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Hybrid rice no panacea for Kingdom's food woes

Hybrid rice no panacea for Kingdom's food woes

Dear Editor,

"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

reality.

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).

Even

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

throughout Cambodia.

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.

Hybrid

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.

When

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.

Rick Dubbeldam

Phnom Penh

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to: [email protected] or P.O. Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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