IRRI and China have been collaborating for more than 30 years. A key partnership began in 1997 through a mega-project intensively focused on rice research and training. This huge undertaking of 12 collaborative projects resulted in 49 super rice varieties being released in China since 1999. Yields increased to as much as 12 tons per hectare.
China is the world's largest producer of rice, with 207 million tons produced in 2014. China's average yield is around 6.5 tons per hectare, among the highest in Asia.
Archaelogical finds suggest that a community of early rice growers existed in China as far back as 8000 B.C. Today, rice is cultivated across eastern and southeastern China. More than 90% of China's rice is irrigated and, in some areas, two crops per year can be grown.
China's partnership with IRRI began in 1974, when then Director General Nyle Brady provided China with seeds of IRRI-developed varieties during a one-month tour of the country. This jumpstarted IRRI's formal scientific collaboration with China, facilitating the development of the country's rice economy. Initially teaming up with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), IRRI and its partners eventually released four rice varieties in China, namely, Golden Shuttle 1 and Zhongyu 1, 4, and 6.
A key IRRI-China partnership was in a mega-project that began in 1997, intensively focused on rice research and training. This huge undertaking of 12 collaborative projects resulted in the release of 49 rice varieties in China since 1999 -- each with potential for higher yields.
IRRI's engagement with China helped the country become a world leader in hybrid rice, which can yield 15-20% more than other rice. In the late 1970s, China was the first country to successfully produce hybrid rice for temperate-climate agriculture. China is now the largest adopter of hybrid rice. The first Chinese hybrid rice releases -- Shanyou 2 and Welyou 6 -- had IR24 and W6, respectively as restorer parents. Three-line hybrid rice cultivation in China has been successful partly because of the restorer genes necessary for hybrid rice systems. 99% of China's three-line hybrid rice still uses restorer genes from IRRI.
In 1983, IRRI helped establish China National Rice Research Institute in Hangzhou.
IRRI frequently sends high-level delegations to China and regularly hold workshops and meetings there to undertake research and foster collaboration. China contributed a total of US$3.1 million to IRRI's research between 1984 and 2011.
Research priorities in the IRRI-China collaboration include China's national program on breeding super hybrid rice, improving the grain quality of inbred rice lines, and addressing the challenges of climate change effects in farming through climate-smart technologies. The partnership also harnesses the development and use of China's Rice Knowledge Bank.
Current research and development with China
Improved rice varieties
China and IRRI continue to collaborate to increase the yield and quality of hybrid rice. The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) is also working with IRRI to develop Green Super Rice varieties. The project launched its third phase in 2016 and has released 56 rice varieties that can cope better with harsh conditions associated with climate change.
Japonica rice also plays an important role in meeting China's food demands. Research and information sharing through the Temperate Rice Research Consortium (TRRC) provided understanding on how yield potential can be increased in temperate areas.
Discovering new helpful genes
CAAS is a partner in the Global Rice Phenotyping Network with IRRI, which seeks to discover new rice genes that could help improve yield, resistance to diseases, tolerance to abiotic stresses and adaptation to environmental constraints, such as climate change.
Also, through the 3,000 Rice Genomes Project, CAAS, BG, and IRRI completed the sequencing of genomes of 3,000 varieties and lines from 89 countries. These are from the collections of the International Rice Genebank (82%) and CAAS genebank (18%).
China is part of the global project to develop C4 rice -- designed to achieve more efficient photosynthesis and, potentially, 50% higher productivity.
Addressing climate change
Chinese and IRRI partners are studying changes in rice yield and nitrogen- and water-use efficiencies, as well as the environmental effects of different water-use practices. They are also exploring Chinese rice varieties for higher productivity under environments with higher temperatures and high carbon dioxide.
Improved crop management
IRRC also promotes alternate wetting and drying (AWD) technology through Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprints or CORIGAP. AWD can reduce water consumption and greenhouse gas emission.
Field trials indicatre that yields from 3CT+AWD were better than from 3CT alone and farmer's practice. Economic returns of 3CT+AWD increased by 13% on the average.
Analyzing the impact of rice research
IRRI is investigating the impact of its contributions to rice genetic improvement in China to help evaluate its research and target future research.
Shared and conserved rice
China has received 54 varieties of rice from IRRI for research and breeding, contributed 6,880 types of rice to IRRI's International Rice Genebank for conservation, and released more than 382 indica and japonica inbred and hybrid varieties.
Developed better rice varieties
IRRI's collaborative research with China focuses on developing “super rice” – high-yielding, high-quality, hybrid rice – known to have a yield advantage of 10% over the conventional varieties. Hybrid rice has been known to have supplied China's increasing demand for rice.
In 1997, a megaproject involving 12 collaborative research projects led to the release of 49 super rice varieties in China since 1999.
Rockefeller Foundation funded a 7-component project on drought-tolerance in rice, which was launched to alleviate food insecurity and poverty in rural Asia. Drought-tolerant lines developed were distributed to China and India for testing.
Improved grain quality
With China's continued economic growth, consumers demand rice that is more palatable. Though hybrid rice produces a significant yield advantage over conventional rice, its grain quality is not at par with inbred varieties. This has rice breeders paying more attention to hybrid rice's grain quality.
Research on functional genomics
Gene mapping and gene transformation are priority research areas of rice biotechnology in China. Chinese scientists had cloned several functional genes controlling important agronomic traits. Those genes are very helpful to battle biotic and abiotic stresses in rice cultivation and for improving quality and increasing yield.
Developed cost-saving and environment-friendly cultivation technologies
This is a main challenge facing agronomists; to overcome increased labor cost and strong pollution caused by the application of chemicals in rice cultivation. Technologies such as rice-duck cultivation, water-saving cultivation, and direct seeding are applied in rice production and welcomed by rice farmers.
Sharing best practices
China’s Rice Knowledge Bank (RKB), an online repository of rice information in China, was developed by IRRI and its partners to help extension workers and intermediaries disseminate new cultivation technologies and information to rice farmers.
The China-RKB narrows the information gap between technology development agencies and end users. In 2007 to 2008, IRRI trained thousands of rice farmers at research institutes, in villages, and in farmers’ fields. Hundreds of demonstration plots have been set up to demonstrate the latest varieties and new cultivation technologies through this innovative tool.
Preserved biodiversity to control disease
IRRI scientists and Chinese partners successfully introduced interplanting of glutinous rice with inbred varieties as a sustainable way to control rice blast in Yunnan province. The practice was widely adopted and decreased the incidence of blast from 55% to 5%, while yield losses dropped from 28% to nothing. The technology was adopted on approximately 1 million hectares of rice farms in 10 provinces across China.
Enchancing biodiversity for pest control
Chinese and IRRI partners have chronicled the biodiversity of rice environments to guide pest control.
In 2008, ADB and IRRI initiated the Rice Planthopper Project under the 13th Regional Technical Assistance (RETA) program. The goal was to develop sustainable means of reducing crop vulnerability to preharvest losses due to planthopper outbreaks.
A training workshop on ecological engineering and research methods for pest management was held at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou in 2009. Project partners developed a strategy for the sustainable prevention of planthopper outbreaks in Asia by protecting ecosystem services using ecological engineering tools.
Improved rice varieties
A 7-component project on drought tolerance in rice, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, was launched to help alleviate food insecurity and poverty in rural Asia. Drought-tolerant lines developed under the project were distributed to China and India for testing.
The Chinese government initiated several programs to encourage cooperation among rice research institutes and encourage networking of Chinese rice researchers. This initiative was also seen to improve the innovative capacity of the country's research system. One of these programs were the Chinese National Center for Rice Improvement and National Modern Technology System for the Rice Industry (INMTSRI). The Ministry of Agriculture introduced a new operating mechanism to the INMTSRI. This mechanism demonstrated the integration of stable investment of research funds and competitive funds, a close relation between rice research and industry, as well as cooperative mechanisms.
INMTSRI operated on three levels: through the Innovative Center, the Functional Research Lab, and Integrated Experiment Research Station. The Innovative Center of INMTSRI is affiliated with the China National Rice Research Institute.
With IRRI, China has worked to train plant breeders, researchers and scholars. A total of 1,000 IRRI scholars came from China from 1966 to 2015. 59 Chinese scholars earned a master’s degree, 129 became PhD scholars, 129 became on-the-job trainees, eight became fellows and interns. From 1966 to 2014, IRRI has provided training and short courses to 810 participants from China. In 2014, CAAS funded a 3-month training program for 2 chinese scientists at IRRI.
It was largely believed that the Chinese started domesticating rice around 4,000 B.C., based on clay pottery bearing a rice glume imprint unearthed in Honan Province. In the late 70's, however, archaeological evidence found in Chekinag Province dispelled this belief when researchers excavated a massive collection of carbonized grains, straw, earthen cooking utensils and evidence of advanced wooden huts. These implements were radiocarbon dated, proving that a community of early rice growers existed in China as far back as 8,000 B.C. (Smith and Dilday 2003).
Other archaeological studies showed much earlier evidence of domesticated rice around the Yangtse Valley. Near Poyang Lake, researchers found japonica pytoliths, radiocarbon dated to 10,000-9,000 B.C., in sediment deposits of Diaotonghuan Cave. Around the same era, ceramic sherds tempered with charred plants including rice were found in Shangshan, a Neolithic village in the lower Yangtse Valley. By about 7,000 B.C., japonica was spread throughout the valley, including large amounts of rice kernels at Tong Xian, Luojiajiao and Hemuda.
Today, rice cultivation is concentrated mostly in the eastern region of China. In Yangtze River Valley, much of the land is planted to a rice-wheat rotation. In northeastern China, low temperature, a short growth period, little rainfall, and a lack of water limit the rice area. The varieties grown in this area are typically the semi-glutinous japonica and are considered to be of high quality than rice grown in other areas.
Rice growing conditions vary due to topography and weather. In southeastern China, high temperature and adequate rainfall make an ideal environment for rice during a long growth period and many areas grow two crops of rice per year.
More than 90% of the rice area in China is irrigated, with only relatively small areas being cultivated under rainfed conditions. Rice is produced in different agroecological zones, mainly in warm/cool humid subtropics with summer rainfall and in cool subtropics with summer rainfall. China is the world's largest rice producer — around 193 million metric tons (FAO 2008), which can account for as much as 35% of of total world rice production.
- T.T. Chang discusses the value of rice's diversity
- IRRI Pioneer Potpourri: sons of T.T. Chang reflect on their father
You may also view IRRI's YouTube playlist about China.
Media release and news items
- CAAS and IRRI alliance on rice genomics to develop climate-smart rice
- More Asian rice farmers to benefit from CORIGAP technologies
- China: Agriculture Vice Minister calls for stronger cooperation with IRRI to safeguard global food security
- Rice farmers in China use less fertilizer, increase yield
- China: Green Super Rice project launches second phase
Rice Today features
- Trends in global rice consumption (Rice Today Jan-Mar 2013)
- Game changers in the global rice market (Rice Today July-Sept 2013)
- China and IRRI
- Rice in the Dragon's shadow: China 1976 (Rice Today, Jan-March 2009)
- China and IRRI: Improving Chna's rice productivity in the 21st century