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New Black Rice as Staple Food

According to Yangzi River Daily (reporter Zhou Jie, correspondent Jiang Chaochang), On the afternoon of September 26, in Chenhu base, Hanchuan county, Xiaogan, Hubei, with two harvesters entering into the field, this year’s rice harvest has begun. What is unusual is that the dropping ears of rice are lightly inked under the sunshine since farmers are not harvesting white rice, but whole-grain black rice, which can be used as staple.

The harvest site is also a demonstration site of a key project in Hubei Hongshan Laboratory as well as the industry of green rice and green aquatic products. “I hope rice will no longer be a ‘energy provider’ for the human body for thousands of years, but a ‘patron saint’ of overall health,” said Zhang Qifa, Academician of Chinese Academy of Sciences and Professor at HZAU, who is in charge of the research team of black rice as staple.

This year, black rice, planted in 20-hectare experimental field for the first time and withstood the drought and high temperature, has been ripe successively. Half-man tall rice is full of large and heavy grains and a good harvest is in sight. According to planters, the yield of per 1/15 hectare can reach 500 kg, equivalent to the yield of some staples.
Why do we turn fragrant white rice into black one? According to Zhang, the white rice we eat daily is usually refined rice, which loses 80% nutrients in the processing. White rice is a staple with limited effects other than providing the human body with the required energy, while black rice is rich in anthocyanins, unsaturated fatty acids, gluten, vitamins and various minerals, and with antioxidant, free radical scavenging, blood sugar control and anti-aging effects.

The history of human consumption of black rice is long, which can be found in many places around the world. China has the richest black rice germplasm, but it is rarely eaten as staple in our daily life, the reason of which is that although black rice is good, it is not very tasty and that it is rough and more difficult to digest. Therefore, black rice has been a kind of miscellaneous grain for thousands of years, and people rarely eat it except for cooking porridge or making desserts. As a “rare food” and “supporting role” in the recipe, its yield and consumption are very low.

Is it possible to breed black rice as tasty as white rice with no loss of nutritional value? In 2008, Zhang was inspired by the latest scientific research on the “life-prolonging” effect of anthocyanins (antioxidants) abroad and turned his attention to anthocyanin-rich black rice, which he and his team have been studying for more than 10 years as a new direction for rice research, striving to produce healthy, well-cooked and tasty black rice and making both black rice and white rice appear on the table as staples. They collect black rice varieties from all over the country and finally produce a new kind of black rice called “Huamoxiang” in 2018 utilizing the excellent black rice germplasm found in the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau. “Huamoxiang” is especially easily-cooked and delicious with high yield, strong adaptability and strong disease resistance. It came out of the laboratory in 2021 and began to be planted on a small scale since it is easily-planted, nutritious and delicious. This year, “Huamoxiang” is planted experimentally with a total area of more than 400 hectare from Guangdong to northeast China, especially in Hanchuan, Jianli, Shishou and other places in Hubei province.

Black rice is beneficial for health, but it’s necessary to grow it in a healthy way. The harvest of the black rice in Hanchuan trial field is the result of their exploration of green planting according to the “rice-duck-crayfish mode”. HZAU Professor Gu Zemao introduces that the specific approach is to raise crayfish in March and plant rice in June, using crayfish manure to fertilize the field and putting ducks into the field to eat worms and weed when the rice is ripe. Rice, ducks and crayfish are mutually beneficial, forming a compound cultivation mode of rice and aquatic products. In the process of planting and breeding, we should strictly follow the rules of “three no and one precise”, that is, no pesticide, no chemical fertilizer, no fishing medicine and baiting precisely, which is called “double water double green” by Zhang Qifa, namely, green rice and green aquatic products.

Green black rice not only improves health, but also increases the income of farmers. It is estimated that in one year, through the “rice-duck-crayfish” mode, farmers can harvest crayfish 150 kg, eel and loach 30 kg, 12 to 15 ducks and “Huamoxiang” 500 kg with output value over 20,000 yuan per 1/15 hectare.

Translated by: Wang Yuxuan
Supervised by: Pan Buhan