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Perennial Rice: Plant Once, Harvest Again And Again

Perennial Rice: Plant Once, Harvest Again And Again

By Regina G. Barber and Berly McCoy et.al

Rice is arguably the world's most important staple crop. About half of the global population depends on it for sustenance.

But, like other staples such as wheat and corn, rice is cultivated annually. That means replanting the fields year after year, at huge cost to both the farmers and the land. For years, scientists have been tinkering with rice strains to create a perennial variety – one that would regrow after harvest without the need to be resewn.

For what may be the first time in about ten thousand years of human rice cultivation, the new strains stay productive harvest after harvest.

Over two decades ago, researchers crossed a common Thai rice cultivar with a wild rice from Africa that was especially tenacious. They then spent years breeding for the desired traits until they landed on three new perennial varieties to test in the real world. Since then, some 45,000 farmers, mostly smallholding subsistence farmers, have tried growing the perennial rice.

Want us to cover another scientific innovation? As always, you can reach the show by emailing shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Berly McCoy, edited by Gabriel Spitzer and fact-checked by Anil Oza. The audio engineer was Gilly Moon.

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