mm385: Scientific victories are often ephemeral

May 19, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Here in the replete West, such as at the home of yr (justifiably) humble svt, rice is an occasional side dish, a refreshing change from a potato, or pasta, usually accompanying a steaming chunk of animal protein.

In the hungry not-West, rice is entirely it.

Rice has been distressingly newsworthy lately, as prices have been climbing.

Even before this month’s very bad news (the story below, as well as the Burma cyclone of a couple of weeks ago that hit Southeast Asia’s rice bowl (Burma’s Irrawaddy delta) the hardest), there were shortages and unrest, sometimes violent, due to skyrocketing rice prices.

But the NYTimes makes clear, the latest threat to rice, and thus to the staple food of billions, is the lack of momentum in agricultural research.

Today’s villain is called the brown plant hopper. And it could have been stopped in its tracks, had the research establishment kept its eye on the ball.

nytimes

The Food Chain

World’s Poor Pay Price as Crop Research Is Cut

By KEITH BRADSHER and ANDREW MARTIN | Published: May 18, 2008

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines — The brown plant hopper, an insect no bigger than a gnat, is multiplying by the billions and chewing through rice paddies in East Asia, threatening the diets of many poor people.

Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, the world’s main repository of information about rice, are trying to deal with problems like the rice hopper, which destroys plants, by developing stronger varieties of rice.

The damage to rice crops, occurring at a time of scarcity and high prices, could have been prevented. Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute here say that they know how to create rice varieties resistant to the insects but that budget cuts have prevented them from doing so.

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