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Efforts needed to protect endangered rice species
( 2004-01-20 08:50) (China Daily by Qiu Quanlin)

A strong variety of wild rice discovered in the 1960s that can resist drastic climates and severe pests may soon become extinct.

In a country that has to feed 1.3 billion people, a wild rice with genes that may allow it to grow in all types of weather and resist pests is a commodity that should be protected, scientists say.

Many are now calling for efforts to protect and preserve the rarely seen wild rice discovered in Southwest China's Yunnan Province and South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

The wild rice carries strong hereditary features, such as pest-resistant genes and genes that can help it survive cold weather and arid regions, said Li Jun, director of the Agriculture and Science Research Institute of Xishuangbanna Dai Prefecture in Yunnan Province.

Yunnan boasts rich wild plant species, but the expansion of human activities and ecological changes have rendered the wild rice discovered during the 1960s and 1970s on the verge of extinction.

Only the verruca wild rice still grows in Mandu village of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture.

But even this strain is in jeopardy and now only grows in an area that is four hectares in size. Two years ago it covered some 13 hectares.

"The dwindling wild rice is mainly caused by human activities, such as fertilization and cultivation for the rubber plants. If there are no protective measures, the wild rice could disappear completely within two years," Li said.

To date, two protective zones have been established in a bid to preserve wild rice in Yanjiang and Genma counties. A third will likely be set up in Mandu of Xishuangbanna in February this year, Li said.

Meanwhile in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, wild rice is also endangered.

Statistics show the remaining wild rice grows mainly in Shishantang village of southwestern Yulin city, in an area totalling 20 hectares.

To date, it is the largest patch growing wild rice in the region.

The regional government has also taken steps to protect wild rice varieties. One step they've taken is leasing growing areas to farmers for 50 years, said Wang Qide, an official from the local agriculture department.

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