In a laboratory at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) in northern Beijing, researchers are busy tagging and editing genes in rice, a key component of the complex breeding process of green super rice (GSR).
As its name suggests, this variety of rice boasts high yields while remaining environmentally friendly.
“We apply the method of genetic screening to put the quality or the traits that we need in the rice,” said Xu Jianlong, a professor at the Laboratory for Molecular Rice Breeding under the Institute of Crop Sciences, CAAS.
Since 2008, under the support of the Chinese government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the laboratory began to develop GSR varieties to boost agricultural development in resource-poor areas in Africa and Asia.
“We have been breeding different GSR varieties that are able to adapt to different ecological environments in different countries. In Africa, for example, we breed varieties that are more resilient to drought and high temperature, while in Southeast Asia where typhoons are common, we produce rice that is resilient to collapse and diseases such as bacterial blight,” Xu explained.
According to the expert, when super typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013, all crops of local rice varieties at the island of Leyte were wiped out. “However, the GSR8 variety we trialed planting there showed better tolerance to flooding, drought and salt damage, with a harvest of 1.2 tons per hectare.”
The Philippine government then decided to promote the use of GSR8 seeds, resulting in the rapid expansion of GSR variety to cover 430,000 hectares in 2014. As of 2018, the GSR varieties have been promoted in the Philippines for a total of 1.09 million hectares, accounting for 22.64 percent of the country’s rice acreage. By 2021, the cumulative area of GSR varieties reached 10.8 million hectares in the Philippines.
Successful stories were also found in other Asian countries. The NIBGE-GSR1, which was promoted in Pakistan, has an average yield of about 9.5 tons per hectare, compared to 7 tons for the local variety.
Currently, six GSR varieties, including NIBGE-GSR1, 2, 3, 7, 8, and NIAB GSR39, have been certified by the Pakistani authorities, according to CAAS.
For the CAAS experts, the roll-out of the GSR in Africa has been quite challenging, since the agricultural infrastructure there is relatively poor.
With the technical support of CAAS, Green Agriculture West Africa Ltd., attached to Chinese construction company CGCOC Group, has developed the GSR variety GAWAL R1 to help increase rice production.
Validated in Nigeria in 2017, GAWAL R1 yielded about 30 percent more than the local variety Faro 44. With its popularization, the average rice yield across Nigeria rose from 1.98 tons per hectare in 2019 to 2.5 tons per hectare in 2022.
“We will make more efforts to help West African countries establish rice seed industry systems and ease their tight food demand,” Xu said.
According to CAAS, over the past decade, 78 GSR varieties developed by the GSR project group have been tested, certified, and promoted in 18 countries and regions in Africa and Asia, with a cumulative planting area of over 6 million hectares, benefiting over 1.6 million farmers.
China’s experience in rice cultivation and production has made a significant contribution to the food security of Asian and African countries along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which launched nearly 10 years ago, Xu said.
As for their future plans, the expert believes that it is very important to “teach them how to breed rice” instead of just “giving them rice.”
Currently, 58 postgraduate students from 15 countries are pursuing masters or doctoral degrees in Chinese research institutes.
“Also, we have provided advanced training in GSR breeding techniques to nearly 943 scientists and technicians from 15 countries, and there will be more training in the days to come,” Xu said.
The expert believes that using Chinese technology to ensure food security in developing countries is of great importance to the BRI construction and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
“Our ultimate goal is to help farmers in those countries become self-sufficient in rice production,” Xu added.