Manila: Farmers in India and Bangladesh will likely start commercial production of flood-tolerant rice next year giving them protection against crop losses from typhoons and heavy monsoon rains.
“We now have a fairly big programme in India and Bangladesh to multiply the seed,” David Mackill, programme leader for rain-fed environments at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, said on Tuesday. “It would survive for about two weeks under water.”
Flood waters regularly engulf vast rain-fed lowland areas of Asia and crop losses from prolonged submergence are estimated at about $1 billion (Rs4,290 crore) a year, Mackill said. With the Sub1 flood-resistant gene, farmers could produce 6 tonnes of rice per hectare under normal conditions and around 3 tonnes if the paddy was submerged for two weeks. Normal varieties would only yield 1 tonne or less if subject to that sort of submergence.
“The variety that has this gene still performs as well as the original without submergence,” said Mackill. “It’s like an insurance policy.”
The flood-tolerant gene is introduced to existing rice varieties through normal cross-breeding techniques and not via genetic modification. He said Indonesia was likely to be the first country in Southeast Asia to introduce the rice and China had also expressed interest in working with it.
“What we would like to do is to transfer the Sub1 gene into a larger number of varieties that would mean the technology would be available to farmers in wider areas,” Mackill added.
IRRI, which started the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s with the development of high-yielding rice seeds, is also working on drought-resistant varieties of the grain to deal with a world beset by global warming.
Mackill said it could take up to five years before such varieties, which would have similar yield advantages as the flood-tolerant seeds, would be ready for commercial production. “We are doing a lot of work,” he said. “But genetically it’s more complicated.”