Here’s another interesting item, this time from GRAIN on hybrid rice in Vietnam:
Posted: 08 April 2009
A new study of farmer experiences with hybrid rice in Vietnam raises questions about the merits of the Vietnamese government’s support for hybrid rice.
Tran Duc Vien and Nguyen Thi Duong Nga of the the Center for Agricultural Research and Ecological Studies at the Hanoi University of Agriculture conducted a survey of 100 farm households in Ha Tay and Nam Dinh provinces of the Red River Delta in the spring and summer seasons of 2007. The Red River Delta, in the north of Vietnam, is the main hybrid rice growing region in the country.
They found that yields of hybrid varieties were not significantly different from inbred varieties. The farmers they surveyed reported an average increase in yield of only 2.1% with hybrid varieties. Their findings contrast with the statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), which have consistently shown a yield increase with hybrid rice of around 30% over inbreds. Tran and Nguyen found that the positive impact of hybrids on the income of the farm households surveyed was “insignificant”.
But, in looking only at the official data on hybrid rice supplied by MARD, the two researchers still uncovered a number of problems with the national hybrid rice programme that the government has invested over $5 million in during the past decade. Tran and Nguyen found that, according to the MARD data, there has been almost no improvement in yield for hybrid rice since the country began producing hybrid rice in the early 1990s. From 1992-2006 the yields of hybrid rice have increased by only 0.1% annually, whereas the yields of inbreds have increased by 2.4% annually over the same period.
They also point out that the national hybrid rice programme has failed to stimulate much of a domestic seed industry. Almost 80% of hybrid rice seed is still imported from China, costing Vietnam about $14.5 million per year. And the price is volatile. In 2008, for instance, seed companies doubled the price of hybrid rice seeds, putting the most popular Chinese varieties out of reach for many farmers. Plus, despite the cost, the quality of the seeds is inconsistent, leaving farmers vulnerable to crop losses. Tran and Nguyen report on a quality test for hybrid rice seed carried out in 2008 that found that 46 out of the 219 samples tested did not meet the national quality standards.
But perhaps the most damning aspect of the study was their finding through the survey that farmers used more chemical fertilizers when planting hybrids than they did with inbreds — about 30 kg more fertilisers per hectare. Hybrid rice’s thirst for fertiliser is indeed a major concern. It increases costs for farmers, especially with fertiliser prices still at all-time highs, and contributes to soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. The use of high-levels of fertilisers also increases pest and disease problems — most alarmingly with planthoppers. Hybrid rice’s susceptibility to planthoppers is well-known and leading rice entomologists are now linking the resurgence of these pests to the expanding production of hybrid rice. (Tran and Nguyen also note that “hybrid rice is susceptible to blast disease during the summer season, and this is especially true of Chinese varieties.”)
At the end of the report, the researchers raise the obvious but politically sensitive question of why the government intends to expand its support for hybrid rice, given the poor experience with it to date.
“Whether hybrid rice should be developed in Vietnam or not, and at what scale is a controversial topic among government leaders and scientists. Some view that the government’s investment in hybrid rice development program is not effective and efficient, the quality of hybrids is low, or hybrids have high susceptibility to diseases. These views are a result of the fact that great efforts (budget, human resources) have been put into hybrid rice development in the past 16 years, but hybrid rice adoption is still at a low rate and Vietnam depends much on Chinese seed production.”