China’s most renowned agricultural scientist has described as “120 per cent fake” claims that farmers in Bihar harvested a world record 22.4 tonnes of rice from one hectare of land without using herbicides or genetically modified (GM) seeds last year. A national icon, Yuan Longping is known here as “the father of hybrid rice” for developing varieties that enabled China to transform its grain output. His rice varieties were subsequently introduced widely in the world, and marked a record yield of 19.4 tonnes a hectare.

Confirmed by India

According to reports from Bihar — confirmed subsequently by the Indian government — farmers in Nalanda district had bested that world record using a herbicide-free, GM-free and chemical-free method called System of Rice Intensification (SRI) — a feat that some researchers have said could transform rice farming across the world.

Dr. Yuan, however, has cast doubt on the claim. “I introduced the [SRI] intensification method in China myself,” he said. “It could increase yields by 10 to 15 per cent in low-yield fields, but it’s not possible in fields that are already producing relatively high yields.”

Dr. Yuan noted that the farmer who claimed to have broken the record, Sumant Kumar, had said “they had lots of rain and little sunshine last year,” but high yields would be impossible without adequate sunshine.

From photographs, the harvested plants “appeared short and couldn’t possibly produce high yields,” the scientist was quoted as saying by South China Morning Post.

Dr. Yuan also expressed scepticism of the Indian government’s statement that it had verified the record. “How could the Indian government have confirmed the number after the harvesting was already done?” he asked.

“If Mr. Kumar is able to repeat his success next year, I will be glad to examine the results in the field personally.”