Perennial Rice: In Search of a Greener, Hardier Staple Crop
Scientists have long sought to create a perennial rice that would avoid the damage to the land caused by the necessity of planting annually. Now, Chinese researchers appear close to developing this new breed of rice, an achievement that could have major environmental benefits.
Ten thousand years ago, China’s ancient inhabitants harvested the grains of wild rice, a perennial grass growing up to 15 feet tall in bogs and streams. The grains were small and red, maturing in waves and often shattering into the water. Their descendants transformed that grain into the high-yielding annual crop that today feeds half the world’s population. When agronomist F. H. King toured China’s meticulously maintained rice terraces in 1909, he called the men and women who tilled them “farmers of forty centuries.” To him, they seemed to have unlocked the secret to conserving soil and maintaining agricultural fertility indefinitely.