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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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SC: Anti-Terrorism Bill needs approval at referendum and 2/3 majority to become law

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Certain sections inconsistent with Constitution

By Saman Indrajith

Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa informed Parliament yesterday that the Supreme Court (SC) has determined that some sections of the Anti-Terrorism Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and, therefore, the Bill had to be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum.

Rajapaksa said that the Supreme Court had determined that the Sections 3, 4, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 72 (2), 75 (3) and 83 (7) of the draft Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution.

The SC has determined that sections 3, 40, 53, 70, 72 (1), 75 (3) should be passed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority and approved by the people at a referendum if they are to become law.

Sections 4 and 72 (2) of the Bill have to be amended as per the SC determination.

Section 83 (7) requires passage by a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

However, the SC had stated that it could be passed by a simple majority if the recommended amendments are accommodated, Rajapaksa said.

Opposition MPs say the Anti-Terrorism Bill is being introduced in an election year to repress Opposition parties.They said the proposed law is a threat to democracy itself.

“This Bill is being presented not at a time of terrorism prevailing in the country but during an election period. The Bill has not defined nor analysed what a terrorist is. Anyone can be arrested,” SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said.

The MP said both the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the controversial Online Safety law were meant to quell democracy.

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Harin’s claim that SL is part of India: Govt. says it is his personal opinion

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Manusha accuses Wimal of having taken parts of Fernando’s speech out of context

By Saman Indrajith

Labour and Foreign Employment Minister Manusha Nanayakkara told NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa in Parliament to refrain from taking chunks of others’ speeches out of context and misinterpreting them for political mileage.

The Minister said so following concerns raised by Weerawansa over a recent statement by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on India-Sri Lanka relationships.

Weerawansa said that Minister Fernando had recently stated that Sri Lanka was a part of India. “Was it Minister Fernando’s personal opinion or the government’s official standpoint? Was it the opinion of the Cabinet?”

Chief Government Whip Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said what Minister Fernando had stated was the latter’s personal opinion.

Minister Nanayakkara: “If anyone has read the entire statement made by Minister Fernando this type of question would not have arisen. The Tourism Minister was referring to historical relationships between India and Sri Lanka to ask Indians to visit Sri Lanka.

A distorted version of the speech by Minister Fernando is being circulated on social media. Certain parts have been removed while some words have been introduced to this edited version. Ones should read the statement in its entirety to understand it. We have not discussed this in the Cabinet meeting” Minister Nanayakkara said.

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US backs Lankan journalists vis-a-vis Online Safety law

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Kumar Nadesan, Chairman Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute (left) Elizabeth Allen ( Centre) and US Ambassador Chung (pic courtesy US embassy)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Elizabeth Allen on Monday (19) declared US support for journalists here against the backdrop of enactment of ‘Online Safety Bill’

She spokes about press freedom and related issues at the Sri Lanka Press Institute Press Club.

A statement issued by the US Embassy quoted Allen as having said the U.S. Embassy is all in on supporting your incredible work. Sure, we might bump heads over a story now and then, but above all, we’re your biggest fans. We’re all in on programmes that hone your skills because we believe in your right to pursue journalism freely and fearlessly.

I want to thank you for protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists here in Sri Lanka and around the world, ensuring all citizens enjoy the right to express their ideas and opinions openly and freely. Even in difficult times, you continue to press forward and ask difficult questions. Your commitment to seeking out the truth and shouting it from the rooftops remains a democratic staple, and I truly appreciate what you do.

It’s only fitting that I begin my remarks this afternoon by telling a story that I think is relevant in light of today’s topic about the media’s role in a democracy.

Over a century ago, American media coined the term “muckraker” for journalists who delved into societal issues, exposing corruption.

Although the term carried a somewhat negative connotation, labeling these journalists as mere “gossip mongers,” today, we honor them as the pioneers of investigative journalism.

These muckrakers played a pivotal role in ushering in the Progressive Era, a time of significant social and political reform in American history.

Even President Theodore Roosevelt referred to them as “muckrakers,” criticizing their focus on society’s flaws through figures like Lincoln Steffens, whose work shed light on corruption and spurred a nationwide call for accountability and reform.

Steffens’ book ‘The Shame of the Cities,’ published in 1904, made him renowned for uncovering corruption within American cities, highlighting the nefarious links between political leaders, businesses, and organized crime.

His fearless journalism raised critical awareness about the urgent need for governmental and corporate accountability. Steffens wasn’t acting as a public relations officer for the government; his role was to uncover the truth; however unpleasant it might be.

Faced with the stark realities Steffens presented, American officials and the public were compelled to confront a pivotal question: ‘Is this the kind of country we aspire to be?’ The resounding answer was no.

Steffens’ work didn’t just expose wrongdoing; it sparked a nationwide demand for reform and played a crucial role in fostering a dialogue about the essential role of investigative journalism in ensuring power remains accountable.

This story showcases how freedom of the press and freedom of expression are not just fundamental human rights, they are also vital contributors to a country’s development and growth.

This brings me to my main point: how the global media space supports democracy and fosters peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

In my mind, the correlation is obvious: When a government constricts the rights and freedoms of its citizens, the future and the development of the country will naturally suffer.

Globally, we’re witnessing serious and escalating challenges to media freedom. The United States stands firmly for the freedom of expression, advocating for press freedom both online and offline, and ensuring the safety of journalists and media workers worldwide. Unfortunately, these essential freedoms are under threat globally, including concerns raised here in Sri Lanka.

When governments intensify efforts to withhold information from the public by restricting internet access and censoring content, we must speak up. Notably, when Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Online Safety Bill in January, the United States voiced concerns over its potential effects on freedom of expression, innovation, and privacy.

It’s common to hear arguments against unfettered freedom of expression. Critics claim the media is biased, aiming to embarrass governments and undermine public trust. Others worry that without checks, freedom of expression may fuel the spread of misinformation. Some argue that an unchecked press can incite tension and compromise security. And there’s concern that continuous reports on corruption, violence, and political strife can tarnish a nation’s image, deterring investment and hampering development.

However, the media’s bias should lean towards the public’s interest, acting as a guardian to ensure that leaders fulfill their duties. This principle holds in Sri Lanka, the United States, and globally.

The challenge of negative press, often labeled as “fake news” or “biased journalism,” is not new. For generations, governments and the media have navigated a complex, sometimes adversarial relationship. This dynamic isn’t unique to any one nation; in the United States, for instance, presidents from both major political parties have experienced their share of friction with the press. This tension, a hallmark of democratic societies, plays a crucial role in fostering transparency and encouraging effective governance. It’s a familiar scene: politicians and journalists engage in heated exchanges, especially when leaders feel their actions are misrepresented, leading to accusations of inaccuracies and biased reporting.

The press’s duty is to deliver facts as they stand, shedding light on the government’s achievements as well as spotlighting areas where policies or programs fall short. This transparency not only informs the public but also strengthens the nation as it encourages constructive action and improvement.

And suppressing voices only complicates matters further. Attempting to conceal issues rather than addressing them is akin to hiding a broken tool rather than fixing it. True progress comes from collaborative dialogue, even if it means embracing the messiness of public discourse.”

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