CHANGSHA－A rice variety that was once abandoned by farmers in a mountainous county of Hunan province has been brought back to life for its genetic and economic value.
"When I was a child, most villagers grew red rice, but it gradually disappeared," said 61-year-old Li Yanxian from Qingchun village, Shuangpai county.
Known colloquially as "dryland red rice", the species is distinguished from other varieties by its red color when the husks are removed. The rice also requires less watering.
"Its seeds have strong self-protection ability. They become dormant in bad weather and wait for the right time to sprout," said Lin Wenzhong, deputy director of the county's agriculture and rural affairs bureau.
The low-yield red rice gradually lost its popularity in the 1990s to more productive hybrid rice varieties and other crops, Lin said.
In 2006, as consumers became more willing to pay for better quality food, Lin came up with the idea of growing dryland red rice to meet demand. Over the following decade, Lin visited many townships and villages across the county in search of seeds.
In 2016, Lin finally found the lost seeds in the collection of a local farmer. Weighing less than 1 kilogram, the batch of seeds helped him begin his ambitious plan, starting with a small plot of hillside land.
Overcoming the challenges of floods, hungry rats and pecking birds, Lin harvested 16.5 kg of red rice after about 130 days. "Now the yield can reach 300 kg in a plot of 667 square meters and the rice is sold at a favorable market price for its quality," Lin said.
Besides the higher prices, the efforts to bring lost crops back to life are an effective means of protecting genetic diversity.
"The ancient crop can be a precious genetic resource for crossbreeding," Lin said, adding that nearly 13.3 hectares of red rice has been grown this year.