Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, 78, won the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions in developing hybrid rice to feed the massive Chinese population. Our reporter Wang Ling has the details.
Yuan Longping [Photo source: sinaimg.cn]
"I saw rice plants as tall as Chinese sorghum, each ear of rice as big as a broom and each grain of rice as huge as a peanut. I could hide in the shadow of the rice crops with a friend."
This is a famous dream of the renowned agricultural scientist Yuan Longping.
Dubbed the "Father of Hybrid Rice," Yuan Longping is one of the most important scientists in contemporary China. Having spent over 50 years in agricultural research, he has made a remarkable contribution in solving the problem of feeding the massive population of China.
Yuan Longping's interest in agriculture began when he was still in primary school.
"We went to a horticultural garden on outing led by our teacher. The garden was beautiful and there were nice fruits like grapes. I thought it would be a great thing to learn agriculture."
Despite his parents wishes that he study science or medicine, Yuan Longping chose to study agriculture at university. After graduation, Yuan was assigned as a teacher in an agricultural school in a small town called Anjiang in Hunan province, where he stayed for 19 years. Although he was initially assigned to teach Russian there, Anjiang was the place where Yuan Longping started his hybrid rice research and eventually developed the world-famous three-line hybrid rice.
During the period from late 1950's to the early 1960's, China suffered from a nationwide famine. Yuan Longping saw the suffering firsthand.
The tragic scene left a long-term impression on Yuan Longping, and he decided to make an effort to ensure that people in the future would have enough food to eat. Since then, he has devoted himself to the research and development of a better rice breed. Yuan Longping's research was not supported in the beginning. Many experts doubted his theory and did not believe he would succeed. After several years of study and research of more than 6,000 rice plants in the field, in 1964, Yuan Longping finally found a natural hybrid rice plant that had obvious advantages over others. This was a key to his research. After over a decade of effort, Yuan's group developed the first high-yielding hybrid rice varietal in 1974. This rice yielded 20 percent more per unit than other rice plants, putting China in the lead in worldwide rice production.
Thanks to Yuan Longping's persistence, as much as 50 percent of China's total rice fields now grow his hybrid rice, yielding 60 percent of the rice production in China. However, Yuan Longping is not satisfied with his current achievement and is still studying ways to develop rice varietals with even higher yields.
"We now have a population of 1.3 billion, with an average of 1.3 mu of field per person. By 2030, we will have 1.6 billion people, the average field area per person will be 1 mu. It is a serious question whether or not the Chinese people will be able to feed themselves."
Yuan Longping's achievement has brought him numerous awards and honors both at home and abroad. And to get more funds for research, he donated his name in business. In 2000, a seed company called Longping High Tech opened for business, in which Yuan Longping got stock worth 100 million yuan, or 12 million US dollars. His name is now estimated to be worth over 100 billion yuan as a brand. However, fame and wealth mean much less to him than his research. He resigned from the company two years later and went on developing better rice.
"I am not a businessman, and my main job is doing research. Too much money would be a big burden."
But Yuan Longping is a person with many hobbies, as well. He began playing violin at a young age, and still plays it whenever he is free. He also enjoys sports.
"Exercise is very important. I do stretches in the morning, play volleyball in the afternoon, and swim in summer, and we often hold matches."
Yuan Longping is currently devoted to developing the Phase-III Super Rice. He has two wishes for the near future.
"One is to develop the Phase-III Super Rice, and the other is to spread the hybrid rice all over the world."
His hybrid rice has already been adopted in over 20 countries and is attracting attention from the whole world, especially in areas at risk for famine. Yuan Longping's achievement is considered a victory over the threat of famine, and some economists say that Yuan is ushering us into a world with ample food.
As he accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award, Yuan Longping said that lifetime achievement means to strive with all your life. He will continue to demonstrate the award through his own actions.