The latest issue of Asian Geographic (Issue 5, no. 74, 2010) caught my eye recently. This issue was dedicated solely on rice, and one of the main feature articles was on the work by IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), located Los Banos, Philippines. IRRI is of course very well known among agriculturists as one of the main rice research institutions in the world. IRRI was also actively involved in spreading the Green Revolution in Asia in the late 1960s, so it is rather ironic that IRRI is located in the Philippines, a country, once the second largest exporter of rice, is now the largest importer of rice in the world.
IRRI is actively involved in the work to create a C4 rice plant which, due to C4’s more efficient photosynthesis pathway, would produce higher yields and require less water to do so.
Also discussed briefly is the genetically-engineered Golden Rice. This rice is yellow because it is rich in beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. The rationale for Golden Rice is to overcome the common vitamin A deficiency among children in many underdeveloped countries. However, I believe the exotic Golden Rice is unneeded because so much money and effort are spent on developing the rice when they could have been spent on promoting “natural” and cheaper food alternatives rich in vitamin A such as carrot, pumpkin, mango, and jack fruit. Besides, poor people (or children) who are suffering from vitamin A deficiency are often suffering from other deficiencies too.
Nevertheless, Golden Rice is currently being developed so that it is additionally fortified with iron and zinc, two common mineral deficiencies in poor countries as well. It is also promising that Golden Rice would eventually belong to the public domain and not owned by some big corporations (like Monsanto or Syngenta) where if it did, Golden Rice would be patented and its seeds costing an arm and a leg to poor farmers. If successful, this multiple-fortified and cheap Golden Rice might just be finally acceptable to GM (genetically modified) opponents (at least to some, anyway).
Other articles in Asian Geographic that piqued my interest were on: 1) rice-fish culture (particularly in Thailand, China, Viet Nam, and Philippines); 2) the types of “friendly and unfriendly” birds in rice fields (friendly birds like eagles and warblers that eat rice pests such as rats, mice, and insects, and unfriendly birds such as munias and finches that eat ripening rice grains); and 3) rice being planted, albeit in a limited land area, in Siberia (!) by the Soyot people.
Even the short article on riceballs caught my interest! I had my first riceballs in Melaka, and I thought cooking the rice and rolling it into ping pong-sized balls was merely a gimmick! Well, it appears rolling the cooked rice into several balls has a purpose. Riceballs help to preserve their warmth inside so that workers, bringing their lunches to work, could still enjoy eating the warm rice. Okay, but wouldn’t rolling the rice into several balls increase the total surface area of the rice; thus, increase the cooling rate? Hmm….I wonder.
In conclusion, this issue of Asian Geographic is very well done, covering a diverse of topics on rice. However, my two complains are: 1) some articles are rather brief and lack depth in science (due to Asian Geographic’s target audience with little background in science?), and 2) some of the countries’ rice statistics are either wrong, based on old data, or missing (such as the missing data on Brazil’s rice production and the ranking of some countries as rice producers were mixed up).
Asian Geographic’s Editor, Lunita Mendoza, said this issue was the one of the best issues he had put together for Asian Geographic. I cannot comment on that as this is my first issue of the magazine I have read. Nevertheless, based on what I have read, this is my conclusion: Well done, Asian Geographic!