Hybrid rice technology for global food security

by Krishibid Md. Shahjahan Ali


Food security covers both the availability of food at the household level as well as access in terms of purchasing power. Most people who are undernourished either cannot produce enough food or cannot afford to buy it. Reduction and elimination of poverty is therefore an integral part of the provision of sustainable global food security.

The paradox is that despite the increasing availability of food, there are about 840 million people, or 13 per cent of the global population, who are food-insecure. These people are among the 4.5 billion inhabitants of the developing countries, in Asia (48 per cent), Africa (35 per cent) and Latin America (17per cent). Of these 840 million, at least 200 million are malnourished children. It is also paradoxical that food insecurity is so prevalent at a time when global food prices are generally in decline. World cereal production doubled between 1960 and 1990, per capita food production increased 37 per cent, calories supplied increased 35 per cent, and real food prices fell by almost 50 per cent. The basic cause of the paradox is the intrinsic linkage between poverty and food security. Simply put, people’s access to food depends on income.

Poverty is both a rural and an urban phenomenon. Over 1.3 billion people in developing countries are absolutely poor, with incomes of US$ I per day or less per person, while another 2 billion people are only marginally better off. Malnutrition kills 40,000 people each day. Children and women are most vulnerable to dietary deficiencies, with 125 million children affected by Vitamin A deficiency. Many of the poor today live in the low potential rural areas of the world. With increasing urbanisation, a higher proportion of poor people will be living in the cities of the developing countries.

The population in Asia is projected to continue to grow at about 1.4 per cent per year between 1990 and 2020. In South and Southeast Asia alone, the combined population is projected to increase by about 66 per cent, or by 1..3 billion people between the two periods. The rate of increase in rice production is slowing down, however, and if the trend is not reversed, severe food shortages will occur in the 21st century. According to an estimate, 880 million tons of rice will be required to feed the world population in 2025 compared with the 554 million tons needed in 1995.

The rate of increase of the urban population in the developing countries will be approximately six-fold that of rural areas. Ensuring their access to sufficient nutritious food at affordable prices is also an important component of global food security strategies.

Each year the global population climbs by an estimated 90 million people. This means, at the very least, the world’s farmers will have to increase food production by more than 50per cent to feed some two billion more people by 2020. But the numbers don’t tell the full story. The challenge confronting the world is far more intricate than simply producing more food, because global conditions are very different than they were on the eve of the Green Revolution.

To prevent crisis the world community must confront the issues of:

• Poverty 

• Food 

• Insecurity 

• Environmental degradation 

• Erosion of genetic resources

Food production is a necessary but not sufficient condition for food security. Focusing on improving the livelihood of small holder farmers in developing countries is key to environmental protection, poverty reduction, and food security. The need is to produce differently, not for produce less.

The food production increases over the past 40 years have been achieved by increasing productivity of cereals, expanding the area of arable land, and massive increases in fertiliser, pesticides and water uses.

Agricultural research needs to respond to both of these challenges, so as to improve the livelihood of the rural poor and ensure the increased availability of nutritious food at affordable prices for the urban poor.

Food security is a complex issue that involves:

• Not just production, but also access

• Not just output, but also process

• Not just technology, but also policy

• Not just global, but also national

• Not just national, but also household

• Not just rural, but also urban

• Not just amount, but also content

The key element in improving food security during 1970-90 was government policies reflecting a belief that investments in improving agricultural productivity were a prerequisite for initiating the process of economic development. Both the public and private sectors of the international community supported these policies. The successful implementation of these policies led to the Green Revolution.

In the Green Revolution attention was given to the following issues:


• Technology transfer

• Human resource development 

• Appropriate provision of credit 

• Supply and distribution of inputs (seed, water, fertiliser, pesticides) 

• Appropriate pricing policies for inputs and outputs; 

* Infrastructure

The scientific basis for the Green Revolution stems from joint national and international research programmes, which led to the development and distribution of new, high-yielding varieties (HYVs), primarily of wheat and rice. These varieties gave improved yields, especially when gown in favourable environments with the use of adequate fertiliser, water and pesticides, and adoption of proper crop management practices.

Over the next 50 years, global food demand is likely to double due to both population and income growth. Increased income will change patterns of consumption in developing countries, raising demand for vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, and edible oils. Therefore the need to boost food production, while protecting the natural resources on which future food production depends, is urgent.

There is very little additional arable land in the world that is not highly erodible, subject to desertification, or forested. To increase agricultural production by expanding the area planted would require massive clearing of forests, resulting in the loss of wildlife habitats, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration capacity. These outcomes are all environmentally unacceptable. The only sustainable course is to enhance the productivity of cultivated land by using each hectare to the fullest, based on environmentally sound technologies.

Almost three decades ago, the world faced a global food shortage that experts predicted would lead to catastrophic famines. That danger was averted because a group of public and private development agencies created a network of international agricultural research centres and a unique alliance, CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), to support the countries.

In what came to be known as the Green Revolution, CGIAR scientists found ways to increase the yields of some of the world’s most important food crops, and the world’s farmers put the innovations to use.

As the new millennium began, the world is facing another food crisis that is just as dangerous - but much more complex than the one it confronted thirty years ago.

Rice is an important commodity in the issue of food security in Asia. Food security in rice refers to the adequacy of its availability, the stability of its supply, and the stability access to the commodity. For food security in rice requires that the supply of rice be able to keep up with the demands of the growing population.

An estimated one in every three people depends on rice for at least half of their daily meals, so rice research remains crucial. Scientists at the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) believe another 40 per cent increase in rice yields is needed by 2020 to avoid food shortage in many nations. 

Much work is being done at IRRI to develop a new plant type capable of substantially out-yielding the existing MVs (Modem Varieties). Also in IRRI and in other research centres, the genetic potential of rice is being harnessed by using biotechnological tools. 

By 2020, rice production will have to increase by 60 per cent to maintain the current level of per capita rice availability from local production. This is a monumental task because the average land-use intensity in Bangladesh has already reached about 180 per cent, perhaps the highest in the world. 

Major increases in rice production have occurred during the past 30 years because of the large-scale adoption of high-yielding semi-dwarf varieties, cropping intensification, expansion of irrigated area, increased nutrient inputs, and improved crop management practices. 

The increased demand for rice will have to be met with less land, less water, less labour, and less pesticide. Achieving self-sufficiency in rice production and maintaining price stability are important political objectives in low-income countries where rice is an important crop in providing food security and generating employment and income for the rural poor shifting yield frontier in rice is an important research goal for rice scientists around the world. 

Agriculture being the principal source of income and livelihood for the vast majority of the population where 68 percent of the civilian labour force are engaged in agriculture under a land-scarce situation, a poverty-conscious agricultural development strategy aimed at poverty alleviation goals should target technology-based investment to improve the productivity of crops and ecosystems. 

Food security has been and will remain a major concern for Bangladesh. Rice is the major cereal crop being grown widely and it is the main staple food for the people of Bangladesh. It is not only a rice growing country but also a rice-eating people. Rice is not only the foremost staple food, it also provides nearly 40 per cent of total national employment ( 48 per cent of total rural employment), about two-thirds of total calorie supply and about one-half of the total protein intake of an average person in the country. The rice production system in Bangladesh has undergone immense change during the past three decades. The Green Revolution in rice ushered in a period of substantial growth, which resulted in the near doubling of rice production between 1971-72 and 1995-96. But per capita rice production has increased only marginally because of continued population growth at a relatively high rate during the period. 

By 2020, rice production will have to increase by 60 per cent to maintain the current level of per capita rice availability from local production. This is a monumental task because the average land-use intensity in Bangladesh has already reached about 180 per cent, perhaps the highest in the world. Furthermore, agricultural land is increasingly being diverted to other uses such as housing, roads, and industrial development. To be sustainable future production must be achieved with less land less labour, and less water, with no harm done to natural environment. Against this backdrop, the challenge for Bangladesh is indeed enormous and only the application of the most appropriate strategies will lead to success. 

Bangladesh with the area of 147570 skm has 9.72 million hectare (ha) arable land (67.5 per cent of the total land area). Since rice is grown in three seasons: winter ( Boro), Summer (Aus), and autumn (Aman), about 10.1 million ha of land is covered with rice. 

After establishment of the BRRI (Bangladesh, Rice Research Institute) in 1970, research was concentrated on development of HYV/MVs (High Yielding Varieties/Modem Varieties ) with shorter duration. By now 40 modern rice varieties have been released whose field duration varies from 140- 170 days. Growth rate in rice is 2.2 per cent, which is higher than estimated population growth rate of 1.8 per cent in the 1990. 

MVs cover about 95 per cent of the rice area in Boro season, about 39 per cent in the T.aman season, Rice production increased from 10 million tons in 1972-73 to 19.9 million tons in 1998-99 with a record production of 22.734 million tons in 1999-2000. 

Even with this declining growth rate the population is projected to increase by another 50 per cent at the first quarter of the 21st century from 120 million in 1995 to 180 million by 2025. Under this scenario of population growth, agriculture sector will have much more pressure due to declining land area. Therefore, growth in production must increase from 2.6 per cent to 3.6 per cent per year. To produce 50 million tones of clean rice by 2020, the yield should increase to 5.5 tons per ha compared to 2.8 tons per ha compared to 2.8 tons per ha at present.

BRRI inbred lines have the yield potential of 7 tons per ha but the gap between potential and actual production is very wide due to several a biotic, biotic and management factors. 

Productivity in Boro season (2.62 ton/ha) is higher than in other seasons but natural calamity prior to harvesting season offsets the total production plan. However, from 11.9 million tons food grain in 1973-74, production has gone up to 22.734 million tons in 2000. Despite the steady and significant progress made in rice production over the past 30 years, the recent yield level is plateau. Without further developments in technology, achievement of desired growth rate would be very difficult. 

China first developed and demonstrated the use of hybrid rice technology to increase rice production. In China, research on hybrid rice began in 1964. The first set of commercial rice hybrid was released in 1976 (after 12 years of research). The use of hybrid rice technology is a proven success story in China. Hybrid rice now occupies about 16 million hectares or 50 per cent of the total rice area being cultivated with hybrid rice resulting in increased total production and productivity per unit area. It contributes about 18 million tons of extra paddy annually to China's grain production. The average yield of hybrid rice in China currently contributes about 20 per cent for global rice production. 

The successful experience with hybrid rice technology in China encouraged the IRRI in 1979 to explore prospect and problems of hybrid rice in increasing rice yields. By 1982 results were encouraging and the countries (India, Indonesia, and the Republic of Korea) established collaboration with IRRI to carry out research. Subsequently, several other countries also initiated research on hybrid rice either on their own or in collaboration with IRRI. Seventeen countries are now engaged in hybrid rice research and development. 

Hybrid rice technology has helped China increase its rice production significantly during the last two decades. Research at the IRRI as well as at the national level in several countries of the region indicate the same success can be enjoyed elsewhere. 

During last 17 year, IRRI has helped to develop hybrid rice technology for the tropics. Currently, hybrid rice research is in progress in 17 countries and 13 of them have formal or informal collaboration with IRRI. India, Vietnam and Philippines have started commercialising hybrid rice and targeted it to cover more than 2.5 million ha by year 2000. 

Certain characteristic features of rice hybrids such as better seedling tolerance for low temperature, faster tillering, early vegetative vigour, and a better root system make them more adaptable to the Boro season. Perhaps this is why hybrid rice has shown a domestic yield advantage over inbred rice in on-farm demonstration-cum-yields trials in the Boro season. 

In addition to increase to increase average yield, hybrid rice provide more skilled jobs in seed production in rural areas and improve crop management practices at the farmer level. In the future, interest in hybrid rice technology is likely to increase. But plant breeders will face the challenge of developing a large number of CMS (Cytoplasmic Make sterile) lines. 

Research in India, Philippines and Vietnam has already resulted in the development of commercial rice hybrids with yields of one ton-ha more than the semi-dwarf varieties on farm. 

The economic study on hybrid rice conducted in China, India, and the Philippines has showed that hybrid rice is profitable if its yield advantage over inbred is at least 1 ton per ha and seed yield of tons per ha is obtained in seed production plots. 

Several IRRI-bred rice hybrids have shown a 1 ton/ ha yield advantage over inbred rice in trials conducted in the Boro season in India and Bangladesh and in the spring season in Vietnam. These results indicate opportunities for increased rice production through rice hybrids in several countries, including Bangladesh, where Boro rice cultivation is important and still expanding.

The degree of commercialisation and utilisation of the technology depended, to a large extent, on the profitability of the hybrid seed (F1) production by the seed companies and on profitability of hybrid rice production by farmers relative to simply using certified seeds of the best inbreds.

On the seed production side, profitability was determined largely by the mean yields obtained in seed (F1) production, and on the price at which the hybrid seed could be sold in the market.

On the rice production side, profitability was determined largely by the yield advantage obtained from hybrids over the best inbreds, and on the market price fetched by the grain, which was strongly influenced by grain eating quality.

Analysis of the economics of hybrid rice indicates that it would be acceptable for irrigated ecosystems in which yield gains associated with high-yield inbred varieties have been exhausted. In tropical Asia India, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam are likely to have the highest potential demand for hybrid rice. The technology also appears to hold promise for Boro rice areas of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

• The pace of development and use of hybrid rice technology will depend on the extent of:

• Investment in hybrid rice research 

• Human resources 

• Availability of an effective seed-production system in the public and private sectors. 

• Effective coordination between research and seed production systems in the country.Economic analysis made on hybrid rice in China made the following conclusions on the prospects for hybrid rice in other countries:

• The technology would be relevant for those countries where the rice supply is projected to fall short of demand with an increasing population and land: labour ratio.

• It would be suitable for irrigated rice ecosystems where yield grains associated with high-yielding in-bred varieties have been exhausted. The portion of irrigated rice land to total rice land is therefore an important determinant of the potential adoption of hybrid rice technology.

Policy makers in countries interested in developing and using hybrid rice technology should create incentives for development and expansion of the seed industry in both the public and private sectors. The private sector has to be a partner rather than an adversary, in this effort. An International Task Force on Hybrid Rice involving interested national and international research and seed production programmes (in the public and private sectors) will expedite development and use of hybrid rice technology that will increase rice production and thus contribute to meeting projected global rice demand into the 21st century.

Considering projected increase in population, per capita income and the projected rate of urbanisation in these countries, the study estimates that expansion in demand for rice between 1993 and 2020 will be about 68 million metric tons. The relative increase will be around 46 per cent with strongest demand pressures in Sri Lanka, Philippines and Bangladesh. In absolute values, the largest increase in demand will occur in India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Expanding land frontiers can no longer boost domestic production in these countries, and in the last two decades the rate of yield improvement using conventional technology has slowed down.

The fastest deceleration in yield growth has occurred in Indonesia and the Philippines. This highlights the importance of stimulating new sources of growth via improvements in technical efficiency and effecting technological change.

In the generation of technology for widespread use and commercialisation, efforts must be focused so that the hybrid seed is superior in the following characteristics.

– Stable yield advantage over best inbreds 

– Stable resistance to major pests and diseases 

– Acceptable grain quality especially high-recovery and good-eating quality 

– The interest of the farmers as the final user of the technology is paramountThe concept of technology preservation in the seed industry is not new. Back in 1930s, when hybrid seed research was being extensively promoted in the USA, many felt such technology a threat to the average farmers. However, the creation of commercially profitable maize hybrids was the initial thrust for the development of a private seed industry in the USA that produced new varieties with ever increasing yields. As we have seen, Asia’s vegetable seed market revolutionised farming systems, generating income for farmers and seed companies alike. How many of the hybrid opponents would voice objections on similar grounds today?

The international task force on hybrid rice, which is operated under the condition of IRRI will expedite the development and use of hybrid rice technology in several countries including Bangladesh.Major donors realise that increasing rice yields over the next many years is crucial to economic and political stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Hybrid rice technology, which had demonstrated success in China, has potential for significantly increasing yields in certain countries in the tropics. Six countries were identified with potential for increasing yields namely, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

These six members have been found to be in the various stages of development and use of hybrid rice technology. There are three countries where the commercialisation of the technology is already taking place, led by India as the most advanced, followed by Vietnam, and then the Philippines. Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are still in the various stages of developing the technology in their local environments.

In 1998, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in collaboration with FAO & APSA to be coordinated by IRRI has initiated a 3-year project supported with funds of US $ 1.5 million for development and use of hybrid rice in Asia. The project, with a US$ 1.5 million aims to expedite hybrid rice development and use in six Asian countries, namely, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

The project will assist member countries in:– Developing comprehensive national hybrid rice-research and seed production programmes.

– Developing required human resources.

– Exchanging hybrid rice germplasm

– Establishing collaboration in research.

– Strengthening links between research centres and the seed industry.

– Establishing links between rice seed industries in different countries to promote commercial collaboration.

The following major points should be taken into consideration during the transfer of hybrid rice technology to the farm level.

• Credibility of yield, superiority of hybrid vis-a-vis inbred still needs to be established with rice farmers.

• Crop management strategies in hybrid vis-a-vis inbred are not yet clearly established.

• Hybrid rice technology transfer measures have been inadequate, as have those for the transfer of seed production technology. 

• Many misconceptions about the technology exist and hence public awareness efforts are urgently needed, more so from the public sector.

• Adequate supply of nucleus and breeder’s seed to public seed agencies is lacking.

• Synchronisation of flowering of parental lines in seed production fields is a major constraint.

• Marketing is a problem for certain hybrids due to uncertain yield superiority or poor seed grain quality.

• Location-specific hybrid rice technology needs to be developed for different hybrids.

(To be continued)

Source: The Independent, 13 & 14 & 15 March 2001