Two flood-tolerant rice varieties developed by scientists at the Africa Rice Center and IRRI are helping African farmers improve their productivity.
The varieties, which could survive for more than two weeks under complete submergence, have not been available in Africa where farmers suffered enormous losses due to floods.
The new flood-tolerant varieties have the potential to generate at least USD 3 billion in returns for African countries that will experience flooding in the next five years.
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Scuba rice goes against the flow of woes in flood-prone eastern India
The effects of climate change are already being felt in eastern India with the rising extreme weather conditions. Although hundreds of rice varieties have the potential to give high yields under normal conditions, their performance suffers when exposed to environmental stresses that hurt farmers’ livelihoods. Varieties tolerant of conditions such as floods can be an important part of increasing the productivity, resilience, and income of smallholder farmers.
Stress-tolerant varieties are being disseminated in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Madagascar, and others through the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. STRASA is a project of IRRI and the Africa Rice Center and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Holding back flood, sweat, and tears
Swarna-Sub1—also called “scuba rice” because of its ability to survive underwater for up to two weeks—has been a dramatic success story in flood-prone areas of South Asia. While yield levels of other varieties are drastically reduced by flooding, Swarna-Sub1 is able to produce up to 6 tons per hectare.
Swarna-Sub1 was developed through collaborative work between the International Rice Research Institute and India’s Central Rice Research Institute. In 2008, it was introduced in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Now, the benefits of planting it are trickling down, helping make rice farming much more profitable.
Scuba rice: Stemming the tide in flood-prone South Asia
Scientists had long known an Indian rice variety, unromantically dubbed FR13A, that could handle a week or more of complete submergence and recover sufficiently to offer a reasonable harvest. Rice, although often grown in standing water, will drown like any other plant if hit with severe flooding.
Despite its remarkable properties, FR13A (FR stands for “flood resistant”), as a low-yielding traditional variety grown across limited areas in the Indian state of Orissa, was never expected to make a big impact on a wide scale.