Tributes flood in for 'father of hybrid rice', who died at 91
People pay tribute to agricultural pioneer Yuan Longping on Sunday at his former workplace, the Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Center, in Changsha, Hunan province. Yuan died on Saturday at age 91. [Photo by Yang Huafeng/China News Service]
Yuan remembered for breakthroughs in developing high-yield strains of crop
When a hearse drove out of Xiangya Hospital, affiliated with Central South University, in Changsha, Hunan province, at about 4 pm on Saturday, people gathered on the roadside in the rain to see it off.
Drivers stopped their cars and sounded their horns to show respect, and people on both sides of the street cried out, "Grandpa Yuan, we wish you a peaceful life in another world."
Yuan Longping, dubbed the "father of hybrid rice", who died from multiple organ failure on Saturday at age 91, will long be remembered for his contribution to help feed the world.
The scientist was globally respected for his breakthroughs in developing the genetic materials and technologies essential for breeding high-yield hybrid rice varieties.
On behalf of President Xi Jinping, Xu Dazhe, secretary of the Communist Party of China Hunan Provincial Committee, made a special visit to Yuan's family on Sunday afternoon and conveyed the president's deep condolences for their loss.
Xi spoke highly of Yuan's contributions to China's food security, agricultural science and technology innovation, as well as global food development. He called on Party members and science and technology workers to learn from Yuan, emphasizing that the best way to memorialize the scientist is to learn from him.
Yuan was awarded the Medal of the Republic in September 2019, among the many honors he received at home and abroad. He was also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director of the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center.
The generosity of Yuan, and other researchers, in making their breakthroughs available to the world has been profoundly important in efforts to end global hunger, said Barbara Stinson, president of the United States-based World Food Prize Foundation, which awarded Yuan the 2004 World Food Prize, the top international honor for people who have improved the quality, quantity or availability of food globally.
The UN said in a post on its Sina Weibo account on Saturday that Yuan made outstanding contributions to boosting food security, eradicating poverty and improving people's livelihoods.
A daughter-in-law of Yuan, surnamed Gan, told Xinhua News Agency that Yuan did not leave any last words, but when he was still able to speak, he kept mentioning hybrid rice and hoped that his students would develop well and promote the crop.
On Sunday, tens of thousands of people came to say goodbye to Yuan.
At the Xiangya Hospital main gate on Saturday, in addition to numerous bouquets, people left three bunches of rice plants in memory of Yuan, who solved the problem of food for millions of people not only in China but around the world.
Dreaming of rice
Born in 1930 in Beijing, and raised in an era of wars and famine, Yuan witnessed the despair of people displaced from their hometowns and losing the land they lived on.
When he applied for university, he decided to study agriculture, although his mother thought such work would be tough and exhausting.
In an article published in People's Daily in 2019, Yuan wrote, "I was fond of agriculture and insisted on studying it at the time, telling my parents that having enough food was people's upmost priority and that they couldn't live without filling their stomach. Eventually, my parents were persuaded."
After graduation, Yuan was assigned to teach at an agriculture school in a remote town in Huaihua, Hunan province. He was prepared to make contributions to the development of the country by spreading agricultural knowledge and techniques.
However, a few years later, from 1959–1961, the nation experienced food shortages.
"That made me start to think that the development of our country relied greatly on food security and that I needed to work to let Chinese people have enough food," he wrote.
Yuan's research results have been used throughout the country since the mid-1970s, and have greatly increased national rice yields.
In the decades that followed, he led his team to conduct research on super hybrid rice, achieving goals of harvesting 10.5 tons, 12 tons, 13.5 tons and 15 tons of rice per hectare in 2000, 2004, 2011 and 2014.
In 2017, the average output of hybrid rice per hectare in China reached 7.5 tons, while globally it was 4.61 tons.
Yuan appears in the movie Yuan Longping, which premiered in 2009, talking with a foreign reporter about a dream he had.
"Several years ago, I had a dream. I saw my super hybrid rice plant as high as sorghum, the panicle (clump) as large as a broom, and the grain as big as peanuts. I was very happy to rest under the panicle with my assistant," Yuan said in English.
"As long as I live, I'll never stop pursuing and dreaming about super hybrid rice."
In recent years, Yuan and his team started to research a salt-tolerant crop, known as "sea rice", with a research and development center being set up in Qingdao, Shandong province, in 2016.
Public data show that China has about 100 million hectares of saline-alkali soil and about one-fifth of this land can be developed and cultivated. Yuan believed if the land was covered with high-yielding sea rice, output prospects would be bright.
Benefiting the world
Developing hybrid rice to benefit people globally was another of Yuan's lifelong pursuits. To realize this ambition, he was committed to promoting hybrid rice internationally for a long time.
To date, this rice has been planted in large areas of India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, the US, Brazil, Madagascar, among other countries.
According to a report by consultancy Future Market Insights, hybrid rice seeds are being cultivated on 4.5 million hectares of land in Asian rice-producing countries, excluding China.