Professor Bui Chi Buu talks to Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) newspaper about the abundant varieties of high quality rice produced in Viet Nam.
Some people say that at present there are more than 100 different varieties of rice being planted in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta. Is this true?
Yes, it's true. But it does not mean that the market for different varieties is out of control. If we talk about the good varieties, I would say there are only a few, including the IR 50404, Jasmine 85, OM 4900, OM 6976 and OM 2000 varieties.
Meanwhile the other varieties help to stabilise the genetically diverse rice. To obtain the current group of rice varieties we have now, the genetically engineered or modifiedrice varieties had to undergone a long period of development which can be divided into three stages.
The first stage started in the early 1980s, as due to the rapid population growth following the end of the war, Viet Nam had to import large quantities of rice. The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta was then forced to start an agricultural revolution to increase the rice yield to feed the growing population.
At that time the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta Rice Institute started to cross breeding several varieties of rice to produce a new rice variety OM 80. But four to five years later, OM 80 became a target for many insects, we then developed a new variety - OM 576 which was able to resist these pests.
Rice farmers at that time were fairly happy however the quality of the new rice was not good to eat as it is not soft enough but is suitable for making noodles or vermicelli.
Then in the early 1990s, Viet Nam started to export rice. Of course, in order to export, the rice must be of high quality and the grain must be long and clear. The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta Rice Institute once again began to research cross breeding two new varieties - 2031 and OM 1706.
With the demand for fast growing rice from farmers in the region, the rice institute once again started to develop a new variety which could help shorten a rice crop down to less than 100 days.
And finally we successfully produced the short term rice varieties OM 4900, OM 6162, OM 6161 and OM 7347.
As a result, Viet Nam became a major global rice exporter.
Could you please elaborate further about how Viet Nam became a leading rice exporter after having to import rice for a number of years.
If we look at rice production in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta from 1975 until early 2000, we can see the yield surging year by year. In the late 1970s, the yield was almost 4 million tonnes. Then in early 2000, it jumped to 19 million tonnes and now it is roughly 24 million tonnes. This remarkable success is mainly due to the new high quality rice varieties.
Why are 15-20 new rice breeds certified and put into production in the region each year?
As I have mentioned above, in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta there are only a few major rice varieties which account for most of the acreage.
You know, in every field, one rice breed can't be planted on more than 20 per cent of the fields acreage. This is a way of protecting the crop from pests and other diseases.
This is a good lesson that farmers have incorporated in their production. For example, in 1978-79, 80 per cent of the acreage in the region was planted with Than nong 732 and IR, which were imported from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). However it was seriously damaged by pests, and as a result, farmers suffered huge losses in that crop.
Quite a few people say that we now have many high quality breeds of rice. However, their life cycles are short as they quickly degrade. Is that right?
In my opinion, if an enterprise wants to have high quality rice to export, it should place an order with a rice research institute for the high quality seeds. This is a very important element to ensuring high quality rice crops.
Referring to your question about the rapid degradation of the new rice varieties, I can say the problem lies with the companies that produce the seed, not the varieties.
In 2004, we had the Law on Rice Seeds and six years earlier, in 1998, we had the Ordinance on Plant Seedlings.
Under these two pieces of legislation, scientists were directed to produce super rice seeds and pure rice seeds.
On certified rice breeds, I would say that these breeds are produced by companies and then sold to farmers. So if we want to have a good rice export strategy, enterprises must pay more attention to rice production, starting from the seeds to cultivation and then harvesting. — VNS