun-Jong Lee from

D r. Wo o d s s a i d s h e w o u l d Korea and Achmad M. Fagi from
particularly encourage IRRI to focus Indonesia.

Keeping up with IRRI staff Crop and Env ironmenta l recognition of their contributions to
Sciences Division (CESD) Head T.P. rice research in Vietnam. The awardees

F ormer IRRI consultant scientist

Ma r c o Wop e r e i s h a s b e en
appointed as The Africa Rice Center’s
Tuong is serving as acting deputy
director general for research until
former deputy director Ren Wang’s
were Director Robert Zeigler, Grant
Sing leton, Abdelbag i Ismail,
Darshan Brar, Il-ryong Choi, and
(WARDA) incoming assistant director replacement arrives. Bas Bouman T.P. Tuong.
general, research and development. has taken over as acting head of CESD J.K. Ladha, IRRI representative in
He will take up his new functions in during the same period. Dirk De India, started his study leave at Cornell
December 2007. Waele, a professor at K.U. Leuven, University on 1 July. Kyu-Seong Lee
For mer I R R I s t a f f memb er Belgium, has joined CESD part time joined IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics,
Richard Lando passed away on to lead nematology research at IRRI. and Biotechnology Division as senior
27 June. In 1989-91, Dr. Lando was He will visit IRRI three times a year scientist, seconded from Korea’s Rural
based in IRRI’s Cambodia office as a for 2–3-week periods. Development Administration. His
technology transfer specialist, where At the Cuu Long Delta Rice major responsibilities are to develop
he worked to improve agricultural Research Institute’s (CLRRI) 30th temperate japonica rice varieties that
production in Cambodia and helped anniversary celebrations in Ho Chi can be adapted to the tropics, generate
establish a national agricultural Minh City, six IRRI staff members breeding materials, and multiply seeds
extension program. were awa rde d w it h me d a l s i n of elite breeding lines.

 Rice Today October-December 2007

Achievements and appointments

E ntomolo g i s t G a r y C . Ja h n
(pictured, right), IRRI coordinator
for the Greater Mekong Subregion,
will receive an International Plant
Protection Award of Distinction from
the International Association for the
Plant Protection Sciences. Dr. Jahn,
who was scheduled to receive the award
on 15 October at the International
Plant Protection Congress in Glasgow,

Aileen Rondilla
Scotland, was honored for major
contributions to the promotion of
global plant protection.
IRRI Board of Trustees member Physiology, and Functional Genomics, Congressional Gold Medal. Dr. Borlaug
Ralph Anthony (“Tony”) Fischer which discussed the past successes was honored for his work that spurred
(pictured, left) was included in the of Australian wheat breeding and the the Green Revolution of the 1960s,
2007 Queen’s Birthday Honors List challenges of the future. for which he is credited with saving
announcements when he was named Former IRRI Deputy Director more than one billion lives. The Medal
as a member of the Order of Australia General for Research Ren Wang was was presented on 17 July in the U.S.
(AM). He is recognized for his “service awarded an honorary professorship Capitol Rotunda by President George
to agricultural science in Australia and by China’s Huazhong Agricultural W. Bush and Speaker of the House
developing countries, particularly wheat University. Dr. Wang, now director of Nancy Pelosi.
research in the areas of grain yield and the Consultative Group on International David Mackill, program leader
crop cultivation and management.” Dr. Agricultural Research, was recognized for rainfed environments, has been
Fischer was also awarded the 2007 for his contributions to agricultural elected as a Fellow of the American
Farrer Memorial Medal, which honors research and capacity building of Society of Agronomy (ASA) for 2007.
distinguished service in Australian national agricultural research and He is scheduled to receive his award
agricultural science. He received the extension systems. during the ASA annual meeting on
award on 14 August at a ceremony in Nobel Pe ac e P r i z e L au re ate 4-8 November in New Orleans, USA.
Australia’s capital, Canberra, at which Norman E. Borlaug received the IRRI consultant Gelia Castillo was
he gave the 2007 Farrer Oration, highest honor that the U.S. Congress named this year’s Most Distinguished
Improvement in Wheat Yield: Farrer, can bestow upon a civ ilian—the University of the Philippines (UP)
Alumna during the UP General Alumni-
Faculty Homecoming and Reunion at
UP’s Diliman campus in Manila on
23 June.
Zakaria L. Kanyeka has joined
IRRI as regional plant breeder for
East and Southern A frica (ESA),
based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
He will work with IRRI staff and the
national rice programs to develop a
regional rice breeding plan and rice
seed multiplication guidelines for ESA
countries. Achim Dobermann has
returned to IRRI as leader, Program 2
(Sustaining productivity in intensive
Claessens personal Collection

rice-based systems: rice and the

environment), as well as project leader
for the IRRI–International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
Alliance Project on Intensive Production
Systems in Asia. Norman Macdonald
has joined the Institute as director for
THE RICE OF ROME: Rice Today reader Geert “Jef” Claessens, from Belgium, shows off his Rice Today
T-shirt in front of the Colosseum in Rome. Any readers who send in a photograph of themselves holding management services. He will serve as
a copy of the magazine in front of a famous landmark will receive a free T-shirt. IRRI’s chief financial officer.

Rice Today October-December 2007 

Looking up in Story by Adam Barclay, photos by Ariel Javellana

he land around Pang plant rice, maize, tea, cassava, that’s thrown at it—from seeds
Cang village of Suoi soybeans, peanuts, and more. There to arduous, spirit-crushing
Giang Commune in is no irrigation for these sloping labor—and offers little in return.
Vietnam’s northern uplands; farmers rely solely on the “Who would do that if they had
province of Yen Bai is wet-season rains that (they hope) other options?” asks Sushil Pandey,
steep. To give you an idea of just how begin in May or June. And these senior agricultural economist at the
steep, when the locals cycle down slopes are not farmed for their International Rice Research Institute
to Van Chan, 12 kilometers away, high yields. In some cases, 100 (IRRI). Dr Pandey, leader of IRRI’s
some of them hook a tree branch to kilograms of seed produces a mere Rice policy support and impact
the back of their bike to act as an 800 kilograms of rice at harvest. assessment research program, is
extra brake. Some don’t even bother The answer, then, is that nobody leading two projects in Vietnam and
keeping a chain on their bikes—you would want to farm here—they do Laos, as well as India and Nepal (see
either roll downhill or walk up. it because they have no choice. Who, what, and where on page 15).
Riding uphill is not an option. Not far away, in the agriculturally The research team is investigating
Seeing this terrain for the first and climatically similar uplands ways of improving food security,
time, one can’t help but ask: why of northern Laos, the situation reducing poverty, and minimizing
on earth would anybody want to is the same. Through a lack of environmental degradation in the
farm this land? On hills that most alternatives, families are forced to uplands. His question is rhetorical.
people would refuse to hike, people farm land that sucks in everything The point is that most people here

10 Rice Today October-December 2007

the Uplands
In the mountains of
Vietnam and Laos, life on the
farm is tough. But more productive
rice crops can give farmers the
security they need to improve their
income and help the environment.

A sweeping view across mountains

in northern Vietnam takes in all the
components of the rice landscape: upland
rice planted on steep slopes, paddy rice,
nonrice crops, forest, and fallow areas
that have been cleared for future use.

Sushil Pandey

don’t have alternatives. The only to agricultural production and income

land they can use is on these steep for farmers on sloping uplands. Most
slopes. With very little income, visibly obvious is the unforgiving
they have no choice but to eke out a fragmented topography, which forces
living by growing their food here. people to work on gradients of more
“What we want to do,” than 25 degrees up to a backbreaking
says Dr. Pandey, “is to help 45 degrees. The predominant mode
them develop options.” of agriculture on these slopes is
And the key that can unlock shifting cultivation—otherwise
alternatives for the farmers is known as slash-and-burn farming.
rice—specifically, increased rice This involves farmers clearing and
productivity. Dr. Pandey sees burning a patch of land on which they
producing more rice on less land, and grow crops for a few seasons before
with less labor, as one of the most Ha Dinh Tuan (front) leaving the land fallow and moving
promising entry points for breaking and Sushil Pandey on to another patch of land. After
lead the research
out of what IRRI calls the vicious team along a moun-
a time, they return to the original
circle and moving into the virtuous tain trail in northern area, cycling through as many plots
circle (see figures on page 12). Vietnam. of land as are available, and giving
There are several key constraints the mountainsides in northern

Rice Today October-December 2007 11

A rice farmer prepares paddies Rice terraces and upland fields
near Sai Luong village, Nam shape the contours of the Kaho Pha
Bung Commune, Vietnam. Valley, Yen Bai Province, Vietnam.

Laos and Vietnam their distinctive constant problems and weed (IFAD) and the Consultative Group on
green-brown-black patchwork look. management requires intensive International Agricultural Research
The endemic poverty in these labor (manually weeding flat fields (CGIAR) Challenge Program on Water
areas means that farmers either is a thankless task in itself; imagine and Food (CPWF)—aim to develop,
can’t afford or are unwilling to buy doing it in the scorching, humid validate, and deliver technologies for
basic inputs such as fertilizer. Living summer on muddy, 45-degree slopes). poverty reduction through improved
conditions are as austere as they Compounding the problem of management of rice landscapes
come. Many people live in small huts poor productivity is inadequate while also improving the way water
with a few basic possessions—little access to markets. Even if farmers is used in poor farming areas.
more than some cooking pots and a do manage to grow a cash crop or a The “rice landscapes” approach
few utensils. This tenuous day-to-day rice surplus, many farms are several calls for intensification of food
existence means that farmers in these hours along narrow mountain production in favorable pockets of the
unfavorable areas are risk-averse and footpaths from the nearest place uplands so that pressure to intensify
either unable or reluctant to invest in where they can sell their produce. production in the less favorable, more
technologies that may help them later. The research, which represents fragile areas can be reduced. These
The harsh weather—long, IRRI’s strategic efforts to reduce favorable pockets include productive
dry, cold winters and very wet, poverty and improve environmental wetland paddies in valley bottoms
hot summers—is another major sustainability in uplands, focuses and terraced fields (or “upland
constraint. Pests and weeds are on managing rice landscapes in paddies”) where irrigated rice can be
marginal uplands. The projects— grown. They also include dry terraces
partly funded by the International and fields with lower slopes that are
Fund for Agricultural Development better able to retain moisture and
nutrients than the steeply sloping
����������� areas. Dr. Pandey emphasizes
����������� ��������������� that, rather than being limited
to the management of rice fields

alone, these projects are about rice
������������ landscape management as a whole.
���������������� By increasing rice
productivity, farmers
can free up land
The virtuous circle paves ������������ and labor for cash
the way to sustainable rice ������������
production and does away �����������
����������������� crops or other
with the vicious circle, which income-generating
perpetuates food insecurity, �������������
���������� activities. If a family
poverty, and environmental ������
degradation. is assured enough rice to
feed itself each year, farmers
������������������� �������������� can consider other components
���������������� of agriculture that may be more
���������� appropriate for these steeply sloping
areas, such as animal husbandry, tree

12 Rice Today October-December 2007

Moving down to move up
hanh Tuln (pictured) is a farmer who lives
in Muka village, Oudomxay Province, in
northern Laos. The 57-year-old has four
children: three sons, 26, 24, and 22, and a
daughter, 13. His farm comprises 0.5 hectare of
lowland (irrigated) area and 1 hectare of upland
(rainfed) area. But that will soon change.
In 2006, Mr. Tuln was forced by a lack of
labor to cultivate rice on only 0.3 hectare of
his lowland farm. From this, he harvested 900
kilograms. Because of poor rainfall, his upland
farm offered him a mere ton of rice. Despite
these low yields, he and his family coped. A
recently constructed road has linked Muka to
other villages and, therefore, to markets where
Mr. Tuln was able to sell his nonrice crops.
But 2006 also marked the beginning of
Mr. Tuln’s move away from upland farming.
He received from the Oudomxay Provincial
Agriculture and Forestry Office 5 kilograms
of B6144, an improved upland variety that
farmers have found grows well under lowland
conditions also. This nonglutinous variety
yields higher than the traditional glutinous
(sticky) varieties favored by most people in in marginal uplands for household food security pay for his daughter’s schooling.
this region. and environmental sustainability project to 150 The news of success stories like Mr. Tuln’s
The seeds were part of 1,500 kilograms farmers in 22 villages for an initial demonstration. has traveled rapidly through Oudomxay
of modern and purified traditional varieties Mr. Tuln planted half of his seeds in his lowland Province. More and more farmers are keen to
supplied as part of the Managing landscapes fields and gave half to his brother. Each of them obtain seeds of improved varieties and try
harvested 100 kilograms. them for themselves.
“We’re very happy with B6144 because But most farmers in upland areas have very
it’s high-yielding,” says Mr. Tuln. I saved 30 small areas of lowland fields or none at all.
kilograms of seed and this year will sow 10 Restricted to growing rice in sloping upland
kilograms. I’ll give 20 kilograms to relatives areas, they need rice varieties that can produce
and keep 70 for eating.” higher yields. Several upland farmers involved
Because of B6144’s increased yield, Mr. Tuln in the project are already seeing increased
planned to plant only this variety in lowland yields through their use of purified stocks
fields in 2007. This will allow him to use his of popular traditional varieties such as Nok,
upland plots to plant more cassava and maize, Makhinsong, and Chaomad (see Appropriate
which require less weeding (and therefore technologies on page 14).
less labor) than rice, and which he can sell. Only when poor farmers achieve a secure food
Consequently, Mr. Tuln is anticipating a higher supply can they can begin to think about how to
income in 2007, which will allow him to buy increase and diversify their income by, for example,
medicine and clothes for his family and help growing cash crops or raising livestock.

plantations, or forestry production. “The basic motto of our work is start the process of income growth.”
There are other flow-on ‘income growth with household food There have been attempts in the
effects that stem from increased security,’” says Dr. Pandey. “Often past to encourage upland farmers
rice productivity. Ultimately, it these are seen as competing goals. to reduce the amount of land they
will mean that the amount of What we are saying is that you can plant to rice and grow crops that can
land used for shifting cultivation, have income growth built on the be sold on the external market, thus
which encroaches on forests and foundation of food security. If you raising income and allowing people
contributes to environmental can use fewer resources to grow food, to buy the extra rice they need to
degradation, will decrease. you free up resources so that you can feed themselves. IRRI social scientist

Rice Today October-December 2007 13

Appropriate technologies
A slashed-and-burned mountain
top in Oudomxay Province, Laos.
Farming on such steep slopes is
backbreaking work.

ffering farmers appropriate
technologies can help them
shift from the vicious to the
virtuous circle. Such technologies
• New and improved seeds. These
are improved aerobic varieties suited
to upland conditions that produce
higher yields than the varieties
currently being grown (suitable Randy Ritzema monitors water
activity at a research site in
aerobic varieties can achieve 1–1.5
Luang Prabang, Laos.
tons per hectare more than the 1–1.2
tons per hectare yield of traditional varieties).
• New breeding lines. Through the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of
Rice, Lao and Vietnamese national research institutes have received breeding lines that
are being used to identify improved rice varieties adapted to both paddy (irrigated) and
upland (nonirrigated) conditions.
• Purification of seed stocks of traditional rice varieties. Most farmers in the sloping
uplands plant from a mixed seed stock. Identifying the best traditional varieties for the
prevailing conditions and management practices, and using pure stocks of these, result in
better yields. Local agricultural agencies will have the responsibility of training farmers to
maintain pure seed stocks. In Laos, where NAFReC has done most of the seed purification
and multiplication work, there is interest in setting up a community-based seed production
system to meet local seed requirements.
• Best-practice management of rice cropping systems. For example, the addition of short-
duration legume crops such as soybean or mungbean, or direct seeding of rice in rainfed
lowlands, may allow farmers to harvest earlier and grow a second rice crop in one year.
• Alternative cropping systems. These are crop combinations with upland rice and
improved fallow rotations that reduce soil erosion and weed infestation, enhance soil
fertility, and generate income. These systems include rice-based rotations with leguminous
Hari Gurung cautions that these
cash crops such as pigeon pea and paper mulberry, and rice-beans. Besides grain production,
pigeon pea may also serve as a host for the insects that secrete sticlac, which is used strategies are often perilous, though.
as an industrial resin and fetches a good market price. After several years of harvesting “One option might be to
sticlac, pigeon pea can be incorporated into the soil as a green manure in preparation for encourage upland farmers to stop
a return to rice or other crops. growing rice and grow cash crops
• Restoration of weed-infested areas. For example, this involves combining appropriate
such as tea, coffee, or rubber—but
herbicide use to control the perennial grass Imperata, which commonly invades land
under short fallow rotations, and subsequently establishing pigeon pea to prevent that can be socioeconomically
reinfestation. disastrous,” says Dr. Gurung. “The
• Technologies for soil fertility maintenance. In combination with fertilizers, rice crops subsistence-oriented highland
can be interspersed with crops that add nitrogen to the soil and/or deep-rooted species communities are already vulnerable;
that enhance nutrient cycling.
rapid exposure to markets and
• Technologies for improved water use. “Aerobic” rice varieties, which require less water
than irrigated varieties, are an example of an important technology for increasing water fluctuating market forces can increase
productivity. Rice irrigation regimes, such as alternative wetting-and-drying similarly can their vulnerability. If the market
increase water productivity by enabling farmers to plant a larger area of irrigated rice than collapses, not only will people be left
would be possible otherwise. with nothing to eat, but they will also
lose the basis of their livelihoods.”
Rice terraces near Pang Cang Strategies to improve rice
village, Suoi Giang Commune,
Vietnam, allow a second yearly production in the sloping uplands
rice crop. (see Appropriate technologies, left)
include the introduction of superior
seeds (either higher-yielding modern
varieties or pure seed stocks of
high-quality traditional varieties)
and improved management options
that maintain or rejuvenate soil
fertility. This approach includes
better fallow systems in which
legumes, for example, are planted
and later incorporated into the soil.
Although the projects are still
in their early stages, people in some

14 Rice Today October-December 2007

Who, what, and where second annual rice crop planted in
February and harvested in June)
T wo projects on rice landscape management are currently being managed by IRRI as
part of a broader initiative in the uplands of Asia. The projects involve a wide range of
international and national organizations:
or plant spring legumes such as
soybean, peanut, or pigeon pea.
• Assam Agricultural University, Assam, India According to Damien Jourdain, a
• Chiang Mai University, Thailand Hanoi-based agricultural economist
• Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Nepal
• Institute of Agriculture and Animal Sciences, Nepal
seconded to IRRI from the French
• Indian Council of Agricultural Research Center for North-Eastern Hills Region, Meghalaya Agricultural Research Centre
• National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, Laos for International Development
• Northern Agriculture and Forestry Research Center, Laos (CIRAD), the project is implemented
• Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute, Vietnam in partnership with farmers who
• Thai Nguyen University of Economics and Business Administration, Vietnam
• World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF)
are involved in the conduct and
• French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) evaluation of various field trials—
• University of California, Davis many of which are managed by
• Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Yunnan, China the farmers themselves. Farmers
The research program is funded through grants from the International Fund for are regularly invited to research
Agricultural Development and the Challenge Program for Water and Food.
trials to offer feedback on what they
see as the technologies with the
areas are already adopting improved greatest potential. Thus, the projects
technologies. In the Lao province of avoid wasting time and money
Oudomxay, for example, farmers are on technologies that may be well
increasingly growing several varieties intentioned and scientifically sound,
being promoted by the project. Some but would stand little chance of
of these are improved varieties adoption. Examples include improved
while others are local varieties varieties that offer pest resistance
adapted to upland conditions. and high yields, but have poor
In 2006, the projects supplied cooking quality, or nonrice winter
1,500 kg of seeds of improved crops that improve soil fertility but
Farmer Ly Hieu Vuong, from Sai Luong village,
and adapted traditional varieties Vietnam, was able to increase rice production con-
are prohibitively labor intensive.
to 150 farmers in several villages siderably after adopting a higher-yielding variety. Dr. Jourdain, whose project
in northern Laos for an initial role includes supervision of several
demonstration. The farmers are now Vietnamese postgraduate students,
expanding the area on which they upland rice that reduce soil erosion points out that the work is valuable
grow these varieties. Neighboring and weed infestation, improve not only because it directly assists
farmers are also interested and soil fertility, and generate income. farmers but also because it helps
have obtained seeds from the 2006 These alternative systems, which build the capacity of the local
harvest. Thus, the dissemination include rotations such as rice- research institutions. “I wouldn’t
of these varieties at the village pigeon pea, rice-ricebeans, and underestimate the impact of working
level has already commenced. rice-paper mulberry, are also being together with research partners and
Alternative cropping systems validated and made available to students,” he says. “It’s not just the
are being explored to identify crop farmers. In other areas, farmers whole impact of the project, but also
combinations and rotations with have started to grow spring rice (a the process of tackling a research
question together. You can bring in
Damien Jourdain (left) stresses the importance of working with farmers. Ben Samson discusses upland farm- some new ideas, some new methods.”
ing options with the villagers of Muka, in the Lao province of Oudomxay. According to Khamdok
Songyikhangsuthor, agricultural
scientist at Laos’s Northern
Agriculture and Forestry Research
Center (NAFReC), as shifting
cultivation fallow periods grow
shorter—a trend accelerated by
government policies of limiting
the area under slash-and-burn-
farming—there is a growing need for
varieties suited to the shorter fallow
cycles. Already, NAFReC’s work to
purify stocks of traditional seeds has
resulted in higher yields for farmers.

Rice Today October-December 2007 15

Slash-and-burn farming will help increase rice production
encroaches on forests and
contributes to environmental and support income growth.”
degradation. The problem is, most farmers
in these mountainous areas do
not have access to flat land where
paddy rice can be grown.
“Even though our objective
is to give people options that will
draw them away from the sloping
uplands,” says Ben Samson, an
agronomist based in IRRI’s office
in the northern Lao city of Luang
NAFReC Director Houmchithsavath of Vietnam’s Northern Mountainous Prabang, “we are still doing work
Sodarak, who has been a champion Agriculture and Forestry Science in these unfavorable areas because
for the project in Laos, notes Institute (NOMAFSI). “We are there is limited flat land available.”
that the Center is also evaluating wasting water. If we can preserve Both projects are now in their
several improved upland varieties water better, we could avoid water second year and the major thrust
generously provided by the Yunnan shortages during the dry season. so far has been assessment and
Academy of Agricultural Sciences. This requires a very big investment understanding of the relationships
“This has allowed farmers to and the current irrigation systems among rice production, landscape
start or increase the planting of cash are inadequate and may be management, poverty, and water
crops—fruit trees, maize, soybean, for uneconomical in some localities.” access and use. Dr. Samson says
example—which can get good prices Environmental systems analyst that once this phase is completed,
at the market,” says Mr. Khamdok, Randy Ritzema, a University of researchers and farmers will
who adds that, through the Lao California, Davis, Ph.D. student, develop and test technologies that
provincial agriculture and forestry is based in Luang Prabang, where can provide the transition from
offices, NAFReC is also distributing he is investigating how water the vicious to the virtuous circle.
improved nonglutinous (nonsticky) flows in upland farming areas. “We are already testing
varieties. “Although most Lao Using computer modeling and technological interventions, even
ethnic groups prefer the glutinous geographic information systems as we undertake the assessment
rice,” he says, “many farmers are (mapping), he is looking at how and understanding phase of the
starting to grow the nonglutinous land use in these areas has changed upland work,” he says. “We are able
rice because of its higher yields.” over time and how this is likely to to do this by using and building on
Farming in irrigated paddies— affect water flows downstream. previous collaboration between IRRI
either flat areas in valleys or terraced “Rice production must be seen in and the Lao National Agriculture
slopes—is considered lowland the context of general environmental and Forestry Research Institute.”
farming, even if it’s high in the resource management—and the The research team is optimistic
mountains. These irrigated paddies, central resource is water,” says Mr. about the projects’ impact. “If we are
although limited in area, can produce Ritzema. “Once we understand able to put appropriate technologies
much higher yields because of where the water goes and how in place, it shouldn’t be too long
favorable conditions for rice growth. it’s managed, and how that’s before we see significant gains,”
Often, farmers are unable to fully related to land use, we can see if says Dr. Pandey. A similar approach
use such land for rice production due changing different components promoted by the Chinese government
to a shortage of water, especially in in China’s Yunnan Province saw
the dry season. One of the project major improvements to farm
aims is therefore to develop and test families’ livelihoods in 5–7 years
water-efficient rice technologies, such (see A mountainous success on pages
as aerobic rice (rice that yields well 30-35 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 1).
when grown in flat but nonflooded Having enough food is one
fields) and alternate wetting- of humanity’s most fundamental
and-drying irrigation regimes. requirements. Food insecurity acts as
Such approaches have potential a wall between an arduous hand-to-
to ensure against unpredictable mouth existence and a more fulfilling
rainfall or allow farmers to grow life. By providing options that help
a second rice crop each year. people feed themselves and their
“Irrigation in the mountainous Khamdok Songyikhangsuthor is an agricultural families, Dr. Pandey and his team
areas is also very poor,” says Ha scientist at Laos’ Northern Agriculture and Forestry hope to give upland farmers the boost
Dinh Tuan, deputy director general Research Center. they need to get over that wall.

16 Rice Today October-December 2007

Ariel Javellana

Where science meets art

As he prepares for retirement after 15 years at the International Rice Research
Institute, molecular biologist John Bennett reveals himself as a scientist who
not only appreciates art—he blurs the distinction between art and science

biotechnology and molecular biology China, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh,

by Meg Mondoñedo
to work on challenges ranging from Pakistan, Iran, and Nigeria,” he

cientists are basically insect resistance to drought tolerance. says. “These students have made a
storytellers; we have At the same time, he has mentored major contribution to the work of my
to tell convincing Ph.D. students, sung as a member of group, although they would be the
stories. Musical the IRRI choir, and acted in plays and first to say that the Philippine staff
and theater performers are musicals with his IRRI colleagues. here has made a major contribution
storytellers too. I enjoy the task Dr. Bennett finds all of these to their work. It is very nice that
of converting a written word into very fulfilling, but mentions that we can have students come to IRRI
an entertaining experience.” sharing his expertise through and find a team of people willing to
His own words best encapsulate teaching is perhaps the source help them, the Philippine staff—who
who John Bennett is and what he of greatest satisfaction. also learn a lot from the students.”
does. Since 1992, as senior scientist “One joy for me is working Listening to his many
at the International Rice Research with students from the Philippines stories about his life at IRRI, Dr.
Institute (IRRI), he has been using and other countries, including Bennett’s passion for teaching

Rice Today October-December 2007 17

Revolution in Asia]. For 4 or 5 years,
we had these very enjoyable plays.”
In 1994, Dr. Bennett played
the role of sultan in the IRRI play
Aladdin and the Forty Thieves.
More than a decade later, one of his
co-stars, plant pathologist Robert
Zeigler, would become the institute’s
director general. “I had three very

National Gallery, Oslo, Norway

beautiful daughters; one daughter
was named Jasmine, one was

Rowena Oane (3)

Japonica, and the third was Indica,
played brilliantly by Dr. Zeigler.”
Dr. Bennett also enjoyed singing
in the IRRI choir—including at the
1995 visit of then Philippine President
Fidel Ramos, for whom they sang
the Philippine national anthem.
Sharp, energetic, committed,
and talented, Dr. Bennett seems
unstoppable, be it in his science
or in his art. Not even his bout
with cancer back in 1999 could
dampen his spirit and zest for life.
“Having cancer just made me
more aware of how much cancer
there is in the Philippines,” he
Rice to make you scream: cross-sections of the uppermost internode of the rice stem, known as the explains. “I became much more
peduncle, mimic the face in Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting, The scream. involved, much more aware of
what’s happening with IRRI staff
and their families in that respect.”
is obvious. The wisdom he the years, these 10 things (see box, Prior to IRRI, Dr. Bennett
imparts is delightfully candid. right) have served as a compass that worked at the International Centre
“There are two aspects in my guides students in their learning—a for Genetic Engineering and
philosophy of doing science, which consistent and simple list for the Biotechnology in New Delhi, where
I tell to my students: if a thing students to help them prioritize
is worth doing, it’s worth doing their tasks and organize their time.
well; but if a thing is worth doing, “Time is their enemy, not the The (scientific) world
it is also worth doing badly,” he supervisor,” insists Dr. Bennett, “so according to John
relates with a spark in his eyes. being able to organize their time is
“For example, if you wanted to
learn to ride a bike, you expect to
very, very important. However, I try
to make sure they don’t spend the
D r. Bennett’s list of 10 fundamental skills
for rice research, which Ph.D. students
should master by the time they finish their
fall off the bike, right? You expect whole time in the lab; I’m very happy study:
to ride it badly. But it’s worth if they go out and do other things.” 1. Become more fluent in written and
learning because it will make things When he’s not in his lab spoken English
2. Understand the rice plant in the context
more efficient and easier for you absorbed in molecular biology, Dr.
of your research
later. Similarly, in understanding Bennett is out there doing “other 3. Understand the scientific literature in
a complex biological system such things” himself—onstage, acting in the same context
as a drought-stressed rice plant, an IRRI play, singing with gusto 4. Understand and master techniques
many of the experiments that we with the IRRI choir, or at home, needed in this context
5. How best to organize your time
would like to do are too complicated. reading novels to his wife and
6. How best to work with other people
There’s a certain skill in knowing mother, a pastime he relishes. 7. How to design a research program
how to initially simplify a complex “During my first Christmas at 8. How to design an experiment
system in an illuminating way.” IRRI, in 1992, I was really excited 9. How to write a scientific paper
For a number of years now, to see Snow White and the Semi 10. Understand the scientific method,
especially statistical analysis and
Dr. Bennett has given incoming Dwarves [a play on “semidwarf,”
replication of data, and the formulation
students a list of 10 things that they the type of modern high-yielding and testing of hypotheses.
should expect to learn. Through rice variety that drove the Green

18 Rice Today October-December 2007

he and his team looked at insect rice farms across the globe every year.
resistance using marker-aided “Drought is associated with
selection (a technique that allows both water deficit and heat stress,”
researchers to rapidly search for he explains. “I enjoy studying the
candidate plants that possess a elongation of the topmost joint of
gene for a desired trait) and genetic the stem—the peduncle. It grows at a
engineering—two approaches phenomenal 6 to 12 centimeters a day,
that IRRI was developing too. but growth stops under water deficit,
“In 1991, some scientists from leaving the panicle sterile and trapped
IRRI visited my lab in India,” he within the top leaf. We’re using
recalls. They must have liked what microscopy and molecular analysis
I was doing there and they thought to identify whether drought stops

it would be nice to have me come cell division, cell elongation, or both, ENHANCING INSECT RESISTANCE: Dr. Bennett, in his
paper coveralls, inspects a new transgenic plant.
to IRRI. Working in India for 3 and which varieties are better than
years was very, very exciting but others at this process under stress.
it was very attractive to be able to “As far as heat stress is no plans for an idle retirement.
come to a place which conducts rice concerned, we know that plants are “Molecular biology is a very rapidly
research across the whole board, vulnerable to heat when they open developing field,” he says. “Young
from social sciences to genetics to their flowers. I was fascinated to people coming into the field have
natural resource management. And see that the heat-sensitive variety to learn a lot of molecular biology,
not to forget things like the library Moroberekan opened its flowers both practical techniques and
and historical records of rice, and the between 10 a.m. and noon, when the theory underlying it, but we
wonderful tradition—it seemed like temperatures are high, whereas the are falling behind a little bit in
an opportunity not to be missed.” more heat-tolerant variety IR64 linking this molecular biology with
Thus began his career at IRRI, opened its flowers between 8 a.m. other sorts of biology, particularly
which is highlighted by an impressive and 10 a.m. We are looking at the physiology. In my retirement, I want
list of research achievements. From genetic basis of this difference in to explore systems biology, where
1992 to 2000, Dr. Bennett’s work on opening time to see if it explains different levels are integrated.”
insect resistance allowed his team the difference in heat sensitivity.” Dr. Bennett grew up in Sydney,
to map rice genes for resistance After IRRI, Dr. Bennett has Australia, and will divide his
to Asian rice gall midge. Through time between Sydney and his
marker-aided selection, the genes wife’s hometown of Colombo, Sri
were used to develop varieties with Lanka, after he finishes at IRRI
enhanced gall midge resistance in December. But his home for
in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, the past 15 years, Los Baños,
and Tamil Nadu (India), and Philippines, will not be forgotten.
Guangzhou (China). His research “Life has been very nice here.
on disease has resulted in rice We’ve really enjoyed being with the
with increased resistance to sheath Filipino people; it was a brilliant
blight fungus and bacterial blight. idea to put IRRI in the Philippines.”
One of Dr. Bennett’s most Like a child promised a reward
challenging, and potentially after hard work, Dr. Bennett looks
rewarding, areas of research has forward to the day when he can
been his work on apomixis—a trait, sit back and look after the three
seen in other cereals but not rice, “mothers” in his life—his wife,
that allows seed formation without his mother, and his mother-in-
fertilization. Achieving apomixis in law. He recites the question he
high-yielding hybrid rice varieties will delight in: “Would you like
would allow farmers to reuse hybrid a book to be read to you?”
seed rather than purchase new seed It is, of course, a question that
Crissan Zeigler

each season, thereby decreasing the will be met with a resounding “yes!”
cost and increasing the flexibility With a big smile, Dr. Bennett
of hybrid rice production. says that “Reading to someone, be
More recently, Dr. Bennett has Theatrical Flair: Dr. Bennett (right) and IRRI it science or art, is a way of sharing.
turned his attention to unraveling Director for Program Planning and Communications When you’re reading a book to
Mike Jackson, then head of the Institute’s Genetic
the secrets of why rice plants are Resources Center, as, respectively, King Richard the yourself, you don’t immediately share
susceptible to drought and heat, two Lionhearted and Prince John in a 1997 IRRI produc- it; if you’re reading to someone else,
environmental stresses that devastate tion of Robin Hood. you share it with them immediately.”

Rice Today October-December 2007 19

Ariel Javellana

Rice Today October-December 2007, Vol. 6, No. 4

In the mountainous areas of northern Vietnam, terraces allow farmers to control irrigation and grow more rice.
china special
A hybrid Rice yield
trial in Jiangxi, China.

Hybrid rice has helped China feed one-fifth of

humanity and avoid mass hunger. Rice Today

investigates the international collaboration

behind this history-altering technology.

A hybrid history Rodolfo Toledo (2)

by Adam Barclay yields are higher than those of most each flower contains both male and

of its neighboring countries. There female organs, allowing the plant
country that is home to are many reasons for this, but one in to reproduce itself through self-
around one-fifth of the particular is the way that the country pollination (inbreeding). Hybrid
entire planet’s population has not only embraced hybrid rice rice seeds, however, are produced
faces some serious but also become the world leader from crossing two genetically
challenges. Perhaps the most in its research and development. different parents. This results in the
fundamental of these is the question In conventional rice varieties, phenomenon of heterosis—commonly
of how it feeds itself. Ensuring known as hybrid vigor—and the
enough food for 1.3 billion stomachs The flowers consequent higher yields.
of a modern
is, to say the least, extraordinarily rice plant
Hybrid vigor is expressed
difficult. But it is something that, (Oryza sativa). during the plant’s early vegetative
over the past few decades, China and reproductive growth stages.
has done remarkably well. Young hybrid seedlings have faster
One of the reasons for China’s root and leaf-area development and
recent food-security success is its better canopy development; the
impressively high rice yields. In the mature plant has increased total
midst of much hunger and starvation dry matter, larger panicles (the
in the 1960s, it was clear the country terminal shoots of a rice plant that
needed to boost its agricultural produce grain), more spikelets (units
Rowena Oane

output. Now, at an average of more of the rice flower) per unit area,
than 6 tons per hectare, China’s increased total weight of grains,

22 Rice Today October-December 2007

and, consequently, higher yields. pollen from Former IRRI senior
The downside is that farmers other plants, scientist and hybrid
rice research leader
need to buy new seeds each season. thus allowing a Sant Virmani.
The grains produced by inbred hybrid. In the
varieties are almost genetically late 1960s, the
identical to their parents and so Chinese hybrid
can be saved and planted later. If a team scoured
farmer tries to plant the genetically the country
diverse seeds (produced by sexual for naturally
reproduction) saved from a previous occurring (wild
hybrid crop, the resultant plants rice) male-sterile
will display widely varying traits, plants, eventually
in much the same way that human finding such a
siblings look different. The ensuing species in 1970 on
crop will be an inconsistent, Hainan Island.
low-yielding disappointment. When they
Although the first paper on tried to cross
the application of heterosis to rice this species
production was published way with a range
back in 1926, China was the first of commercial
country to seriously investigate Chinese varieties,
the technology’s potential. Led by the researchers
“father of hybrid rice” Longping found that
Yuan, director general of the China almost all the
National Hybrid Rice Research and commercial
Development Center (CNHRRDC), varieties acted
research began in earnest in 1964. as maintainer
Prof. Yuan received the World Food lines. This meant
Prize in 2004 for his efforts. that, if they
The Chinese researchers realized were crossed
that, to produce commercially viable with the male-
hybrid varieties, they would actually sterile line, the
need three breeding lines—not next generation
simply two parents. These are (known as the
known as the male-sterile line, the F1 generation) would also be male- they didn’t have a restorer line—any
maintainer line, and the restorer sterile, and would be similar to the cultivar that restores fertility in the
line (see figure on page 25). original male-sterile parent. As its F1 generation when crossed with a
The male-sterile plant does not name suggests, the maintainer line is male-sterile line and, hence, can be
produce pollen itself, but accepts therefore used to maintain a male- used to pollinate the male-sterile
sterile line. parent and produce hybrid rice seeds
So far, so that can be used in farmers’ fields.
“Father of hybrid rice” Longping Yuan (right) talks good. It was The potential of hybrid rice
to Gerard Barry, leader of IRRI’s rice and human health at this point, was threatening to remain just
program, during a visit to the Institute in 2004.
though, that that—potential. Fortunes changed
the research in 1970, however, when germplasm
hit a wall. The (seeds and the genetic material they
scientists had contain) from the International Rice
a male sterile Research Institute (IRRI) was first
line, which could sent to China for breeding inbred
accept pollen varieties. According to IRRI hybrid
from other rice breeder Fangming Xie, it was
plants. They had a eureka moment: “They tested the
a maintainer IRRI lines to see if they could act as
line, which restorer lines, and bingo—got it!”
would allow For farmers to make a worthwhile
Ariel Javellana (2)

a continuous investment in hybrid seeds—which

supply of male- can be used for only one season—they
sterile seeds. But need to produce a yield at least 15%

Rice Today October-December 2007 23

china special
higher than that of the farmers’ hybrid rice in Brazil.
best available inbred variety. Dr.
Xie, who obtained his master’s
degree at CNHRRDC as a student
of Prof. Yuan, says this was another
area in which the IRRI germplasm
helped springboard China’s hybrid
rice program. Because the IRRI
germplasm was relatively genetically
different from the Chinese maintainer
lines, it prompted sufficient heterosis
to boost yields to the required
level. As a bonus, the IRRI lines
were more resistant to pests and
diseases than the Chinese varieties.
“Without IRRI germplasm, the
success of hybrid rice in China would
have been much delayed,” says Dr.
Fangming Xie

Xie. In fact, pedigree studies have

shown that 90% of the restorer-
line donors for Chinese hybrid
rice varieties came from IRRI.
Since those early days, many Only after China’s initial success Dr. Virmani, who left IRRI in the
IRRI lines have been distributed with IRRI germplasm did IRRI start early 1970s but returned a decade
to China for use in hybrid rice its own hybrid program in 1972, later to again lead hybrid research
development, and scientist exchange led by retired plant breeder Sant there. “Seeing its widespread
between the Institute and China Virmani. But, in the face of skepticism adoption in China in the late 1970s
has boosted research capacity on from some scientists, the Institute convinced me that it was a serious
both sides. The contribution goes halted its research the following year, and important option for the rest
both ways, too—China has provided only restarting it in 1979 after China of the world’s rice farmers.”
expertise to IRRI, along with several had fired up international interest Unsuited to the tropics because
varieties for the development of by commercializing the technology. they lacked disease resistance,
promising male-sterile lines suitable “I had always known hybrid rice the Chinese varieties were not
for tropical and subtropical areas. was technically possible,” explains viable for farmers across much of
tropical Southeast Asia. More work
was needed to develop hybrid rice
varieties that would thrive in the
IRRI hybrid rice breeder
Fangming Xie.
region’s hot, humid climate. Thanks
to the efforts of Dr. Virmani, who
retired in 2005 (see A hybrid pioneer
on pages 28-31 of Rice Today Vol.
4, No. 2), IRRI now has a vibrant
hybrid rice research program and
many countries in Southeast Asia
have established, and are expanding,
their hybrid rice production.
Apart from Vietnam, India,
and the Philippines, which have
commercialized hybrid rice for
some time, countries such as
Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Pakistan
have achieved recent success with
hybrid rice. The Asian Development
Bank–funded collaborative project
The Development and Utilization
Ariel Javellana

of Hybrid Rice in Asia—managed

by IRRI with participation from
CNHRRDC and the China National

24 Rice Today October-December 2007

Rice Research Institute—has brought male-sterile,
Chinese experts to South and maintainer, and
How to produce three-line hybrid rice
Southeast Asian countries to further restorer. Two-line
develop the hybrid rice seed industry hybrids, although
and the necessary production still variable from
techniques. In turn, trainees from year to year, don’t
these countries have received need a maintainer
hybrid rice training in China. line and outyield
Under Dr. Xie, IRRI is continuing three-line
to develop hybrid rice products and hybrids. After
disseminating IRRI germplasm to successful ������������������ ���������������
rice-producing countries and to the commercialization
private sector. The Institute also in 1995, the area
conducts training in seed production planted to two-
and breeding, and helps other line hybrid rice
countries develop plans and policy had reached 1.6
support for hybrid rice programs. million hectares,
Due to farmers’ need for or 10% of the
new seeds every season, the total hybrid rice
private sector—which produces area, by 2003. �����������
����������������� �������������
99% of commercial hybrid rice So-called
seed—necessarily plays a key role super hybrid
in the hybrid rice industry. Public rice varieties are
institutions perform much of the two-line hybrids
research and breeding, and develop produced from
the products, which are then more diverse
transferred to the private sector for parent rice lines.
marketing and seed distribution. The relatively
Although already strong, large genetic
the hybrid rice industry in China difference ����������������������
continues to grow. Currently, Chinese between
hybrids, which have an average the parents *A cytoplasmic male-sterile line is the type of rice line required for the production of
15–20% yield advantage over inbreds, causes greater three-line hybrid rice varieties.
are planted on around 16 million heterosis and,
hectares—more than half of China’s therefore, even greater yields hybrid rice seed is available, but
total rice area of 28 million hectares. (a 10% yield advantage over at a higher cost. However, quality
China grows both of the main three-line hybrids, or a 30–40% has improved in recent years and
subspecies of commercial rice, advantage over inbred varieties). two-line hybrids are expected to
japonica (sticky) and indica (less In a paper entitled The second further enhance hybrid eating
sticky). Indica is grown in the generation of hybrid rice in China, and cooking characteristics.
southern and central latitudes; published in the Proceedings of the In Hybrid rice for food security
japonica is grown in the north. In 20th Session of the International Rice in the world, a paper presented at the
general, people prefer japonica over Commission (Bangkok, Thailand, United Nations Food and Agriculture
indica because of its higher grain 23–26 July 2002), Prof. Yuan said, Organization’s (FAO) 2004 Rice
quality, but japonica prices are higher. “If super hybrid rice covers an Conference, Prof. Yuan said that
About 85% of China’s indica rice is annual area of 13 million hectares “hybrid rice has been playing a
already hybrid, so current efforts in China, and calculating a yield critical role in solving the food
to increase hybrid production are increase of 2.25 tons per hectare, it problem of China, thus making China
focused on boosting the proportion of is expected that the annual increased the largest food self-sufficient country
japonica hybrid rice, which presently grains will reach 30 million tons, …. I firmly believe that hybrid rice,
makes up only 3% of total japonica which means 75 million people relying on scientific and technological
area. The Chinese government is more can be fed every year.” advances and the efforts from all
aiming for 70% of all China’s rice The higher yields of hybrids other aspects, particularly from
to be hybrid within 5 to 8 years. can come with a cost, though. Grain FAO and IRRI, will have a very good
Chinese researchers are also quality in the first generation of prospect for commercial production
continuing to develop what are known hybrid rice varieties was often lower and continue to play a key role
as two-line hybrids. Most of the than that of inbreds. Chalkiness in ensuring future food security
current varieties require three lines— can also be a problem. High-quality worldwide in the new century.”

Rice Today October-December 2007 25


Relocating rice production in China

by Robert Hijmans produce high-value vegetable crops is climate change. Since the mid-
catering to wealthier consumers 1960s, Earth has experienced very
who have diversified their diet strong global warming of about

etween 1979 and 2005, rice and eat less rice. Other rice lands 0.03 ºC per year.2 Warming has
area in China decreased from have been used for construction. been strongest at high latitudes, and
32.4 to 28.8 million hectares. The decline in rice area in minimum temperature has increased
At the same time, average yields went the relatively poor southwestern more than maximum temperature.
up from 4.2 tons per hectare in 1979 provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan Warming in northeast China has
to about 6.3 tons per hectare in 1997 has been much less than that of been particularly strong (Map 3).
and thereafter. Because other southern provinces. The average minimum temperature
of these opposite trends, “Stable rice production However, economic in Heilongjiang is now about 2.5 ºC
annual Chinese rice conceals major shifts development does not seem higher than it was in the early 1960s!
production has been in the location and to explain the increase A yield decline associated with
fairly stable at 170–190 cropping patterns
in rice production in increasing minimum temperatures
million tons since the northeast. The main has been observed in long-term
1983.1 But this apparent of rice in China” income gradient in China trials at the International Rice
stability conceals (Map 2) is from east to Research Institute in the Philippines.3
major shifts in the location and west and not from north to south. But, in relatively cool areas such
cropping patterns of rice in China. The increase in rice area in the as Heilongjiang, warming may
Rice cultivation in China is north may be related to an increased have contributed to higher yields
moving northward (see Map 1). demand for japonica-type rice, through a longer growing season
From 1979 to 2005, the southern which is better adapted to temperate and reduced cold stress.
province of Guangdong lost half climates, or to an expansion of Only a few studies have analyzed
its rice area, a decrease of 85,000 irrigation infrastructure. Another the influence of past climate change
hectares per year. Over the same factor that may have contributed on crop production.4 A challenge in
period, the northeastern province
of Heilongjiang gained 64,000
hectares per year. Together, the four 1
northern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin,
Nei Mongol, and Heilongjiang had
2.7% of the Chinese rice area in 1979
and 11.5% in 2005. These provinces
have also seen relatively strong
increases in yield. In Heilongjiang,
for example, yields have gone up
150 kilograms per hectare per
year—almost twice the annual
yield gain for the whole of China.
Economic development has
strongly contributed to the decrease
in rice area in the south. Because of
an increased demand for off-farm
labor, double cropping of rice—only
possible in southern China—is
being replaced by a more labor-
efficient single rice crop. Some of
the land and labor that were used
for rice production are now used to

Data available in the World Rice Statistics database at
Global average, only considering temperatures over land, excluding Antarctica. Estimate based on data
by Mitchell and Jones (2005), International Journal of Climatology 25:693-712.
Peng et al (2004). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 101:9971-9975.
Examples of such work include You et al (2005), Environment and Production Technology Discussion Paper 143, IFPRI.
eptdp143.pdf, and Lobell and Field (2007), Environmental Research Letters 2:014002.

26 Rice Today October-December 2007

china special
such analyses is disentangling the
role of climate change from that of 2
other factors influencing land use.
For example, although warming
increases the potential for double
and triple cropping of rice, prevailing
economic conditions are nudging
farmers in the opposite direction.
The spatio-temporal coincidence
of warming and rice area expansion
in northern China is striking, but
a much more refined analysis is
necessary to assess whether warming
is contributing to this expansion.
In areas such as northern China,
which have witnessed rapid climate
change over the past decades,
looking backward can improve
our ability to predict the future.

Dr. Hijmans is a geographer in

IRRI’s Social Sciences Division.

At time of printing, US$1 = 7.52 Chinese yuan.

Rice Today October-December 2007 27

china special
Rice breeder Huaqi Wang
surveys his aerobic varieties in
a China Agricultural University
experimental field.

As Chinese farmers face a

worsening irrigation crisis,
they need a way to grow
rice with less water. Aerobic
rice may be the answer.

High and
Story and photos by
Adam Barclay

n a steaming hot Beijing China. The push to establish a large- into the car to head back to
day in August 2007, a scale aerobic rice production system, the university campus, Huaqi
group of researchers which achieves high yields using a Wang—the breeder responsible for
from China Agricultural fraction of the water required for the several aerobic rice varieties
University (CAU) visited flood-irrigated rice (known simply as we’d inspected—turned to us.
their experimental station on the lowland rice), is gaining momentum. “Before we return, I want
edge of the gigantic city. Several There are wrinkles to be ironed to show you something,” said
hectares of what has come to be out, but the potential, in the face Prof. Wang, director of CAU’s
known as aerobic rice—grown of widespread and ever-worsening Upland Rice Research Center.
like any other nonrice crop, in water availability, is enormous. Without any explanation, we
unflooded fields—stood oblivious On this day, though, it wasn’t drove to another rice field, a few
to the brutal, unforgiving sun. the aerobic rice that grabbed kilometers away. This half-hectare of
This is why Rice Today was in our attention. As we climbed healthy looking rice, belonging to a

28 Rice Today October-December 2007

International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI), is acutely aware of this
problem. When he arrived at IRRI in
1999, Dr. Bouman had an idea: why
can’t we grow rice as an irrigated but
unflooded dryland crop, like wheat or
maize? There already existed upland
rice crops—traditional varieties that
yield poorly but are able to cope
with extremely harsh conditions,

Ariel Javellana
Making a point including very dry climates, poor
about aerobic rice: soils, and often sloping land. What
IRRI water scientist
Bas Bouman. if the sturdiness of upland rice
could be combined with the high-
yielding traits of lowland rice?
Yang, who researches water-saving So, in 2000, Dr. Bouman
agricultural technologies, says started asking agronomists and
that the water situation, especially plant physiologists about the idea.
in northern China, has become “The answer I always got,” he
desperate. “In Beijing,” she says, “the says, “was, ‘It’s just not possible—rice
groundwater depth is very low—at is not like that, rice is different.’
least 20 meters below the surface So I parked the idea for a while,
and dropping further every year.” until I learned about the work
Beijing, in China’s north, is to improve upland rice in more
home to more wheat and maize favorable environments. There were
than rice, but the field in front of us people at IRRI with basically the
symbolized not only a dying practice same idea, but not in the irrigated

but also the promise of water-saving lowland environment. They were
technologies like aerobic rice. working in the sloping uplands,
Perhaps, we lamented, it should be trying to improve upland rice.”
preserved as a museum exhibit. Like most good ideas, aerobic rice
According to Prof. Yang, as was, in theory, fundamentally simple.
recently as 10 years ago, a lot of It also turned out that it wasn’t the
lowland rice was grown in Beijing. first time somebody had thought
“Now,” she says,” apart from this field, of it. The IRRI upland researchers
there’s none. But people here want introduced Dr. Bouman to Prof.
rice—therefore, we need aerobic rice.” Wang, who, at that time, had been
When water is scarce, rice
is inevitably the worst-affected
crop. Compared with the world’s
other major staples, wheat and
maize, rice uses around twice as
much water—roughly 2,000 liters
to produce a single kilogram.
Plant nutritionist Shan Lin, from
local farmer, represented something CAU’s Department of Plant Nutrition,
truly momentous. It was the last points out just how thirsty lowland
remaining plot of commercial lowland rice is. “In China, 70% of water is used
rice in the municipality of Beijing. in agriculture; 70% of that is used in
With a wry laugh, Prof. Wang rice production,” he says. “In terms of
told us that soon it would be gone too, rainfall or irrigation water, lowland
muscled out by a still rapidly growing rice needs approximately 1,000–
population and fast-encroaching 1,500 millimeters. Aerobic rice needs
urban and industrial works, whose around 600 millimeters. Aerobic
prodigious hunger for land and thirst rice can really help us save water.”
for water mean that there simply isn’t Bas Bouman, senior water
enough of either for lowland rice. scientist and aerobic rice work-group Anhui Province farmer Guangyun Dai
CAU water expert Xiaoguang leader at the Philippines-based shows off one of his aerobic rice plants.

Rice Today October-December 2007 29

china special
working on aerobic rice for more ‘yes, that’s fine, but I want
than a decade. Sure enough, he had it in my backyard.’”
crossed hardy upland rice varieties And, another factor Anhui Province, China
with modern lowland varieties. further boosts the
“I realized that what Prof. potential of aerobic rice.
Wang was doing was exactly what Although rainfall in
I had in mind and that, yes, it is many parts of China is
possible,” recalls Dr. Bouman. high, it is also very unstable. In such
Prof. Wang’s progress was areas, the majority of the year’s
encouraging—despite very little rain can fall over a couple of Mengcheng

research support, he claimed to months in summer, causing

have achieved yields of above 6 tons floods that badly damage Funan Fengtai

per hectare. He was working in or totally destroy traditional

low, flat areas where farmers have dryland crops such as maize and
insufficient irrigation to flood the soybean. Aerobic rice, though, can Hefei
field, but have access to enough water still handle flooding. In a year when
for two or three small irrigations rainfall is spread out and no floods
per season or as much rainfall as occur, a maize crop will yield
is needed for wheat or maize. This, higher than an aerobic rice crop.
says Dr. Bouman, is precisely the But, if the floods hit—and they often
target zone for aerobic rice. In water- do—aerobic rice will give farmers a
scarce China, it is an environment few tons per hectare, where maize
growing in area every year. would have left them with nothing.
For farmers who have been The day after witnessing
forced by lack of irrigation to end Beijing’s last field of lowland rice,
their lowland rice production, Rice Today, with CAU agronomist
aerobic rice offers the chance to Guanghui Xie, headed south to
grow rice once more. Rice is so Anhui Province, where rice is a is staggering and the flow-on effects
fundamentally important to the much more important crop (see map, for farming are sobering indeed.
diet of most Chinese people that above right). The farmers in Anhui Rivers have been diverted to provide
farmers will go to great lengths to are some of China’s poorest—any water for cities, groundwater is
grow rice for themselves and their technology that can increase their dropping every year, and laborers
family, even if it means sacrificing water productivity and help them are leaving the farms in droves to
income that would allow them to buy secure rice for their own consumption find better-paid work in mining and
rice on the market. It is a cultural as can also help reduce poverty. construction. Compounding the
much as an agricultural decision. Anhui, like Beijing (and much problems, much of the province’s
“When we say, well, you can of northern China), is also facing a irrigation infrastructure is outdated
also buy it on the market,” says Dr. water crisis. Here, too, the pace of and in bad need of maintenance.
Bouman, “they look at you and say, urban and industrial development The worsening shortage of farm

The sun sets over Hefei; a new power station

overshadows rice fields (right) in Fengtai. Rapid,
large-scale urban and industrial development
is pushing laborers off the farms and into the
cities. The consequent rising cost of rural labor
makes aerobic rice, which requires less labor than
lowland rice, more attractive.

30 Rice Today October-December 2007

Aerobic believers
A lthough many farmers are impressed by
aerobic rice’s potential, most would opt
for lowland (flood-irrigated) rice—and its
Chunqiao Wang (left) and Chunjian Wang examine their aerobic
rice crop. In the background are their maize crop and a lowland rice
crop belonging to a farmer from the neighboring village.
significantly higher yields—if they had the
choice. But, as water becomes scarcer and
more and more farmers lose that choice,
aerobic rice is becoming an increasingly
important technology.
Two neighboring villages in Fengtai
County, Anhui Province, offer a graphic
illustration of the difference between farming
with and without plentiful access to water.
Xiwang and Cuihai villages may share a
boundary, but they don’t share water.
In 2000, the irrigation system that
fed Cuihai from the nearby river ceased to
operate. Xiwang, meanwhile, has a functioning
irrigation system that delivers enough water
for lowland rice production.
At the village boundary, Xiwang’s lowland
rice crops stand side by side with Cuihai’s
aerobic rice fields. The aerobic rice is doing
well at this stage of the 2007 season, but,
until varieties and crop management systems
improve further, it can’t compete with the
lush, green lowland rice.
Three farmers from Cuihai—Chunguo
Wang, Chunjian Wang, and Chunqiao Wang crops were flooded and returned very low lower than in 2006. The aerobic rice, however,
—would love to have access to Xiwang’s yields. In 2003, they heard about aerobic rice withstood the weather unscathed.
irrigation, but they’re not complaining. Before from a local agricultural technician and were Chunqiao Wang is a true aerobic rice
2000, all three grew lowland rice. The next 2 immediately interested. believer, renting neighboring farmers’ land so
years, with no rice in their fields, their maize With the other village farmers, the three he can grow 9 mu (0.6 hectares) of aerobic
men started growing aerobic rice in 2004. The rice—2 mu more than the total amount of
village’s combined aerobic rice area that year land he actually owns.
was 35 mu (2.3 hectares). In 2006, it climbed “Overall, I feel good about aerobic rice,
to 50 mu (3.3 hectares). When Rice Today visited especially if the yield can reach 400 kilograms
Cuihai in August, the 2007 crop was looking per mu [6 tons per hectare],” he says. “The
good, and the farmers were expecting a yield future will be bright if we can get improved
of around 350 kilograms per mu (5.25 tons per varieties. Even if the irrigation improves, if
hectare). If this prediction holds, the village we get improved varieties, I might stick with
Shaobing Peng

may plant 150 mu (10 hectares) in 2008. aerobic rice—it costs much less than lowland
Aerobic rice farmers (from In July and August of 2007, the maize rice. If everything goes well, our village can
left) Chunjian Wang, Chunguo crops were again hammered by heavy rain grow more than 200 mu [13.3 hectares] of
Wang, and Chunqiao Wang.
and floods; the farmers expect yields 40–50% aerobic rice.”

labor and consequent rising labor kilograms per hectare] compared

wages further boost aerobic rice’s with lowland rice because of the
attractiveness to farmers. Lowland labor aerobic rice saves them.”
rice, which requires seedlings to Even without the labor savings,
be maintained in a nursery and aerobic rice is less expensive than
subsequently transplanted, is much lowland rice. Ding Guangli, head
more labor-intensive than aerobic of the Funan County Agricultural
rice, which farmers can plant by row- Research Institute in Anhui, says
seeding or broadcasting dry seeds. that, taking into account agricultural
According to Jianbo Yang, materials only, aerobic rice costs
president of the Anhui Academy of farmers around 3,750 Chinese yuan
Agricultural Sciences, “the labor (US$480) per hectare per season—
situation is making aerobic rice 3,000 yuan ($405) per hectare less
very attractive to the farmers in than lowland rice. Mr. Ding adds
Anhui. Many farmers are willing to Jianbo Yang, president of the Anhui that, 20 years ago, rice was planted
Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
sacrifice 50 kilograms per mu [750 on around 30,000 hectares in Funan

Rice Today October-December 2007 31

china special
IRRI crop physiologist Shaobing Peng and
CAU Ph.D. student Jing Yan, who is studying the
CAU water expert Xiaoguang resource-use efficiency of aerobic rice systems.
Yang discusses aerobic rice
with Ph.D. student Liu.

CAU plant nutritionist Shan Lin (left),

Ph.D. student Wei (center), and Huaqi Wang.

County. In 2007, the figure stands at by lowland rice, and was planted growing aerobic rice in 2007.”
about 16,000 hectares, about 20% of in water-scarce areas side by side Despite 2006’s poor yields, many
which are planted to aerobic rice. with dryland crops such as maize farmers have persisted with aerobic
In a 2005 survey among farmers and soybean. Despite the lower rice. In Shuanghu village, Mengcheng,
in Kaifeng County, Hunan Province, yield, profits returned from growing of the five farm families who grew
and Fengtai County, Anhui Province, aerobic rice, at around $330 per aerobic rice in 2006, two quit and
IRRI economist Pie Moya found that hectare per season, were the same three are continuing. Xianming Wu,
aerobic rice farmers achieved average as obtained from growing maize. a 60-year-old farmer who grows rice,
yields of 4.2 tons per hectare, versus Aerobic rice is still very much maize, and soybeans on 5 mu (15 mu
5.8 tons per hectare for lowland an emerging technology, though, are equal to 1 hectare), is an aerobic
rice. However, aerobic rice received and it must be improved if it is to rice believer. In 2006, he grew aerobic
only 2–3 irrigations, versus 10–13 achieve its potential. Prof. Xie is rice on 1.5 mu, achieving a total
working with farmers in Mengcheng harvest of 450 kilograms (equivalent
County, Anhui, to develop aerobic to 4.5 tons per
rice crop management systems. hectare)—more
A Fengtai farmer in
Prof. Xie, who first examined than his his freshly planted
aerobic rice in Mengcheng in 2005, neighbors but aerobic rice field.
says the farmers were initially very lower than he
interested. The following year, had hoped.
many farmers tried aerobic rice, So, why did
and, with only a month left before he persevere with
harvest, the crops looked excellent. aerobic rice in
“We believed they would yield 2007? Unable to
more than 6 tons per hectare,” obtain enough
recalls Prof. Xie. “But, in the last water for lowland
month, pests and perhaps drought production, Mr.
Aerobic rice can withstand heavy rains and flood-
ing that will badly damage dryland crops such as
caused poor grain filling and the Wu says that it’s
maize or soybean. This field in Mengcheng was hit by yield ended up very low. As a result, very important to
severe rains in July and August 2007. many of the farmers have stopped him that he can

32 Rice Today October-December 2007

Yanfang Ding (above) weeds her soybean crop. After pests damaged her 2006 aerobic rice crop, she chose not to grow rice in 2007—though wishes she had,
with neighbor Xianming Wu’s aerobic rice crop (center) looking good. Right: CAU agronomist Guanghui Xie.

grow and eat his own rice. Around caused the temporary relocation of Mengcheng, was not hit with a
20 years ago, he grew lowland rice, 160,000 people and the loss of huge major pest outbreak recently. This,
but the nearby river that irrigated his numbers of crops, for which the says Dr. Peng, helps explain the
fields ceased to provide enough water. government paid compensation. apparent aerobic rice boom.
Mr. Wu keeps all the aerobic rice Shuanghu village residents “It’s like a battle between aerobic
he grows for himself and his family, did not need relocation, but their rice and maize, as a summer crop,”
but if things go well he’d like to start dryland crops, maize and soybean, he explains. “The excessive rain in
selling some. As a bonus, he and his were devastated. Mr. Wu expects Funan has helped aerobic rice win
family prefer the taste and texture that his 2007 maize and soybean that battle. In other counties, the
of aerobic rice to those of the hybrid yields will be less than half his conditions might favor maize for
rice planted in most flooded fields. 2006 yields. His aerobic rice, on the one season, and farmers don’t want
In 2007, things are looking good. other hand, was not damaged by to risk trying aerobic rice. If we
Barring another pest outbreak, Mr. the rains and in the baking August improve aerobic rice varieties and
Wu predicts 400–450 kilograms per sun still looked strong and healthy. crop management systems, the battle
mu (6–6.75 tons per hectare). It’s Shuanghu farmers Yanfang Ding may swing in aerobic rice’s favor.”
not only the expectation of a good and her husband Jianjun Wu (Mr. Dr. Bouman says that if this
harvest that has him smiling, though. Wu’s nephew) were not so lucky. They new production system reaches
In July and August 2007, Anhui chose not to replant aerobic rice in the point where farmers can
Province was hit by extreme rainfall 2007 and now wish they had. “I’ll easily achieve yields of 5–6 tons
that caused widespread flooding. keep an eye on my uncle’s crop,” says per hectare, aerobic rice will be a
This situation forced the national Jianjun Wu. “If his yield is good, we’ll major weapon in the fight against
government to open the Wangjiaba grow aerobic rice again next year.” water scarcity and poverty in the
dam to relieve flood pressure from In Funan County, a different scorching North China Plain.
the swelling Huai River on urban but equally encouraging story is “This scenario is very possible,”
areas. The resultant flooding emerging. Here, aerobic rice has Prof. Wang says. “As we keep working
exploded in with farmers, we need to develop new
2007. As we varieties and management systems
Aerobic rice is grown drove through that include effective weed control,
like wheat or maize, in the county, IRRI irrigation and fertilizer management,
unflooded fields.
crop physiologist and crop establishment.”
Shaobing Peng Standing at the forefront of
was moved to aerobic rice development, the farmers
proclaim that of Anhui confirm the scientists’ belief
he’d “never seen that they are on the right track.
so much aerobic
rice anywhere!” IRRI’s and CAU’s aerobic rice research
Funan also in northern China is part of the Irrigated
suffered heavy Rice Research Consortium and the
rains in July Consultative Group on International
and August Agricultural Research Challenge
2007 but, unlike Program on Water and Food.
Bas Bouman Bas Bouman

Rice Today October-December 2007 33

Ren Wang (right) looks at
NERICA plants with WARDA
field technicians Hélaine
Diaka (left) and Eugenie

R. Raman (3)

Three heads are better

In the face of steeply rising rice prices, three of the world’s leading international agricultural research institutes plan
to combine their activities in Africa and so create a powerful new force focused on boosting African rice production

he signs are ominous countries have taken hasty measures and Thai rice have gone up by
across West Africa. The to bring down the price of rice. 15% and 22%, respectively.
price of rice is rising For instance, in Senegal, the The article also reported that
and, consequently, a second biggest importer of rice in rice wholesalers in Abidjan attributed
groundswell of anger is Africa after Nigeria, the government this sudden price hike to the fall
building in several countries in was forced to reduce the price by in world rice supply. “This has
the region where rice is a staple. 20–25 FCFA (US$0.04–0.05) per led to price speculations that are
First in Guinea, then in Senegal, kilo in July 2007, after consumers’ benefiting only the multinationals,”
Mali, and Côte d’Ivoire, people have associations in the capital Dakar wholesalers were quoted as saying.
taken to the streets to protest against held two major protest marches. Economists at the Africa Rice
the rising price of rice. In Burkina In Côte d’Ivoire, the 8 August Center (WARDA) have long been
Faso, Benin, and Nigeria, housewives, 2007 edition of Abidjan’s Nord-Sud worried that Africa would find itself
restaurant owners, and tradesmen newspaper reported that the price engulfed in a major rice crisis if its
have started to express their of rice had risen by 7–22%. A 25- rice importation policy were not
discontent. In Guinea-Bissau, people kilogram bag of “Uncle Sam” rice urgently reviewed. Participants at
are directly trading goods for rice. imported from the United States the June 2007 Third Annual Meeting
Alarmed by the protests and sold for 6,000 FCFA ($12.50) a of the Africa Policy Research and
the sudden increase in newspaper month ago and is now selling for Advocacy Group at WARDA, Cotonou,
reports on the price hike, the 7,000 FCFA ($14.50)—an increase of Benin, also expressed deep concern
governments of some of these about 7%. The prices of Vietnamese about the current world rice situation

34 Rice Today October-December 2007

A woman sells rice World rice consumption continues commitment to bring the best of
in Cotonou, Benin. to outstrip production and the science and their experience in
rising prices are expected to double Asia, Latin America, and Africa
in the next couple of years. to address the major challenges
According to the Africa Policy facing Africa’s rice sector.
Research and Advocacy Group, “By harmonizing our activities,
established 3 years ago to serve as a we can cover the whole continent,
channel for transmitting policies to have a critical mass, address most of
promote the rice sector, the current the problems facing rice, and at the
world rice situation has serious end of the day we can have a very
implications for sub-Saharan Africa high impact,” commented Dr. Seck.
(SSA) because about 40% of that Among their initial proposals is
region’s demand for rice is being the establishment of a sub-Saharan
met by imports. Further, recent Africa Rice Consortium (SARC),
analysis by WARDA economists which will consolidate the two
shows that, in West Africa, this figure existing regional rice networks—the
is even higher, with rice imports West and Central Africa Rice
covering up to 67% of demand. Research and Development Network
“African national rice economies and the Eastern and Central Africa
will increasingly become exposed to Rice Research Network. The new
unpredictable external supply and combined entity will also cover other
price shocks,” WARDA Economist parts of SSA that are not members of
Aliou Diagne said, highlighting the existing regional rice networks.
the recent warning by the World It was agreed that SARC will
Bank that the current rise in offer a platform for collective action
cereal prices and the low level by the three international centers

than one
of global reserves could unleash and collaboration with national
widespread food riots in Africa. agricultural research and extension
Referring to the recent measures systems (NARES). SARC will also
taken by some African governments provide a united front for promoting
against the price hike, WARDA rice and rice research in SSA and
Director General Papa Abdoulaye a common conduit for channeling
Seck said, “It is not possible to technology and information from
and its implications for Africa. continue reducing the price of international research to NARES
According to the US Department rice artificially without increasing and farmers in the region.
of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural domestic rice production in SSA. “To me, this is the best way to
Service, world rice reserves, Relying on heavy rice imports is reach a consensus on rice research in
estimated at 80.6 million tons less and less a solution for Africa.” Africa,” said Dr. Seck. “However, this
in 2005-06, are at their lowest In this context, the recent does not mean that excellent research
level since 1983-84. These stocks announcement by three international is enough to change Africa’s rice
represent less than 2 months of centers to combine their activities sector,” he cautioned, emphasizing
consumption and half of the stocks in Africa and so create a powerful that research can have high impact
are being held by China alone. new force focused on boosting only if the African countries have
African rice production has come adequate infrastructure and a
as a ray of hope for the rice- suitable environment in addition
consuming nations of SSA. to appropriate technologies.
The three centers—all of whom The joint declaration on SARC
are supported by the Consultative was made on the basis of the
Group on International Agricultural recommendations of the WARDA-
Research (CGIAR)—are WARDA, IRRI-CIAT Programmatic Alignment
the International Center for Planning Meeting, held in June
Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) based 2007 at WARDA. At the meeting,
in Colombia, and the International CGIAR Director Ren Wang (formerly
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) IRRI’s deputy director general for
based in the Philippines. research) hailed the joint initiative
Imported rice ready In a joint declaration announcing as a mark of “concrete progress of
for sale in Cotonou,
a major programmatic alignment, the CGIAR centers in moving toward
the three centers affirmed their more integration and synergy.”

Rice Today October-December 2007 35

New Books

Water management in irrigated many literature references for

rice: coping with water scarcity further reading—with practical
(by B.A.M. Bouman, R.M. Lampayan, suggestions for implementation.
and T.P. Tuong; 54 pages; developed Introductory chapters analyze
countries US$6, developing countries the water use and water balance of
$2; Philippines 100 pesos). rice fields, and water movement in
the plant-soil system, and discuss

W orldwide, about 79 million ha

of irrigated lowlands provide
75% of the total rice production.
the concepts of water scarcity and
water savings. Consequences of
water scarcity for sustainability,
Lowland rice is traditionally grown environmental impacts, and
in bunded fields that are continuously ecosystem services of irrigated rice
flooded from crop establishment fields are discussed later. An appendix
to close to harvest. It is estimated introduces two simple instruments
that irrigated lowland rice receives to characterize the water status of
some 34–43% of the total world’s rice fields that can help farmers in
irrigation water, or 24–30% of the applying water-saving technologies.
total world’s freshwater withdrawals. The target audience includes
With increasing water scarcity, the people involved in agricultural
sustainability, food production, and extension or training who have an
ecosystem services of rice fields advanced education in agriculture
are threatened. Therefore, there is individual farmers can do at the or water management, and who
a need to develop and disseminate field level, with a brief discussion on wish to introduce sound water
water management practices that response options at the irrigation management practices to rice
can help farmers to cope with water system level. The manual is intended farmers. For example, the book
scarcity in irrigated environments. as a support document for training offers useful information to
This book provides an overview on water management in rice staff of agricultural colleges and
of technical response options to production. It combines scientific universities, scientists, irrigation
water scarcity. It focuses on what background information—including operators, and extension officers.

Sticky rice, prawn, and water chestnut dumplings
Source: Gourmet Traveller, modified by Melissa Preparation
Fitzgerald, head of IRRI’s Grain Quality, Drain rice, spread out on absorbent paper,
Nutrition, and Postharvest Center. and let stand for 1 hour or until dry.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop prawns with a
Makes about 20 dumplings knife or in a food processor, then transfer
them to a large bowl, add pork, and combine
Ingredients well. Using a mortar and pestle or food
250 g white glutinous rice, soaked in cold processor, make a coarse paste from the
water for 4 hours water chestnuts, ginger, coriander, and
300 g medium green prawns, peeled and green onions. Transfer this paste to the
cleaned prawn and pork mixture, add chilies, kecap
200 g pork mince manis, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt, and
220 g can water chestnuts, drained stir until well combined. Next, add rice
3 cm piece ginger, peeled and chopped flour mixture and egg to bind. Cover and
½ cup coriander (cilantro) leaves refrigerate for 1 hour.
4 spring onions, chopped After refrigeration, use damp hands to
2 teaspoons kecap manis (a sweetened roll prawn and pork mixture into 20 balls of 2
Indonesian soy sauce) cm diameter, then roll each ball in glutinous
1 pinch each of ground cloves and rice to coat. Transfer dumplings to large
cinnamon baking paper-lined bamboo steamers and
1 tablespoon rice flour combined with 1½ steam over boiling water for 15 minutes or
Ariel Javellana

tablespoons water until rice is tender, then serve immediately

1 small egg, lightly beaten with sweet chili sauce.
Sweet chili sauce or plum sauce to serve

36 Rice Today October-December 2007


Where now for the global rice market?

by Mahabub Hossain
Executive director, Bangladesh Price (US$/ton)
Rural Advancement Committee 800


What do the coming years hold for 600 Real price

(in 2005 US$)
the world’s most important grain? 500


everal factors are combining
to slow the growth in demand 200
Normal price
for rice. Rapid urbanization 100
and increases in per capita income,
particularly in the middle- and 1976 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2007
high-income countries of Asia Year
and Latin America, are prompting
Trend in nominal and real prices (adjusted for inflation) of rice in the world market, 1976-2007. Source:
people to diversify their diets,
and successful population control
has reduced population growth
rates in countries such as China, The major increase in demand thus helped to reduce poverty in Asia.
Thailand, and Malaysia. for rice will come from countries in Two contrasting developments
Although growth in demand West Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and may substantially affect the rice
for rice is likely to continue to South America. In many countries in economy in the future. First,
decline, it may be offset by increased these regions, per capita consumption as prosperous rice-growing
rice consumption due to poverty has been increasing rapidly with countries move toward free trade
reduction among low-income rural-urban migration that leads to a in agricultural production, they
households. Growth in production change in food habit from diets based may increasingly find it difficult
may also slow because of the growing on maize or root crops to rice-based to sustain producers’ interest in
scarcity of land, labor, and water. diets. Also, the population continues rice farming. Economic pressure is
Assuming annual population growth to grow quickly, particularly in Africa. likely to move land, water, and labor
of 1–1.5% per year, demand for rice in The international trade in rice away from rice to other activities.
Asia may increase a total 10–15% over has remained limited. About 7% Second, the potential for increased
the next decade. In addition, demand of the world’s rice production is productivity for the irrigated
for rice could increase at 3–4% traded internationally, in contrast ecosystem, created by the dramatic
per year in regions outside Asia. to nearly 18% for wheat and 12% genetic enhancement of seeds in the
An important implication of for coarse grains. The global rice 1960s, has almost been exploited.
growing urbanization is that some market has expanded rapidly, The rainfed ecosystem, which
fertile rice lands must be diverted however, over the past three accounts for about 45% of global
to meet the demand for housing, decades. Average yearly imports rice area, will have to bear the
factories, and roads. Also, as of rice increased from 8.0 million major burden of a future increase
food habits change, markets for tons (4.0% of production) in 1968- in rice production. The potential
vegetables, fruits, and livestock 70 to 27 million tons in 2004-06. for increasing yield in the rainfed
products will grow stronger. After adjusting for inflation, the ecosystem is vast, as yield is now
Thus, there will be economic real price of rice in the world market only 1.5–2.5 tons per hectare.
pressure to reduce the area under in 2006 was about 25% lower than Adequate investment for
rice cultivation to accommodate in 1985 (see figure). The long-term development, validation, and
agricultural diversification in favor decline in the real price of rice has dissemination of appropriate
of higher-value crops. Further, Asia’s contributed to the achievement of technologies, particularly for
expansion of the nonfarm sector and food security, particularly in low- rainfed ecosystems, will be needed
subsequent increased rural-urban income, food-deficit countries in to support farmers’ efforts to
migration are leading to rural labor South and Southeast Asia, where increase rice supplies to match the
shortages and higher rural labor many households spend over half growing demand emanating mostly
wage rates, further discouraging their income on rice. The continuous from the increase in population
labor-intensive rice farming. decline in the real price of rice has in low-income countries.

Rice Today October-December 2007 37

grain of truth

Challenges for rice

production in China
by Shaobing Peng

ice is the staple food for around two-thirds of the Breakdown of irrigation infrastructure. China’s
Chinese people. China ranks first in annual total irrigation infrastructure was established mainly in the 1970s.
rice production (about 185 million tons) and second, Since then, maintenance of existing irrigation systems and
after India, in annual total planting area (29 million building of new facilities have been very limited. Coupled
hectares). The country produces 35% of the world’s rice with with declining freshwater resources, this problem may greatly
20% of the planting area. reduce the area planted to flood-irrigated rice in China.
Rice production in China has more than tripled in the Oversimplified crop management. Because of labor
past five decades mainly due to increased grain yield rather migration and increases in labor wages, decreased labor
than increased planting area. This increase has come from input for rice production has resulted in compromised crop
the development of high-yielding varieties (including hybrid management that may contribute to reduced yields.
varieties) and improved crop management practices such as Weak extension system. Because of insufficient financial
nitrogen fertilization and irrigation. The national average support, many extension workers earn part of their salary
rice yield is about 6.25 tons per hectare compared with the by selling agrochemicals to farmers, which may promote
world average of 3.75 tons per hectare. overuse of fertilizers and pesticides. Furthermore, the
As its population rises, China will need to produce weakness of the system means that improved technologies
about 20% more rice by 2030 to meet may not reach farmers.
domestic needs if rice consumption per Despite t he cha llenges, good
capita stays at the current level. This is
Several problems constrain research strategies can drive increased
not easy—several trends and problems a sustainable increase in r ice produc t ion in China. These
in the Chinese rice production system include
constrain a sustainable increase in total Chinese rice production Increasing yield potential. China
rice production. These include a decline has been at the forefront in attempting
in arable land, increasing water scarcity, climate change, to develop high-yielding semidwarf, hybrid, and new plant
labor shortages, and increasing consumer demand for high- type varieties. Further progress in increasing rice yield
quality rice (often from low-yielding varieties). potential is possible when new breeding techniques, such
The major problems confronting rice production in as marker-aided selection and genetic engineering, are
China are as follows: combined with conventional breeding.
Narrow genetic background. Low genetic diversity in Drought and heat tolerance. Drought and heat stress are
commercially grown rice cultivars has led to vulnerability increasingly important constraints to rice production in China,
to biotic stresses (pests and diseases) and abiotic stresses mostly due to variation in rainfall patterns from year to year,
(such as drought and salinity). The situation is particularly uneven distribution of rainfall in the rice-growing season, and
troublesome in China because 50% of the rice-planting area higher temperatures resulting from climate change. Chinese
is occupied by hybrid rice, which is developed using only a scientists have identified and mapped genes for drought and
few varieties as the female parent. heat tolerance, and are developing new varieties.
Overfertilization. In 2002, the average rate of nitrogen Disease and insect resistance. Huge yield losses occur
(N) fertilizer application for rice production in China was because of biotic stresses every year. Chinese scientists have
180 kilograms per hectare, about 75% higher than the world isolated and cloned from cultivated and wild rice species
average. Only 20–30% of this N is taken up by the rice plant, many genes that contribute to disease and insect resistance,
with a large proportion lost to the environment. In some and have transferred these into local varieties.
cases, overapplication of N fertilizer may actually decrease Integrated crop management. New crop management
grain yield by increasing the plant’s susceptibility to lodging technologies need to be developed using whole-system
(falling over) and damage from pests and diseases. approaches. Synergy among fertilizer, water, and pest
Overuse of pesticides. On average, Chinese rice farmers— management can maximize the overall efficiency of the
who tend to grossly overestimate crop losses caused by pests— production system. Sustainability of the rice production system
are overusing pesticides by more than 40%. In many cases, can be maintained only when the natural resource base is
overuse of pesticides actually contributes to pest outbreaks protected and the health of the rice ecosystem is maximized.
because it reduces the biodiversity of rice ecosystems, killing
natural predators of pests as well as the pests themselves. Dr. Peng is a senior crop physiologist at IRRI.

38 Rice Today October-December 2007