Amrit Prasad Poudel, a Nepali researcher involved in developing new varieties of rice, had directly observed the dedication of Yuan Longping, known as "the father of hybrid rice," to the research on hybrid rice technology.
Yuan, a Chinese scientist renowned for developing the first hybrid rice strain that relieved countless people of hunger, died of organ failure at 91 on Saturday.
Poudel was at the headquarters of Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Co., Ltd, a China-Based company, in 2018 for a two-week training, but Yuan did not attend the inauguration ceremony of the training program organized for Nepali agricultural scientists.
Yuan made an appearance for the training program on the third day, apologizing for his absence on an inaugural day, Poudel recalled.
"In fact, he failed to attend the training program on an inaugural day as he was busy in the paddy field selecting seeds," said Poudel, an agronomist from the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.
"It was a perfect example of how dedicated he was to research in the paddy field."
For the training program, Yuan made a 25-minute speech about the importance of hybrid rice in increasing the productivity of rice and in feeding the growing population in the world, Poudel said.
"During a tea break, I could meet him personally and I was deeply impressed by his simplicity despite him being a world-renowned agro scientist."
Poudel was sent to China for training under a three-year agricultural technical cooperation project that started in 2016 between the two countries. Under the project, the Chinese government helped Nepal promote the adoption of hybrid rice varieties and conduct technical demonstration and training on post-harvest processing technology, and farm machinery operation and maintenance technology, while Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Co., Ltd was chosen to work with the NARC to this end.
"About 45 hybrid rice varieties developed by the Chinese company were tested. Of them, three have been registered with the concerned authorities and have got approval to sell in the market," said Poudel. "They were registered after they proved to be fit for Nepal's climatic condition."
Ram Chandra Adhikari, director for planning and coordination at NARC, met with Yuan in 2016 during a week-long training program in Changsha, the capital of China's Hunan Province.
Adhikari, too, was impressed with Yuan being "a simple person despite his fame."
"I remember him saying to us that China's food security would be at stake without hybrid rice while suggesting Nepal adopting hybrid rice for its own food security."
Nepal has been increasingly dependent on rice import in recent years, with rice worth 39 billion Nepali rupees, or 333 million U.S. dollars, imported during the first nine months of the current 2020-21 fiscal year that ends in mid-July.
According to officials and scientists at NARC, Yuan was a "huge" inspiration for them in their efforts to develop and promote hybrid rice in the country.
"Due to his inspiration, we are currently working to develop and promote hybrid rice in coordination with the International Rice Research Institute based in the Philippines," said Adhikari. "His contribution to the world is also great as the technology developed by him has helped feed the world, thereby reducing the chance of conflict over food."
Yuan succeeded in cultivating the world's first high-yield hybrid rice strain in 1973, which was later grown on a large scale in China and other countries and regions to substantially raise output.
Nepal has been working to develop new varieties of hybrid rice too. NARC officials and agronomists say that knowledge sharing under China-Nepal technical cooperation has played a "huge" role in the ongoing efforts to develop and promote hybrid rice in the Himalayan country.
According to Adhikari, around 200 Nepali agricultural scientists have got training in Changsha which has enhanced their knowledge about hybrid rice technology. As part of the China-Nepal cooperation project, several varieties of hybrid rice developed by Yuan Longping High-tech Agriculture Co., Ltd has grown in over a dozen districts of Nepal under a pilot program, with three of them having been registered.
"The productivity of the registered seeds stood around double of traditional rice seeds," said Dr. Deepak Bhandari, executive director of the NARC. "As many as eight tons of rice per hectare of land could be produced with the Chinese hybrid rice seeds as compared with three to four tons per hectare with traditional seeds."
According to Bhandari, farmers have been extremely impressed by the productivity and they want these seeds as their productivity has turned out better than other hybrid rice seeds.
The seeds that got approval for sales in Nepal have proved to be "very good" for the southern Terai plain and "good" for the mid-hill region, he noted.
Besides permitting to sell these seeds, the Nepali government also has a plan to develop these varieties in Nepal itself.
"For this, we had proposed launching the second phase of the China-Nepal technical cooperation project, but this could not move ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Bhandari said.
With limited paddy cultivation involving hybrid rice in Nepal, NARC officials and scientists see scope for growth.
"Currently, only around 10 percent of total paddy cultivation is involving hybrid rice in Nepal," said Bhandari. "We want to increase the rice production by enhancing the productivity so that we can reduce rising import of rice from abroad."