Rice is the world's leading staple food crop depended upon by half of the world’s people. Over centuries, Asian farmers bred and selected hundreds of thousands of local varieties, land races and cultivars that are adapted to specific environments and farming systems. Among others, this lead to varieties with tolerance to drought, flooding, salt, pests and diseases, as well as to different characteristics and flavours, textures, nutritional values and cooking qualities.
However the Green Revolution brought major change. Research funded by industrialized countries and companies focused solely on the rice plant to improve grain yields, and ignored other factors of the integrated farming systems in which rice is grown such as paddy aquaculture. By focussing on grain yields only the yield of the whole plant (including straw) and the overall yield from the system of land-use such as fish and other animals in the waters, edible weeds or increased soil fertilitywere left beyond consideration. .
Emphasis was given to ‘seed improvement’ leading to the development of varieties responsive to and dependent on high chemical inputs for increased yields. This approach required monoculture production systems with little room versatile planting and support systems. This approach also led to high levels of pests, necessitating increased use of pesticides, which further impacts ecological balances and support systems.
... to Golden Rice
Today's GE rice research still persists in pursuing the same goals, threatening farmers and food security as the Thai farmer Daoreung Pheudphon explains in an interview with EcoNexus.
The best-known GE rice is probably the so-called Golden Rice, rice that has been modified to contain pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene). After more then a decade of initial research resulted in a crop that yielded very small levels of pro-vitamin A, alterations were made to the GE design. Some improvements have been announced and the web of patents surrounding its development have been somewhat reduced. The creation of the GE rice with increased pro-vitamin A levels was first announced in January 2000 in an article in Science. Yet a decade later there is still wide criticism of the GE approach to Vitamin A deficiency when so many alternatives are readily available. Health concerns regarding appropriate (minimum and maximum) amounts as well as concerns about the role of patents in agricultural research are also still valid.