Photo from IRIN/Jason Guttierez
When rice grows in the normal way, it tries to outgrow the water, to rise above it. When there are floods, this elongation continues until the plants run out of carbohydrates, causing tissue damage and death. But scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines have discovered some naturally occurring rices which can tolerate flooding. The plants become dormant, and while they can't stay in this state for ever, they can survive under water well enough in most flood conditions.
Using natural breeding methods, the flood tolerance has been bred into existing strains of rice. The three new new strains are just as productive as established ones so there is no penalty in using the flood-tolerant varieties. People tend to become complacent when there is no existing problem - so the new must be every bit as good as the old to encourage their use.
The scientists have produced the strains of rice but the problems now lie more in distribution:
- producing a sufficient quantity of seed quickly
- distribution of the seed to some very remote areas
The areas most likely to suffer flooding are also those where poverty tends to be a major problem. The new varieties could make a substantial difference to places like Bangladesh where there is an annual shortfall in rice production.