Critics say the rice uses double the nitrogen of other varieties, poisoning the land, reports Asia Sentinel

If it was true that a Chinese company run by one of the country’s leading agronomists has developed a new rice that delivers nearly 14 tons per hectare, it would be staggeringly good news. This would indeed be a miracle grain, since most Chinese rice yields are only 6 metric tons per hectare or less.

Unfortunately the story heralding the breakthrough failed to mention one important fact. The rice, developed by a team led by Dr Yuan Longping in test plots in the southern province of Hunan, also apparently requires more than twice as much fertilizer as conventional rice does – as much as 250 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, compared to about 120 kg used in India, other agronomists say.

For more than a decade, China has been the world’s biggest producer of fertilizers, which environmentalists say is destroying the country’s soils and turning its rivers and lakes into nightmares of bright green algae.

Since the 1980s agricultural yields have leapt upwards in China, as has the nation’s use of chemical fertilizers. China consumed 32.6 million metric tons of nitrogen fertilizer in 2007, a 191 percent increase over 1981, according to a Feb. 11, 2010 article in Nature News by Natasha Gilbert. Nitrogen contributes to soil acidity.

There is rising concern that fertilizer overuse could lead to falling productivity as the soil is depleted, threatening China’s food security. The country has only 9 percent of the world’s arable land and is feeding 23 percent of the world’s people on it, meaning that agriculture production is some of the most intensive on the planet.

According to Sources of Chinese Economic Growth, 1978-1996, written by Chris Bramall and published by Oxford University Press, China’s farm soils largely had severe nitrogen deficiencies. The rapid introduction of fertilizer, to which dwarf hybrids reacted vigorously, changed that dramatically. The Chinese government’s purchase of large ammonia-urea fertilizer plants, which went into production beginning in 1974, meant an explosion in crop productivity.

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