By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Colombo, November 14 (Ceylon Today): China concluded an important International Forum on Hybrid Rice Assistance and Global Food Security in Beijing last weekend, where the focus was on China’s hybrid rice varieties that could revolutionize global food production and ensure food security.
Virtually addressing the Forum Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena expressed deep appreciation to the People’s Republic of China and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who chaired the Forum for the efforts taken on behalf of the people of the world who are affected by the food scarcity. Pointing out that, such forums go a long way to enhance efforts towards food security through coordinated action, he expressed confidence that the forum would come up with useful plans that would ensure global food security and speed up achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
China’s partnership towards food security in Sri Lanka has a long history as Rubber-Rice Agreement between the two countries were signed way back in 1952, even before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The Prime Minister recalled how the socialist leaders of Sri Lanka fought for the recognition of China, which was resisted by the pro-British government which ruled the country after independence in 1948. The socialist leaders used every available forum to highlight this demand.
The leader of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) Phillip Gunawardena, who attended the Fourth Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Regional Meeting for Asia and the Far East, held in Tokyo in 1959 as Minister of Agriculture and Food, urged the FAO to grant membership to China. He ridiculed the West-dominated FAO for denying membership to China. “This Conference is being held without China, the biggest producer of rice in the world. Considering that Ceylon earnestly proposes to FAO to have China as a full member”.
As the ‘Lion of Boralugoda’ said in his thundering voice, it was meaningless to discuss food security without involving China, the biggest producer of rice and innovator of hybrid rice varieties to increase the global food production.
Increasing rice yield is crucial for solving the food crisis, ensuring food security, and reducing poverty. Chinese scientists have succeeded in producing high-yielding varieties of rice and their introduction to other countries will definitely help those nations to reach self-sufficiency in rice, leading to food security.
Addressing the Forum in Beijing on Saturday (12), Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China would provide its hybrid rice technology and hybrid rice varieties to developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America so that they could increase rice production and achieve food security targets.
Chinese scientists commenced experiments on hybrid rice in the mid- 1960s and a decade later, succeeded in creating new varieties of rice. It was estimated that the development of hybrid rice varieties, which have been reported to out-yield inbred rice varieties by about 10 per cent, is necessary for ensuring China’s food security. Hybrid rice helped China to increase rice production by 200 million metric tons from 1976 to 1991.
It has been proved practically on a large scale that hybrid rice has a yield advantage of more than 30 percent over conventional rice varieties. Current research in China indicates that the yield potential of hybrid rice can be increased by improving breeding methodology and increasing the degree of heterosis.Existing hybrid rice varieties used commercially in China are inter-varietal hybrids produced by the cytoplasmic genetic male sterility (CMS) system. The CMS system is the most effective genetic tool in hybrid rice breeding.
Chinese rice scientists have been exploring new technological approaches and the results are promising. Some of them out-yielded the best existing hybrids by 10-30 percent.
However, the agricultural area where hybrid rice is grown has decreased by 25 percent (about 5 million ha) in China since 1995. It was found that the decreasing hybrid rice production area was caused not only by technological factors but also by socio-economic factors; and the decreased area under hybrid rice production does not lead to additional pressure on increasing crop yields from either hybrid or inbred rice production.
Extensive research on and the development of hybrid rice in China have clearly demonstrated its usefulness in significantly increasing rice yields beyond the levels of improved semi-dwarf varieties. Hybrid rice is currently planted on a 9 million ha area in China. Several International Rice Research Institute-bred (IRRI) cultivars are used as male parents of commercial varieties. Research at IRRI and in several collaborating countries shows that hybrids have yields 15-20 percent higher than those of the best semi-dwarf varieties. Hybrid varieties suitable for other countries are still in the pipeline. In addition to higher yield, heterotic rice hybrids show higher productivity, adaptability to certain stress environments, and better utilization of applied nitrogen fertilizers.
A number of cytoplasmic male sterile (CMS) lines developed and used in China are not adoptable outside China for lack of adequate disease and insect resistance and acceptable grain quality. Several CMS lines developed at IRRI are now being evaluated in collaborating countries. Both China and IRRI are involved in research to diversify CMS sources, to prevent genetic vulnerability problems in hybrid varieties.
Use of hybrid rice developed by China in Sri Lanka will be another area of cooperation between the two countries. Today, with the speedy development and growth witnessed in China, the relationship have further enhanced between China and Sri Lanka in economic, trade, investment, cultural and social spheres as well as people-to-people friendship bonds.
Prime Minister Gunawardena said in his video address, China’s success in eradication of poverty, rural upliftment and ensuring food security has been exemplary. “Sri Lanka wishes to thank your magnanimous contributions to the efforts of my country as well as other developing nations towards achieving food security,” he concluded.