zom-in logo internship entrepreneurs

Log IN / Sign UP


Farewell to Yuan Longping, Plant Scientist Who Helped Curb Famine

Wong Shu Lee  


  May 25, 2021

Yuan Longping, a Chinese plant scientist whose breakthroughs in developing high-yield hybrid strains of rice helped to alleviate famine and poverty across much of Asia and Africa, died on Saturday in Changsha, China. He was 90. 


Born in 1930, Yuan succeeded in cultivating the world's first high-yield hybrid rice strain in 1973, which was later grown on a large scale in China and other countries to substantially raise output. 


Yuan’s Contribution in Curbing Global Famine


In 1959, China experienced the Great Chinese Famine. Yuan as an agricultural scientist could do little to greatly help people around him in Hunan province. "There was nothing in the field because hungry people took away all the edible things they can find. They eat grass, seeds, Fern roots, or even white clay at the very extreme." 


Yuan considered applying the inheritance rules onto sweet potatoes and wheat since their fast rate of growth made them the practical solutions for the famine. However, he realized that in Southern China sweet potato was never a part of the daily diet and wheat didn't grow well in that area. Therefore, he turned his mind to rice. 


In 1964, he created his theory of using a hypothetical naturally-mutated male-sterile strain of rice that he predicted most probably existed for the creation of a new reproductive hybrid rice species. In two years’ time, Yuan managed to successfully find a few individuals of such mutated male-sterile rice that he could use for his research. Subsequent experiments proved his original theory feasible, making that theory his most important contribution to hybrid rice. 


The first experimental hybrid rice species that were cultivated didn't show any significant advantage over commonly grown species, so Yuan suggested crossbreeding rice with a more distant relative: the wild rice. In 1970, he found a particularly important species of wild rice that he ended up using for the creation of a high-yield hybrid rice species. 


In 1973, in cooperation with others, he was finally able to establish a complete process for creating and reproducing this high-yield hybrid rice species. In 1974, they successfully cultivated a hybrid rice species which had great advantages over conventionally grown rice. It yielded 20 percent more per unit than that of common rice breeds, putting China in the lead worldwide in rice production. For this achievement, Yuan Longping was dubbed the "Father of Hybrid Rice." 


The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization 1991 statistics show that 20 percent of the world's rice output came from 10 percent of the world's rice fields that grow hybrid rice. At present, as much as 50 percent of China's total number of rice paddies grow Yuan Longping's hybrid rice species and these hybrid rice paddies yield 60 percent of the total rice production in China. 


Yuan had never stopped his research in agronomy. In fact, over the 4 decades, he continued to research and upgrade hybrid rice, which has now reached its third generation. In January 2014, Yuan said in an interview that genetically modified food would be the future direction of food and that he had been working on genetic modification of rice. 


Yuan was a great role model for his persistence and perseverance. In a 2020’s video message to encourage youngsters to enter science, Yuan said: “There is no secret to that (his success). My experience can be summarized in four words: knowledge, sweat, inspiration, and opportunity.” He quoted scientist Louis Pasteur in English: “Opportunities support a prepared mind.”


Latest Spice-IN

01 Dece
Culture & Celebration

15 Questions To Help You Review Year 2022

Read More
29 Nove
Culture & Celebration

5 Ways To Create An Inclusive Environment for People with Disabilities

Read More
24 Nove

Refreshing Basic Knowledge About Malaysia's Parliamentary System

Read More