Lentis/Miracle Rice

IntroductionEdit

IR8 is a High Yield Variety (HYV) rice species developed in 1966 to support the growing populations of southeast Asia. Its tenfold yield compared to traditional rice strains prevented the starvation of millions, earning it the moniker "miracle rice". While miracle rice's benefits are substantial, its growth requires more fertilizers, pesticides, and water than other rices. [1] This chapter discusses miracle rice's history, the sociotechnical benefits and consequences of its usage, and its reception compared to other novel rice species.

HistoryEdit

Expanding Global Population and the Green RevolutionEdit

Following the second world war, famine was a primary global concern. As populations worldwide began to grow exponentially, traditional farming methodologies became increasingly insufficient and new agricultural practices were necessary.[2] Countries around the world looked towards the global superpowers of the United States and USSR for aid in combating hunger.

 
Regional and worldwide populations after 1820. In 1950 (dashed line), populations across the world began to experience exponential growth and exceed the capacities of their food supplies.

In addition to humanitarian concerns, U.S. officials wanted to prevent the expansion of communism into impoverished nations, and so the U.S. introduced technological agricultural solutions to these countries as a countermeasure against USSR influence.[3] The resulting adoption of irrigation systems, fertilizers, pesticides, and HYV crops by these developing countries was called the "Green Revolution" by William S. Gaud in his address to congress on March 8, 1968:

"These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution."[4]

While initial efforts of the Green Revolution began in Mexico in the 1950s, the 1.4 billion people of Asia quickly demanded attention.[5][6] A staple crop for many Asian countries, rice was ideal for HYV development. In 1960, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations founded the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) with the government of the Republic of the Philippines to crossbreed new HYV rice strains.[7]

Development of IR8Edit

IRRI scientists in charge of crossbreeding HYV rices understood the factor limiting rice yields was the height of rice stems. Many rice species grew too tall with flimsy stalks, making them susceptible to falling over (or "lodging"). After lodging, rice crops ceased to grow and either decomposed or were consumed by crop pests.[8] The IRRI therefore aimed to crossbreed rice strains with short, stout stems with tall, higher yield species to maximize production and prevent lodging. Peta rice, a tall Indonesian rice, and Dee-geo-woo-gen (DGWG), a short Chinese rice, were among the first pairs to produce promising crossbreeding results in 1964. [9] After selective crossbreeding five generations of the initial Peta and DGWG strains, IR8 was produced in 1966 with outstanding results. While typical crop crossbreeding efforts increase yields 1-2 percent per year, IR8 increased yields tenfold after just two years of development. [10] IR8 was immediately adopted in the Philippines and shortly earned its title of "miracle rice" by the Pilipino press. In the following years, miracle rice became the staple crop of many southeast Asian countries including India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Sociotechnical ImpactsEdit

Successes of IR8Edit

IR8 was successful in solving the famine problem in Asia. Prior to the Green Revolution, 50% of the population in Asia was hungry, now it's 12%. The tenfold yield was never before seen in any form of rice. The hybrid also grew shorter than traditional rice. Traditional rice had the problem of growing too tall and falling over. Much more of the sun's energy went into making the IR8 grain. This allowed for more grain per plant. [11]

Shortcomings of IR8Edit

While IR8 was tremendously successful, many rice farmers eventually moved away from it. First, the rice was not particularly tasty, often described as being chalky and hardened after cooking. The rice was not able to handle unfavorable farming land as well as traditional rice, decreasing its yield. Asia is only around 50% ideal farming land, while the rest consists of wetter, more swampy, and/or flooding conditions. IR8 was also harsh on the fertilizer. Farmers would have to invest a lot in chemicals to keep the fertilizer farmable. Various other chemicals such as pesticides were also needed due to many weeds growing and diseases forming. Overall This operation became financially questionable, especially as the cost of growing traditional rice became much cheaper. [12]

Comparison with Golden RiceEdit

Miracle rice was largely met with positive reception, and was adopted by farmers worldwide. Despite there being negative environmental effects and potential sustainability risks, environmental activist groups did not oppose the use of miracle rice, nor was there widespread concern about the method of its development. This contrasts sharply with "Golden Rice," a novel rice variety which is genetically engineered to be more nutritious. Despite the fact both varieties were developed by the IRRI and both varieties' genetics were manipulated to have more desirable traits, the difference in response has been large. Unlike with miracle rice, activist groups such as Greenpeace strongly oppose the use of golden rice, stating that its use is "environmentally irresponsible, poses risks to human health and could compromise food, nutrition and financial security." [13] Public concern has primarily been focused on the method of golden rice's development, namely intentional genetic editing, and this concern poses a roadblock to more ambitious developments in rice. A 2016 poll from Pew Research indicate that 49% of adults in the U.S. believe that genetically modified foods are likely to have negative effects on the environment, and 49% of adults believe GM foods are likely to have negative health impacts on the population. [14] The fact that miracle rice was produced through crossbreeding, a technique that has been used for millennia, instead of genetic engineering, which is relatively novel, may account for the discrepancy in opinions on the two varieties.

ConclusionsEdit

Miracle rice is a prime example of how purely technological solutions can provide substantial short term benefits at the expense of creating long term obstacles. While miracle rice saved millions of lives, its farmers became reliant on fertilizers and pesticides, causing severe environmental and economic consequences. Furthermore, Asian populations were not merely maintained; they continued to grow exponentially after miracle rice's introduction. Today, Indian officials have stated that overpopulation in the country is one of its most major concerns, and rising unemployment, overcrowded infrastructures, and drained natural resources are all direct repercussions. [15] By pursuing solely technological avenues to fix hunger worldwide, miracle rice and the Green Revolution ignored any potential logistical solutions which may have avoided fertilizer and pesticide dependencies or the consequences of overpopulation. While further analysis is required to fully understand why miracle rice was so readily received compared to other novel crops, it is clear that single-minded technological solutions can have potentially devastating consequences.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Nussbaum, Bruce (2015, May 20). When Design Harms Instead Of Helps https://www.fastcompany.com/3046462/when-design-harms-instead-of-helps
  2. Ganzel, Bill (2007). The Green Revolution – Agriculture to Prevent War. https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/crops_13.html
  3. American Experience (2020, April 3). Caught Up in the War on Communism: Norman Borlaug and the "Green Revolution". https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/caught-war-on-communism-norman-borlaug-and-green-revolution/
  4. Gaud, William S. (1968, March 8). The Green Revolution: Accomplishments and Apprehensions. http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/topics/borlaug/borlaug-green.html
  5. Ganzel, Bill (2007). The Mexican Agricultural Program. https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/crops_14.html
  6. Roser, Max et al. (2019, May) "World Population Growth". https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth
  7. IRRI (2016). Rice Today: Special supplement focusing on IR8. http://books.irri.org/RT_Supplement-IR8.pdf
  8. Hirano, K. et al. (2017). Engineering the lodging resistance mechanism of post-Green Revolution rice to meet future demands. Proceedings of the Japan Academy. Series B, Physical and biological sciences, 93(4), 220–233. https://doi.org/10.2183/pjab.93.014
  9. Ganzel, Bill (2007). Miracle Rice. https://livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/crops_17.html
  10. Manila Times (2016, November 25). ‘Miracle rice’ hits 50 yrs of averting famine https://www.manilatimes.net/2016/11/25/business/agribusiness/miracle-rice-hits-50-yrs-averting-famine/298287/
  11. Rowlatt, J. (2016, December 01). IR8: The miracle rice which saved millions of lives. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-38156350
  12. Malcom, L. (n.d.). The Story Some Rice With That. https://www.abc.net.au/science/slab/rice/story.htm
  13. Greenpeace Southeast Asia (2013, March 1). Golden Rice. https://www.greenpeace.org/southeastasia/publication/1073/golden-rice
  14. Pew Research Center (2016, December 1). Public opinion about genetically modified foods and trust in scientists connected with these foods. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2016/12/01/public-opinion-about-genetically-modified-foods-and-trust-in-scientists-connected-with-these-foods
  15. Sanjay, BKS (2020, July 11). Overpopulation in India urgent, important issue. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/state-editions/overpopulation-in-india--urgent--important-issue.html