Hybrid rice production declining in Asia

By Jojo de Guzman

Malaya, March 2, 2007



SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ, Nueva Ecija — The East Asia Rice Working Group (EARWG) revealed that hybrid rice production in some parts of Asia – most notably in China where the "hybrid vigor", or heterosis, was first noted in the mid-1960s – have waned over the past decade.


At the same time, EARWG claimed that a number of Filipino farmers, who were disappointed over the poor performance of the hybrid rice varieties they acquired, are starting to reject it at the rate of 80 percent each planting season since they started adopting it in 1998.


These developments were contained in two reports presented last week by EARWG,a network of non-government organizations and civil society groups working on rice and rice trade issues in the region that includes rice advocacy group Rice Watch Action Network (R1) at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) here.


In a research paper entitled "From Rice is Life to Rice is Profit"conducted by Elenita Dano for EARWG, the study showed the drop in yield in hybrid rice varieties in China, Vietnam, East Timor and Indonesia. The Philippine experience, on the other hand, was expounded in R1’s separate work "Impact Assessment of Hybrid Rice Technology and Hybrid Rice Commercialization Program on the Community and National Seed System of the Philippines".


Dano said: "The field performance of hybrid rice varieties in China showed an average of 6.9 tons only per hectare, way below the target average yield of 10.5 tons per hectare by 2000 and 12 tons per hectare by 2005."


Dano said, "it is ironic that the decline (in production area) in China came when it launched the super hybrid rice cultivation program in 2003, when the country’s harvest areas fell to about 26.8 million has. It went up slightly to 29.4 million has. in 2004, but that was still below the 30.5 million has. in 1991." In 1992, hybrid rice production in China covered about 58 percent of the country’s agricultural area with an average production of 15 million to 18 million tons.


Chinese farm scientists started researching on hybrid rice heterosis, rice vigor, in 1964, "while the Green Revolution was raging in the rest of the region."


The development of hybrid rice in China encouraged the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which initiated the Green Revolution, to collaborate with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Scientists (CAAS) and organized training courses on hybrid rice technology in 1980.


As for Vietnam, farmers were awed finding that the resulting yield "generally surpassed that of inbred varieties" when they first ventured in hybrid rice production in 1979. But the Vietnamese were allowed only 20 percent of their hybrid rice seeds, the other 80 percent, or around 10,000 to 12,000 tons, were from China. The China hybrid rice seed varieties, aside from the Vietnamese farmers’ claim of being prone to various pest and diseases, came out with poor-tasting grain, which disappointed them later.


Now the average production in Vietnam was placed at 6.3 tons per hectare in 2003, but it dropped to 6.04 tons per hectare in 2004, the report said.


Indonesia started planting hybrid rice in 1981 but because of lack of technical skills and lack of funding, only 1,500 farmers participated in the program on a government alloted 50,000 has. of farmlands. The country did not show significant performance except for the five hybrid rice seed varieties they developed locally.


Dano explained there was no formal introduction of hybrid rice technology in East Timor being a relatively new country but a "negligible portion of its agricultural land is irrigated" which they devoted to hybrid rice farming.




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