Flood-resistant rice offers hope

Each year millions of Bangaladeshi farmers lose their crops when fields submerge.

    This year alone rice worth $290 million was damaged in one the worst floods in nearly a decade [AFP]

    Normal rice varieties cannot survive under flood waters for more than three days, resulting in huge losses for farmers.

    But "last month when the flood water receded from two farms in which Swarna Sub-1 was planted, we saw the rice paddy stand up again, 10 days after it was completely submerged by water," said Abdul Mazid, a senior researcher at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI).

    "It was simply amazing. It means the variety has proved flood-resistant. It could be a huge step towards helping millions of rice farmers who are made paupers by floods," said Mazid.

    Swarna Sub-1 was developed in 2004 by implanting a submergence-resistant gene in a massively popular high-yielding Indian rice variety through conventional breeding.

    "If the flood water stays two to three days, it is a blessing. It nourishes the soils. But if it stays longer, it destroys the crops"

    Hamid Mia, a liaison scientist at IRRI, Manila

    "The idea was to give the farmers a variety that can survive flood water for 10 to 17 days while at the same time ensuring them a more than average yield," said Mazid.

    With support from Swiss charity Inter Corp, BRRI distributed seeds and seedlings of the submergence-resistant variety to 114 farmers across nine districts in the country.

    Low-lying Bangladesh, criss-crossed by 230 rivers, experiences flooding every year.

    "If the flood water stays two to three days, it is a blessing. It nourishes the soils. But if it stays longer, it destroys the crops," said Hamid Mia, a liaison scientist at IRRI.

    Rice production accounts for 14 per cent of Bangladesh's gross domestic product. Some two-thirds of Bangladesh's 144 million people directly or indirectly make their living from rice farming.

    "The field tests have so far yielded very good results. The farmers are excited and want more seeds and seedlings," said Mia.

    "Next year, we will quadruple the number of testing farms. And hopefully, by 2009-2010, we can start commercial production of the flood-resistant rice."

    This year alone rice worth $290 million was damaged in one the worst floods in nearly a decade in July, according to preliminary estimates.

    The government said the losses would climb following a second spell of flooding in early September that has submerged more than a third of the country.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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