Yuan Longping studies rice in a field. CFP
As the old Chinese saying goes, “Humanity’s most fundamental relationship is with what we eat.”
Although food has played an important part in Chinese culture for years, hunger had been a huge problem in the country until the 1970s.
However, the Chinese scientist Yuan Longping helped to fix this problem.
On Sept 8, Yuan, together with two other scientists, won China’s 2018 Future Science Prize, for his continuous research on rice. Even on his 88th birthday on Sept 7, he took part in the International Development Forum of Rice Production in Hunan province. Although he was recovering from an illness at the time, he was happy to talk to reporters about his latest work with seawater rice.
Yuan has been conducting research on rice since he was at college. In 1964, he discovered a natural hybrid rice plant. Since then, he has focused on developing high-yield, hybrid rice varieties. These varieties now account for about two thirds of China’s rice crop, according to China News. So, it’s no wonder that he’s known as the “Father of Hybrid Rice”.
And thanks to China’s Belt and Road initiative, Yuan’s hybrid rice is helping to solve food problems around the world. Indeed, according to Xinhua News Agency, hybrid rice plants in Kenya produce four to five times more rice than the country’s regular rice plants.
With a rising reputation around the world, Yuan delivered a speech in English at the 9th Shandong High-Level Talents Forum in Qingdao last year.
His speech made him an internet sensation. Beginning with “I speak broken English”, his 20-minute speech turned out to be a huge success, with barely any pauses or mistakes.
The humble Yuan was simply being modest during his speech. According to a 1999 article by CNN, the scientist speaks both English and Russian fluently. “I never need an interpreter when I go overseas,” he told the US news network.
But in spite of his great knowledge, Yuan understands that even the wisest of people should still be open to learning new things. “The farmers of our country possess rich experience in planting rice,” he told Xinhua. “We should learn from them.”