A Wonderful Harvest
It was October 2011, I was touring the east Indian province of Chhattisgarh near Raipur, looking at the field results of our Arize® hybrid rice along with the team.
A farmer excitedly came running to us gesturing, inviting us to come and visit his field. We followed him, not knowing what to expect. We arrived at his field, a half-acre plot he had planted with a sample of our hybrid Arize 6444 Gold seed variety.
I examined the panicles closely. The grain load looked excellent - the crop was getting close to maturity, it would be ready to harvest in a week’s time. Nothing seemed unusual. But the farmer, Dindayal, was very excited, drawing our attention to the nearby plot he had planted with his usual variety.
It finally dawned on us why Dindayal was so excited! What a contrast! The usual variety was wilting with drying, yellowing leaves the classic symptoms of Bacterial Leaf Blight (BLB) scientifically called Xanthomonas oryzae were showing.
This disease is one of the most serious diseases of rice; it is most likely to develop in areas that have weeds and infected plants left after harvest. It occurs more frequently in tropical environments, with temperatures between 25-34°C and around 70% average humidity, and most particularly in irrigated and rain fed lowland areas.
Head of Rice Seed business in Asia reminisces about how important hybrid rice has been in the last 20 years as we celebrate today the World Food Day.
Together with the group of local small holder farmers, we examined the rest of the fields in the area. Plot after plot showed local varieties exhibiting the classic symptoms of BLB. We completed the tour and returned back to where we had started - the farmer group with Dindayal in their midst was incredulous at the performance of Arize hybrid rice which had escaped miraculously the disease.
Soon the news about Bayer rice went viral to the neighboring villages and more and more people came to see for themselves. Little did I realize then, but standing in this Indian rice plot, in the sweltering heat of that afternoon, I was witnessing agricultural history being created. As adoption of hybrid rice spread in the provinces of eastern India, it wasn’t uncommon to see farmers at the start of the sowing season queuing up to buy their bag of Bayer Arize 6444 Gold.
The happy memory of that exciting afternoon shared with Dindayal and other local farmers comes to mind today as we celebrate World Food day. I am reminded how important rice is to the world. It is a staple for many societies, a source of nutrition and income – 3.2 billion people depend on rice for more than 20% of their daily calories (source CGIAR).
Rice in Asia is considered the essence of culture. All festivities start and end with the consumption of rice to bring good luck. Myanmar for example is one of the top rice consuming countries with per capita 227 kg/year. Europeans consume on average 3 kg/year of rice, clearly a huge difference between Asia and the rest of the world. In Asia, rice is as important as bread for Europeans or a steak for Americans or Argentinians.
Despite the quantum leap, we have seen, in breeding excellence in hybrid rice in the last decade, adoption of hybrid rice has only reached 10% across Asia!
Bayer breeders and scientists are proud of our expertise in disease resistance in rice. Arize is the result of scientific research and passion. For us, the miracle is that by embracing this technology we see the cycle of poverty breaking, parents are able to send their children to school, finance their weddings and all in all provide better opportunities for their families. To me Better Rice, Better Life is not a product slogan, it is the excitement that Dindayal felt and shared with us back in 2011; to small holder farmers, it is the promise of a brighter future; to the rest of the world it is food at a reasonable cost. Together, we are making a difference.