Experts push hybrid rice to solve soaring food prices

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MANILA: Hybrid rice, produced commercially by crossing different varieties to attain higher yields, could hold the key to resolving a looming food crisis, the International Rice Research Institute said Tuesday.

The Philippines-based centre said it was teaming up with biotechnology firms to bolster the development of hybrids to ease pressure on rising rice prices.

We have before us a world in which we see rice prices increasing dramatically, IRRI chief Robert Zeigler said in a statement.

Since rice is the food of the world s poor, any increase in the price of rice has a serious impact on those poor.

There is no question that we need technologies that will improve the productivity of rice and certainly hybrid rice is at or near the top of the list of technologies.

Pioneered by China, the world s top rice producer and consumer, hybrids are bred by crossing three genetically different varieties to produce a rice plant that grows faster and produces yields of up to 20 percent higher.

The downside is that farmers need to buy new seeds to plant every year, which raises costs, because seeds saved from the previous hybrid crop have inconsistent yields. Grain quality can sometimes be a problem, IRRI said.

Traditional rice varieties by contrast are self-pollinating, so the seeds from every harvest can be used again in the next planting season.

IRRI experts say rice prices have risen close to historical levels since 2005 because population growth has outpaced the dramatic yield growth produced by scientific breakthroughs, known as the Green Revolution, in the 1970s.

More than half of China s rice farms, which began breeding hybrids in 1926, are dedicated to hybrid rice, helping produce a world-leading yield of more than six tons per hectare (2.47 acres), IRRI said.

IRRI also said it has formed a consortium to speed up development of hybrid rice technologies and their distribution to farmers in Asia.

Called the Hybrid Rice Research and Development Consortium, it includes 19 private-sector biotech firms and 15 public sector institutions from China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Certainly, the success of hybrid rice in China is well known, Zeigler said.

And the potential for hybrid rice to have an impact across the rest of the rice-growing world is something that we all believe is real. -AFP

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