Hardy made-in-Singapore rice hits shelves

Samantha Boh, The Straits Times AsiaOne 19 Sep 16;

There is a new brand of rice on the shelves, and it is made in Singapore.

Called Temasek Rice, it is the first - and only - rice variety to be created and sold here.

That is not the only thing special about it. It is specially formulated to be a hardy breed that is able to withstand floods - for instance, it "hibernates" for up to two weeks when submerged in water - and droughts.

Following eight years of research and field trials, Temasek Rice is now ready for the ultimate test - the taste test.

It was launched at Meidi-Ya supermarket in Liang Court last month.

Its lead inventor Yin Zhongchao says his grains are of good quality, softer and as tasty - or even tastier, compared with other brown rice varieties.

The senior principal investigator at Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory said the new grain represents a piece of the puzzle in the global quest for long-term food security.

The rice is designed to withstand extremely dry and wet weather for extended periods of time.

It is also fortified against fungal and bacteria attacks, and engineered to produce a higher yield.

He hopes Temasek Rice will yield benefits for both farmers and consumers in the long run.

Crop aimed at a more stable food supply

"Farmers work very hard and their income is very low, so we want to create good rice that allows for stable production, and produces grains of good quality so that they can be sold for high prices," he said.

"As for the consumers, rice that can survive poor weather conditions would ultimately mean a more stable food supply."

Rice is the main staple food crop for more than half of the world's population of 7.4 billion people, but studies have predicted that increasing demand will require its production to grow by 30 per cent by 2025.

Temasek Rice was created by cross-breeding a type of jasmine rice grown in South-east Asia with five other types grown in the region, or what Dr Yin calls donors.

The process, which is simple but tedious, uses the age-old method of cross-pollination where pollen from the donors is transferred to the original fragrant rice plant.

Temasek Rice produces six tonnes of rice grains per hectare on average, nearly four times more than the original unmodified type.

Its rice stalks are also shorter, making them sturdier and less likely to topple from strong winds.

Dr Yin said he is looking to partner more rice companies to increase the production of Temasek Rice, which is being grown in Tasikmalaya, Indonesia, on a small scale.

If so, it can be sold at other supermarkets here. Currently, it is sold only at Medi-Ya. Each 1kg packet sells for between $6.95 and $7.45.

Professor William Chen of Nanyang Technological University's School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering said Temasek Rice will help address the challenges of climate change, such as longer and more frequent droughts and floods in many food-growing countries.

However, the food science expert noted that there might be a need to consider ways to tackle the emergence of new bacteria strains, which would become resistant to Temasek Rice over time.