Project to improve Laila rice to take about two years

National 2 minutes, 41 seconds

BRUNEI-MUARA

IT WILL take at least two years for Brunei to have a suitable hybrid rice variety ready for production, according to the project manager in charge of developing hybrid rice in the Sultanate.

During the two years, various rice varieties will have to be cross-pollinated with the national Laila rice, going through generations of varieties, before identifying the ones that are well-adapted to the Bruneian taste and wants for rice, said David Chen of SunLand Agri-Tech Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based company with expertise in tropical hybrid rice production in Southeast Asia.

"The process of actually creating a suitable hybrid variety takes 15 years, but we have cut that time since we are using our own hybrid (that we have developed), which we have brought with us to develop a hybrid in Brunei," he told The Brunei Times at a cross-pollination demonstration at the Brunei Agricultural Research Centre (BARC) in Kilanas.

Chen said that two of the hybrid rice varieties that SunLand has brought in have fared well in taste tests carried out among Bruneians. However, he expressed the company's desire to develop a hybrid variety based on Laila.

"Bruneians are proud of their Laila rice, so we would like to keep that," he said. "SunLand sincerely believes that Laila rice has a lot of potential".

At least two parent varieties are required to create the F1 (first generation) hybrid rice, according to a statement from the Agriculture Department. In developing commercial hybrid rice, a male sterility system is necessary, which makes the rice crop unable to self-pollinate. Therefore, producing hybrid rice requires manual cross-pollination between parental varieties during breeding and seed production processes.

Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar, Permanent Secretary Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Hamid Hj Mohd Jaafar, Singapore High Commissioner Joseph Koh and Acting Agriculture Director Hjh Normah Suria Hayati PJDSM DSU (Dr) Hj Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri all tried their hand at the pollinating method yesterday.

The technique involves dragging a rope across a plot of padi, to bend the padi stalks so that the male and female parts of the parent crops can pollinate.

Chen said that this has to be repeated 10 times to be effective and has to be done when the padi is flowering, which was why the planting had to be synchronised.

"If we miss it, then we waste the whole season," he said.

The cross-pollination demo actually marked the launch of the Hybrid Rice Development Programme in Brunei Darussalam. The Agriculture Department said that it would continue efforts to explore varieties of rice which are equivalent to or outweigh Laila in terms of quality traits.

"Hybrid rice is an option which shows great promise in securing the nation's goal of self-sufficiency in rice production," the statement said.

Hjh Normah remarked that venturing into hybrid rice was necessary as it one of the new technologies in the rice cultivation sector. She added that one the advantages of hybrid over inbred varieties was that is was high-yielding.

The yield of the hybrid varieties brought in by SunLand is already higher than Laila, according to Chen.

The Brunei Times