Drought-tolerant rice variety to help farmers in northern Bangladesh

by Syful Islam | @youths1990 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 11 January 2011 18:18 GMT
Bangladesh is about to get its first drought-tolerant rice variety, which should play a key role in helping drought-affected farmers

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AlertNet) – Bangladesh is about to get its first drought-tolerant rice variety, which should play a key role in helping drought-affected farmers in northern Bangladesh deal with increasingly variable summer weather, scientists say.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), with the help of two Bangladeshi organizations, has successfully tested the rice, which can survive up to 27 days without water, the scientists say.

“The existing rice varieties in Bangladesh wither and die after 10 to 12 days if water is not available in the land. But this variety has been tested successfully in such extreme situations,” M.G. Neogi, head of agriculture at the Rangpur-Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), told AlertNet.  

In 2010, Bangladesh witnessed the lowest rainfall in 15 years, a change experts characterized as an impact of global climate change.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department recorded 47,000 mm of rainfall in June, July, August and September 2010, compared to 56,000 mm in the same period of the last year, 60,000 mm in 2008 and 66,000 mm in 2007. The measurements are countrywide averages.

Drought affected about 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of land in Bangladesh’s Barindra and other northern districts during the July to September period, according to M.A. Bari, country manager for the Stress-Tolerance Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project in Bangladesh.

SUCCESS IN AREAS TOO DRY FOR RICE

Neogi said tests of the new rice variety were even successful in Panchagar district, where rice normally can’t be grown as a result of lack of rainfall.

The rice is suitable to grow in the July to September cropping period, though can’t be grown in winter as it is intolerant of cold, he said.

He urged that the rice be widely introduced immediately to help farmers deal with worsening climate-related drought, particularly in already dry areas.

The technical committee of the National Seed Board is still scrutinizing the variety following an application by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute for its release.

The variety was first developed in 2008 by IRRI in the Philippines, with the financial support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Under the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa and South Asia project, the rice was tested in India, Cambodia and Nepal.

In Bangladesh, the rice has produced 3.5 tonnes of rice per hectare in test plots. Existing rice varieties can produce up to 4.5 tonnes per hectare but only if there is no drought, experts said.

India has already released the rice variety under the name ‘Shahabagi’ in 2009, and it is now grown on 235,000 hectares of Indian farmland.

Before sending the new variety to farmers in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute carried out its own tests over the 2008 to 2010 period. The rice was also tested by 36 farmers in eight districts of Rangpur division, who said they were happy with the results.

FARMER TESTS

Farmer Mosharraf Hosen of Tupamari village in Nilphamari district cultivated the drought-tolerant variety on two acres of land during the last July to September growing season. He harvested 960 kilograms of rice from the land, compared to 800 kilograms from his regular rice variety, and said the new variety required less fertilizer, cutting his costs.

“Usually I had to use 80 kilograms of fertilizer. … But I needed only 44 kilograms of fertilizer to cultivate the drought-tolerant rice in the same volume of land,” said Hosen, who is a father of four children.      

Agricultural scientists bought most of his successful crop of the new rice as seed, he said.

“But I kept some seeds to cultivate in the next dry season since it does not need irrigation and I can save money,” he said.

Mahafuz, a farmer in Kathalbari village in Kurigram district, said he usually had to irrigate his rice paddies during dry periods with low rainfall. But there was no need to irrigate the land for cultivating drought-tolerant rice, he said.

His wife Rabeka Sultana. also cultivated the rice variety on her one acre of land and harvested nearly 1,600 kilograms of rice.

Hamid Mia, a scientist with IRRI in Bangladesh, said the new rice is similar in many ways to currently used varieties, and can be cultivated in any part of the country apart from land affected by excessive salinity.

“During the last few years we noticed adverse affects from drought on rice yields in northern districts. But the drought-tolerant variety tested this year in the area remained unaffected during the season,” he said.

“This tiny country has lot of diversity, in kinds of land and weather. So we need to introduce various kinds of rice varieties (capable of dealing) with different conditions,” he said. 

Syful Islam is a freelance journalist in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at youths1990@yahoo.com.

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