The development of rice seeds resistant to floods and droughts is a boon for Nepal farmers struggling to cope with too much, or too little water
After years of research, scientists in Nepal have developed rice seeds that are resistant to droughts and floods, the twin scourges that annually threaten the livelihoods of poor farmers in the country as well as in lowland areas in neighbouring India and Bangladesh.
Hoping to help farmers adapt to the vagaries of climate change, the Nepal government has begun the process of certifying the seeds for use by farmers. Calledsukkha dhan in the country, the seeds were tested in lowland areas adjoining India.Similar research in India and Bangladesh – where farmers have also been victim to the increasing phenomenon of either no water or too much of it – has also been successful, say agricultural scientists. The seeds in these countries are calledsahabhagi.
In Nepal, 10 years of research by a joint team of scientists from the Nepal Agricultural Research Council and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) yielded three new rice seeds tolerant to droughts and floods. “It doesn’t mean it resists unlimited drought and flood but the seeds we produced can tolerate continuous drought up to one-and-a-half months and floods up to two weeks or both,” explained Bhaba Tripathi, senior scientist with IRRI and head of the Nepal programme. According to him, IRRI uses a breeding method that helps incorporate specific desirable traits from genes into new varieties. The newly developed seeds were produced by the same method.
According to scientists, the seeds will be no more expensive than normal rice seeds.
Scientists say the seeds were tested for three years in the field in various parts of the country and it took about six years to develop them in the laboratory. “We conducted research works at the IRRI laboratory in the Philippines where about 3,000 seed samples from Nepal have been stored in a seed bank,” added Tripathi.
“We have been doing similar tests in India and Bangladesh and the results are encouraging as the yield is between two to four tonnes per hectare,” added Tripathi who is closely working with scientists in India and Bangladesh too. The market availability of such seeds will be facilitated by the respective agricultural agencies of various countries.
The Nepali government’s endorsement is also on its way. “We will endorse and certify within a couple of months,” said Dilaram Bhandari, chief of the seed quality control centre, ministry of agricultural development.
Scientists believe the new seeds will be a boon for famers suffering from the impacts of climate change in the region where the incidence of extreme floods and droughts have been increasing. More than 65% of Nepal’s population is dependent on agriculture and rice is the major crop, accounting for 20% of the agricultural gross domestic product.
Rice is a staple for about half the world’s population. More than 90% of the total rice produced is consumed in Asia. According to the officials at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council, about 33% of land where rice is cultivated is directly affected by drought (0.52 million hectares) and about 10% is in flood prone areas (0.15 million hectares).
The development of the new seeds is a major success in rice research in the region. This is especially valuable and timely, with recent studies warning of a sharp decrease in crop yield in South Asia due to climate change.
“While millions of dollars are being invested in [international] negotiations, the real victims of climate change need solutions now and these results have brought some hope for reducing the vulnerability of farmers,” said Tripathi.