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Developing environment-friendly and profitable rice varieties

  • Published at 10:02 pm March 18th, 2020
Bilguun Bayarmag
Bilguun Bayarmag

Lessons learned from IRRI

Often cited as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, Bangladesh faces significant challenges in adapting to the impacts of climate change. The country is particularly susceptible to extreme weather events which include cyclones, floods, storm surges drought, among other events. In the last few decades, these events, especially floods, have resulted in human and material loss. Consequently, sea-level rise and an increase in salinity threaten the country’s coastal region’s ability to produce rice. Adding to these woes, heat stress in the region has already reached critical levels, which is unsuitable for rice production.

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been assisting with the national agricultural research and extension systems. The institute has been involved with both formulation and implementation of rice sector strategies in the country. Based on the geographical location, IRRI has developed some advanced rice varieties that yield more grain and can withstand pests, diseases as well as flooding, drought, and other harmful effects of climate change. IRRI has developed these varieties on the principles of; increase in genetic gain; improved breeding strategies; and improved product profiles for rice production. 

The coastal zone of Bangladesh is rich with water resources, and this offers massive potential for Bangladesh to make a quantum leap in meeting future food security requirement. However, the region is being threatened by increasing salinity. As the soils in this region are affected by varying degree of salinity, the soil has to be monitored to identify the salt-tolerant varieties that will work best. 

IRRI has been working on interventions while monitoring water salinity and quantity (depth, flow rates) in the rivers. In essence, the water depth in the rivers throughout the year, relative to the land surface has to be monitored so that farmers know how to irrigate with fresh water.

●    Too much water during the rainy season, hence the need to be able to drain the field

●    Too little freshwater during the dry season, hence the need to be able to store freshwater for irrigation

●    Too much soil salinity during the dry season for agricultural crops – but if it can be irrigated with fresh water, then crops can grow on moderately saline land

In Bangladesh, most climate risk season lies in April, May, June and early December to early January. Therefore if these periods are mainly focused on by the farmers to seek alternative livelihood or crop production, then the farmer’s earnings can be secured. 

Based on IRRI’s research, that was presented at Gobeshona 6 conference. In most cases, farmers working with IRRI are dependent on the popular varieties like as BRRI Dhan 11, BIRI Dhan 29, Aman BIRI Dhan 28, Aman BRRI Dhan 32, Aman BRRI Dhan 49, Aush BR 26, Aush BRRI Dhan 48, and Boro BR 16. Some of these new rice varieties are more environmentally friendly and more profitable like as BIRI Dhan 35, BIRI Dhan 63 and BIRI Dhan 81. 

Rice marketing in Bangladesh is marred by a wide range of problems, including packaging, transporting, storage, distribution, and pricing. There is a comparative advantage in the production of high yielding rice in Bangladesh, but its marketing system is not suitable for small farmers to bring a fair price. Moreover, due to climate change, the country is losing out on seasonal crops as seasons are changing patterns.

To overcome the challenges faced by farmers in the coastal zone, and especially our food system being potentially threatened by adversities of climate change, Farmers need to focus on alternative farming or livelihood option to support themselves. More focus should be given in resourceful utilization of technology to identify particular rice varieties that are sustainable are ecologically beneficial and has a market value. Only then a particular rice variety will be well adopted by farmers and consumers alike and will help curb the food insecurity problems in the coastal zone of the country.

Md. Hafizur Rahman, Research Officer, International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)