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China’s “Father of Rice” Doubts Indian Crop Miracle

Too good to be true? Earlier this week, we heard rumblings of a potential revolution in agriculture, as a farming method developed by a Jesuit priest in Madagascar, called System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI), reportedly was producing world-record yields in India. But not everyone is convinced. The Guardian reports that a Chinese scientist is pouring cold water on the claims:

Professor Yuan Longping, known as the “father of rice”, said he doubted whether the Indian government had properly verified young Indian farmer Sumant Kumar’s claim that he had produced 22.4 tonnes of rice from one hectare of land in Bihar in 2011.

Yuan, director-general of China’s national rice research centre and holder of the previous record of 19.4 tonnes a hectare, asked: “How could the Indian government have confirmed the number after the harvesting was already done?” […]

However, Norman Uphoff, professor of agriculture at Cornell University in the US, defended Kumar and the Indian authorities…[“]plots were harvested with hundreds of people watching the cutting, threshing and weighing because everyone anticipated unprecedented yields[.]”

As we wrote before, further research will need to be done before we can declare SRI revolutionary. And even if the results hold, SRI will still have challenges to face. It has been criticized as un-scalable; so far it has proved difficult to mechanize, making it difficult to fit in to an industrialized agriculture framework. We will have to wait and see, but Bihar’s rising totals are impressive.

It’s worth noting that the prospect of a major agricultural breakthrough of this kind—in this case the result of experiments carried out by a Jesuit priest decades ago in Madagascar—are much more important to human well being than almost all the stories being followed so closely by the media. Don’t tell anyone inside the beltway, but this is even more important than the blame game over the sequester.

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