Rice is a relatively poor source of many essential nutrients, including vitamin A, but is the staple for half the world. An estimated 124 million children worldwide are deficient in vitamin A, including a quarter million in Southeast Asia who go blind each year because of the problem. Improved nutrition could prevent 1 million to 2 million deaths a year.
Scientists have genetically engineered a type of rice that could end vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. The new "golden rice," the result of a research investment of more than $100 million over 10 years, contains three genes transplanted from daffodils and bacteria that allow rice plants to produce kernels containing beta-carotene, a compound that is converted to vitamin A in the human body. The researchers, from the International Rice Research Institute, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and European Commission, decided to forgo commercial support so that they could give the seed away to farmers - free of the patent or licensing restrictions that so often limit the distribution of genetically engineered crops.
Japan announced at the WSSD in Johannesburg that it will grant USD $30 million for the development and uptake of a new variety of rice designed for use in Africa, in an effort to reduce famine. The new rice variety, called NERICA (new rice for Africa), is a high-yielding grain developed in west Africa, which is capable of being grown under hot conditions and water shortages. NERICA is a biological hybrid rice variety developed by the Ivory Coast-based West African Rice Development Association.