Rice seeds, everyday miracles

It is during the times of deep struggle when miracles arise. Farmers know this best. They till their land, sow their seeds, nourish their plants, and guard them with hope that pests, diseases, drought, or flood will not put all their efforts in vain. After all the backbreaking work, their miracle comes when they get a plentiful harvest of good quality crops.

More than 50 years ago, rice farmers in the tropics were facing dread in their fields. Even with their best efforts to get a good harvest, they often ended up with stumpy and slack yields. This deep struggle became the motivation of rice scientists to work harder toward delivering the best variety of rice that will address the farmers’ concerns. After much brainwork and execution, the rice scientists came up with IR8, the miracle rice that took a shorter time to grow, responded better to nitrogen fertilizer, and most importantly, yielded a whole lot better than other varieties used by farmers. It was a timely answer to the farmers’ woes. Thus, it became the most celebrated rice variety, especially in developing countries, even after decades of release.

Today, rice farmers and consumers are facing challenges of extremes—hotter and colder temperatures, more saline soils, rapidly evolving pests, dwindling yield, water shortage, hunger, and malnutrition. Thus, innovations in rice science are necessary to help resource-poor farmers feed the growing world population. In 2050, farmers are expected to feed more than nine billion mouths all over the world. What will be their saving grace?

Rice scientists have proven their capacity to weave scientific miracles with IR8, and so, it is in their hands to equip farmers today with the best tools to feed the world in the coming years. With the plethora of problems arising in the rice fields, every tool in the toolbox of rice scientists is necessary to achieve the second green revolution in rice. Conventional breeding, market-assisted selection, genetic engineering, and new breeding techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9, are all essential to develop superior and elite rice breeding lines and hybrid varieties that will help feed the world.

Innovations that will lead to improved rice plants that are high-yielding, have excellent grain quality, are resistant to pests and diseases, are environmentally stress-tolerant, and need less farm inputs are under development. These scientific innovations are the new seeds of miracles waiting to be harvested in farmers’ fields and bear fruit for the benefit of mankind.

Once these new innovations are transferred from the testing fields to the farmers, breakthroughs will once again spread like a revolution does. Farmers will no longer fear pest attacks and disease outbreaks. They will not put their health at risk by using strong chemicals because pest- and disease-resistant rice varieties are available. They will no longer worry about water shortage or floods because of water-efficient rice. They will no longer rant about the effects of too much heat from the sun because of drought-tolerant rice. They will have every kind of seed they need for every concern. They will have peace of mind.

Pregnant women in developing countries will no longer fear not seeing the future of their children because they find the right nourishment with healthier rice varieties such as Golden Rice. Children will get a chance to have a brighter future because they see clearer with their eyes. Every family is happy and secured because they have rice to eat.

When these innovations become tangible realities, rice, the top staple in most countries, will turn into an everyday miracle.

Scientists know that there is no silver bullet that will end all the problems in farmers’ fields. Being the master of miracles, they will press on with their mission to continuously bring forth premier crops not just for the sake of farmers, but also for the future of their own children. After all, they, along with their families, are also consumers, in need of nourishment and healthy living.

With the prevailing effects of climate change, the green revolution continues. Farmers remain at the frontline of feeding the world. Scientists work as vigilantes in producing the right instruments to combat climate change. All these combined efforts give us a chance to mitigate climate change and at the same time change the world again for the better.

Note: The views and opinions on this essay are those of the author's and do not reflect those of the institute and its partners.

Kristine Grace TomeKristine Grace Tome

Kristine Tome is a science storyteller. She writes articles and publications on crop biotechnology to equip the public with facts and help them make informed decisions on the technology.