Portrait

Nguyen Thi Tram, the mother of Vietnamese hybrid rice

Lauded as the most successful copyright owner of hybrid rice in Vietnam, Hero of Labor, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram has created dozens of high-quality and productive hybrid rice varieties, helped bring bountiful harvests to Vietnamese farmers, generated billions of dong for the state and brought glory to the country’s agriculture.


From billion US dollar contracts…


In June 2008, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram shocked the entire scientific world when transferred the hybrid rice variety of TH3-3 to Cuong Tan Co., Ltd (Nam Dinh) for a record price of 10 billion dong. The deal has been a great boon for the agricultural science industry in Vietnam.

At that time, the hybrid rice TH3-3 created by Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram offered competitive traits such as short duration (105-125 days), high productivity (7-8 tons/ha - 6.5 tons higher than average of 2008 winter-spring crop in northern Vietnam). TH3-3 was also adaptive to many ecological zones.

With such advantages, TH3-3’s price was surprisingly affordable, owing to its’ production which was entirely domestic. The variety, therefore, was well received by farmers across the country, from the northern mountainous region as well as the plains, to central region and the Central Highlands.

Soon after being introduced, TH3-3 was widely replicated and accounted for 60% of the hybrid rice growing area in the country, creating jobs and increasing incomes for thousands of agricultural workers.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram has created dozens of high-quality and productive hybrid rice varieties. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

At the age of 77, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram still goes on field trips throughout the plains and mountainous areas to research new rice varieties. Photo: Nguyen Thi Tram's Files

According to Dr. Tram, agriculture in Vietnam today still faces many challenges and risks because of climate change. Photo: Nguyen Thi Tram's Files

Dr. Tram on a field trip to the hybrid rice growing areas. Photo: Nguyen Thi Tram's Files

 

Seeing bountiful crops is the motivation for Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram to continue dedicating herself to the cause of science. Photo: Nguyen Thi Tram's Files
  

Being resilient to pests, diseases and other external conditions, while produce high-quality and delicious rice, TH3-3 at that time was considered the jewel in the crown in Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram’s portfolio.

According to Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram, scientifically speaking, 10 billion dong was not a large amount, but the deal of TH3-3 marked the first time scientific research generated commercial value in agriculture.

Previous to TH3-3, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram had researched and released dozens of hybrid rice varieties such as: NN-9, NN-10, NN-23, TH-5, TH3-11, TH5-1, TH6 -3, TH2-3… and successfully transferred the copyrights of TH3-4 hybrid rice variety in a deal up to 700 million dong in March 2008 - another jaw-dropping transfer contract at that time.

Without resting on her laurels, in 2016, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram continued bringing surprises when launching 4 purebred rice varieties of the Huong Com brand. These were varieties synthesized from imported aromatic genes, carefully selected from local specialty varieties. Various researches and field evaluations since then have shown that the Huong Com varieties give higher yields than other fragrant rice varieties.

 

… to the story behind the rice plants

 

For Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram, the big turning point for her research career was her time studying at Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Centre, China. Here, she had the opportunity to work with Prof. Yuan Long Ping - a scientist renowned in China as well as the world and who is regarded as the father of hybrid rice. Prof. Yuan Long Ping’s hybrid rice varieties have helped ensure food security for billions of Chinese people. This encounter gave Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram great motivation and also a golden opportunity to fulfill her desire to help Vietnamese farmers eliminate hunger and poverty.


Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram speaks at a workshop on the development of rice varieties in Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Thi Tram's Files

 

Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram at a seminar of  the Intellectual Women's Association. Photo: Viet Cuong/VNP

 

Upon returning to Vietnam, equipped with newly acquired knowledge from a top expert, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram and colleagues researched hundreds of indigenous and imported rice varieties. With perseverance and diligence, Dr Nguyen Thi Tram succeeded in finding the right breed of thermosensitive genic male sterility (TGMS). This variety was heat-sterile. Specifically, rice plants were fertile at temperatures below 24oC and infertile at temperatures above 24oC, which made it strongly suitable for the production seasons of the Red River Delta.

From this discovered gene, Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram successfully produced a series of hybrid rice varieties in a two-line system: TH3-3, TH3-4, TH3-11, TH3-1 and TH2-3.


Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram was awarded the title of Labor Hero in the renovation period. She also received the Third Class Labor Medal by the State and the Kovalevskaia Prize 2000.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Tram is the most successful copyright owner of hybrid rice varieties in Vietnam and one of the most successful female scientists in the field of agriculture.


In June 2021, she applied for copyrights for the three-line system hybrid rice variety MV2 and the two-line system hybrid rice variety Lai thom 6. In addition to rice breeding, Dr Nguyen Thi Tram and colleagues also bred other cultivars. In 2019, Sacha inchi S18 variety, of which she is the main author, was recognized as a new medicinal variety in Vietnam. The success has opened up opportunities to produce and develop Sacha inchi to help farmers transform their crop structure and increase the value of Vietnamese agricultural products.


Story: Thao Vy Photos: Viet Cuong & Files Translated by Hong Hanh

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