As designated rice-editor at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, this clipping from The Nation, a Sri Lankan newspaper, landed on my desk. But I am not sure what to make of it.

Researchers (or farmers?) have discovered a (new?) type of rice that can be vegetatively propagated:

The long Mavee rice plant can be cut in pieces and sown to grow as any normal rice. It took the researchers nearly six years to find the specific qualities in the Mavee cultivation, and those plants that contained this quality were later named as Maha Mavee.

Mavee is a variety, maha means wet season (as opposed to yala, the dry season). And as it grows up to “10 feet during flash floods” (that’s quick!) I suppose it is a ‘deep-water’ or ‘floating’ rice type.

So what? Well, the newspaper calls them miracle plants. According to “attorney-at-law and a renowned environmentalist,” Jagath Gunawardane, this is a big deal:

The discovery of this new method of vegetative propagation is likely to revolutionise the entire industry. The Government now needs to help the farmers maintain this cultivation technique, and also prevent companies from claiming patent rights for this ground breaking breakthrough in the agricultural field.

Presumably because of savings in seed cost. Interesting. But then again there are four or five “miracle rices” discovered every year…

To briefly go off on a tangent in an area that I am not a total dummy about, I recently learned the word “asweddumized.” I came across it in the (English language) agricultural statistics of Sri Lanka. I was told that the word was first introduced in 1958 by S.W.R.D. Bandaranayaike, then the Sri Lankan Prime Minister. It stems from the Sinhala word “aswaddanawa,” meaning converting forest land into cultivatable land that has bunds for retaining either irrigation or rainwater, mainly for rice.

But back to the subject at hand. What do you think the prospects are for Maha Mavee? Are there examples of normally seed propagated crops that become vegetatively propagated? Fruit trees through grafting is one example, but that is for a different reason: the propagation of a particular genotype, rather than saving seeds.

People have tried the opposite with potatoes. It seems obvious: ‘true’ (botanical) potato seed is much cheaper than seed tubers, carries fewer diseases, can be stored, etc. But this has not been very successful. Potato was too variable from seed (which makes it so much fun to try this at home), as quality (uniformity and size) is important in the market, and yields were lower. The International Potato Center (CIP) has worked on these issues, and Hubert Zandstra (a former director of CIP) remains optimistic about these seeds, and particularly about their benefits to poor farmers. He thinks that early ‘bulking’ (the formation of tubers) and apomixis may save the day for true potato seed.

13 Replies to “Asweddumized”

  1. Thanks very much. Published in Nature on 12 May 1962. No wonder I had not heard of it. Why did it never take off in India? Or did it? Interesting either way, particularly given the expansion of hybrid rice.

  2. That’s it, all I have on the subject. I’ve heard similar arguments for other crops, and there are a number of arguments against. I never followed up.

  3. I finally did my homework and asked the opinion of a rice breeder from India, who has been around the block for a while. He said that it is well known that you can grow rice from stem cuttings that have a node. However, these plants miss the vigor of seedlings, and it is generally not worth it. Breeders have sometimes done it to speed up seed production from a few plants, but they tend to prefer tiller separation, and neither method is used much. People have also tried perennializing rice; but you get lower yield and a lot of disease.

  4. All this doesn’t explain why there should be a special named variety singled out for vegetative propagation in this way. Wouldn’t it work for all varieties? Does anyone know what mavee means? There does not seem to be a decent Sinhala-English dictionary online, astonishingly.

  5. Googling “Mavee rice” gives one other interesting link, an Oxfam document about SRI in Sri Lanka. “Mavee” is mentioned on page 10 as a traditional rice variety (other rice varieties are designated as “SRI varieties”, but Mavee apparently is not one of them).

    The article that landed on Robert’s desk seems to suggest that Mavee, used as a variety name, refers to floating rice. The improved variety is called “Maha Mavee”, so the real issue is to find a translation for “Maha”. From this site I deduce it simply means “big”.

    Are the other references to vegatative propagation specifically about floating rice?

  6. @Jacob, see the original post : “Mavee is a variety, maha means wet season (as opposed to yala, the dry season).” (These terms are also used in the government rice statistics).

    That Oz-Oxfam is investigating “the Marketing Potential of SRI Rice in Kegalle District, Sri Lanka” is ridiculous. Why would you be able to sell it for a higher price than other rice?

  7. How do you know it means “wet season” in this context? In “Maha Wamsa” (“Great Genealogy” or “Greater Genealogy”) the word “maha” doesn’t carry this meaning. I guess the meaning of “maha mavee” is something along these lines: “greater (e.g. better) floating rice variety”.

    The second picture on the cover of the Oxfam report tells you why SRI rice should be marketed separately. It is “FREE OF POISONS”.

  8. @Luigi. I know. I am limited by my Cartesian mindset.
    Not that it does me much good, because
    @Jacob, your reasoning makes more sense than mine. Why would you call rice after the rainy (great?) season? Great rice, that’s it. Probably. Any Sinhalese speakers out there?

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