New super rice strains with an expected yield of 14.9 metric tons per hectare will help China maintain its largely self-sufficient supply of rice, a staple food for more than 60 percent of its population, over the next few decades, experts said.
Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu launched on Tuesday a scientific research project in Hainan province to develop new super rice strains.
The project, which will be undertaken by agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, known as the "father of hybrid rice" for developing the first hybrid rice varieties in the 1970s, will realize its target within five to eight years, according to the ministry.
"New super rice strains with high yields will be mainly cultivated in northeastern China and major rice-producing regions along the Yangtze River, such as Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu provinces," said Cheng Shihua, head of the China National Rice Research Institute, which is also participating in the project.
Besides harvest yields, the taste of rice and its resistances to pests and diseases will be considered when new super rice strains are developed, he said.
Research on super hybrid rice began in 1996 as part of China's major efforts to ensure food security. So far, the country has approved 108 varieties of super rice strains, according to the ministry.
China recorded a grain output of more than 589 million tons in 2012, the ninth consecutive year of increased grain harvests, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Officials and experts believed large-scale planting of hybrid rice contributed greatly to the country's bumper grain harvests.
At present, there are 17 million planted hectares of hybrid rice in China, 58 percent of the country's rice fields, said Yuan Longping during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2013 in Boao, Hainan province on Monday.
Another 4.7 million hectares of hybrid rice have been planted overseas, he said.
A gain of 150 million tons of rice could be expected if half of the world's current rice fields are planted with hybrid rice, which could feed an additional 400 to 500 million people, he predicted.
China's super rice realized a target unit yield of 10.5 tons a hectare in 2000 and 12 tons in 2005, according to the ministry.
In 2011, the DH2525 rice breed yielded 13.8 tons a hectare during a trial planting in Longhui county, Hunan province.
Another super rice breed called Yongyou 12 produced a harvest of 14.38 tons a hectare at an 8.5-hectare demonstration base in Ningbo, Zhejiang province last year.
Thanks to the planting of hybrid rice, the average rice yield in China reached 6.7 tons a hectare in 2012, much higher than the world's unit yield of 4 tons, Cheng said.
(China Daily 04/11/2013 page3)