Scientists, agronomists and entrepreneurs are scouring the world to discover the secret to feeding a planet of 9 billion. The solution might lie in a little known corner of Australia—Cape York—a remote peninsula 100 miles from Papua New Guinea that’s part of the world’s greatest concentration of free-flowing rivers and extensive savanna. Known for its prolific crocodiles, bird-eating spiders, and taipan snakes, Cape York is also home to Oryza sativa, the wild relative to the plant we know as rice.

James Beard award-winning writer Lisa Hamilton traveled to this faraway corner of the world with Australian geneticist Robert Henry to uncover the secrets of rice’s wild relative, which could hold the key to feeding the world’s population:

  • Grown on six continents and in 117 countries, rice is the world’s most important food and is the sustenance of the world’s poor, yet even this robust plant is vulnerable to climate change and the extreme conditions it brings.
  • In recent decades geneticists and plant breeders have realized that crops’ wild relatives—like Oryza sativa—hold immense value because they have not yet been domesticated, and their natural adaptation to pests, diseases, and climactic fluctuation could be the key to feeding the world at a time when we need it most.
  • Cape York’s wild rice relative has evolved outside of human influence, but that could soon change if the forces behind modern development, tourism and mining prevail in this remote region of the world.

California Sunday Magazine—in partnership with the Food and Environment Reporting Network— published Hamilton’s story about wading waist deep through crocodile waters all in the name of wild rice.

Click the link to read about the modern day explorers searching for clues to feed the planet