Higher hopes for C4 rice
Increasing yields to feed a growing world population
25 August 2006, Rome – “The development of C4 rice or similar varieties is very much welcome and we strongly recommend that member governments and the donor community provide full support to current research based on improving the photosynthetic efficiency of the rice plant,” International Rice Commission Secretary Nguu Nguyen said today.
Mr. Nguyen was commenting on recent reports on a major international scientific effort to enhance the rice plant’s efficiency, or what is known to experts as converting rice from a C3 plant to a C4 plant, where the “C” refers to the carbon captured by photosynthesis for growth.
The more solar energy a rice plant can efficiently capture, the more it will yield, explained Mr. Nguyen. “We need to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population which is projected to reach 8.3 billion in 2030, with an accompanying rice demand of 771 million tonnes,” he said.
An enormous challenge
In order to meet this expected demand for rice by 2030, global rice production – 618 million tonnes in 2005 – will need to increase by about 153 million tonnes. “This is an enormous challenge as land and water resources available for rice production keep diminishing as a result of urbanization and industrialization,” Mr. Nguyen said.
Sustainable rice production requires a substantial increase in rice yields per hectare.
“The C4 rice would have the potential to out-yield the best performing existing rice varieties and hybrids by 15 to 20 percent. However, it will take several more years before the C4 rice varieties may become available. And, then we will have to make sure that they are safe for human and animal consumption as well as for the environment,” Mr. Nguyen stressed.
The successful mapping of the rice genome in 2002 created new opportunities for the application of genetic resources for breeding a new generation of rice varieties with higher yield potentials, greater resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and superior grain quality and water use efficiency.
The advances in rice biotechnology, however, have also generated new concerns related to biosafety, conservation of rice genetic diversity, intellectual property rights and access. In this respect, the International Rice Commission believes that national capacity building is urgently required to ensure that new innovations benefit local people and do not incur long-term costs to the environment.
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