Supergrains

A WELCOME piece of news from the agricultural front this week: The International Rice Research Institute, in the Philippines, has announced the development of a new strain of rice that yields 20 to 25 percent more per acre than the most productive types now available.

This latest development in the ``green revolution'' that began a generation ago promises to be able to produce an extra 100 million tons a year, enough to feed an additional 450 million people on the planet.

The new rice plants produce fewer stems per plant, but unlike other kinds of rice, all its stems produce ``panicles,'' or seed clusters, and each seed cluster bears 200 to 250 seeds, as compared with 100 seeds on current varieties of rice.

The new rice should also require significantly less in the way of fertilizers needed per ton of grain. This is good news for those concerned that even if population growth is controlled, the environment will continue to suffer under the press of humanity.

The new rice is ``not in the showroom yet,'' as one official put it. It must still be cross-bred to give it more resistance to disease and pests, and adapted for local soils and climates.

The new rice will not relieve us of the responsibility to manage population growth and the environment. But it is a heartening development for millions around the world.

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