Food Security

Yuan was born in Beijing, China, and moved around China during its external and internal conflicts.  He studied agronomy while in college.  Since rice is such a staple of the Chinese diet, he decided to focus his career in the development of a hybrid rice to increase food security in China and other countries where rice is a food staple.

The biggest problem with the production of hybrid rice was production in mass quantities.  He searched for and eventually found, a natural form of rice that he could use to create new hybrid rice.  While the initial efforts were a success, other problems arose.  He eventually found a form of wild rice that resolved the previous problems he found; the rice was located along a railroad track.  The hybrid rice he created increased rice yields by 20%.  Approximately 60% of the rice produced in China comes from Yuan’s hybrid rice.

Yuan had to go against the government’s approved theory of research on how to manipulate the genetic makeup of rice.  His work put him at some risk.  The Great Chinese Famine of 1859 helped spur the necessity for his work and reduced the risk.

Yuan’s hybrid rice approach was granted an international patent and became the first transfer of intellectual property by China to other countries.  Yuan has also been an advocate for sharing his approach with other countries so they can develop rice strains that work best for their environment.  Yuan died in 2021 from multiple organ failure.

Hidden heroes stay true to their beliefs, even when there is pressure to do otherwise.  Yuan faced considerable state pressure to pursue a state-approved line of inquiry.  He chose to stay with the direction he felt was more justified.  That took considerable courage.  Another measure of hidden heroes is their willingness to share their knowledge with others.  Yuan helped train scientists in other countries his approach to hybridization even when withholding his knowledge could have been more profitable.

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“It is clear that agriculture, done right, is the best means the world has today to simultaneously tackle food security, poverty, and environmental degradation.”  Irene Rosenfeld (Businesswoman)

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