Rice gives hope
Does he have the solution to hunger in his hands?
Scientists have bred a perennial rice plant that can greatly simplify rice cultivation.
Chinese agricultural engineer Fengyi Hu helps develop a new rice variety.
Silvia ChoiCommunity Editor
Rice is a staple food in many parts of the world. But farming is labor-intensive: every year, rice growers bend over for weeks and plant each seedling separately. So international biologists and agronomists have been searching for a lasting contrast for decades.
Biologists from Yunnan University of China made such an alternative available to southern Chinese farmers for cultivation at the beginning of 2018. The new strain called Perennial Rice 23 (perennial rice 23) comes from the crossbreeding of an Asian rice species with a variety of African wild rice.
The American trade journal Science is now publishing a study led by Chinese geneticist and agronomist Fengyi Hu, showing the results of the crop. It offers hope: Biennial yields of PR23 plants over five years showed a yield slightly more than traditional annual rice for four years: 8.8 tons per hectare – before the harvest collapsed in the fifth year and farmers were forced to plant new plants.
Less labor, less water, lower costs
Compared to annual rice, PR23 requires less fertilizer due to more nutrients remaining in the soil. Deep roots also retain more water in the soil, which prevents erosion.
Perennial rice also provides financial advantages to farmers: the cost of gasoline for plowing and seedlings is the same as for conventional rice in the first year: the equivalent of about 2,600 francs per hectare. In the following years, financial expenditures were cut by more than half. Farmers also save labor time: one hectare needs 68 to 77 fewer days to plant in the following years.
The only drawback: due to less intensive management, insects reproduce more quickly – and it remains to be seen whether PR23 needs more pesticides.
So the good news in general. What the study didn’t say was whether the rice tasted better, too. However, given the looming shortage of food, this is probably insignificant.
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