"Hybrid rice expected to triple crop
yields" is the headline above a report highlighting a
Malaysian-Cambodian joint venture (PPP, November 20, 2008). The
jubilant tone of the report, however, seems out of sync with the
The hope that hybrid rice breeds can triple yields is
exactly that - a hope. Between what farmers really yield and the
potential yield quoted in the article lies a huge yield gap (difference
between what scientists can achieve and what farmers achieve).
though there may be some merit in testing potential techniques with
unknown outcomes, using hybrid rice seeds has hardly proven to be a
panacea for the Cambodian rural sector, as quoted by the partners in
the joint venture.
In general, hybrid rice varieties have
failed to attain high yields in climatically warmer tropical countries.
In particular, the Malaysian company (RB Biotech) developing the hybrid
variety in this project has been unable to present significantly higher
yields in tests in Malaysia.
Also lost is the potential economic
rewards to the farmers involved. Thai agro-biz giant Charoen Pokprand,
promoting its hybrid rice in Central Thailand, quotes yield gains of
20-50 percent. However, a counter-study actually revealed that farmers'
income from hybrid rice was 60 percent lower. To attain the yields
quoted, besides the use of hybrid seeds, a high amount of fertilizers
and pesticides is required as well as having optimal control over water
supply and drainage, the former of which is seriously lacking
The article did not report details on the
backers of this venture, "investors from Singapore and the Middle
East." This should have rung alarm bells regarding the fact that the
benefits (if attained) are much wider than only to farmers.
rice production is a mechanism to introduce and benefit agro-business:
Seeds are to be purchased each year, often from the same companies
promoting the pesticides, while the trade of the produce is often
controlled by the companies that provide the seeds because the rice
varieties fail to be marketed in normal markets in Cambodia.
publishing such jubilant reports, it would help if the Post could place
them within the correct context. Development in the rural areas of
Cambodia is not served by experimenting with untested and unfit
technologies, which offer little real potential.
to: [email protected] or P.O. Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.