Profile: Yuan Longping, the father of hybrid rice

Source: Xinhua| 2021-05-22 19:07:33|Editor: huaxia

CHANGSHA, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientist Yuan Longping, whose lifelong research helped feed the world's most populous country and beyond, died of illness at 91 on Saturday.

Yuan, a household name in China, is renowned for developing the first hybrid-rice strain to substantially raise yields. He passed way at a hospital in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province.

Having spent over five decades in hybrid-rice research, the academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering helped China work a great wonder -- feeding nearly one-fifth of the world's population with less than 9 percent of the world's total arable land.

The passing away of Yuan set off an outpouring of mourning, gratitude and remembrance among the Chinese public, transcending generational, professional and other differences. He garnered a high level of respect in the nation, where decades ago, people suffered from hunger and deprivation.

Yuan was born in September 1930 in Beijing. When he was young, he saw with his own eyes that people were not getting enough to eat.

"I saw heartbreaking scenes of people starving to death on the road before 1949," recalled Yuan.

Yuan graduated from Southwest Agricultural College in 1953 and then devoted himself to agricultural education and research.

Rice is one of the most important staple food for Chinese. Yuan's pioneering research on hybrid rice began in 1964, and after nine years of painstaking research and intensive testing, his team successfully cultivated the world's first high-yield hybrid-rice strain in 1973.

Hybrid rice was subsequently grown across the country and farmers reaped incredible output after switching to Yuan's hybrid varieties. In the years that followed, his work set multiple world records for hybrid-rice yields.

Hybrid rice recorded a yield about 20 percent higher than that of conventional rice strains. Now its annual accumulated planting area in China has exceeded 16 million hectares, or 57 percent of the total planting area of rice, helping feed an extra 80 million people a year.

Last year, the third-generation hybrid rice developed by Yuan's team achieved a yield of 911.7 kg per mu (about 13.7 tonnes per hectare) in an experiment in Hunan. Combined with an early-season rice yield of 619.06 kg per mu, the same plot achieved a total yield of 1,530.76 kg per mu in a year. The output is equivalent to 22.96 tonnes per hectare.

"In a country with a large population and little arable land, the only way to ensure national food security is to increase the yield. So raising productivity is a constant theme in my research," Yuan once said in an interview.

His research not only helped end starvation in China, but has also transformed the world's food situation, with new records constantly established.

Since the 1980s, Yuan's team has trained over 14,000 technicians in hybrid-rice plantation methods in more than 80 developing countries, providing a robust food source in areas with a high risk of famine.

Now the annual plantation area of hybrid rice outside China has reached 8 million hectares, and the average yield per hectare is about 2 tonnes higher than that of local varieties.

Globally, more than 820 million people were hungry in 2018, according to a UN report. If hybrid rice were planted in half of the world's 147 million hectares of paddy fields, the additional yield alone could feed another 500 million people, Yuan once said.

The focus of his research in recent years shifted to exploring sustainable methods for maintaining food security.

In September 2017, a strain of low-cadmium indica rice developed by Yuan's team and the Hunan provincial academy of agricultural sciences was able to reduce the average amount of cadmium in rice by more than 90 percent in areas suffering from heavy-metal pollution.

In the same year, his team successfully developed varieties of saline-alkali-tolerant rice, with the highest average yield of over 800 kg per mu, or 12 tonnes per hectare, recorded in east China's Jiangsu Province in 2020. The saline-alkali-tolerant rice varieties are also being promoted in places like Dubai, and are rated highly as a new way to combat global food insecurity.

Yuan received dozens of national and international prizes and awards for his lifelong work and contribution to eradicating hunger. In 2019, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Yuan was awarded the Medal of the Republic, the highest state honor, for his prominent contribution to the country.

He was a diligent researcher even in his 80s, and maintained a habit of going to the paddy fields almost every day. At the beginning of this year, he went to a base in Sanya, in the southern province of Hainan, to conduct research.

When Yuan was young, he enjoyed playing the violin and mahjong in the spare time, but what he loved most of all was riding a motorbike to the paddy fields. Enditem