A Shanghai research center has developed the world's first hybrid rice capable of producing high yields in dry areas.
The drought-resistant rice needs 50 percent less water than normal rice and can produce as much as 7,571 kilograms of rice per hectare, about the same as ordinary rice.
"We are to send it to the Ministry of Agriculture for final testing. Hopefully it will start being widely planted in 2006," said Luo Lijun, director of the Shanghai Agrobiological Gene Center.
While a few drought-resistant varieties of rice have been around since ancient times, yields are usually low. At present, these varieties are planted in only 13 percent of all rice fields in the world and 1 percent of those in China.
However, the country is facing an increase in dry weather patterns. North China averages a 60 percent chance of spring drought, while the odds are 40 percent south of the Yangtze River.
Later in the year, that number climbs to 70 percent in the northeast, where autumn droughts are frequent. "Regional or seasonal droughts have greatly reduced rice production every year," said Luo.
The per-capita availability of water in China is about one-quarter of the world's average, at about 2,400 tons, placing the country 109th in the world.
This lack of water results in losses of approximately 200 billion yuan (US$24 billion) every year.
Agriculture accounts for about 80 percent of total water usage, and 70 percent of that is for rice. "We are hoping that drought-resistant rice will be widely planted to alleviate the country's serious lack of water," said Luo.
Experts say that the country's growing population will need about 3 trillion kilograms of rice per year by 2030. China now produces less than 2 trillion kilograms.
(China Daily October 22, 2004)