New hybrid rice developed
Shanghai research centre has developed the world's first hybrid rice capable of producing high yields in dry areas.
Drought-resistant rice needs 50 per cent 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 Centre.
While plantations of drought-resistant rice have been around since ancient times, they are usually few and with low yield.
Drought resistant rice occupies only 13 per cent of all rice fields in the world and one per cent in China.
However,the country is facing an increase in dry weather patterns.
In northern China, there is an average 60 per cent chance of spring droughts while south of the Yangtze River the odds are 40 per cent.
During summer, that number shoots up to 70 per cent in the Northeast, where autumn droughts are frequent.
"The regional or seasonal droughts have greatly reduced rice production every year," said Luo.
The availability of water in China is about one quarter of the world's average, about 2,400 tons per capita,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 per cent of the total water usage, 70 per cent of that is rice.
"We are hoping that drought-resistant rice will be widely planted to alleviate the country's serious lack of water," said Luo.
"It may end up replacing normal rice," said Luo.
Experts said 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.
It is estimated that there are about 1.3 million hectares of land in the middle and low reaches of the Yangtze River which are either dry or depend on precipitation and can only be planted with hybrid, drought-resistant rice.
China now has approximately 20 million hectares of deserts, barren lands with high concentration of salt, and dry land in southern mountainous areas.
"If those 20 million hectares can be exploited, they will give us about 40 billion kilograms more rice every year," said Luo.