From a selection of 800 rice scientists the FAO and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) picked out Dr Youyong Zhu, president of Yunnan Agricultural University in China and Dr Takuji Sasaki, director of the genome research department at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) in Japan.
Against a back drop of 850 million people hungry in the world, Sasaki's rice genome breakthrough should help breeders in determining gene function, thereby making it possible to more efficiently identify and select rice varieties with beneficial traits.
"This will assist plant breeders in their efforts to develop rice varieties with increased yield potential, resistance to stress, and improved nutrient content," said Louise Fresco, FAO assistant director-general of the Agriculture department.
Dr Takuji Sasaki and his team won first prize in the rice breeding category for the paper, 'The genome sequence and structure of rice chromosome 1', the longest chromosome in the rice genome. Dr Youyong Zhu and his research team won the top prize in the rice agronomy sector fo their work, 'Genetic diversity and disease control in rice'.
"Both papers clearly deserve their respective awards not only for the scientific excellence but also because of their potential impact and importance to the international rice industry," said Ronald P. Cantrell, the IRRI director general.
The US department of agriculture predicts global production of rice to reach 401.8 million tons (milled basis) in 2004/05, up 10.8 million tons from 2003/04.
Global consumption continues to outpace production and is expected to grow 5.2 million tons to 417.9 million. Consequently, ending stocks are projected to plunge 16.1 million tons, with substantial declines expected in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, implying stronger prices throughout the 2004 and 2005 trade years.
Rice is a stable crop the world over but principally in Asia where the average person eats rice two or three times a day. The average person in Myanmar eats 195 kg of rice each year compared to their European counterpart who consumes just 3 kg a year.
The article published by Dr Youyong Zhu et al can be found in Nature, volume 406 (August 2000): 718-722 and that of Dr Takuji Sasaki et al in Nature, Volume 420 (November 2002): 312-320.