Food Security and Hybrid Rice
25th Anniversary Essay by 1996 Wold Food Prize Laureate Dr. Gurdev Singh Khush
Rice is the essential food security crop. During the last twenty five years, the most important breakthroughs for developing countries’ food security have been the creation of hybrid rice in China, a new plant type at IRRI, and NERICA rices at WARDA. Now, half of China’s rice is a hybrid variety, bringing in yield advantages of 10-15%. Most of the rice-growing countries in Asia now have research programs to develop hybrids suitable for their local growing conditions. Outside of China, areas allocated to growing hybrid rice remain limited, but continued research on this technology will result in yields-raising hybrids and increased rice production.
The New Plant type (NPT) developed at IRRI has a yield advantage of 10-15% over other high-yielding rice varieties. Several NPT varieties have been released in Philippines, Indonesia and China. Stimulated by IRRI’s NPT breeding program, China established a nationwide mega project on the development of super rice. Numerous super rice varieties have been developed by Chinese breeders. NERICA rices have also been adopted in several African countries and paved the way for further improvements in rice yield potential in Africa.
In the next twenty-five years, future breakthroughs in food security will come through the application of advances in molecular biology and genomics, which will lead to increased crop productivity. The focus will be on improving photosynthesis, improvement and regulation of rubisco, introduction of C4-like traits (such as CO2-concentrating mechanisms), and identification of genes/QTLs for efficient mobilization and loading of photosynthates from source to sink. With these implementations in place, crop varieties will become more resilient to changing climate.