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Yuan Longping, one of China’s greatest heroes, is dead at 90. Here’s how he saved millions of people during the country’s deadly famine crisis in the 1960s.

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Yuan Longping, the Chinese agronomist credited with saving millions of people from dying of hunger, died at 90 on Saturday.

In 1973, Longping developed the world’s first high-yield hybrid rice strain, which produced 20% more rice per acre than nonhybrid varieties. That means his innovations helped feed an extra 70 million people per year. 

The backstory: China suffered a disastrous famine in the early 1960s as a result of Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward plan to collectivize agriculture. Yuan said his experiences of seeing people starving to death led him to research rice, which serves as the main grain for half the world’s population. 

Yuan’s breakthroughs turned him into a national hero in China and within the international agriculture community. He crisscrossed the globe introducing his rice hybrids to farmers in lower-income nations.

Looking ahead…food security remains top of mind for Chinese officials. Last year, President Xi Jinping called on citizens to stop wasting food and to be more conscientious about food consumption. 

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