Not many in this part of the world might recognise the name of Chinese plant scientist Yuan Longping who shunned the limelight. But his breakthroughs developing high-yield hybrid strains of rice helped tackle famine in much of the world, including in Africa. Mr Yuan passed on at the age of 90 some days ago to an outpouring of grief in his country and glowing tribute globally. Most major international media organisations eulogised him. The Economist’s eulogy particularly waxed lyrical: “He was wandering in a ricefield of dreams. The plants were tall as sorghum, taller than a man. Their panicles hung full as brooms, and each grain was as big as a peanut,” begins the tribute. His name has often been mentioned alongside that of the American plant scientist Norman Borlaug, also feted for his breakthroughs in wheat cultivation in the ’50s and ’60s. The pair greatly contributed to the Green Revolution, enabling the steep rise in harvests of rice and wheat that saw an end to food shortages the world over. While maize remains an important staple, wheat is the main grain for a third of the world’s population. Rice alone feeds half the world. For this reason, Mr Yuan is receiving the profuse acclamation. After witnessing the Great Chinese Famine that killed millions between 1959 and 1961, he devoted his life to developing rice strains that yield higher harvests. In 1980 he donated the rice strains to the International Rice Research Institute, which later used them to develop hybrid varieties that could also grow in tropical countries, including in Africa. And, as the Economist points out, a fifth of all rice grown globally now comes from hybrids that were his. For this he won the Medal of the Republic, China’s highest, and the World Food Prize. An asteroid was named after him. There was talk of the Nobel, too. It might be surprising to know that rice has been grown in East and Southern countries for more than 500 years. This is to say nothing of the grain in West Africa, where its preparation remains a culinary art form in a culture that was transported to the United States during the slave trade and still thrives among Black Americans (I am learning this in the revelatory new Netflix docu-series, High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America). Nonetheless, Mr Yuan’s plays a role in much of the ongoing rice research and production in the continent. Rwanda for example has more than a few variants suited to the country’s conditions, while other varieties are under research to suit the local palate. All is not well, however. Climate change and high population growth might ruin the party. A recent analysis by National Geographic shows that by 2050 the world’s population will grow by more than two billion people. Half will be born in sub-Saharan Africa and another 30 per cent in South and Southeast Asia. These regions are also where the effects of climate change—drought, heat waves, extreme weather generally—are expected to hit hardest. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has raised a warning, showing how there has been a slowdown in the growth rate of crop yields in the last 20 years. This means there has been some impact in the world’s food supply – particularly for rice, wheat and maize. In some areas yields have stopped growing entirely. To increase the stagnating yields between now and 2050, it has been suggested, we’ll need another green revolution. Which brings us back to Mr Yuan. We must continue the work of his ilk of pioneering scientists to breed better crops, but with modern genetic techniques. Scientists, as the National Geographic notes, can now identify and manipulate a huge variety of plant genes for traits like disease resistance and drought tolerance. That’s going to make farming more productive and resilient. Employing high tech is something we won’t be able to evade, as humanitys salvation ultimately lies. This is despite the debates in Africa and elsewhere over the safety and environmental effects of genetically modified crops.