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China to Raise Grain Output by Popularizing "Super Rice"

China is hoping to raise grain output by adding more sown acreage of hybrid rice, or "super rice" as it is often referred to in the country, to halt the fall in per-hectare yield of cropland in the country and eventually hike it up notably.

China's total rice output has been falling since 1999, along with a drop in the per-hectare yield of rice paddies, said Cheng Shihua, head of the China Rice Research Institute.

"Therefore, growing rice output will be of vital significance to safeguarding the grain security of China and of the world at large," said Cheng at a recent symposium on super rice cultivating technology held in Qionghai, a city in southern Hainan island province.

Rice has remained a staple food for over 60 percent of China's population and accounts for 40 percent of the country's total cereals consumption. The concept of hybrid rice, or "super rice" was first set forth by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines.

Since IRRI proposed hybrid rice with the per hectare yield of 12 tons to be reaped by 2000, various rice producing nations the world over have been vying with each other in announcing their respective super rice research plans.

China has been the most successful with its super rice research scheme, noted Cheng.

The Chinese ministries of agriculture, and science and technology launched a two-phase rice research program with the participation of Chinese research workers from more than 20 agricultural organizations in 1996.

In line with the scheme, super rice strains with a per hectare yield of 10.5 tons should have been developed by 2000, while hybrid rice strains with a 12-ton yield would be developed by 2005.

By now, Chinese rice specialists have acquired the hereditary theory about hybrid high yield rice and have so far developed nine new super rice strains, plus a dozen hybrid rice varieties with super high yields.

And the aggregated sown acreage of new hybrid rice strains totaled some 7.47 million hectares in China over the past five years, and the experiments have proved that there is an average 10 percent rise in yield by using hybrid rice seed than the ordinary ones, noted Cheng.

The sown grain acreage was stabilized around 110 million hectares in China in about two decades from 1978 to 1999, but its grain production capability rose from 300 million tons to 500 million tons thanks to increases in per-hectare yields.

Hybrid rice, which contributed tremendously to China's successful efforts to provide its 1.3 billion people with enough food, has been widely sown across China since 1970s. The maximum per-hectare yield was 6.3 tons in 1999, about 2.55 tons more than the world's per-hectare average, but has kept falling in recent years and was 6 tons in 2003.

Yuan Longping, the chief expert with China's super hybrid rice scheme, said that they had built 30 demonstration stretches of arable land, each having 6.7 hectares, where they sow new hybrid rice strains with the hope of achieving a per-hectare yield of 12 tons.

While saying that sowing new hybrid rice strains on the 6.7-hectare demonstration stretches of farmland is a substantial step to spread the strains before such hybrid rice is sown to more acreage Long said he was confident of attaining the goal of getting super rice with the hectare potential amounting to 12 tons ready ahead of the schedule.

On all the 13.3 million hectares of arable land under hybrid rice, 2.25 tons more rice will be reaped on each hectare of land. And the aggregated amount of the increased rice alone will be enough to feed approximately 75 million people, said Long.

(Xinhua News Agency April 21, 2004)

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