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Research guarantees adequate rice supplies
China Daily
With rice making up nearly 40 per cent of the country's grain supply, China intends to make continuous advances in the research and development of high-yield rice technology, experts said.
"Rice fields account for up to 28 per cent of China's arable land, but the strain contributes 38-40 per cent of the country's total grain output," said Hu Peisong with the National Rice Research Institute in East China's Zhejiang Province.
In 2003, for example, rice fields represented 26.6 per cent of the country's total arable land, but they produced 160.65 million tons of rice, or 37 per cent of the total grain output in the year, indicated Ministry of Agriculture statistics.
"It is safe to say rice is of overriding importance in ensuring adequate food supply in China," Hu said.
Severe situation
The production of just 160.65 million tons in 2003, however, was the lowest point in China's rice production in more than a decade, said data from the ministry's information centre.
The situation was exacerbated between 1998 and 2003, when rice production had fallen behind demand for five years in a row, according to Hu.
During that period, rice yields had plummeted by an appalling 20 per cent, he said.
The scenario largely stemmed from the country's ever shrinking area reserved for rice strains, coupled with falling per-unit yield, he said.
For instance, farmland under rice stretched to 31.21 million hectares in 1998. The figure dropped to 26.5 million hectares last year.
Rice per-unit yield, on the other hand, fell from 6.4 tons per hectare to 6 tons per hectare, according to the ministry statistics.
Partly due to the straining supply-demand relations, rice prices have been edging up, Hu said.
In August, the price of Indica rice (or Hsien, dominant in the south) jumped year-on-year by 60 per cent, while japonica rice (or Keng, widely planted in the north) went up by 48 per cent.
Way out
"China's rice-planting area will inevitably decline in the future, but the country's growing population will have an in increasing demand for both quality and quantity," said Zhai Huqu, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
To continuously improve the per-unit yield through scientific research is the primary solution to guaranteeing China's food supply, he said in an article published in the Science and Technology Training of Farmers magazine earlier this year.
In fact, Chinese scientists and technicians have been making unremitting efforts to breed new strains of hybrid rice with higher yields, better quality and considerable ability to resist pests and disease, Hu said.
With support from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture instigated a massive R & D project of "Super Rice" in 1996. It has been ranked as a key national programme ever since.
Under the programme, the Super Rice project unfolds in three stages.
The yield target for the first stage in the 1996-2000 period is 10.5 tons a hectare, and for the second phase in 2001-2005, the output goal is 12 tons per hectare on demonstration plots.
In the five years leading up to 2010, Chinese scientists anticipate super rice will be able to produce 13.5 tons per hectare, according to Yuan Longping, who is known as the "Father of Hybrid Rice."
The country's average of 6.5 tons per hectare for conventional strains pales in comparison.
"China has so far cultivated a dozen super crop breeds," said Hu. "On test fields, they yield rice of up to 12 tons a hectare."
The 12 strains of the super crop had been used in 7.5 million hectares of farmland between 1998 and 2003, increasing rice output by 750 kilograms for each hectare, said Hu.
Zhang Fengtong, director of the ministry's Department of Science and Technology, said in early September the high-yielding super rice will be expanded to 4 million hectares of farmland next year, up by 25 per cent compared with the acreage sown with the super strain in 2004.
The ministry plans to have at least one-third of the country's total rice paddies planted with super rice in five years, according to ministry sources. Thirty additional strains of super rice will be planted in large commercial areas with undesirable conditions and for different planting seasons, the ministry sources said.
Quality not compromised
The high-yield capacity of super rice does not compromise its quality, Hu said. The Zhongjian-2 breed developed by Hu's institute, for example, is the best Indica rice certified by the Rice Testing Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture.
It is on a par with top rice brands in the world, and has the special fragrance of the well-known Thai variety of KDML105, according to Hu.
Rice yielded by other super rice breeds, like Liaogeng 371 and Shennong 8714, have been all rated first-class by the Ministry of Agriculture, he said.
MGR Archive 6.10.2004
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