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Prof. Yuan Longping, Hybrid Rice and Local Ignoramuses

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by Dr. MP Dhanapala

Some people are allergic to genetic improvement of crops. They are free to provide an appropriate technology to convince farmers to propagate and have their share of traditional crop species to lead a healthy life, ignoring the green revolution, improved crop species and use of agro-chemical inputs inclusive of plant nutrients.

I use the term “appropriate technology” to imply its feasibility, sustainability and economic viability from the farmers’ point of view. In this process, one should demarcate clearly between green revolution and green agriculture. The latter is yet ill- defined with no definite field tested technological recommendations for different crops developed or established.

Similarly, the sustainable agricultural enthusiast can engage in so called environment friendly non-toxic food production to feed the nation at an affordable cost. Surprisingly, the past cropping season (Maha 21/22) was deliberately ignored by the advisors and experts of sustainable green agriculture, without proper guidance and demonstrations to the farmers in all sectors of agriculture.

Everything was in a disarray and the responsible officers of the sector remained tight-lipped while securing their positions in office. Was this sustainable green agriculture? Are we to repeat the same? This needs an immediate and definite answer/solution before the Yala season begins in 2022. Farmers cannot proceed without well defined technological package.

To my mind, the agriculture we had until the first half of the 20th century was presumably sustainable and may have been green. The animal husbandry component together with farming systems and crop rotation, and sometimes the shifting/slash and burn cultivation system based on mixed-cropping associated with crop diversity were apparently considered Eco-friendly concepts in operation. But we failed to produce adequate food for the increasing population.

The land resources diminished gradually with more land being utilized to rear animals; then there was the population explosion. This situation led us to more intensive, demand-driven mono crop culture. Mechanization and other scientific innovations, inclusive of agrochemicals made good the acute shortage of labor as a result of people moving away from agriculture to white-collar jobs. This was influenced by education and urbanization.

How many of those who advise and insist on sustainable and green agriculture are prepared to engage in agriculture as their sole livelihood? Have they ever cultivated land to earn their livings? Probably not. But we have people from all sectors, including Buddhist monks (I am a Buddhist) promoting sustainable green agriculture with no strategies defined for successful implementation. They are unwilling to be full-time farmers. They preach and predict that in a few years’ time, agriculture would return to normal to feed the nation. They have no empathy with the farmers. This is the bitter reality.

The nostalgic eco-friendly scenario anticipated with sustainable green agriculture – forest cover, natural springs, unpolluted creeks and water bodies full of fish, soil microbes, flora and fauna etc. may well be only a dream that would not reappear on earth again. This lives in the minds of those who knew a more spacious era. We then had over 80 percent of forest cover in the country, Now it’s down to less than 30 percent with denudation of forests alongside the population explosion.

If we had the forest cover and a small population as in the past, then we could have continued life in a sustainable environment as we did centuries ago eating healthy food provided by nature. But now we have grown to a little over 22 million confined to 64.5 thousand square kilometers of land in an electronic age. We travel in carbon emitting limousines and supersonic aircraft consuming the resource of the earth without a care of what would happen the next day. Some of us only mark-time till we get the opportunity to migrate to greener pastures; but the poor and the incapable must continue to survive in this environment.

If one can supply the so-called healthy food at affordable prices for every inhabitant, then there is no necessity for a Green Revolution (not green agriculture) or Norman Bourlogue and his innovative approach to improve food production. We need food more than anything else, with the majority of our people born without silver spoons in their mouths.

The green revolution (not green agriculture) was brought about to produce more food for the increasing population within the country. Had we unlimited cultivable lands, the green revolution is meaningless as sustainable green agriculture was in place with rice and other field crops; but we were forced to improve productivity of crops within our limited agricultural land resource. This is the reason why the Norman Borlaugs of this world appeared. He was man who employed the modern plant type concept to improve productivity of wheat per unit area of land. This thinking migrated into rice and other cereal crops.

The modern Indica rice varieties were developed since the isolation of semi-dwarf rice mutant, Dee-Geo-Woo-Gen (DGWG), in Taiwan. There were two improved varieties, Taichung Native 1 (TN1) from Taiwan and IR 8 from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), introduced to Sri Lanka in the 1960s. But they failed to gain farmer acceptance. Sri Lanka too had a dwarf mutant of rice, K8 natural mutant (K8 nm), isolated at the Ambalantota Regional Rice Research Station.

K8 was known to be a sister-line of H4, the landmark cross-bred rice variety in Sri Lanka. The genetic improvement of rice in Sri Lanka was reported comprehensively in my newspaper article titled, “Rice Genetic Improvement Odyssey of Past Centuries” in the Sunday Island of 17/10/2021. This was to keep the misinformed or uncertain general public updated about the recorded historical developments of rice in Sri Lanka.

Some educated non-agriculturists distort the facts to convey to the general public that conventionally bred varieties were either hybrids or genetically modified entities. Probably the critics have forgotten the elementary Mendelian genetics they learned in “O Level” classes in schools. I invite attention of anyone who believes these critics to read the Sinhalese translation of the article titled “Are Modern Rice Varieties Genetically Modified Hybrids?” in page 11-17 in Govikam Sangarawa, 51 (2), June, 2020, Dept. of Agriculture..

Now, let me introduce Prof. Yuan Longping as the father of real hybrid rice. His contributions are in no way secondary to that of Norman Borlaug. He initiated the three parental hybrid rice technology to exploit heterosis/hybrid vigor to improve yield potential of rice and developed hybrid rice in China capable of out-yielding the conventionally cross-bred varieties by a substantial margin.

This procedure cannot be simply explained to convince the “local Longpings” who look at it without any background knowledge and experience in floral morphology and genetics of rice. Some of Prof. Longping’s “Super Hybrids” are capable of yielding 18 t/ha (360 bushels/ac) in high potential environments. Though he left us nine months ago and is not with us any more, Prof. Longping admitted that conventionally bred varieties in such specific environments are capable of yielding 16 t/ha (320 bu/ac).

I have listened to this statement of Prof. Longping on two occasions while answering a question raised by the IRRI hybrid rice breeder, Dr. Sant Virmani. Our national average yields of conventionally bred varieties are slightly below 5 t/ha (100 bu/ac) within the country, but I am confident that ours too can reach the potential of above 15 t/ha (300 bu/ac) or more in a matching environment.

The limiting factor is the potential of our environment; the edaphic (soil) and climatic factors specifically. Those who are misinformed that the conventionally bred (cross-bred) varieties are hybrids, can visit RRDI, Batalagoda to learn the breeding process of hybrid rice. The major constraints associated with the program are development of perfect cytoplasmic male sterile parent (A line) and its maintainer parent (B line); fertility restoration parent (R line); standard heterosis or pronounced hybrid vigor and the enhanced cross pollination capacity between the A and R lines (the rice plant is a hermaphrodite and an obligate inbreeder (cleistogamy); seed production process in isolation (space or time) without contamination and finally the unwarranted criticism by the local Longpings.

Now, we in Sri Lanka inclusive of all the local Longpings, can taste hybrid rice from China. All or some of the one million tons of Chinese rice to be imported shortly have to be hybrids, as more than 60 percent of the Chinese rice crop is from hybrid rice. Although one can conveniently avoid answering the questions in the media about the cultivation process (green or non-green), the yield potential of hybrid rice cannot be realized through sustainable green agriculture; it has to be some form of non-green agriculture involved in the process of commercial rice production in China.

The health-concerned local Longpings can investigate and compare the status of Cadmium (Cd), Arsenic (As) and Lead (Pb) and verify the quality and suitability of the imported rice for consumption by the general public. I am inclined to consume it any way, as I am from the farming community and confident that no Chinese can survive without kidneys.

I have expressed my gut feelings about the non-green rice cultivation advocated during my tenure in office at the Rice Research and Development Institute (RRDI), Batalagoda, in the newspaper article titled “Expert Advisor, Sustainable Farming and the Rice Farmer”, Sunday Island of 07/11/ 21. After serving 31 years at Batalagoda, with my family living with me and consuming non-green rice and other food items, we have suffered no ill effects. This is a real life experience.

Unfortunately the facts are being distorted by critics to their advantage. Accuracy and precision are two key words in scientific statements. In my newspaper article titled “Beyond Illusion to Reality with Traditional Rice”, Sunday Island of 10/10/2021, I have highlighted this fact as some conclusions were arrived at when evidence is inaccurate and incomplete.

Recently, in a U-tube discussion, the resource person was very confidently elaborating that Carbon and Nitrogen were subjected to pressure in the synthesis of urea and in the process Cadmium and Arsenic appear as contaminants. Is this how urea is synthesized? How come that something not in the raw material appears in the ultimate product? Also, in the same program, the resource person insisted that thunder showers make nitrate from atmospheric nitrogen and that is adequate to raise the rice crop in the field.

I knew nitrate as a negatively charged ion (NO3-), but not as a chemical compound called nitrate, and the lightening process will produce nitric acid (HNO3) identified in Sinhala as “Akunu Wathura”. (Plants grow better during rainy days irrespective of thunder showers. Here, the confounded effects of many factors are involved in the process. Availability of Sulphur in the form of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is reported from rain water analysis locally, but one can quantify the availability of adequate N in rain water in the form of any nitrogenous compound, by analyzing the rain water in March/April, the peak period of lightning and thunder showers.)

The media person in the program was patiently listening to and admiring the resource person. This reflected on his quality and knowledge more than the inaccuracy and the lack of precision of the two statements. Many unscientific and inaccurate statements of this kind may seep into society and get registered in the minds of laymen if the media is negligent, incompetent or qualified to do their job properly. The most sensible and rational strategy to come out from the present fertilizer dilemma in rice cultivation is suggested in the write-up “Are We Making Rational Decisions in the Rice Sector?”, Sunday Island of 12/09/2021.

Scientists never lie or distort facts to their advantage. If it happens, he is not fit to represent the scientific community any more. Prof. Yuan Longping was a dedicated scientist of extremely high caliber. Moreover, he was a very humble, down to earth gentleman. He made somethings happen that the rice scientists thought was extremely difficult, if not impossible. This would be appreciated only if you understand the morphology (hermaphroditism) and pollination mechanism (cleistogamy) of the rice floret (spikelet).

Prof. Yuan Longping’s hybrid rice research was immensely supported by the government of China. That made hybrid rice a reality by making its cultivation mandatory to some extent. Chinese understand the value of research. Hybrid rice is apparently the ultimate technological innovation or climax in rice breeding, if we are to protect ourselves from hunger.

It is too early to execute hybrid rice cultivation in our country as we need further research to confirm its practicability within our infra structure. However, our Longpings are protesing against hybrid rice at the outset itself, even prior to the development of hybrids without understanding the real mechanism underlying the breeding process. That is the difference between progressive and stagnating nations, probably governed by inherent genes.

I will conclude this disclosure quoting Prof. Yuan Longping, “The ship (hybrid rice) is always above the surface of water (conventional varieties)” i.e. when you improve the potential of conventional varieties, a hybrid can be developed to surpass the yield potential of that variety.

(The writer if a Retired Director/Rice Research & Development Institute, Bathalagoda)

Tel. 071 8412444, e mail: maddumadhanapala@yahoo.com



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Dhammika asks Ranil to resign as FM

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

Minister of Investment Promotion, Dhammika Perera, yesterday told the media, in Colombo, that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had to resign from his post as Finance Minister.

Minister Perera said that the Prime Minister was blocking all dollar earnings, borrowings, bridging finance, available essential food credit lines and other credit lines.

“I am joining the Aragalaya from today. I have been in the government for seven days. I have seen what happens. The Prime Minister must stop his political game as the Minister of Finance,” he said.

Perera added that Wickremesinghe had no plan to boost the cash flow, about feeding people, or bringing in dollars.

The Minister of Investment Promotion said that instead of describing the people’s economic woes, the Finance Ministry had to find solutions.

“For example, the proposal to give investors 10-year multiple visas was finalised some time ago. One month has since elapsed, but the Treasury is sitting on it. This is because Ranil is in the habit of stopping projects if they bring in dollars. More than 50 people have come to get the visa by paying 100,000 USD.

About 300 more are on the list. We can bring in 30 million dollars to Sri Lanka, this month, with the help of this visa scheme. Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister is inviting disaster,” Minister Perera said.

Perera added that while Wickremesinghe could continue as the Prime Minister, but as the Finance Minister, the latter had no desire to resolve the foreign currency crisis. All of Sri Lanka’s economic woes are linked to the dollar shortage, he said.

“I challenge Ranil and his economic experts to an open media debate. Maybe he can answer my questions. I challenged him to a debate in 2019, and he ran away. I am challenging him again,” Minister Perera said.

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JVP Leader accuses govt. of hatching plot against his party

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By Saman Indrajith

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake yesterday said that the government was planning to suppress his party by levelling false allegations against the latter.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters, Pelawatte, Dissanayake said that the plot hatched by the government could lead to bloodshed.

“A video has been released, on social media, instructing how to make Molotov Cocktails. The voice, in the footage, instructs the viewer to make bombs in a similar manner, and tie them to their bodies and explode themselves at the President’s House. The video says that after the explosion I would be appointed the President. Anyone would know that the JVP would not do anything stupid like that. This video is another attempt by the government to justify the use of violence against its critics. There have been similar instances in the past and this country has suffered heavily as a result,” Dissanayake said.

He said that his party lawyers would submit the video to the CID and demand an investigation from the police on who had created and uploaded it to social media. “There is a massive protest to be held in Colombo centering the Galle Face Aragalaya.

“We, too, will participate in it. The government’s response to the protests is to use the police and the army. In addition there are several other developments, including the creation of a para-military force against us. Each SLPP MP is given a chance to recruit five persons, loyal to him or her, as home guards to provide security to the MP. There was a letter from the IGP to Defence Secretary warning of possible bomb attacks. Our party’s name is there in that warning. I have queried this letter in Parliament, too, yet there is no explanation yet. It is in the same context some MPs have requested for personal firearms from the Defence Ministry. Taken together, these developments could indicate the plans of government suppression and what is there in store for us. We do not think that they could fool the people with these tricks. The CID is capable of investigating and finding the sources of any video against the President, in social media, within 24 hours. So we expect the same expedient action would be taken with regard to our complaint, too,” Dissanayake said.

He said that the JVP was prepared to stabilize the country and help bring it out of the current crisis in a short period of time.

Dissanayake said the JVP does not intend to do it alone and was confident that the citizens of the country, and Lankans overseas, would extend their support to the party for this purpose.

“This crisis cannot be resolved by changing posts or individuals, and especially not through a government that has lost the trust of the people,” he added.

When inquired about Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement in Parliament on his willingness to step down to allow Dissanayake to implement his economic plans, the MP said he was prepared to take up the task.

He said, however, that the President and Prime Minister must resign if he were to take up the challenge and implement JVP’s programme to save the country from the crisis.

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Move to set-up smoke-free zones: PHI union says member engaged in project harassed; Ministry says action in line with establishment code

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by Ifham Nizam

Public Health Inspectors’ Union has accused a section of the Health Ministry officials of working against a project to establish smoke-free zones in Sri Lanka.

The union alleged that a PHI who served the anti-tobacco campaign and went to the extent of sacrificing his personal leave for the same had been denied annual increments.

It said that the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) organised a project, under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO), to set up at least one smoke-free zone in each Medical Officer of Health Division countrywide. The union said that it played a significant role in the project.

The union alleged that PHI T. G. S. L. Prakash, of the Principal Public Health Inspectors’ Unit of the Ministry of Health, had been invited as a resource person as he innovated a 10-step process for establishing smoke-free zones for combatting second hand smoke.

However, the Deputy Director General (Public Health Services) of the Ministry of Health Dr. S. M. Arnold had obstructed the project by blocking Prakash’s participation, the union alleged.

Responding to The Island queries, Dr. S. M. Arnold said that he acted in terms of the Establishment Code and recommendations made by the relevant committee. Dr. Arnold said that the PHI concerned applied for leave for his PhD on Elephant Ecology study overseas, and work-related to NATA did not come under their purview. Dr. Arnold pointed out that the PHI Union President was also working for NATA.

Public Health Inspectors’ Union, President. Upul Rohana has previously asked the Health Secretary to conduct an investigation into the conduct of Dr. S. M. Arnold. According to the union for more than five years, PHI Prakash has conducted various research on the establishment of smoke-free zones in collaboration with NATA and the WHO and published and presented the research results at local and international fora.

The union said that the Chairman of NATA had requested that PHI Prakash to participate in the project as the outfit could benefit from his experience and expertise he had gained overseas in tobacco prevention.

The union claimed that the PHI concerned had participated in the project utilising his personal leave. The union alleged that Dr. Arnold had said that he wouldn’t recommend the annual salary increment for the particular PHI Prakash as his attendance was unsatisfactory.

PHI Chief Rohana emphasised that the concerned Deputy Director General continued to harass the officers who volunteered for their duties, abusing the power of his positio. He said although the union had complained to the health authorities, no action has been taken in that regard so far and their union would not hesitate to resort to trade union action seeking justice.

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