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|Tuesday, February 20, 2001, updated at 11:04(GMT+8)|
Yuan Longping, China's Most Famous "Farmer"
Yuan, 71, won a 5 million yuan State Supreme Science and Technology Award today, known as the Nobel Prize in China, for his outstanding achievements in breeding high-yield hybrid rice, which has substantially increased China's grain output.
Yuan came up with the idea of hybridizing rice for the first time in the world in 1960s. Since then, 50 percent of China's total rice cultivation fields have grown such rice, which added some 300 billion kilograms to the country's grain output.
Furrows grown on his sunburnt face, a slim figure and coiled-up trousers legs would confuse foreign reporters who came to interview the most famous scientist in China, who would rather be called "a farmer."
Indeed, like many Chinese farmers, Yuan in his 70s and has devoted most of his life growing rice in paddyfields, but unlike those farmers, he reaps the seed from experimental fields only for hybridizing rice.
The urbanite-turned-farmer graduated from Southwest Agriculture College in 1953 has his name related to the world's most advanced agricultural technology. Four minor planets, a listed seed company 's and a science college in China were named after him, which were the first time that a Chinese scientist's name is valued for its intellectual assets.
By lending his name to the Longping High-tech, a seed company, Yuan obtained a 5 per cent stake, or 2.5 million shares worth 2 million yuan, in the firm.
However, Yuan said his research requires the lifestyle of a farmer, or rather a migrating farmer, as he has conducted extensive research related to the cultivation of new strains of hybrid rice "Super Hybrid Rice" in some 10 provinces.
In the year 1999, more than 300 billion kilograms of grain were increased from about 240 million hectares of hybrid rice, which signified the success of his research. And this made Yuan firmly believe that China can surely feed her 1.2 billion population with her limited cultivated land.
The "Super Rice" yields are 30 percent higher than those of common rice. The record yield of 17,055 kilograms per hectare was registered in Yongsheng County in Yunnan in 1999.
But even after that achievement Yuan won't take a break. He has a dream, more realistic than that of his young age, that popularizing new strains of grain with higher yields around the world, can eliminate starvation on earth.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has vowed to get involved in the work of spreading the coverage of Yuan's high- yield hybrid rice, which it considers the best way to increase the world's grain output.
The FAO's 1991 statistics show that 20 percent of the world's rice output was yielded from 10 percent of the world's rice fields, which grow hybrid rice.
"If the new strain was sown in the rest of the rice acreage, the present grain output around the world can be more than doubled. This can be a solution to the grain shortage," said the unselfish scientist.
In 1980, Yuan went to the United States at the invitation of the International Rice Research Institute to share his knowledge about the cultivation technology of hybrid rice. He was also employed in 1991 as the chief consultant of FAO to bring his research methods to other countries.
With the help of Chinese scientists, the acreage of hybrid rice in Viet Nam and India increased to 200,000 hectares and 150,000 hectares in 1999, respectively.
The rice research costs time to prove its value. At the age of 43, Yuan cultivated the world's first hybrid rice. At that time the country's grain yield was about 4,500 kilogram per hectare.
"The natural disaster and policy miscarriage further deteriorated starvation in China by then," Yuan recalled tearfully.
This is his motivation to stimulate his research. Largely due to his scientific progress, China's total rice output rose from 5. 69 billion tons in 1950 to 19.47 billion tons last year. The growth rate of rice output far exceeded the population growth speed.
Some people estimate Yuan's actual fortune might amount to more than 100 million yuan (US$12 million), making him one of the richest people in China. But he doesn't know for sure himself, for he seems not to care about his own assets than the rice harvest.
Some people asked him to move the focus of his research from improving amounts of hybrid rice to the quality and taste, which would be easier to do. But, the stubborn academician insisted that the amount of hybrid rice's per unit yield still outweighs the quality, for his foremost task is to improve the grain reserve in developing countries.
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