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Finally, Some Good News About Food

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

As far as I can tell it hasn't hit the English-speaking media yet, but researchers in Chile announced this week (warning: links in Spanish) the discovery of a new genetically engineered variety of rice that can be cooked with 1/4 the amount of water needed for normal rice.

Here's the official University of Santiago release, reviewing the new strain of rice and also the crush of press interest since the first reports on Monday. The project was cosponsored by Chile's governmental Foundation for Agricultural Innovation, which is sponsoring a number of other projects to help increase Chile's agricultural output.

In the context of the ongoing global food crisis, the discovery won't provide more rice, even if widely adapted. But it could reduce the costs of cooking rice in terms of both water and fuel used to heat the water, giving poor consumers a partial break. In Chile alone, economists have estimated the jump in food prices could raise the poverty rate at least 2%.

With the crisis still escalating, and Thailand proposing the formation of a rice cartel, more improvements and innovation are needed in global agriculture, but it's nice to get some good news for a change.

Besides, who knows? After oil and food, the next shortage could be water.

(For a brief English version of what Chileans think of the food crisis, see this summary of a recent survey. Both global warming and foolish rich countries are heavily blamed.)