Legacy of “Father of Hybrid Rice” Continues at IRRI Amid Food Security Concerns


At the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, Chinese agronomist Yuan Longping‘s legacy continues. Also referred to as the Father of Hybrid Rice, Yuna’s hybrid rice was first introduced internationally at IRRI. The Chinese agronomist passed away on May 22, 2021.

Jauhar Ali, a hybrid rice breeder at IRRI, is one of the scientists inspired by Yuan. In one of Ali’s photos on his Facebook profile, he is shown in the middle of a rice field, celebrating Yuan’s birthday in Changsha in China’s Hunan Province. Ali had been invited as an IRRI expert to an international conference on rice research held in Changsha.

Ali had known Yuan since the late 1980s when the Chinese scientist went to India to support local rice research. India is Ali’s birth country. Of Ali’s picture celebrating Yuan’s birthday, Ali said, “That’s a memorable, touching moment.”

IRRI is a research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger through rice science, and Yuan’s relationship with IRRI dates back to the 1970s. Yuan began researching hybrid rice in 1964 and after nine years of intensive research and testing, in 1973, his team triumphantly cultivated the world’s first high-yield hybrid rice strain. In 1979, he attended an international rice research conference held by IRRI in the Philippines. It was there that he debuted his research on hybrid rice to the world.

It was three years when Yuan, participating in another meeting of IRRI, was reputed as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” by his peers worldwide.

Ali keeps a digital archive of selected papers from the 1979 conference, including Yuan’s co-authored paper “Hybrid Rice Breeding in China.”

Since then, hybrid rice technology has been promoted in more than 60 countries and regions. In over four decades, millions of hectares of farmland growing hybrid rice has fed billions of people on the planet.

Han Raj Bhardwaj, research director and head of the rice breeding innovations platform at IRRI, stated, “With the hybrid rice, you can see at least not only the production of more food but at the same time, you save on the input cost side.”

According to IRRI, rice is the world’s most important staple food, consumed by almost 4 billion people. Rice farming is deeply associated with poverty with about 900 million of the world’s poor depending on rice as producers or consumers.

However, day by day, climate change is becoming a bigger threat to rice farming. Higher temperatures, more frequent droughts, flooding, and rising sea levels can contribute to reduced global rice production. According to IRRI, the reduced production may endanger food security and hamper low-income consumers and producers emerging out of poverty.

“One way to mitigate that challenge is to develop varieties of the plants, which can tolerate the stress, but can still produce adequate yields,” said Bhardwaj. He added that much of the research today is “focused on some of those stressed rates, whether it could be droughts, heat, or floods.”

Ali began work at IRRI in the early 2000s and is the head of a program developing extreme-weather-tolerated rice varieties. He attributes his career motivation to being inspired by Yuan. Ali said, “Yuan is not only the ‘Father of Hybrid Rice’, but also the father or grandfather of all rice researchers,” and described Yuan as a “down-to-earth person.”

“All credit goes to Dr. Yuan Longping. And we must all feel so grateful for his invention, his drive, and the efforts he put behind promoting and developing this technology. It certainly helped with food security, reducing hunger and malnutrition. So this is one of the most significant or important technologies which has a large impact on food production and food security,” said Bhardwaj.