Super grain

Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila, have developed a new strain of rice, which they claim has more iron and gives more yield per hectare, taking less land and time to grow. Called "super rice', it may hopefully belie the grim predictions of famine that half the world may face in the next century.

The new hybrid rice is expected to yield 12.5 tonnes of rice per hectare, more than double the Asian average of five to six tonnes a hectare. Scientists say that it would also be enriched with iron, which is lacking in the diets of millions of Asians today.

By 2025, the world population is expected to touch the 8.5 billion mark, up 2.5 billion from today. Thus rice production must increase by 62 per cent to 880 millions to meet the increased demand. "This strain of rice will give more yield from less land, less water, less labour and fewer chemical inputs,' says Gurudev Khush, IRRI's principal plant breeder.

Khush said that when compared to the traditional varieties, "super rice' has fewer, sturdier stalks which could hold two or three times more clusters of grain. Also, a shorter growing period, down from 160 days to 110 days, means that farmers can grow up to two or three crops a year.

The seeds of this rice will be sent to some of the 89 rice-growing countries for testing.

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