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'Extended life' rice could quadruple yields, cut costs

by Syful Islam | @youths1990 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 29 September 2011 15:00 GMT

New varieties cultivated with a method that can produce three crops are being tested in Bangladesh

p>DHAKA (AlertNet) - A Bangladeshi scientist has developed new rice varieties with an extended life cycle that can produce up to three crops from one plant. Their yield could be four times higher than traditional varieties, helping boost food security in South Asia and beyond.

The cultivation method for the multi-crop rice also produces less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional paddy farming, in which plants produce only one harvest, and makes them more resilient to excessive rainfall.

Abed Chaudhury, a genetics expert who has worked with the Australian National Rice Research Institute for the past 20 years, describes the approach - developed in consultation with farmers - as “second life” or “extended life”, and will soon apply to the Bangladeshi authorities for seed certification.

"My target is to transform the annual plant into perennial plant. It saves costs as well as giving high yield," he told AlertNet.

Rice plants usually produce only one crop. After the paddy ripens, farmers harvest the rice, cutting the plant down to a height of around 10 cm and leaving it to rot into the ground.

But if farmers adopt Chaudhury's cutting-edge varieties and techniques, they could harvest rice three times from the same plant in one year. Early tests suggest yields could be more than quadrupled at a very low cost.

According to the scientist, a rice plant normally produces 65 sheaves, or clusters of grains, of which around 40 are mature at first harvest. The rest are wasted when the plant is cut down.

In the initial 130-day growing period, the new paddy varieties grow 85 cm to 1 m tall, as do most other rice types. But when farmers come to harvest the first crop, they leave 35-40 cm in the ground, and apply around half the amount of fertiliser again. The immature sheaves continue growing, and can be harvested in 50-55 days.

On a demonstration field in Bangladesh's northeastern Moulavibazar district, a third crop from the same plants is now being awaited, requiring 45-50 additional days to ripen.


With the first crop, Chaudhury and his colleagues harvested 6.4 tonnes of paddy from one hectare of land. They then spread urea fertiliser on the field, and left the immature sheaves to ripen, harvesting some 3 tonnes of paddy. More fertiliser was applied to the remaining sheaves, and a further 3 tonnes of rice are expected.   

Yields from traditional paddy varieties are around 3 tonnes a hectare. But the new plants are projected to produce more than 12 tonnes of paddy from the same land area, at comparatively low costs.

"The spending on the second and third (crops) is very minimal,” said Abbas Ali, a farmer in Hazipara village in Moulavibazar district. “You have to spread a very tiny volume of fertiliser only. You do not need to plough the land."

He is growing the new rice on five acres of land, and is now waiting to cut the paddy a second time. So far he’s very happy with the experiment. "I will continue to grow this variety of paddy since it is very profitable due to low cost and high yield,” he said.


Ferdous Bappi, manager of Chaudhury's project in Moulavibazar, said the new rice types are neither hybrid nor genetically modified, and are similar to traditional varieties developed by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. The team’s research has not revealed any other varieties with similar characteristics, he added.

Of 10 varieties the project has bred, four have proved suitable for the “extended life” method. “Now we want to spread the method, as well as the varieties, across the country,” said Bappi. “Many people from different parts of the country have already contacted us."

The farming method has environmental benefits, and could contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from rice cultivation, he added. Rice produces substantial amounts of methane due to its semi-aquatic nature and tilling releases it from the land.

"If you follow the 'extended life' method you do not need to plough the land, and there is no chance of greenhouse gas emissions," Bappi explained.

The farming technique also makes the plants more resilient to excessive flooding. Usually, young paddy plants are 15 cm high when transplanted into the land, meaning they rot if submerged in too much rainwater for too long.

"Since, in our method, the crop is harvested keeping 35 cm of the paddy plant in the land, during the second and third sessions, there is no chance of them being swamped or rotten," Bappi said.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at:


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