Seeds of hope: China's hybrid rice yields fruitful crops in Pakistan

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Muhammad Ashfaq, an assistant professor of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences of the University of the Punjab, took over 2,000 samples of rice leaves newly picked from the pilot field in the university to central China's Wuhan University, on Sept. 14. 

Covering the samples with dry ice to keep them fresh, Ashfaq saw to their expedited delivery to the lab of Wuhan University.

Honglian type hybrid rice is planted in Pakistan. [Photo provided by Muhammad Ashfaq]

The samples of rice leaves were crucial materials for examining the quality of Honglian type hybrid rice planted in the University of the Punjab.

Honglian type hybrid rice, invented by Wuhan University in 1972 and recognized as one of the three kinds of cytoplasmic male sterility hybrid rice worldwide, has been instrumental in international agricultural cooperation and aid. 

With a high yield, strong adaptability, and high-temperature resistance, the hybrid rice is suitable to be planted in Belt and Road partner countries in hot climates and facing frequent plant diseases and insect pests. 

Cultivating seeds 

In 2019, Zhu Renshan, a professor of Wuhan University, traveled to the University of Punjab for cooperation on researching high-temperature resistant genes, promoting rice planting technologies, as well as improving the quality of the rice. 

That year, Ashfaq planted Honglian hybrid rice and saw that its yield was 12.5% higher than that of the best local type. 

Professor Zhu Renshan (L) from Wuhan University and Muhammad Ashfaq (C), an assistant professor from the University of the Punjab, examines the trial results of Honglian hybrid rice in 2019. [Photo provided by Wuhan University]

In 2020, the Wuhan University-University of the Punjab Joint Research Center of Honglian Type Hybrid Rice was launched, and the joint research project received state-level support and recognition the next year. 

The research teams on both sides published research papers that drew wide attention in the world's agricultural field. 

Expecting to see the seed field in person, Ashfaq decided to go on a field trip in Wuhan University to learn more about the new type. 

Standing in front of the 1,200 mu (about 80 hectares) of the newest Luohongyou 1564 rice field, Ashfaq said in exhilaration that the high plants with rich rice ear suggest high yield. 

Muhammad Ashfaq (R), an assistant professor of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences of the University of the Punjab, visits a seed field in Luotian, Hubei province, on Sept. 19, 2023. [Photo/Hubei Daily]

It turned out the Luohongyou 1564 seed can yield 700 kilograms of rice per mu. Ashfaq could not wait to share the information with his colleagues in Pakistan, hoping to plant the new type in Pakistan in large scale. 

During the past five years, the research center advanced trial planting and promotion of Honglian hybrid rice in Pakistan through building bases as well as organizing meetings and training programs. The rice type has attracted great interest from local farmers, seed companies, and governments. 

The research team of Wuhan University is now working on improving Honglian hybrid rice's resistance to bacterial leaf blight, in a bid to cultivate more robust and adaptive type of rice for Pakistan. 

In the past decade, China has delivered more than 1,500 agricultural technologies including hybrid rice to Belt and Road partner countries. 

Apart from Pakistan, a number of Belt and Road partner countries have benefited from Honglian hybrid rice. More than 70% of hybrid rice imported to the Philippines from China are the Honglian type. African countries including Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya, and Chad conducted trial cultivation of Honglian hybrid rice and the yields exceed more than 85% of that of African local species. 

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