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Effectiveness of hybrid rice overhyped?

Hybrid rice has been touted as a means to increase rice yield, bring food security, and increase the livelihood of farmers; however, there is much evidence that this has not been the case.

NISTPASS writes, “The hype around hybrid rice is to be expected: there is a lot of money to be made from it. But this is not from the harvests of Chinese farmers in the Yuanyang terraces, or Vietnamese farmers around the Red River Delta, or Filipino farmers in Central Luzon. Rarely has that happened

In China, in different parts of Yunnan and Sichuan, two leading rice-growing areas, hybrid rice has caused very little, almost negligible, change in the economic status of Chinese farmers. The increase in yield, achieved mostly by farmers with access to irrigation and resources to spare for necessary inputs, was not spectacular, and far from the potential promised. For the yields vary greatly, depending on location and conditions, making the high-yield “guarantee” almost meaningless. Interestingly, the farmers who had long experience of growing hybrid rice said that, despite the claims made for them, the yields of the current hybrid varieties do not seem to be any higher than those of the first hybrids. Some farmers said that they had experienced no change at all in yields when changing from traditional varieties to hybrids, while others claimed that their yields had fallen.”

Other studies have corroborated these claims and complaints. NISTPASS writes, “Next to some strong push, there are concerns as well, in relation to new problems of pests, new diseases, and even unsuccessful growth of crops.”

Implications

This report points to some alarming discrepancies between the claims made my hybrid rice players – companies and governments – and on-the-ground claims by farmers. Distortion of data could contribute to a ‘food production bubble’ if hybrid rice shows signs of failing; this could definitely happen if major crops are lost to diseases. More failing crops could lead to increased rejection of hybrid seeds (covered here: http://rfsearchlight.clearsignals.org/node/264), and exploration of alternatives e.g. SRI. More studies are needed to help clarify data claims.

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Sources:

NISTPASS, Nov 2010 page 7,8:
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/NISTPASS_Nov2010.pdf#page=7

Why hybrid rice continues to fail Asia's small farmers.
http://www.grain.org/o/?id=100

Tran Duc Vien and Nguyen Thi Duong Nga, “Economic impact of hybrid rice in Vietnam an initial assessment,” Hanoi University of Agriculture, 2009, http://www.cares.org.vn./webplus/Article/ECONOMIC%20IMPACT%20OF%20HYBRID%20RICE%20IN%20VIETNAM.pdf