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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison

Salt water rice

Sonic Bloom doubles rice yields in Indonesian trials.

  For more information see Fantastic Rice Yields, Page 1.

Also see the article Rice in Asia: Too Little Iron, Too Much Arsenic.

 

 

The Institute of Science

 in Society

Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk

General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk
 

Rice wars

Rice, the staple food crop for more than half the world's population, among them the poorest, is the current target of genetic modification, an activity that has greatly intensified after the rice genome was announced two years ago (see "Rice is life" series, SiS 15, Summer 2002). Since then, all major biotech giants are investing in rice research.

At the same time, a low-input cultivation system that really benefits small farmers worldwide has been spreading, but is dismissed by the scientific establishment as "unscientific". This is one among several recent innovations that increase yields and ward off disease without costly and harmful inputs, all enthusiastically and widely adopted by farmers.

A war is building up between the corporate establishment and the peoples of the world for the possession of rice. The food security of billions is at stake, as is their right to grow the varieties of rice they have created and continue to create, and in the manner they choose.

This extended series will not be appearing all at once, so look out for it.

  • Fantastic Rice Yields Fact or Fallacy?
  • Top Indian Rice Geneticist Rebuts SRI critics
  • Does SRI work?
    • ISIS Press Release 08/07/04

      Corporate Patents vs People

       in GM Rice

      Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Lim Li Ching get to the bottom of current attempts by corporations to usurp rice varieties through genetic modification

      A fully referenced version of this article, the fourth in "Rice wars" series, is posted on ISIS member's website. Details here.

      Has the International Treaty sufficient bite to protect Farmer's Rights?

      In 1998, masses of angry Indian and Thai farmers took to the streets of their capitals to denounce US company RiceTec Inc's claim of monopoly rights over their basmati and jasmine varieties of rice. US breeders had acquired samples from Philippines-based IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), which holds a large seed bank of Asian farmers' varieties. That was among the first warnings of a corporate agenda to usurp and control rice varieties created and used by local communities for thousands of years.

      The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which came into force on 29 June 2004, facilitates "the free flow of genetic material to plant breeders" as well as to farmers and research institutions. This is achieved through a Multilateral System for Access and Benefit Sharing, which covers a list of 35 food crops and 29 forage crops, among them rice.

      The Treaty clearly acknowledges the contribution of farmers to agricultural biodiversity and recognises Farmers' Rights to save, use, exchange and sell seeds. This is an important milestone in international law. However, it falls short of unambiguously banning patents on plant genetic resources, leaving farmers' varieties in international Gene Banks under the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), which come under the Treaty, just as vulnerable as before. The text clearly states that no intellectual property rights (IPRs) may be taken out on the plant genetic resources and their components that are exchanged and as covered in the Treaty; but this is qualified by limiting the condition to resources "in the form received".

      In short, this could leave the door open for unscrupulous patenting of plant genetic resources that are not "in the form received", for example, if, after they have been freely exchanged within the Multilateral System, they are genetically modified.

      As the Treaty has just entered into force, its continuing interpretation and how it is implemented will need to be monitored closely, to prevent powerful countries (and their corporations) getting rights to extract and privatise genetic resources covered by the Treaty. It is also crucial to strengthen the primacy of Farmers' Rights over IPRs.

      Gene-patenting and corporate rice research

      This fight will be critical as biotech companies are increasingly muscling in on rice research. "The advent of biotechnology has caused a spurt in patents on gene products associated with rice," said Ronald Cantrell, director of IRRI. The sequencing of the rice genome has not only opened up largely untapped commercial possibilities but has also set the pace for potential IPR disputes between corporations and governments. "I'm really concerned that we should have enough public sector research that would generate knowledge, putting it in the public arena, and we should make sure that the private sector is properly regulated," he added.

      The Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, despite its honourable name is part of the biotech multinational Syngenta, and is now a member of the CGIAR. In one fell swoop, the private sector has become part of the network of international agricultural research centres, paving the way for it to participate in policy making and determining the kind of research that gets funded. This, critics say, turns the once publicly funded research body into "an agricultural research outsource for the multinational corporations". Although the Syngenta Foundation doesn't currently contribute to IRRI, there's no doubting the interest of the corporation in rice research.

      An article published in the New Internationalist in September 2002 commented: "The multinational biotechnology industry has global rice production in its gunsights. It is manoeuvring for control through intellectual property rights (IPRs), such as patents, and legislation is quickly being pushed into place in Asia and around the world to satisfy industry's demands."

      GM rice versus people's sustainable agriculture

      All this is coming at a sensitive time, as farmer-led movements for sustainable agriculture are also in ascendancy. For example, MASIPAG, the farmer-scientist network, is a farmer-led community-managed breeding and conservation effort on rice and vegetables throughout the Philippines. It started in 1986 and now involves 50 trial farms. Some 543 farmer-bred lines and 75 varieties of rice are grown and further improved by well over 10 000 farmers throughout the country. The Nayakrishi or `New Agriculture' Movement in Bangladesh, where farmers typically use hundreds of varieties of rice, and have little trouble surpassing the productivity of the industrial model.

      Asia produces over 90 percent of world's rice supply, and an estimated 140 000 different varieties of rice have been created by small farmers in Asia.

      In the 1950s, the US put rice production at the centre of a strategy to address food insecurity and political unrest. The resulting campaign led by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, known as the Green Revolution, transformed rice production dramatically. Traditional farming systems and varieties were replaced by a package of credit, chemicals and high input varieties. By the early 1990s, just five super-varieties accounted for 90 per cent of the rice-growing area of Malaysia and Pakistan, and nearly half the rice lands of Thailand and Burma.

      Several major transnational seed corporations - Aventis, Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta - now have rice programmes. Rice is self-pollinated, making hybrid rice seed production costly and difficult, and nearly all rice in Asia is still grown with farmer-saved seed. The seed industry believes that the combination of genetic engineering and patents can overcome this hurdle.

      "Through patents and contractual agreements, seed companies will seek to prohibit farmers from sharing or saving seed, control what pesticides are used and even assert ownership rights over the harvest."

      In October 2001, an ActionAid study found that of the 250 patents on rice, 61 percent are controlled by just 6 seed companies, three of them also the world's largest pesticide corporations.

      After the rice genome sequence was announced. Dr. Steven Briggs, head of genomics for Syngenta, told the New York Times that while the companies would not seek to patent the entire genome, they would patent individual valuable genes. He indicated that Syngenta and Myriad were well on their way to finding many of those.

      China a major player

      Meanwhile, the Chinese government, which has invested considerable public money into the sequencing of the rice genome, thereby breaking the `knowledge monopoly' hitherto held by the developed countries in the West, is reported to be ramping up efforts to commercialise GM rice.

      Chinese researchers have developed several GM rice varieties resistant to the country's major rice pests and diseases, such as the lepidopteran insect stem borer, bacteria blight, rice blast fungus and rice dwarf virus (see "Promises and perils of GM rice", this series). "Significant progress" was also reported for drought- and salt-tolerance. Zhen Zhu, a leading rice scientist and deputy director of the Bureau of Life Science and Biotechnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Nature Biotechnology that "China [is] technically mature [enough] to commercialise several varieties of its GM rice".

      China's biotech budget for 2001-2005 is $1.2 billion, a 400% increase compared with 1996-2000, and about $120 million out of the current budget is devoted to GM rice programmes, Zhu estimates, and more will be allocated to field trials of GM rice. At least 10 new field trials for GM rice are expected this year, keeping the planting level comparable to 2003 of at least 53 hectares.

      In the United States, USDA authorized 10 GM rice field trials over 11 hectares in 2003 and 12 trials over 45 hectares in the first quarter of 2004, 90% of which done by Monsanto.

      China will be closely watched by both the developed and the developing world. China's activities in GM rice have gone on simultaneously with extensive trials in sustainable, low input rice-growing systems that benefit small farmers (see "Fantastic rice yields fact or fallacy" and "Does SRI work?" this series).

      Huanming Yang, Director of the Beijing Genomics Institute in China, the lead author of a paper on the rice genome sequence published side by side with Syngenta's in the journal Science two years ago, told ISIS recently that he is "strongly opposed" to patenting the rice genome.

      "As one of the important sequencing centres [of the rice genome], we think it should be covered by Bermuda Rules and should [be] made freely available. That is the reason that we have released the rice genome sequences," Yang said.

      The `Bermuda Rules' refers to guidelines for releasing human sequence data established in February 1996 at a Bermuda meeting of heads of the biggest labs in the publicly funded human genome project. The rules require the labs to share the results of sequencing "as soon as possible", releasing all stretches of DNA longer than 1 000 units, and to submit the data within 24 hours to the public database known as GenBank. The goal, as stated in a memo released at the time, was to prevent the sequencing centres from "establishing a privileged position in the exploitation and control of human sequence information."


    • This article can be found on the I-SIS website at http://www.i- sis.org.uk/CPVPIGMR.php
       
      If you like this original article from the Institute of Science in Society, and would like to continue receiving articles of this calibre, please consider making a donation or purchase on our website. ISIS is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science, and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science.
       
       
      • If you would prefer to receive future mailings as plain text please let us know.

      The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
      telephone: [44 20 8643 0681]   [44 20 7383 3376]   [44 20 7272 5636]

      General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk - Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk - ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk

      MATERIAL IN THIS EMAIL MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PERMISSION, ON CONDITION THAT IT IS ACCREDITED ACCORDINGLY AND CONTAINS A LINK TO http://www.i-sis.org.uk/


       

      The Institute of Science

       in Society

      Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk

      General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk
       

      Rice wars

      Rice, the staple food crop for more than half the world's population, among them the poorest, is the current target of genetic modification, an activity that has greatly intensified after the rice genome was announced two years ago (see "Rice is life" series, SiS 15, Summer 2002). Since then, all major biotech giants are investing in rice research.

      At the same time, a low-input cultivation system that really benefits small farmers worldwide has been spreading, but is dismissed by the scientific establishment as "unscientific". This is one among several recent innovations that increase yields and ward off disease without costly and harmful inputs, all enthusiastically and widely adopted by farmers.

      A war is building up between the corporate establishment and the peoples of the world for the possession of rice. The food security of billions is at stake, as is their right to grow the varieties of rice they have created and continue to create, and in the manner they choose.

      This extended series will not be appearing all at once, so look out for it.

    • Fantastic Rice Yields Fact or Fallacy?
    • Top Indian Rice Geneticist Rebuts SRI critics
    • Does SRI work?
    • Corporate Patents vs People in GM Rice
    • Promises and Perils of GM Rice
      • ISIS Press Release 12/07/04

        Two Rice Better than One

        Lim Li Ching reports on remarkable results from a simple experiment in China that combats rice disease and increases yields

        The sources for this article are posted on ISIS members' website. Details here.

        Planting a diversity of crops instead of monocultures can do wonders. Thousands of Chinese rice farmers have increased yields and nearly eliminated the most devastating disease - rice blast fungus - without using chemical fungicides or spending more money.

        These farmers and extension workers in Yunnan Province collaborated with a team of scientists from Yunnan Agricultural University, the Plant Protection Stations of Honghe Prefecture, Jianshui County and Shiping County in Yunnan Province, the International Rice Research Institute and Oregon State University in the United States to implement a simple change in cultivation practice in order to control rice blast, a disease that destroys millions of tonnes of rice and costs farmers several billion dollars in losses each year.

        The area is prone to rice blast epidemics because of its cool, wet climate. The fungus that causes blast disease, Magnaporthe grisea, spreads through multiple cycles of asexual spore production during the cropping season, causing necrotic spots on leaves and necrosis (death) of the rice panicles.

        Instead of planting large stands of a single type of rice, as had been their usual practice, the farmers planted a mixture of two different kinds of rice: a standard hybrid rice that does not usually succumb to rice blast, and a much more valuable but lower-yielding glutinous or `sticky' rice known to be very susceptible to the disease. Before 1998, 98% of rice fields in the area were monocultures of the hybrid rice varieties Shanyuo22 and Shanyuo63. The glutinous varieties, although highly valued, were planted in small amounts due to their low yields and vulnerability to rice blast.

        The experiment with mixed varieties dispersed single rows of glutinous rice between groups of four rows of hybrid rice, but at a rate sufficient to meet the local demand for glutinous rice. As rice is hand-harvested in Yunnan, farmers can easily separate the hybrid and glutinous grains, which are used for different purposes.

        In 1998, the first year of the trial, four different mixtures of varieties were planted over 812 hectares, comprising all the rice fields in five townships of Shiping County, Yunnan Province. The mixtures gave excellent blast control, such that only one foliar fungicide spray was applied. The study expanded to 3 342 hectares in 1999, encompassing all the rice fields in 10 townships of Jianshui and Shiping Counties. No fungicidal spray was needed that year. Farmers were so convinced of the benefits of the rice diversification program that the practice expanded to more than 40 000 hectares in 2000.

        The mixed rice fields were compared with control monoculture plots. The overall results showed that disease- susceptible rice varieties planted in mixtures with resistant varieties had 89% greater yield and blast was 94% less severe than when they were grown in monoculture. Both glutinous and hybrid rice showed decreased infection.

        Specifically, in 1998, panicle blast severity on the glutinous rice averaged 20% in monocultures, but was reduced to 1% when dispersed within the mixed populations. Meanwhile, panicle blast severity on the hybrid varieties averaged 1.2% in monocultures, but was reduced to varying degrees in the mixed plots. Results from 1999 were very similar to the 1998 season for panicle blast severity on susceptible glutinous varieties, showing that the effect of mixed planting was very robust. Panicle blast severity on the less-susceptible hybrid varieties averaged 2.3% in monoculture in 1999, and was reduced to 1.0% in mixed plantings. This despite the fact that the hybrids were planted at the same density in mixed and monoculture plots.

        The hypothesis for the reduced severity of blast attack is fairly clear for the disease-susceptible glutinous rice. If one variety of a crop is susceptible to a disease, the more concentrated those susceptible types, the more easily the disease will spread. The disease is less likely to spread if susceptible plants are separated by other plants that do not succumb to the disease and the distance between the susceptible plants increased (a dilution effect). In addition, the glutinous rice plants, which are taller and rise above the shorter hybrid rice, enjoyed sunnier, warmer and drier conditions that discouraged the growth of rice blast.

        Disease reduction in the hybrid variety is more difficult to explain, but is possibly due to the taller glutinous rice physically blocking the airborne spores of rice blast and/or altering wind patterns. It is also likely that there was greater `induced resistance' playing a part in disease suppression. Induced resistance occurs when non-virulent pathogens induce a plant defence response that is effective against other pathogens that would normally be virulent on the plant. Indeed, preliminary analysis of the genetic composition of pathogenic populations indicated that mixed fields supported diverse pathogen populations with no single dominant strain. By contrast, pathogen populations in monocultures were dominated by one or a few strains. Hence, the more diverse pathogen population of the mixed stands may have contributed to greater induced resistance in the plants, and in the longer term this increased pathogen diversity may also slow down the adaptation of pathogens to the resistant genes functioning within a given mixed plant population.

        Grain production per hill of glutinous varieties in mixtures averaged 89% more than when planted in monoculture. As a result, although glutinous rice in mixtures was planted at rates of only 9.2 and 9.7% that of monoculture in 1998 and 1999, respectively, it produced an average 18.2% of monoculture yield. The higher yields are certainly due to the reduced severity of rice blast fungus, though other factors (for example, improved light interception) may also have contributed. Hybrids planted in mixtures, despite facing an increased overall plant density, experienced grain yields per hectare that were nearly equal to the hybrid monocultures. Thus, mixed populations produced more total grain per hectare than their corresponding monocultures in all cases.

        The mixed varieties of rice were also more ecologically efficient. It was estimated that an average of 1.18 hectares of monoculture cropland would be needed to provide the same amounts of hybrid and glutinous rice as were produced in one hectare of a mixture. Additionally, after accounting for the different market values of the two rice types, the gross value per hectare of the mixtures was 14% greater than hybrid monocultures and 40% greater than glutinous monocultures.

        The scientists concluded that intra-specific crop diversification is a simple, ecological approach to disease control, which can be extremely effective over a large area and can contribute to sustainable crop production.


      •  


        This article can be found on the I-SIS website at http://www.i- sis.org.uk/TRBTO.php
         
        If you like this original article from the Institute of Science in Society, and would like to continue receiving articles of this calibre, please consider making a donation or purchase on our website. ISIS is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science, and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science.
         
         
        • If you would prefer to receive future mailings as plain text please let us know.

        The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
        telephone: [44 20 8643 0681]   [44 20 7383 3376]   [44 20 7272 5636]

        General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk - Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk - ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk

        MATERIAL IN THIS EMAIL MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT PERMISSION, ON CONDITION THAT IT IS ACCREDITED ACCORDINGLY AND CONTAINS A LINK TO http://www.i-sis.org.uk/

         
         

        The Institute of Science

         in Society

        Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk

        General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk
         

        Rice wars

        Rice, the staple food crop for more than half the world's population, among them the poorest, is the current target of genetic modification, an activity that has greatly intensified after the rice genome was announced two years ago (see "Rice is life" series, SiS 15, Summer 2002). Since then, all major biotech giants are investing in rice research.

        At the same time, a low-input cultivation system that really benefits small farmers worldwide has been spreading, but is dismissed by the scientific establishment as "unscientific". This is one among several recent innovations that increase yields and ward off disease without costly and harmful inputs, all enthusiastically and widely adopted by farmers.

        A war is building up between the corporate establishment and the peoples of the world for the possession of rice. The food security of billions is at stake, as is their right to grow the varieties of rice they have created and continue to create, and in the manner they choose.

        This extended series will not be appearing all at once, so look out for it.

      • Fantastic Rice Yields Fact or Fallacy?
      • Top Indian Rice Geneticist Rebuts SRI critics
      • Does SRI work?
      • Corporate Patents vs People in GM Rice
      • Promises and Perils of GM Rice
      • Two Rice Better Than One
        • ISIS Press Release 14/07/04

          One Bird - Ten Thousand

           Treasures

          Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports on how ducklings in the paddy fields turned weeds to resources and increases yield and leisure for farmers

          During the last leg of a six-day lecture tour in Japan 1999, I was fortunate enough to have visited an organic farmer not far from Fukuoka, who was reputed to have done wonders introducing ducks into the rice paddy field.

          The train ride from Tokyo lasted five and a half hours, speeding through a most unusual landscape, which repeats itself in endless variations for the entire duration. It consists of large and small clusters of houses and the occasional single abode, all floating, it seems, on a sea of paddy-fields. Paddy fields fill every available inch of land that is not built upon, and most of the plots are tiny. That was a real surprise for me, who, like most people, imagine Japan to be a fully industrialized developed nation.

          Our hosts from the Green Co-op in Fukuoka met us at the station, and after the usual polite exchange of bows, we were taken to another platform for the local train to Keisen, where the famous organic farmer Mr. Takao Furuno had kindly invited all three of us: Tony Boys, my interpreter for the occasion and Mr. Watanabe, a fellow speaker, to stay the night with his family.

          It was getting dark by the time we arrived in Keisen. Tony telephoned from a booth outside the station, and some minutes later, Mr. Furuno himself came to pick us up in his mini-van. We drove a short distance and stopped in front of a largish but modestly built and modestly furnished bungalow. Mrs. Furuno opened the door and gave us a warm traditional Japanese welcome. We were invited to sit down around the dinner table where all the children came to greet us. Five healthy, suntanned and smiling children, two boys and three girls between the ages of 16 and 8, introduced themselves, then retreated next-door to the kitchen where they were served supper. Grandma and Grandpa were busy with food preparation, and appeared only later to say hello.

          The Furunos were a handsome couple in their forties. He, wiry and dark, with a winsome squint and sparkle to his eyes, had the appearance of being both amused and content with life, as he had every reason to be. He spoke in an even, unhurried manner, with a gentle tone. She was of medium build, lively, good-looking and more openly ebullient about their success. Of course, they did not mean financial success, they meant success of the farming method, which, since its introduction ten years ago, has been spreading all over Southeast Asia. In Japan, about 10 000 farmers had taken it up by 1999; and has also been adopted by farmers in South Korea, Vietnam, The Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Farmers have increased their yield 20 to 50 percent or more in the first year. One farmer in Laos increased his income three-fold. It is obviously a boon to Third World farmers.

          "We want to help", the Furunos declared, "financial success is unimportant. We did not patent the method, we just want it to be widely adopted." The method has been researched and perfected over the years in their own fields. At this point, Mr. Furuno introduced a young visitor who was working with the family in order to learn the method. "There's always someone here who wants to learn, and everyday, I get several phone calls from people needing advice." He said as a matter of fact, without either false modesty or pride.

          The young man's eyes widened when he learned that I was the niece of Kyu Ei Kan's wife. Kyu Ei Kan is a writer most renowned for his books on how to make money. And to demonstrate that what he writes is sound, he proceeded to make a lot of money himself. The excited young man pushed the book he was reading in front of me. It had my uncle's photograph on the cover, and the title, How I Became Rich- An Autobiography. Mr. Furuno must really be a great success if a young man who dreams of becoming rich should be so eager to learn from him. I made a mental note to tell my aunt, and maybe persuade my rich uncle to go into organic farming business.

          "Well, it has been called a `one-bird revolution'", my host began, "the duck is the key to success." The secret is to release ducklings into the paddy fields soon after the seedlings are planted. But won't the ducklings eat the rice seedlings? No. "It is in their nature not to eat the rice seedlings." Mr. Furuno assured me, then added, "agronomists in the university say it's because rice seedlings have too much silica."

          They have made a very good video, complete with English narration, which shows how the ducklings readily take to the paddy field when they are led there to be released. About 20 ducklings are released per tenth of a hectare. They genuinely seem to enjoy getting into the water, where they paddled contentedly between the rows of rice seedlings, now ducking under the surface of the water, now raising their heads to swallow something, but never harming the rice seedlings. In fact, the ducks are good for the rice plants in many ways, including the mechanical stimulation they provide, which make the plant stems thicker and stronger, as demonstrated by careful experimentation.

          Mr. Furuno did attend agricultural college, but he did not learn the Aigamo method there. Aigamo is the name for the ducks, which is a crossbreed between domestic and wild ducks. He simply worked out the method by a combination of "contemplation, inspiration and experimentation". Actually, ducks have been raised in paddy fields in China and probably other parts of South East Asia since a long time ago. But the farmers never left the ducks in the fields, and were unaware of all the benefits that the ducks can bring.

          The benefits the ducks give to the rice plants are numerous; again, that was worked out by Mr. Furuno's scientific experiments carefully set up in the field. The ducks eat up insect pests and the golden snail, which attack rice plants, they also eat the seeds and seedlings of weeds, using their feet to dig up the weed seedlings, thereby oxygenating the water and encouraging the roots of the rice plants to grow. You can actually see the difference between the plants in the Aigamo plots and the control plots without Aigamo.

          In fact, the ducks are so good at weeding that farmers who have adopted the method now have time to sit and chat instead of spending up to 240 person-hours per hectare in manual weeding every year. Besides, 'pests and weeds' have been miraculously transformed into resources for rearing ducks. The ducks are left in the fields 24 hours a day, and do not need to be herded back to the shed. They are protected from dogs by an electric fence or some other barrier around the field. There is a patch of dry land for the ducks to rest and also for them to be fed waste grain from the rice- polishing factory, so they maintain a relationship with the farmer. But otherwise, the ducks are completely free-range until the rice plants form ears of grain in the field. At that point, the ducks have to be rounded up (otherwise they will eat the rice grains). They are then confined in a shed and fed exclusively on waste grain. There, they mature, lay eggs, and get ready for the market.

          It was too early in the year to plant the rice seedlings in Furuno's own paddies. Japanese farmers time their planting according to the length of the growing season quite precisely. So, as we came south on the train, we noticed more and more dry vacant fields. Furuno's in-laws, who live some distance away, have already planted the seedlings and flooded the fields, and we were to be taken there to see the ducklings being released the next morning. The father-in-law was once a rich businessman, but had decided to give up business for organic farming. The in-laws, who look ten years younger than their age, live in a large house with a beautiful garden and a permaculture orchard where chickens roam freely to keep the ground free of weeds - another labour-saving invention - and also provide chicken manure to fertilize the trees.

          The ducks are not the only inhabitants of the paddy field. The aquatic fern, Azolla, or duckweed, which harbours a blue-green bacterium as symbiont, is also grown on the surface of the water. The azolla is very efficient in fixing nitrogen, attracting insects for the ducks and is also food for the ducks. The plant is very prolific, doubling itself every three days, so it can be harvested for cattle-feed as well. In addition, the plants spread out to cover the surface of the water, providing hiding places for another inhabitant, the roach, and protecting them from the ducks. In fact, the roach grows so well in the paddy that Mr. Furuno has not bothered to count them. What do the fish feed on? They feed on duck feces, on daphnia and other worms, which in turn feed on the plankton. The fish and ducks provide manure to fertilize the rice plants all through the growing season. The rice plants, in return, provide shelter for the ducks.

          The paddy field with ducks and all is really a complex, well-balanced, self- maintaining, self-propagating ecosystem. The only external input is the small amount of waste grain for the ducks, and the output? A delicious, nutritious harvest of organic rice, duck and roach. It is quite productive. The Furunos' farm is 2 hectares; 1.4 of which are paddy fields, while the rest is devoted to growing organic vegetables. The organic vegetables fields were full of butterflies of all kinds when we visited them the next morning. This small farm yields annually 7 tonnes of rice, 300 ducks, 4000 ducklings, and enough vegetables to supply 100 people. At that rate, no more than 2 percent of the population needs to become farmers in order to feed a nation. Tony Boys indeed believes that with proper management, Japan can become self- sufficient once more. So who needs GM crops? The choice is clear, not only for Japan, but also for all of South East Asia, and the world at large.

          This Aigamo method also explodes the myth that organic farming is necessarily labour intensive. "Organic farming need not be labour intensive, it is fun!" said Mr. Furuno emphatically. The Furunos are not purists, and they use both mechanical harvesters and tractors. Their method is so simple and enjoyable, that five years ago, the two eldest boys managed their own small plot and got a bumper harvest from it. That was also documented on video. Mr. Furuno, however, will complain that they are very, very busy, and no wonder. They run their own vegetable business, process their own ducks and sell those as well. In addition, he writes books, papers, runs courses, and lectures all over S.E. Asia.

          Later that evening, we were treated to a delicious meal of home grown organic rice, duck, chicken and vegetables, complete with unlimited bottles of Furuno's own brand of organic sake and fragrant pine wine, both bearing the label, One Bird, Ten Thousand Treasures. Mr. Furuno's one ambition in life is to share these boundless treasures, this unlimited harvest, with the world.

          We bathed in the warm glow of this wonderful thought, and ate and drank deep into the night, becoming more convinced by the hour that the harvest is indeed limitless and free to all who work creatively in partnership with her.

          This is an edited version of an article first circulated by ISIS in 1999


        • This article can be found on the I-SIS website at http://www.i-sis.org.uk/OBTTT.php
           
          If you like this original article from the Institute of Science in Society, and would like to continue receiving articles of this calibre, please consider making a donation or purchase on our website. ISIS is an independent, not-for- profit organisation dedicated to providing critical public information on cutting edge science, and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science.
           
           
          • If you would prefer to receive future mailings as plain text please let us know.

          The Institute of Science in Society, PO Box 32097, London NW1 OXR
          telephone: [44 20 8643 0681]   [44 20 7383 3376]   [44 20 7272 5636]

          General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk - Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk - ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk

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          The Institute of Science

           in Society

          Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk

          General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk ISIS Director m.w.ho@i- sis.org.uk
           

          Rice wars

          Rice, the staple food crop for more than half the world's population, among them the poorest, is the current target of genetic modification, an activity that has greatly intensified after the rice genome was announced two years ago (see "Rice is life" series, SiS 15, Summer 2002). Since then, all major biotech giants are investing in rice research.

          At the same time, a low-input cultivation system that really benefits small farmers worldwide has been spreading, but is dismissed by the scientific establishment as "unscientific". This is one among several recent innovations that increase yields and ward off disease without costly and harmful inputs, all enthusiastically and widely adopted by farmers.

          A war is building up between the corporate establishment and the peoples of the world for the possession of rice. The food security of billions is at stake, as is their right to grow the varieties of rice they have created and continue to create, and in the manner they choose.

          This extended series will not be appearing all at once, so look out for it.

        • Fantastic Rice Yields Fact or Fallacy?
        • Top Indian Rice Geneticist Rebuts SRI critics
        • Does SRI work?
        • Corporate Patents vs People in GM Rice
        • Promises and Perils of GM Rice
        • Two Rice Better Than One
        • One Bird - Ten Thousand Treasures
          • ISIS Press Release 28/07/04

            New Rice for Africa

            A new rice variety developed by plant breeders is boosting rice yields for farmers all over Africa. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reports

            The sources for this article is posted on ISIS members' website. Details here.

            African rice species proliferate like weeds, but are low yielding. Asian rice species, brought to Africa 450 years ago, are high yielding, but cannot compete with weeds. Scientists at West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) succeeded in crossing the two to produce "new rice for Africa", or "Nerica", that combines the ruggedness of local African rice species with the high productivity of the Asian rice.

            This has happened at a time when demand for rice is growing faster in West Africa than anywhere else in the world. Rice imports have increased eight-fold over the past three decades to more than 3 million tonnes a year, at a cost of almost US$1 billion.

            The African species lodges, or falls over, when grain heads fill. It also shatters easily, wasting more precious grain. The higher-yielding Asian species has largely replaced its African cousin. But, West African farmers in rainfed (dryland) areas can't grow the semi-dwarf rice varieties from Asia, because they don't compete well with weeds, nor do they tolerate drought and local pests. And African farmers are too poor to buy herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers.

            Dr. Monty Jones, WARDA rice breeder, initiated a biotechnology programme in 1991, making use of the 1 500 African rice varieties kept in gene banks, which have faced extinction as farmers abandoned them for higher- yielding Asian varieties. A number of international agricultural research institutions were partners with WARDA in the creating Nerica, plus farmers and national agricultural research programmes in 17 African countries.

            The creation of "Nerica" involved crossing the African with Asian species, and `rescuing' the inter- specific hybrid embryos in tissue culture. These hybrid embryos would otherwise have died if left on the plants.

            The panicles of Nerica hold up to 400 grains compared to the 75-100 grains of its African parents, and can potentially double the production of rice. Nerica also matures 30-50 days earlier than traditional varieties, allowing farmers to grow extra crops of vegetables or legumes. They are taller and grow better on the fertile, acid soils that comprise 70% of the upland rice area in the region. In addition, it has 2% more protein than either the Asian or African parents. This is an instance of `hybrid vigour' or heterosis.

            Nerica is not just one variety; it is a family of more than 3 000 lines. Savitri Mohapatra, Communication and Information Office of the Africa Rice Center, said in reply to my enquiry, "Hundreds of Nerica lines have been developed and they are true- breeding." In other words, farmers can save and replant seeds, without having to purchase seeds every year. Poor farmers are therefore getting the benefit of hybrid rice without having to pay for it every year.

            Participatory research is the key to the Nerica success story. Farmers grew several varieties and provided valuable feedback to the scientists. The scientists were able to learn about the traits most valued by farmers and incorporate those into the breeding programme. More than 1 300 farmers took part in the 1998 project to start growing the new rice varieties in Guinea. This was followed by a 1999 project to increase seed supply at national level and a farmer awareness campaign.

            In Guinea, farmers increased yield by 50% without fertilizer and by more than 200% with fertilizer.

            Building on the success in Guinea, WARDA and its partners joined forces to scale up dissemination of Nerica throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. This culminated in the launch of The African Rice Initiative (ARI) in March 2002.

            According to ARI's projections, by the end of the 5-year project (Phase 1), some 200 000 ha will be under Nerica cultivation with a production of nearly 750 000 tonnes per year, achieving rice import savings worth nearly US$90 million per year.

            Nericas are spreading fast in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2002, Nerica 1, 2, 3 and 4 were the top varieties selected by farmers in trials in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Sierra Leone and Togo.

            Within West Central Africa, Côte d'Ivoire released the first two Nerica varieties in 2000, and Nigeria released one in 2003. Farmers in The Gambia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are growing several Nerica varieties. In Benin, Gabon, Mali and Togo, several Nerica varieties are under extension. Uganda has released a Nerica variety as "Naric-3". Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania are evaluating several Nerica varieties.

            "In trials, we're getting yields as high as 2.5 tonnes per hectare at low inputs - and 5 tonnes or more with just minimum increase in fertilizer use," says Dr. Monty Jones, who is to receive the 2004 World Food Prize jointly with Chinese Rice Breeder, Dr. Yuan Longping, Director-General of the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Centre in Changsha, Hunan.

            "Barring unforeseen difficulties," says Hans Binswanger, Sector Director of Rural Development and the Environment of the World Bank, "we anticipate a rapid growth of rice production, leading to self-sufficiency within three or four years. We expect improved incomes and nutrition for the rural population and more affordable domestic rice for the urban population."


          • This article can be found on the I-SIS website at http://www.i- sis.org.uk/NRFA.php
             
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