Pilot hybrid rice project off to a promising start

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 29 Oct 2006

In Malaysia, a pilot hybrid rice experimentalplot is already underway, with initial plantingalready showing excellent results. Located inKuala Rompin, Pahang, the project – which isoperated by RB Biotech Sdn Bhd – began inMay 2006, with an initial development areaof 27.2ha. 

At this point, it is still considered earlydays, but already the undertaking promisesmuch bigger things, because by 2007, thetotal development area is expected to be closeto 1,000ha. 

Chua: ‘Essential to train young farmers innew techonology and techniques’

Road Builder Group, as part of its CSR project,began undertaking this initiative duringTan Sri Chua Hock Chin’s tenure as the company'sexecutive vice-chairman. Now, uponretiring from a busy corporate life that hastaken up his focus for the past 21 years, Chuais determined to enhance the research anddevelopment on hybrid rice in a bigger way. 

“The Ministry of Agriculture aims for thecountry to be 95% self-sufficient, from currently65%, which means more acreage to beplanted and developed in the near future.With hybrid rice technology, this is verymuch attainable,” he told Sunday Star in anexclusive interview. 

“It is essential to develop new and youngrice farmers. They need to be trained withnew technology and techniques. This encompassesthe utilisation of optimum quantity ofthe right fertiliser, pesticides and modularfarm equipment, machinery that is provensuitable and affordable for smallholders. 

“The Pahang government has been verysupportive and generous in providing about15ha of land for the development of the R&Dcentre for hybrid rice in Kampung Paya TebuHitam in Kuala Rompin. 

“This centre will have its own laboratory,green houses and test plots. It will enable allR&D and training activities to be done on site,which is located adjacent to the commercialplantation area. It will take about 10 years tomature,” Chua said. 

“Currently, there are three hybrid rice scientistsand three hybrid rice technicians stationedin Kuala Rompin. They are activelydeveloping new varieties that will be suitablefor commercialisation, based on our local climate,soil and environment conditions. 

“By early 2007, five scientists will be basedin Kuala Rompin to further enhance R&Dactivities. The estimated cost of the R&D facilitiesis going to be approximately RM25mil,”he added. 

Chua’s partner in the community project,Chen Long-Chen, agrees that it is essential totrain farmers to look at rice farming in a newway. The Taiwanese-born, Singapore-basedchairman of Best Wishes Agritech HoldingsLimited has been in the hybrid rice researchand development business since 1991 and, assuch, knows precisely what he is talkingabout. 

“Education is the key. Explaining the benefitsand how to best work with hybrid rice isvery important if the entire programme is tobe successful,” he said. 

Chen, who has achieved notable success inhybrid rice production in the Philippinesbefore this, believes that it should be no differenthere, though production in differentcountries has different criteria to fulfil. 

“Obviously, the type of rice produced has tobe suited to planting in local conditions, aswell as cater to demand in taste. You cannotsimply choose a variety that may be exceptional,but not suitable here. 

“Likewise, the final product will have to bewhat local consumers want; in the case oftop-quality locally, it is Thai jasmine fragrantrice.” 

Currently, the total land area at the Rompinproject is made up of an A x B research plotthat is 0.7ha, a 3.5ha A x R seed productionarea and a 23ha F1 rice production area, theentire development being supervised bythree Chinese scientists who have extensiveexperience from working on the subject inthe Philippines. 

By December, the total development areawill be expanded to 293ha, of which 280ha isslated for F1 rice planting. Sixty-five types ofrice seeds are being cultivated at the moment,and these will be used for determining whatwill be in the end the parent seeds for eventualproduction purposes, according to Chen.“The cultivation in Rompin will effectivelybe for printing the parent seeds; productionseeds can be done across the country. 

Likewise, the research centre here will coverthe whole country’s needs in terms ofresearch, development and education,” hesaid. 

A visit to the site recently showed that thepromise is shaping up well. The air was filledwith the scent of fragrant pilot F1 plants, andthe Chinese scientists were busy at workimplementing further planting for the nextphase. The coming months will see moremachinery coming in, according to Chua. 

“The plan is to do direct seeding and wewill be bringing in multi-purpose machines tocope with the expansion.”It is obvious that the subject is close toChua’s heart – his vision and goal for the projectis admirable. 

“Our target for Malaysian rice farmers is toplant 250,000ha of hybrid rice across thecountry,” he stated. 

There is still some time before the loftyideal of full self-sustainability in rice productionis achieved, but the wheels of thatpromise have been well and truly set inmotion. 

Related Story:New fusion to staple diet 

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