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Special Supplement for the STRASA Phase III Inception Meeting and Planning Workshop, 19-23 May 2014

Creating an oasis with rice

Climate-smart rice for Africa
Swarna-Sub1: Odishas food
for a goddess

Bangladesh combats

the white plague

R. Raman, afRicaRice (2)

(Left) AfricaRice investigates the climateresilient traits of the indigenous African rice,
Oryza glaberrima. (Right) Most of the rice
farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
Through participatory approaches, they have
become very much involved in AfricaRices
research on stress-tolerant rice.

Adapting to change
Africa develops climate change-resilient rice technologies

or Glgnon Codjo, a smallholder

rice farmer in Benin, climate
change is not a matter of debate.
It is fast eroding his source
of livelihood. Our seasons have gone
crazy: either the rains dont come when
our crops need them or there is so much
rain that our crops rot, he laments. I
thought God was angry with us. But
now, I am told that all this is happening
because of climate change.
Like Glgnon, millions of
smallholder farmers in Africa are
increasingly grappling with the changing
climate around them. Scientists predict
that climate change will make extreme
weather conditionssuch as floods and
droughts that can erode soil and lead to
crop failuremore common.
When combined with the natural
vulnerability and poor adaptive capacity
in Africa, these impacts on agriculture
could have devastating consequences
for food security, poverty, and social
welfare. Therefore, climate change is
likely to have a far greater impact here

than in other parts of the world.

Scientists, governments, and
donors need to take urgent measures to
improve the resilience of rural African
communities to enable them to better
adapt to climate change.
Rice is increasingly becoming
important in Africaboth as a food and
cash cropand increased rice production
will be crucial to achieving the necessary
adaptation. Rice production in the
region, however, is affected by such
stresses as drought, salinity, and extreme
temperatures, all of which are expected
to worsen with climate change. To adapt
successfully to climate change, farmers
need rice technologies with greater
tolerance of these stresses.
Since these stresses have always
posed a significant threat to rice
production, the Africa Rice Center
(AfricaRice) has been developing for
several years now rice varieties adapted
to local stresses and more efficient
farming techniques to help poor
farmers better manage their use of the
Rice Today January-March 2010

increasingly scarce water and fragile soil

in Africa. Their efforts are now paying
rich dividends.
The African cultivated rice species
Oryza glaberrima is a rich reservoir
of useful genes for resistance to major
stresses. This discovery led AfricaRice
scientists to cross the African rice species
with the higher-yielding Asian O. sativa,
which resulted in the birth of a generation
of new rice varieties, called NERICA.
The NERICA varieties are promising for
rainfed systems in Africa. Farmers like
these varieties because they mature early
and thus often escape drought.
Using both conventional breeding
and biotechnology, AfricaRice scientists
continue to develop rice varieties that
are even hardier than NERICA by
maximizing the diversity of the African
rice germplasm pool consisting of O.
glaberrima, its wild relatives (O. barthii
and O. longistaminata), and O. sativa
landraces. These offer a massive potential
for use as sources for resistances to major
stresses in rice.

New scientific tools, such as

molecular biology techniques, help speed
up the development of new stress-tolerant
rice varieties as they enable AfricaRice
breeders and their partners to more
efficiently identify and select genes
that control stress tolerance. Because of
this, the scientists can then successfully
transfer the desirable traits from the
African rice gene pool into popular
This work is closely allied with the
farmer participatory approach, which
is highly effective in ensuring that rice
improvement also takes into account
farmers valuable local knowledge. It
is crucial for these new varieties to suit
local needs and preferences.
Thus, climate-resilient rice
varieties resulting from this work have
already reached farmers fields, and more
are in the making, said Dr. Baboucarr
Manneh, AfricaRice coordinator for the
IRRI-AfricaRice joint project on Stresstolerant rice for poor farmers in Africa
and South Asia (STRASA).
The STRASA project, which
involves 14 African countries and three
South Asian countries, is funded by

by Savitri Mohapatra

the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

through the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI). It aims to accelerate the
development and delivery of improved
rice varieties tolerant of five major
stressesdrought, submergence, salinity,
iron toxicity, and low temperature.
Thanks to this project, new stress-tolerant
rice varieties are now being evaluated
in farmers fields using the farmer
participatory varietal selection approach.
However, integrated crop and soil
fertility management strategies still
need to be developed and disseminated
to realize the full potential of climateresilient varieties of rice and also to
stabilize yields and reduce environmental
degradation arising from climate change
in rice ecosystems.
AfricaRice has developed an
integrated crop management (ICM)
approach for irrigated and rainfed
lowlands. Significant gains in yields and
profits from ICM have been obtained
across the continent.
A study by AfricaRice demonstrates
that a paddy irrigation regime that starts
with the traditional flooding practice
and then changes to alternate wetting
Rice Today January-March 2010

and drying later on can save water

with little or no yield loss in a Sahelian
environment, provided weeds are
AfricaRice is closely involved in a
multipartnership project on Developing
rice and sorghum crop adaptation
strategies for climate change in vulnerable
environments in Africa (RISOCAS),
which is led by the University of
Hohenheim. This endeavor is carried
out in partnership with the Centre de
coopration internationale en recherche
agronomique pour le dveloppement
(CIRAD) for crop modeling. It aims to
deliver coping strategies for crops to adapt
to changing climatic conditions, along
with tools and methods that will enable
stakeholders to develop such strategies
further, or to apply them to other crops or
As part of a new project to be
launched in 2010, AfricaRice will initiate
a study on the relationship between
rice diseases and climate change. Two
of the major rice diseases affecting the
region are rice blast and bacterial blight.
Both are greatly influenced by climate,
especially temperature and humidity.
Funded by Gesellschaft fr Technische
Zusammenarbeit, the project will be
carried out in Uganda, Rwanda, and
Tanzania in collaboration with German
universities and IRRI.
We are also planning to get
climatologists and geographic
information systems (GIS) experts
more involved in environmental
characterization, explained Dr. Paul
Kiepe, the focal person in charge of
climate changerelated research at
AfricaRice. More precise predictions of
future climate patterns are needed in this
research that aims to develop climateresilient, rice-based technologies.
AfricaRice continues to find and
improve technologies for resource-poor
farmers in Africa that are suitable and
effective in reducing the negative effects
of climate change on rice production and

by Savitri Mohapatra

Lines of defense

Rice faces its own kryptoniteiron toxicityand AfricaRice

is finding a way to help rice survive it

Symptoms of bronzing

The stress is significant in areas where

reddish soils are predominant. These
soils have low fertility but are rich in
iron, which, however, is in the ferric
(nonsoluble) form and is therefore not
accessible to rice plants.
Under prolonged flooded conditions
without drainage, the ferric iron converts
into ferrous (soluble) iron and becomes
available for uptake by rice plants. The
soluble iron is then absorbed by the roots
of the rice plants and accumulates in the
Lowlands are often affected by iron
toxicity. It is particularly common in acid
soils, especially those with a very low pH
(less than 5.0), as acidity increases the
availability of ferrous iron to the plants.
In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where
lowland rice ecologies represent about
53% of the total rice area in the region,
iron toxicity is a serious problem for
smallholder rice farmers.

Increasing tolerance

Several management and cultural

practices can be used to reduce the
occurrence of iron toxicity in rice
fields. Options include improved water
management in rice fields to wash out
excess iron or bring oxygen into the soil
solution; good cultural practices, such
as planting rice on ridges; and improved
soil fertility management, such as the
application of phosphorus and zinc.
However, most of these methods
are impractical or unaffordable for
resource-poor rice farmers in SSA. The
use of varieties tolerant of iron toxicity
offers the most practical and economical
solution to the problem.
Research by the Africa Rice Center
(AfricaRice) has shown that genetic
tolerance of iron toxicity can contribute
significantly to rice production in toxic
soils; hence, the Center and its partners
are now focusing their efforts on
improving rices ability to withstand or
even survive the poison.
They have evaluated rice varieties,
selected promising lines, and developed
Rice Today July-September 2011

AbourAsmAne KonAt, InerA

The first signs of iron toxicity in the

rice plant are bronze spots, beginning
at the tip and spreading toward the base
of the rice leaves. Other effects include
stunted plant growth, decreased tillering,
and high spikelet sterility (leading to
reduced yield).
Iron also damages the root structure
of the rice plant and reduces its capacity
to absorb soil nutrients. For example,
when the ferrous iron concentration in
the root zone is high, iron plaques are
formed, which prevent the plant from
taking up other nutrients. Iron toxicity is
generally associated with a deficiency of
phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
HigH levels of iron toxicity can completely
destroy rice plants, as seen in this field, valley du
Kou, Burkina Faso.
WiTA 12, a rice variety with a moderate level
of tolerance to iron toxicity, in a field trial,
Niaouli, Benin.

iroN ToxiciTy symptoms (bronzing) on the

leaves during a field trial, edozighi, Nigeria.

moussA sIe

bronzed look may be attractive for

human beings but, for rice plants,
it could be fatal. Rice leaves
turn bronze when the plants are
affected by iron toxicitya widespread
nutrient disorder in lowland (wetland)
Iron is a trace element that is essential
for rice plants for normal growth and
development, especially for photosynthesis
and maintenance of chlorophyll. However,
at high concentrations, it becomes toxic to
the plants.
Rice yield loss due to iron toxicity
ranges from 10% to 100%, depending
on the severity of the toxicity and the
tolerance of rice varieties. The loss is
greater when toxicity is accompanied by
nutrient deficiencies.

Traditional varieties that have been

grown and selected by farmers for many
years tend to be relatively iron-tolerant,
such as CG14, which was one of the
parents of the first group of NERICA
varieties developed by AfricaRice. CG14
is a variety that belongs to the indigenous
African rice species, Oryza glaberrima.
Researchers have been trying to transfer
tolerance from these known donors into
high-yielding but iron-sensitive varieties.
According to Dr. Khady Nani
Dram, AfricaRice molecular biologist,
the current focus of research at the
Center is on the genetics of tolerance of
iron toxicity and also on the transfer of
genes and molecular markers (QTLs)
for iron toxicity tolerance into widely
grown local varieties or mega-varieties
using molecular marker techniques. She
is closely involved in the project StressTolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa
and South Asia (STRASA).
The STRASA project, which is
funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation through the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI), aims to
accelerate the development and delivery
of improved rice varieties that are
tolerant of five major stresses: drought,
submergence, salinity, iron toxicity, and
low temperature.
As the lack of a standardized,
controlled, and reliable suitable screening
technique has been a major hindrance
to breeding rice tolerant of iron toxicity,
Dr. Dram and her colleagues have

been testing several screening methods,

including fields in hot spots, pots onstation, and a hydroponic (soil-free)
Marker-assisted selection (MAS) will
be used to introduce the genes that confer
tolerance to iron toxicity in rice to popular
varieties in the region in partnership
with national programs. A few molecular
markers (QTLs) associated with tolerance
of iron toxicity have already been
validated by the research team.
As part of the project, an inventory
comprising about 180 tolerant varieties
has been made from rice breeding
programs of AfricaRice, IRRI, the
International Center for Tropical
Agriculture, and national programs.
To evaluate promising iron-tolerant
lines, participatory varietal selection
(PVS) trials have begun in four West
African countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana,
Guinea, and Nigeria).
In the first year, farmers examined
80 varieties (including a local check),
from which they selected the varieties
they preferred. Ten varieties were
retained per country for further testing.
In the second year of PVS, farmers grew
these varieties with their local varieties
and made further selections.
Currently, the three best varieties
tolerant of iron toxicity per participating
country (except for Ghana) have
been retained and are expected to be
nominated for national release.
The analysis of the PVS trials
indicates that the new varieties performed
quite well in farmers fields compared
with the local varieties. We are happy
that, at the end of the PVS trials, we can
offer to resource-poor farmers in SSA
promising rice varieties that can thrive in
iron-rich soils, said Dr. Dram.
nAnI DrAm, Africarice

Beware of bronzing

agronomic practices that can help

farmers cope with iron toxicity. Rice
varieties with moderate tolerance, such as
WITAs 1, 3, 4, and 12 have been released
for cultivation in lowlands.

Rice Today July-September 2011


Bangladesh combats the

(IRRI) plant breeder who is now based

in Africa, there are two ways to combat
the problem of salinityeither change
the plants growing environment (make it
normal) or change its genetic architecture
so that it can grow in such areas.
The first approach requires major
engineering processes to improve soil
quality, which are often expensive for
small and marginal farmers, Dr. Singh
said. The second approach, which is
breeding crop varieties with built-in
salinity tolerance, is the most promising.
It needs fewer resources, is economical,
and is socially acceptable.
For IRRI, making plants tolerate salt
stress, up to an extent, is the way to go.
The Institute has invested its resources
for many years to develop varieties that
can solve farmers problems in salineprone areas.

white plague
Story by Lanie C. Reyes
Photos by Isagani Serrano

Salt may be a blessing to good cooking,

but, in rice cultivation, it is a deadly sin

Farmers defense

It has been more than a decade now

since the discovery of Saltola gene
that confers salinity tolerance (see Less
salt, please in Rice Today, Vol. 6, No. 2).
Glenn Gregorio, an IRRI plant breeder,
credited most of salinity tolerance to
the development of IR66946-3R-178-1-1,
popularly known as FL478. The Saltol
gene had been incorporated into this
variety, and had shown significant
tolerance of salinity.
Since then, through molecularassisted breeding, the IRRI
multidisciplinary team on salinity
tolerance composed of physiologist

Abdelbagi Ismail, molecular biologist

Mike Thomson, Dr. R.K. Singh, and Dr.
Gregorio as well as country partners in
Asia and Africa were able to introgress
Saltol into popular rice varieties.
One of these varieties is BRRI
dhan47, which was released in
Bangladesh in 2007. It is an IRRI-bred
variety, labeled as IR63307-4B-4-3,
which was evaluated and released by
the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute
(BRRI) in collaboration with the IRRI
team for salinity tolerance now headed
by Dr. Gregorio.
The development of BRRI
dhan47 is one of the best results of a
strong collaboration between IRRI and
BRRI, said Dr. Md. Abdul Mannan,
BRRI director general. The transfer of
materials from IRRI that can perform
in stress conditions and the Institutes
assistance in our manpower development
through both short- and long-term training
have played a key role in this project.
Now, BRRI dhan47 is creating
enthusiasm among Bangladeshi farmers
in coastal areas because it is helping them
alleviate their poverty and secure their
food for the whole year, said Dr. Md.
Rafiqul Islam, principal plant breeder on
salinity tolerance at BRRI.
Just a bund away from Mr. Rahmans
farm, a 0.4-hectare rice field is teeming
with ripening rice grains. It is owned by
Sirajul Islam, 50. Just like Mr. Rahman,
he experimented by planting different
kinds of varieties each season, hoping
that one could survive the lands salinity.

BRRI dhan47 helps farmers like

Md. Lutfor Rahman to overcome
salinity in Bangladesh.

ach year, during the boro season

(November-May), salinity is so

high that a white film of salt

envelops paddy fields in the
coastal areas of Bangladesh. For
Bangladeshi farmers, this white color
on top of their soil is a warning sign
that their land is sick. Salinity is even
dubbed the white plague in Australias
newspapers and magazines, which
indicates the seriousness of the problem
when it strikes.

In Bangladesh, salinity affects

around 1 million hectares. Furthermore,
some climate experts say that sea-level
rise will cause the countrys landscape to
become sicker.
No other country in South Asia is
more vulnerable to sea-level rise than
densely populated Bangladesh.1 With
higher sea level, more areas would be
affected by cyclonic surges; inland
freshwater lakes, ponds, and aquifers
could also be affected by saline-water

and brackish-water intrusion according to

the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Md. Lutfor Rahman, a 62-year-old
farmer in Satkhira, is not an alien to
salinity. Everything is lost to salinity,
Mr. Rahman said with a sigh. He was
referring to the 10,000 taka (US$135) and
the labor he had invested in his 0.2 hectare
of land. Now, his family is left with
nothing but a cow. These rice stalks will
be used as her feed, said Mr. Rahman.

Sarwar GM, Khan MH. 2007. Sea Level Rise: A Threat to the Coast of Bangladesh. Internationales Asienforum. Vol. 33 (34):375-397.


Rice Today July-September 2011

His next step is to find a job as a

laborer and earn a daily wage of 150 to
200 taka ($23). But, only God knows
how soon that will be, he added.

the salty challenge

Salt as a seasoning goes well with rice

especially in developing countries, where
the poor use salt as a dish to accompany
their boiled rice. But, in rice cultivation,
salt has a negative effect. Once salt gets
to the roots, it becomes detrimental to the
whole plant.
According to Dr. R.K. Singh,
International Rice Research Institute
Rice Today July-September 2011


The only difference between them is that

Mr. Islam tried BRRI dhan47.
With the way my rice is growing
now, I am expecting a good harvest, Mr.
Islam said.
BRRI dhan47 is better, Mr.
Rahman readily agreed.
Another farmer in Satkhira, Abu
Abdullah, 35, was also enthusiastic. He
had good reasons. Three years ago, he
could not harvest anything because his
fields had become too salty for his
regular variety. During those lean years,
he borrowed money even at a very high
interest rate of 2% per week.
He said that he was more than happy
to see that rice could once again grow on
his salty land. And, he is expecting to
harvest 4 to 5 tons at the end of the boro
Now, Mr. Abdullah hopes to start
repaying his loans. I may not be able to
write off all my debts immediately, but,
at least, I can program my payments in 2
years, he said.
Just like most farmers in the
world, Bangladeshi farmers are mostly
subsistence farmers. They cultivate rice
on a piece of land for their food.
When salinity strikes, they can no
longer grow food and they cant afford
to buy food, explained Dr. Islam. For
these people, there is no option. For
them, the difference of having salinitytolerant varieties is between nothing and
And, this difference could
eventually have an impact nationwide.

per meter, the variety was able to give

farmers a good harvest that ranged
from 4.0 to 7.2 tons per hectare, with
an average of 5.5 tons. It is found to be
profitable, with an average net return
of 35,693 taka ($483) per hectare and a
mean benefit-cost ratio of 1.73.

Version 2.0

(Left to right) DR. MD. Rafiqul Islam, plant breeder; Dr. Md. Khairul
Bashar, director for research; Dr. Md. Abdul Mannan, director general of
BRRI; and Dr. Glenn Gregorio, IRRI plant breeder, discuss the traits of
BRRI dhan47 at BRRI research station in Gazipur District, Bangladesh.

Our food security depends entirely on

rice production, said Dr. Md. Khairul
Bashar, BRRI director for research.
Even if salinity-tolerant varieties cover
only half a million hectares that are
affected by salinity, the effect will be
tremendous, he added.
Dr. Gregorio is also happy to see
this positive result because to make rice
withstand salinity is the heart of his
teams job at IRRI. Seeing our work
in the field gives us this great feeling of
fulfillment, he shared.

fields. But, hidden just below the green

flag leaves are stooping panicles heavy
with round fat grainsmaking the grains
less conspicuous to birds.
BRRI dhan47 is not a lodging
type, said Dr. Islam. It remains erect
when some varieties bend over from the
force of a strong wind.
The farmers also like its long
stalks of 100110 centimeters, which
stay green even at maturity, because they
use them as feed for their cattle and roof
thatches for their homes, he added.

humble rice

to the rescue

Aside from its yield, farmers prefer BRRI

dhan47 because of its erect flag leaves.
Dr. Gregorio described it as a humble
variety. At a distance, the grains are not
noticeable at once because of the crops
green, erect flag leaves on top of the rice

SALInIty-toLeRAnt BRRI dhan47 is not a lodging type, has erect flag leaves,
which hide its grains from the birds, and long, green stalks that can be used as
roof thatches and feed for the cattle. It can yield 4.0 to 7.2 tons per hectare.

BRRI dhan47 also made its mark in

helping the lives of Bangladeshi farmers
when cyclone Aila decimated the rice
fields in the southern part of the country
in 2009. Aila brought with her sea water
that encroached on ponds and rivers.
Some fields remained flooded by sea
water for some time, thus increasing the
salinity in the soil, Dr. Islam said.
The variety was then considered as a
solution by the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help
Bangladeshi farmers recover from the
disaster. FAO, through the Department of
Agricultural Extension, distributed 62.5
tons of BRRI dhan47 seed to 15,000 farm
households affected by the cyclone.
Afterward, an FAO-commissioned
study assessed the performance of BRRI
dhan47 in the Aila-affected southern
region.3 The results showed that BRRI
dhan47 did perform well. Being able to
tolerate salinity up to 12 deci-Siemens

Islam SMF. 2010. Impact Assessment Report of TCP/BGD/3204(E): A Focus on Performance Assessment of BRRI dhan47 in the South. Dhaka. FAO. 42 p.


Rice Today July-September 2011

Without a doubt, BRRI dhan47 has

made a positive impression on farmers.
But, BRRI dhan47 is not a perfect
variety, stated Dr. Gregorio. Just like
an electronic gadget, it is just the first
model. The next variety will be even
Achieving a better
model, however, requires
knowledge of what farmers
like or how farmers
define a better variety.
This is why IRRI plant
breeders, along with their
national partners, involve
farmers in a process called
participatory varietal
selection (PVS).
Through PVS, plant
breeders were able to
learn that, aside from
salinity tolerance, farmers
in Satkhira prefer the
long, slender type of rice
grains, while farmers in Sonagazi like
short, bold ones. Farmers also favor the
nonshattering type of variety because
they carry newly harvested panicles from
their fields to be threshed at their homes.
Although farmers are satisfied with
the amount of rice that BRRI dhan47
yields, it goes without saying that farmers
desire a better-yielding salinity-tolerant
variety in the future.

good seed

Saltol contributes about 45% of the

salinity tolerance in rice. But, even with
this quantifiable success, Dr. Gregorio and
his team continue to roll up their sleeves
in order to pinpoint the location of the
gene on the chromosome. Their aim is
to improve the performance of salinitytolerant varieties and to minimize trial and
error in breeding. So, they have embarked
on fine-mapping and marker-assisted
backcrossing for the Saltol gene.

Using new sources of germplasm

in mapping more quantitative trait
loci (QTLs) for salinity tolerance, they
discovered major QTLs on chromosomes
1, 7, 8, and 10. And, they were able to
identify three putative candidate genes,
SKC1, SalT, and pectinesterase.
We are presently working toward
identifying and combining more genes
related to salinity for more stable
tolerance, Dr. Gregorio said.
For Dr. Gregorio, developing these
varieties for farmers is important.
Everything starts with a good seed, he
said. One may have good management

How? When private companies produce

and sell salinity-tolerant seeds, they
help ensure that seeds that get to the
farmers are pure and certified and of
high quality. Otherwise, if low-quality
seeds reach farmers, the credibility of the
technology will naturally suffer.
Too much is at stake when it comes
to the delivery of a technology that
combats climate-related problems such
as salinity. Once salinity reaches the soil
and water in farmers rice fields, it can
literally obliterate rice production in just
a few days.
Because salinity is a real threat to
farmers food security,
IRRI, through its projects,
such as the Consortium
for Unfavorable Rice
Environments (CURE),
now funded by the
International Fund for
Agricultural Development,
and Stress-Tolerant Rice
for Poor Farmers in Africa
and South Asia (STRASA),
which is funded by the
Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, facilitates and
A fARMeR signs up for the participatory coordinates the efforts of
varietal selection activity in Pirojpur
these different stakeholders
District, Bangladesh.
in order to distribute seeds
of stress-tolerant rice
varieties, including BRRI dhan47, to more
practices, but, if the seed is not tolerant
farmers the quickest way possible.
of a stress like salinity, it will fail. A
As of now, more than 500 tons
good seed, however, even with fewer
of BRRI dhan47 seeds have been
good management practices, can yield
produced and distributed through
something somehow.
STRASA partners in south and southwest
Moreover, good seeds enable
farmers to be more confident in investing Bangladesh over the last 2 years, said
Dr. Umesh Singh, senior scientist and
in their cropsapplying some inputs
such as fertilizers.
STRASA regional coordinator for South
Asia. Approximately 450 tons of seed
a dynamic business
have been produced during the 2010-11
BRRI dhan47 has attracted more
boro season, which will be available to
players in the business of development.
farmers in the next crop season.
Extension workers from the Department
The outlook for the future through the
of Agricultural Extension in Bangladesh lens of climate change seems bleak, and
played an important role in creating
maybe even scary for rice production in
awareness about BRRI dhan47.
coastal areas. More areas may be affected
Nongovernment organizations were also
by salinity. But, with climate-changeinvolved in extension work and helped in ready rice varieties such as BRRI dhan47,
the distribution of seeds.
the future is brighter. As the first model
Even the private sector has played
that can combat salinity, BRRI dhan47 is
a critical role in the wider and more
a good start in securing this staple food in
sustainable adoption of this technology.
saline-prone areas of Bangladesh.

Comparison of the present value of an investment decision or project with its initial cost. A ratio of greater than 1 indicates that the project is a viable one.

Rice Today July-September 2011


by Lanie C. Reyes


New drought-tolerant lines developed at IRRI give hope to farmers in drought-prone

areas in eastern India and the Philippines
ince the dawn
of agriculture,
drought has
been the bane of
farmers, especially those
who grow rice, a crop
that has special water
requirements. Drought
stress severely limits rice
productivity in the rainfed
ecosystem in which farmers
often experience total crop
failure because of a lack of
water at one critical plant
growth stage or another,
according to Arvind
Kumar, a plant breeder
at the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI).
Most rainfed areas
receive a reasonable
amount of rainfall during
the growing season.
However, says Dr. Kumar,
its erratic distribution and
shortage, particularly at flowering and
again at grain-filling, can seriously
curtail productivity. He adds that
Asia alone has around 23 million
hectares (20% of the total rice area)
that are prone to drought under these
conditions and where climate change
may make matters, particularly
water scarcity, only worse.
Without assured irrigation,
farmers are completely dependent
on rainfall to water their crops. The
possibility of drought has made rice
farming a risky endeavor. Because of
the risk, farmers do not invest enough
in inputs to increase rice production.
To help farmers cope with water


scarcity, IRRI has bred several new

lines that are as high-yielding as
any normal varieties with sufficient
water. They have a 0.8 to 1 ton per
hectare yield advantage whenever
drought occurs. Two of these droughttolerant breeding lines have been
recommended for official release:
IR74371-70-1-1 in India and its sister
line IR74371-54-1-1 in the Philippines.
IRRI has intensified efforts
to develop drought-tolerant and
aerobic cultivars to cope with this
looming water shortage, says David
Mackill, leader for IRRIs rainfed
program. Drought has been a
complex trait to improve, and I am
Rice Today July-September 2009

very happy to see the recent

advances and progress
in developing droughttolerant lines at IRRI.
Most farmers in
areas grow varieties bred
for irrigated conditions
such as IR36, IR64,
Poornima, MTU1010,
Lalat, Swarna, and
Sambha Mahsuri, among
others. Unfortunately,
these varieties are highly
susceptible to drought.
Whenever a severe drought
occurs, these irrigated
varieties suffer high losses
and farmers are lucky to
harvest even half a ton
per hectare from them.
With the cultivation of
the newly bred droughttolerant lines, in normalrainfall years, farmers
will have the same high yield of
irrigated varieties, and in drought
years they can harvest 1.5 to 2 tons
from 1 hectare, says Dr. Kumar.
IRRI works with the national
agricultural research and extension
systems (NARES) for the evaluation
of newly developed breeding lines.
Before a breeding line is identified for
release, it undergoes testing in the
national system and is recommended
for release after its superior
performance in the national trials.
The newly developed drought-tolerant
lines IR74371-70-1-1 and IR7437154-1-1 outperformed the current
varieties in national trials in India

lanIe c. Reyes

leSS thirSty

gene hettel

Making rice

120 days to mature.

and the Philippines
Dozens of promising drought-tolerant
The new line yields
and have been
cultivars are being tested on the IRRI
recommended for
an average of 4.5
shows drought-tolerant rice on his right
release for farmers
tons per hectare.
compared with a susceptible variety on his
cultivation. The two
Also, it is very
immediate left.
breeding lines also
resistant to pests
performed well under
and diseases and, so
aerobic and alternate
far, farmers have not
wetting and drying
experienced tungro
(AWD) situations
or any other disease.
(see The Big Squeeze,
Mr. Concepcion
pages 21-31 of Rice
proudly announces
Today Vol. 7, No.
that the rice he
2 and Every drop
planted in February
counts, pages 16-18).
was harvested in
IRRIs System
May. Because of its
for Temperate and
shorter duration, it
Tropical Aerobic Rice project under
in coordination with IRRI. They
allows me to harvest not just two but
invited farmers, technicians, and
the Challenge Program for Water and
three times a year, he says. And, as
researchers during the PVS.
Food has been building a network on
this variety is tolerant of drought, I
During that PVS, one
participatory varietal selection (PVS)
can plant the crop even during the dry
testing and evaluation since 2004.
impressed farmer eagerly asked,
season without any fear of crop loss.
The project aims to develop prototype Can I reproduce that line on my
Since his farm is on higher
aerobic rice production systems
farm? That farmer was Nemencio
ground, he needs to pump in water.
for water-scarce environments.
Concepcion, 49, of San Ildefonso,
With AWD technology, he is thankful
According to Ruben Lampayan,
Bulacan. He became interested
that he does not need to flood his
water management scientist
in the drought-tolerant variety
paddies. He pumps water only a
at IRRI, a major component of
because it seemed tailor-made for
few times a month and only when
his drought-prone upland area.
the project was to identify rice
necessary. I save much on water and
On his own initiative, he
varieties with high yield potential
on gasoline for the pump, even during
reproduced the line and was happy
under aerobic conditions from
the dry season, Mr. Concepcion says.
with the results. His neighboring
among IRRIs advanced lines
His recent crop experienced
farmers were eager to try it on
more than 2 weeks of drought. So,
through PVS. They tapped their
their farms. Eventually, the line
he pumped water to his upland
project partners to collaborate in
became popular among farmers,
rice area. However, there was one
implementing PVS with farmers.
and is known among them as 5411
rice area where he was not able to
(instead of IR74371-54-1-1).
in the Philippines
pump water because of insufficient
According to Dr. Soriano, 5411
Dr. Lampayan has found in Junel
available water. I sacrificed that
matures 2 weeks ahead of their
B. Soriano, director for research,
area and accepted its fate because
previously used variety, which takes
extension, training, and production
the rice plants wilted already, he
at Bulacan Agricultural
stated. But, when rain
State College (BASC), the
came, he was surprised
heart and passion to reach
to see that his plants
Mr. Concepcion (right) a farmer
out to more partners and
recovered from wilting.
in Bulacan, explains to Dr. Soriano
stakeholders with aerobic
Although the rice that
of BASC, that this part of his rice
farm wilted because of drought.
rice and other water-saving
recovered from drought is
But, when rain came, it fully
technologies. Hence, in
expected to be harvested
the Philippines, IR74371about 2 weeks later than
54-1-1 has been tested at
the rest of the 5411, it is
BASC since 2004 and in
still within an acceptable
farmers fields in Bulacan,
duration. Above all, he is just
La Union, Bataan, and
glad to be able to harvest
Palawan since 2006.
rice despite the drought.
Dr. Soriano recalls
(For drought-susceptible
a time during the dry
varieties, more than 2
season of 2004 when a
weeks of drought in upland
trial was conducted in a
fields may yield almost
small testing plot at BASC
nothing for farmers.)
Rice Today July-September 2009



started to coordinate with other

state universities such as Bataan
Polytechnic State University, Palawan
State University, and Mindanao
Foundation College, among others.

in eastern india
Similarly, in eastern India, IRRI
introduced a drought-tolerant
breeding line, IR74371-70-1-1, which
has also consistently performed
well both at research centers and in
farmers fields. Since eastern India
is one of the largest drought-affected
areas, a variety that can cope with a
dry spell is a welcome change in rice
was initially tested
under an India-IRRI
collaborative project,
the Drought Breeding
Network (DBN),
whose partners are
the Central Rainfed
Upland Rice Research
Station (CRURRS)
in Hazaribag; Indira
Gandhi Krishi
Vishwa Vidyalaya,
Raipur; Birsa
Agricultural Univ.,
Ranchi; Narendra
Dev University
of Agriculture
and Technology,
Faizabad; Tamil Nadu
Agricultural University, Coimbatore;
University of Agricultural Sciences,
Bangalore; and Barwale Foundation,
Hyderabad, India. Courtesy of the
DBN, researchers have identified this
entry as promising for the droughtprone ecosystem.
Since this line is a product of
a joint endeavor, the team from
CRURRS suggested the name
Sahbhagi dhan, which means, in
Hindi, rice developed through
collaboration. Recently, the Variety
Identification Committee (VIC)
recommended it for release to
the Central Subcommittee on
Crop Standards, Notification,
and Release of Varieties.
Nimai P. Mandal, a plant breeder
at CRURRS, tested Sahbhagi dhan
during the wet season of 2004. It

has consistently performed well,

better than any other entries of that
duration, since then. In 2007, we
started testing this variety in farmers
fields in two villages near Hazaribag,
he says.
Kailash Yadav, 34, and Naresh
Paswan, 38, of Mahesha, Hazaribag,
Jharkhand, are two farmers who
had the opportunity to observe a
demonstration using Sahbhagi dhan
conducted by CRURRS and they
tried it on their respective farms.
As a result, they were delighted to
harvest 4.5 tons of rice per hectare
in a good monsoon year. Before

An agricultural field assistant of the

Central Rainfed Upland Rice Research
Station interviews farmers who have
tested Sahbhagi dhan on their farms.

Though he describes the drought

as not so severe, it still affected
the people of his village. Finances
were so difficult then that he needed
to borrow money from another
farmer for his transportation.
Sahbhagi dhan gave the two
farmers opportunity and hope in
rice farming. I have confidence that
this variety will be a blessing for
farmers in drought-stress situations,
says Mr. Paswan. And, we can
manage the problem of drought
by growing this variety, adds Mr.
Yadav. Because both are impressed
by the qualities of Sahbhagi dhan,

The soon-to-be-released drought-tolerant

Sahbhagi dhan in eastern India thrives
under drought conditions.

cRURRs (2)

Mr. Concepcions experience

is consistent with what Dr. Kumar
says about the new drought-tolerant
lines: They withstand drought at
any stage of the crop cycle. Moreover,
they withstand drought even at the
reproductive stage, when the plant
suffers more loss due to drought.
Since that line can be
broadcast-seeded instead of
transplanted, I saved a lot on labor
costs, relates Mr. Concepcion.
I dont need to hire laborers to
plant seedlings in the nursery, pull
them from the seedbed, tie them
together, and transplant them.
Every harvest, Mr. Concepcion
earns around US$638 to $850
per hectare from his rice field (of
4 ha) planted with 5411. Plus, he
can harvest three times a year.
Mr. Concepcion is indeed
one happy and satisfied farmer.
His influence on other farmers to
adopt 5411 reaches Nueva Ecija and
Pampanga provinces. Even if rice
fields in these areas are irrigated,
there is no problem because 5411
still performs well in wet areas.
According to Dr. Soriano,
Mr. Concepcion is so effective in
influencing other farmers to adopt
5411 and increase the productivity
of their lands that he considers
Mr. Concepcion not just a farmer
cooperator but a partner in BASCs
extension efforts.
Mr. Concepcion was one of the
first 13 farmer cooperators in 2004.
They increased to 50 in 2005, to
70 in 2006, and BASC now has
more than 100 farmer cooperators.
According to Dr. Soriano, the success
of adoption can be attributed to
farmer-to-farmer influence and
support from the local government.
Dr. Soriano is more than
encouraged in sharing the benefits
of 5411 along with its management
technologies, the aerobic system, and
the AWD system in the Philippines,
because he believes that more
farmers can benefit from all this,
particularly those in rainfed areas.
He plans to expand extension
activities at BASC by involving
other state universities and colleges
all over the country. He has

Rice Today July-September 2009

using the drought-tolerant variety,

they harvested only 3 to 3.7 tons
per hectare. They are also pleased
with its traits such as the ability to
tolerate a month-long drought, early
maturity, and good eating quality.
Farmers in rainfed areas such
as Mr. Yadav and Mr. Paswan
largely depend on rain for a good
harvest. But, good years may be
few and as unpredictable as the
onset of drought. If the rains are
poor, this can spell catastrophe for
all. Mr. Yadav still remembers the
2006 drought that affected their
village. Without any income from
farming, he somehow managed
some earnings from his small
grocery store. But, many villagers
migrated to town to work as daily
laborers. One was Mr. Paswan.

they are going to recommend it

and share it with their neighbors as
soon as they have sufficient seed.
Drought-tolerant lines have
received high farmers preference
scores in both normal and drought
trials and farmers look convinced
of adopting such superior varieties,
says Dr. Stephan Haefele, soil
scientist and agronomist and
responsible for testing the lines in
farmers fields under PVS in India.
More farmers besides Mr.
Paswan and Mr. Yadav will benefit
from Sahbhagi dhan. According
to Dr. Mandal, the rainfed upland
area in India occupies about 6
million hectares. But the target
area for Sahbhagi dhan could be
more because it is also suitable for
drought-prone shallow lowlands.

U.S. Singh, the regional

coordinator for South Asia of the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundationsupported project on Stress-tolerant
rice for poor farmers in Africa and
South Asia and responsible for
seed production and dissemination
of Sahbhagi dhan, plans to have
large-scale seed multiplication
of this line in 2009 and produce
100 tons of seed to distribute to
as many farmers as possible by
the next wet season in India.
National Food Security Mission
of India, National Seed Corporation,
various public- and private-sector
seed corporations and
companies, research
organizations, and
NGOs are interested
in, reproducing
and disseminating
Sahbhagi dhan seeds.
Our purpose is to
take this variety
to the maximum
number of farmers in
the shortest possible
time, says Dr. Singh.
As the scientist
now responsible for
developing droughttolerant varieties,
Dr. Kumar says that
he is very lucky to
witness the success
of this teamwork.
When asked whether this is
his greatest accomplishment as a
scientist, he says, This is IRRIs
achievement. Other scientists before
me have been working for about 40
years to achieve this. Dr. Brigitte
Courtois attempted the crosses,
which has led to the development
of these two lines. And it was Dr.
Gary Atlin, who introduced the
concept, initiated and conducted
experiments on direct selection
for grain yield under drought
stress. He combined high yield
potential under irrigated situation
with good yield under drought.
Forty years? What turning point
along the way led to high-yielding
drought-tolerant rice? IRRI scientists
started working in a different way:
working directly on improving
Rice Today July-September 2009

grain yield in rice under drought.

Dr. Rachid Serraj, a drought
physiologist involved in dissecting
the mechanisms of drought tolerance
and its genetic variation in rice, says
that combining high yield potential
and drought tolerance through direct
selection for grain yield is one of
the right approaches for developing
drought-tolerant lines, in addition
to marker-assisted selection and
GM (gene modification) approaches
(see Overcoming the toughest stress
in rice: drought on page 30).
In the years before that,
scientists had been working on
improving the traits thought to be
related to drought tolerance such
as leaf rolling, rooting depth, and
other traits. They believed that yield
under drought could be increased by
improving these secondary traits.
In 2004, IRRI breeders started to
work on direct selection for grain yield
under drought stress. At first, they
were not sure that this would show
results. But, subsequent experiments
confirmed that this approach worked.
For a plant breeder like Dr.
Kumar, developing drought-tolerant
cultivars is the most efficient way
to stabilize rice production in
drought-prone areas. Higher yield
of drought-tolerant lines in drought
years should encourage farmers to
apply more inputs such as fertilizer
that further raise the productivity of
the rainfed drought-prone system.
Because of drought-tolerant lines,
farmers will indeed lower their
risks of investing their money and
time in drought-prone areas.
Sahbhagi dhan and 5411 and
other similar drought-tolerant lines
that may be developed in the future
will benefit and provide confidence to
rice farmers not just in India and the
Philippines but also in other droughtprone areas in Asia, Africa, and other
parts of the world. In fact, a few other
promising drought tolerant lines
and aerobic cultivars are now being
tested in India, Bangladesh, Nepal,
and the Philippines under projects
supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation,
Generation Challenge Program,
and Asian Development Bank.

Weathering the cold

rice or rainfed lowland rice in inland

valleys and on hillsides. Magnificent
rice terraces can be seen at 1,900 meters.
Mean temperatures at 1,500 meters vary
from 17 C in October, the rice-sowing
period, to 20 C during the reproductive
stage. Minimum temperatures can fall
below 10 C during early vegetative
stage and are below 14 C during
reproductive stage and grain filling.
Low-temperature damage is worse with
a temperature drop during the seedling
or reproductive stage.
Madagascars cold-tolerant rice
breeding program started with a vast
collection of irrigated rice germplasm
taken from local and international sources.
Those belonging to the Latsika family
had the best performance in sterility
rate, grain yield, and tolerance of sheath
blight. The Latsika family belongs to the
temperate japonica group. Varieties of
this family are traditionally cultivated in
lowland ecosystems with altitudes above
1,800 meters. Although the released
varieties have shown tolerance of cold,
the extended growth period, from
October to April/May (because of the
cold temperature), made double cropping
difficult. Hence, increasing productivity
has been rendered impossible.

Africa develops rice that can thrive in the regions cooler zones
by Negussie Zenna, Ashura Luzi-Kihupi, Baboucarr Manneh, Rabeson
Raymond, Elie Rene Gasore, and Karim Traore

TANZANiAN FArMers bend their backs

transplanting rice beneath snow-capped
Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the
African continent.


Rice Today January-March 2010

countries are Ethiopia, Madagascar,

Tanzania, Rwanda, Mali, and Senegal.


Although rice production was just

recently introduced in this country, paddy
area has already surpassed 150,000
hectaresand this has been achieved in
mid- and low-altitude areas only. The vast
highland plateaus located at about 2,000
meters above sea level, in spite of their
high potential for rice production, could
not be used because of the unavailability
of cold-tolerant varieties. A few varieties
are grown in the mid-highlands (as
high as 1,800 meters) such as X-jigna
and WAB 189. Recently, through
support from the Sasakawa Africa
Association, germplasm collections
from the International Network for
Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER) at
the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) and other sources were introduced
to adapt or develop cold-tolerant varieties
suitable for higher altitudes.


Rice is the staple food in the densely

populated high plateau of Madagascar.
Farmers traditionally grow irrigated


Tanzania is the second-largest rice

producer in East Africa. Quite accustomed
to eating rice, Tanzanians have developed
a unique taste for this staple cereal. Most
prefer aromatic rice that becomes long
and fluffy when cooked. Varieties that
have these qualities often have low yield
and thus command higher prices among
producers. One possible way to increase
the productivity of these preferred varieties
is through double cropping. However,
this could not be realized in the southern
highlands region because farmers use

to develop improved cold-tolerant rice

varieties under the Stress-Tolerant Rice
for Poor Farmers in Africa and South
Asia (STRASA)-Cold project. This
collaboration involves six countries in
Africa: Mali and Senegal in the west and
Madagascar, Tanzania, Rwanda, and
Ethiopia in the east. On-site activities are
carried out in AfricaRice substationsin
Senegal for West Africa and in Tanzania
for East Africa.
Moreover, under the STRASACold project, varieties adapted to lowtemperature conditions are assembled
from INGER, along with prebreeding
materials from the International ColdTolerant Nursery and Temperate Rice
Research Consortium. The germplasm is
evaluated under actual field conditions, in
collaboration with national agricultural
research and extension systems. The field
screening activity has a participatory
varietal selection component, in which
farmers get involved in the varietal
selection process; and a seed production
component, in which farmers are given
access to quality seed. Plant breeders
use conventional and molecular breeding
approaches to transfer the cold-tolerance
trait to local mega-varieties.
Over the past years, different
researchers have identified several
genetic markers linked with genes that
possess cold-tolerance traits. Hence,
marker-assisted breeding has become
an important component of the breeding
program. This approach can facilitate the
rapid generation of improved cold-tolerant
varieties with acceptable grain quality
for Africa. These varieties, aside from
increasing productivity and ensuring food
security, would also help alleviate poverty
in the region, as they meet the needs of
resource-poor farmers.


Rwanda has extensive irrigation schemes

for rice cultivation in the highlands. Rice
production can be carried out in areas
such as Ruhengeri, which is at about
2,000 meters. During the cold season, the
temperature in this area can go as low
as 10 C. A few cold-tolerant japonica
varieties have been grown in the country
since the 1970s, such as Zong eng,
Yunyine, and Yun keng. However, since
consumers prefer long-grain indica rice,
farmers grow japonica types only during
the cold season for their own consumption.
Thus, breeding cold-tolerant indica rice is
the major objective in the country.

The Sahel region (Mali and Senegal)

Rice consumption is very high in West

Africa. For instance, Mali and Senegal
consume 60 and 70 kilograms per capita
per annum, respectively. Total crop failure
because of low temperatures in the Sahel
region has been a major problem. Planting
rice seeds between mid-September and
mid-November was associated with neartotal spikelet sterility in Sahel countries.
Higher variation in the crop cycle was
observed in the coastal west and extreme
north of the Sahel due to cold stress.
Short-duration varieties were introduced
earlier; however, they were mostly
japonica types (I Kong Pao from Taiwan,
Tatsumi Mochi from Japan, and AIWU
and China-998 from China). None of these
varieties are now widely grown because
consumers prefer the slender indica
types. Finding varieties that can thrive
during the cold dry season has therefore
become crucial in order to increase rice
productivity in the Sahel region.
Currently, IRRI and the Africa Rice
Center (AfricaRice) have joined efforts
karim traore

If cold-tolerant varieties of rice can

be improved for farmers to maximize
planting and boost rice production in the
highlands of East Africa and the coldprone areas of the Sahel region, Africa
will be well on its way toward alleviating
poverty and ensuring food security for its
many people.
Low temperature retards the rice
plants growth. This is a common problem
among farmers who sow rice during cool
seasons, and among those who grow rice
at high altitudes and in areas that have
a cold irrigation-water supply. Damage
depends on the prevalent air or water
temperature, cropping pattern, growth
stages of the crop, and variety. Damage
can be observed at any growth stage,
and it often leads to crop failure. Cold
conditions inhibit the seeds metabolic
process; hence, seed germination fails.
Other outcomes are slow seedling
growth, stunting, discoloration, panicle
degeneration, sterility, and irregular
maturity. Given such wide-ranging
effects of low temperature on rice and the
serious impact on productivity, several
African rice-growing countries have
invested their resources in developing
cold-tolerant rice varieties. Among these

negussie zenna

n sub-Saharan Africa, rice is one

of the most significant cropsas
both a food and cash crop. This is
evident from the recent civil unrest
that broke out in many African countries
because of rice shortages. As the African
population is expected to hit one billion
soon, the region is worried that its rice
production will fall short of the growing
demand. Africas terrain poses many
challenges to farmers, thereby limiting
the continents full potential to grow rice
and attain food self-sufficiency.
The most striking geological
feature in Africa is undoubtedly the
East African rift system. The main
section of the valley starts from the Red
Sea, crosses through Ethiopia, Kenya,
Tanzania, and Malawi, and plunges
into the lower Zambezi River valley
in Mozambique. The rift has formed
Africas mountainous regions, including
Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which
soars 5,796 meters above sea level. It is
permanently capped with snow even
though it is near the equator. This
unique topography gives sub-Saharan
Africa the most diverse and complex
agroecological zones for rice production
of any region in the world.

kilimanjaro agricultural training centre

the cold water from the mountains for

irrigation during the cool season.

Dr. Negussie Zenna, postdoctoral

fellow, and Mr. Martin Ndomondo,
research technician, of Africarice
develop cold-tolerant breeding lines
in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Africarice scientists and national

partners visit a cold-tolerant rice line
in Fanaye, saint Louis, senegal.

Rice Today January-March 2010

Dr. Zenna is a postdoctoral fellow and

Dr. Kihupi is a regional liaison scientist
at AfricaRice, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Dr. Manneh is a molecular biologist
and coordinator of the Abiotic Stresses
Project and Dr. Traore is a rice breeder
at AfricaRice, Saint Louis, Senegal. Dr.
Raymond is a scientist and head of the rice
program at the National Centre for Applied
Research on Rural Development (FOFIFA),
Madagascar. Mr. Gasore is the director of the
Rice Research Programme at ISAR (Institut
des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwanda).

Scuba rice

Stemming the tide in flood-prone South Asia

by Adam Barclay

New versions of popular varieties of rice, which can withstand 2 weeks of complete submergence,
are set to make a big impact in South Asia

cientists had long known

of 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.
Nevertheless, rice breedersincluding
David Mackill, a young Californian
plant breeder working at the
International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) in the 1980ssaw the potential
to breed FR13As sought-after trait

into some of the modern high-yielding

rice varieties planted over vast floodprone areas across Asia.
His reasoning, which emerged
from discussions with IRRI
deepwater rice breeder Derk
HilleRisLambers, was that a floodtolerant version of a popular modern
variety could have an enormous
impact. In Bangladesh and India,
for example, farmers suffer annual
crop losses because of flooding of up
to 4 million tons of riceenough to
feed 30 million people. To the farm
families and workers, and to the poor
consumers who rely on rice for the
bulk of their food, flooding can be
truly disastrous.
So, the IRRI breederspeople
who spend their careers mixing
the genes of plants to develop new
varieties that can handle harsh
climates, or resist diseases and pests,
Rice Today April-June 2009

IRRI plant breeder Dave Mackill (right) swaps

notes at BRRIs Rangpur station with UC Davis
professor pam Ronald.

or cope with problem soilstried.

And they succeeded. Sort of. They
created higher-yielding rice plants
that could handle major floods,
but they never even got close to
releasing them to farmers. During the
breeding process, which transferred
to the modern varieties whichever
genes were giving FR13A its flood
tolerance, too many unwanted genes
moved across as well. The result
was poor-tasting, flood-tolerant rice
that yielded no more than existing
varieties. And so the idea moved to
the back burner.
In 1991, Dr. Mackill left IRRI
for the University of California (UC)
at Davis. With FR13A still on his
mind, he and his graduate student
Kenong Xu took up the challenge of
identifying the genes responsible
for FR13As scuba abilities. They
eventually pinpointed the precise
stretch of DNA that made the variety
so interesting, and named the
assumed gene SUB1.
The group subsequently teamed
up with another UC Davis researcher,
Pamela Ronald, an expert in isolating
genes that give plants particular
traits. Working in Dr. Ronalds lab,
Dr. Xu and his wife, Xia, discovered
a single gene, which they named
SUB1A, and demonstrated that this
alone was responsible for most of the
flood tolerance.
Dr. Mackill, who by now had
returned to IRRI, realized that the
FR13A game was back on. By that
time, 25 years after the first breeding
attempts, agricultural science had
come a long way. A new precisionbreeding method, known as markerassisted selection (MAS; see On your
mark, get set, select on pages 28-29
of Rice Today Vol. 3, No. 3; also see
From genes to farmers fields on
pages 28-31 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No.
4), allowed breeders to do much of
their work in the lab. The new method
shortened the breeding process and
vastly improved the precision with
which specific traits could be moved
from one variety into another. He
and his team were able to transfer

adam barclay

Gene Hettel (2)

Even after 17 days of submergence in IRRI research

plots, Sub1 rice lines show their waterproof trait as
they are still standing to the left, right, and further
behind IRRI plant physiologist abdel Ismail.

DR. ISMaIl and UC Riverside scientist Julia BaileySerres share a laugh at BRRIs Rangpur station.

SUB1A into widely grown modern

rice varieties without affecting other
characteristicssuch as high yield,
good grain quality, and pest and
disease resistancethat made the
varieties popular in the first place.
By 2006, the first Sub1 varieties
were ready for testing at IRRI. The
researchers set up plots of what
they hoped would be flood-tolerant
versions of several varietiesIR64,
Swarna, and Samba Mahsurinext to
plots of their non-Sub1 counterparts.
Once the plants had established
themselves, the plots were flooded,
completely submerging the rice for 15
days. Next, the water was drained to
reveal muddy plots of limp, flattened,
deathly looking plants.
Then, a remarkable thing
happened. Within 2 weeks of the
flood, almost all of the Sub1 plants
recovered. They came back to life
as if coached by Lazarus himself. A
few scattered clumps of the original
versions made a comeback, but there
was no comparison. At harvest, the
Sub1 rice yielded more than twice
as much as its neighbor (to view a
dramatic time-lapse video of the
experiment, visit http://snipurl.

Around the same time, following

Dr. Ronalds groups success in
proving that SUB1A was indeed the
right gene, Julia Bailey-Serres, a
geneticist from UC Riverside who also
worked on the genes identification,
began investigating exactly how
SUB1A confers flood tolerance. It
turns out that the secret is all about
saving energy.
With colleague Takeshi Fukao,
Dr. Bailey-Serres has determined
that, when submerged, rice without
SUB1A responds by increasing the
pace of its elongation in an attempt to
escape the submergence. Deepwater
rice varieties are able to do this
rapidly enough to succeed. In modern
high-yielding varieties, however, the
elongation is insufficient. If the flood
lasts for more than a few days, the
normal varieties expend so much
energy tryingunsuccessfullyto
escape that theyre unable to recover.
Submergence of FR13A or any of
the new Sub1 varieties, on the other
hand, activates the SUB1A gene,
which suppresses this elongation
strategy, effectively shunting the rice
plant into a dormant state until the
floodwaters recede. Thus, the plants
conserve their energy for a postflood
Understanding things from this
very basic perspective should allow us
to achieve an even better plant more
rapidly, says Dr. Bailey-Serres.
According to Dr. Mackill, the
Sub1 project has shown the advantage
of combining practical, applied work
such as breeding and upstream,
fundamental research.
Knowing the exact gene
responsible for a trait is not absolutely
necessary for the MAS breeding
approach, because a larger piece
of the chromosome is transferred,
normally containing many genes,
he says. However, by understanding
the processes triggered by SUB1A in
detail, we hope to improve on the
existing Sub1 varieties by identifying
novel flood-tolerance genes that
allow us to develop hardier plants
that survive even longer periods of

A Biblical name used to connote apparent restoration to life.

Rice Today April-June 2009


BRRI Former Director General Dr. Md. nur-E-Elahi

(left) and BRRI scientist M.a. Mazid explain the
flood-tolerant rice trials carried out at BRRIs
Rangpur station.


adam barclay (5)

flooding, yet retain the characteristics

that farmers want.
With the Sub1 concept well and
truly proved, seeds were sent for
testing and refinement to national
organizations in South Asia, including
the Bangladesh Rice Research
Institute (BRRI) and, in India, the
Central Rice Research Institute
(CRRI) in Orissa and Narendra
Dev University of Agriculture and
Technology in Faizabad, Uttar
Pradesh. The trial results there were
also extremely promising.
In short, scientists had developed
rice that could handle more than a
weeks flooding with almost no loss
of yield (1 week is enough to severely
dent the harvest of the nontolerant
versions) and would recover to
produce a reasonable yield after even
2 weeks submergence (enough to
almost wipe out nontolerant versions).
Aside from the flood tolerance, the
new varieties were virtually identical
to their counterparts: farmers would
be able to manage them in exactly
the same way and, in the absence of
flooding, achieve the same yield.
But, as any agricultural scientist
will tell you, there is a vast gulf
between the tightly controlled
environment of the experiment
station and the more capricious
nature of a real farm. By 2007,
the time had come to test the Sub1

BRRI SCIEntISt M.a. Mazid (second from right) speaks to onlookers about the success of farmer Mostafa
Kamals (right) flood-tolerant rice trials. Mr. Kamals neighbor, Mohammad Shahidul Islam (left), is keen to
grow the new varieties himself.

varieties in farmers fields. In

this setting, there was no way of
controlling when flooding would
occur, how long it would last, or
whether it would even happen at all.
Moving forward to November
2008, to a small farm in Rangpur
District in northwestern Bangladesh,
researchers from IRRI, UC, and
national institutes in India and
Bangladesh commenced a South
Asian tour to mark the completion of
the project From genes to farmers
fields: enhancing and stabilizing
productivity of rice in submergenceprone environments, funded from
2004 to 2008 by Germanys Federal
Ministry for Economic Cooperation
and Development (BMZ).
If ever there was a country with
flooding problems, Bangladesh is it.
More than 1 million hectares20%
of the countrys rice lands are flood
In those areas where flooding
occurs once or twice and recedes
within 1214 days, says BRRI
Principal Scientific Officer M.A. Mazid,
who has overseen the Sub1 trials at
BRRIs Rangpur station, the Sub1
varieties could survive and improve
yields by up to 3 tons per hectare.
Given that Bangladesh is forced
to import around 2 million tons of
rice each year, BRRI Director General
Rice Today April-June 2009

Mohammad Firoze Shah Shikder

says that successful flood-tolerant
rice could substantially reduce, if not
eliminate, the countrys imports.
Sub1 varieties will add to the
total production of the country, he
says. They will save a lot of money
that would otherwise be used for
importing rice.
Moreover, within that single,
large-scale outcome, there would be
thousands and thousands of equally
positive, smaller-scale achievements.
Many farm families, eking out a living
on less than a hectare, could ensure
that they had enough rice to eat yearround. Others would harvest enough
to sell their surplus on the market and
increase their income.
Mostafa Kamal is one of the
farmers BRRI recruited to test the
Sub1 varieties in his field. He and his
brothers have a 6-hectare farmlarge
by Bangladeshi standardsthat needs
to produce enough rice each year to
feed 22 members of the Kamal family.
The farm suffers heavy losses because
of flooding every 4 out of 5 years.
In the past, many of my plots
became fallow because they were
flooded too often, says Mr. Kamal,
referring to the lowest-lying 2
hectares of the farm. If we can
cultivate on these plots, it will help
us produce rice to sell on the market.

Two extra hectares is a big jump.

So, how did the flood-tolerant
varieties fare? Twenty-three days
after the 8 July transplanting of
the 2008 wet-season crop, the farm
was hit by a 15-day flood. When the
waters receded, Mr. Kamal witnessed
a wonderful thing. In his Sub1 plots,
9598% of the plants recovered. In
the non-Sub1 plots, the figure was
1012%. Many of his neighboring
farmers, who were not involved
in the trial, lost their entire crops.
So encouraged was Mr. Kamal, he
planned to give awaynot sella
kilogram of flood-tolerant seeds to
each of his neighbors.
When I saw Mostafas field
flooded, and then saw it recover, I was
surprisedit was like magic, recalls
Mr. Kamals neighbor, Mohammad
Shahidul Islam. The annual flash
floods mean that Mr. Islam grows
rice on only the upper half of his 1.6hectare farm in the wet season. Each
year, he needs to buy 1 to 2 months
worth of rice to cover his familys
shortfall. He believes that floodtolerant varieties will allow him to
plant on his low-lying 0.8 hectare and
cover that shortage. These varieties,

FoRGEt SwaRna! Go for Swarna-Sub1! says

Basant Kumar Rao, a rice farmer from nuagaon
Village near Cuttack in orissa. Here, he stands in
his crop of Swarna-Sub1, which recovered well after
two floods hit his farm in the 2007 wet season.

FollowInG a 10-Day flood, orissa farmer Bidhu

Bhusan Raut saw his Swarna-Sub1 recover well
while his nontolerant Gayatri perished. Better
yielding is better living, he says.

he says, will mean more food, higher

income, and a better livelihood.
Observing the success of the
flood-tolerant varieties in Bangladesh
was a watershed moment for Sigrid
Heuer, an IRRI molecular biologist
who contributed to the analysis of
I knew all along SUB1A was
working in any type of rice we put it
in, she says. Ive seen it many times
at IRRI and Ive seen the data from
the field experiments in India. But Id
never seen it in farmers fields with
my own eyes. Here, Ive seen it after

natural flooding for 15 daysthe

maximum time we think SUB1A
should be able to withstandand its
working. Its really fantastic.
A short flight away in eastern
India, it is the same story. The states
of West Bengal and Orissa, along
with Uttar Pradesh in the northeast,
have all seen equally promising trial
results and plan to completely replace
Swarna with Swarna-Sub1 as soon
as it is officially released by state
seed certification agencies. In West
Bengal, Swarna dominates, with 80%
of the rice area already planted to
the variety. A move to Swarna-Sub1
would therefore be relatively easy and
stands to have enormous impact.
Forget Swarna! Go for SwarnaSub1! is the advice from Basant
Kumar Rao, a rice farmer from
Nuagaon Village near Cuttack in
Orissa. I trust Swarna-Sub1. Ill keep
growing it. I got good money for it in
2007, he says.
That year, his farm was hit by
two floods, one of 11 days and one
of 7 days. The flood-tolerant rice
recovered after both floods and,
although he was able to salvage a
little of his regular Swarna, it yielded
nowhere near as well.
Better yielding is better living,
according to another Orissa farmer,
Bidhu Bhusan Raut. In the 2008 wet
season, Mr. Raut grew Gayatri, a
popular Indian variety, and SwarnaSub1 on his entire 1-hectare farm.

tHE DEVElopMEnt and testing of flood-tolerant rice varietieson show here at BRRIs Rangpur station
have attracted keen interest from plant scientists across the world.
Rice Today April-June 2009


a patCH of the popular rice variety Swarna

lies flattened and dying after several days of
flooding. In contrast, the flood-tolerant version,
Swarna-Sub1, rebounds to good health.

simply had to face flooding and blame

their luck if they didnt get a harvest.
IRRI plant physiologist
Abdel Ismail, who is studying the
mechanism of SUB1As action, says
there is a strong case for rapid release
of the new varieties.
When you develop varieties
using marker-assisted selection, he
says, you do not change the variety
much. Because the SUB1A gene is
very specific in its expression and
action during submergence, the Sub1
varieties should not have any other
problemssuch as susceptibility
to diseases or insectsthat their
nontolerant counterparts wouldnt
have also. In the future, we expect

adam barclay (4)

After a 10-day flood, the Sub1 plants

recovered well, while the Gayatri
plants perished.
According to CRRI Director
T.K. Adhya, the release of floodtolerant rice has become more and
more important as India has grown
People used to grow rice in more
favorable areas, where you had an
assured source of water and good soil
quality, he explains. Now, those
interior areas are being taken over
by human habitation and industry,
so farmers are forced onto marginal
lands in the coastal areas where
flooding, salinity, and many other
problems occur. In the past, farmers

ExaMInInG tRIalS at BRRI headquarters in Gazipur, K.M. Iftekharuddaula (right) has bred flood tolerance
into popular Bangladeshi rice variety BR11, which accounts for more than one-third of the countrys
wet-season plantings.


Rice Today April-June 2009

many new varieties to come out

as products of MAS. If you have a
submergence-tolerant or salt-tolerant
variety, for example, you want it to
go to the field as quickly as possible,
where it can make a big difference.
N. Shobha Rani, principal scientist
at Indias Directorate of Rice Research,
says that traditionally bred rice must
undergo testing for 3 years in all-India
trials, but this has been reduced to 2
years for MAS-derived varieties.
The second year of testing is
2009, says Dr. Rani, so, April 2010
is the earliest time the Sub1 varieties
could be recommended by the Central
Variety Release Committee for
national release. She notes, however,
that release could occur on a state
basis before then.
In fact, on 27 February 2009,
only a few months after Dr. Rani
talked to Rice Today, the Uttar
Pradesh State Varietal Release
Committee officially released
Swarna-Sub1. Being nearly identical
apart from its flood toleranceto
Swarna, this inaugural release of
a Sub1 mega-variety occurred very
quickly: only 6 years after the first
cross was made at IRRI.
A quick release is also possible
because plants developed through
MAS are not transgenic (that is,
genes of interest are transferred to
the target species or variety using
particular biotechnological tools
rather than conventional breeding).
Therefore, the new Sub1 varieties are

not subject to the regulatory testing

that can delay release of transgenic
products for several years.
The Sub1 trait also came along
with an additional bonus, a gene
linked to SUB1A that turns the
normally golden color of the hull of
Swarna into a straw color. Although
the hull color is not considered an
important varietal requirement,
this allows the seeds of SwarnaSub1 to be easily distinguished
from those of Swarna. This will be
useful to maintain seed purity as
seed producers start ramping up the
production of foundation seed for
distribution to farmers.
Another success to emerge
from the Sub1 work has been
the strengthening of national
organizations such as BRRI and
In India now, MAS has a lot of
support from the government, says
Dr. Ismail. In Bangladesh, BRRI has
its own lab for MAS, and not just for
SUB1. In the national agricultural
research and extension systems, the
project has boosted capacity through
resources and expertise, and also
through government support.
BRRI researcher K.M.
Iftekharuddaula is a good example.
He carried out his Ph.D. research
under Dr. Mackills supervision at
IRRI headquarters in the Philippines,
developing a flood-tolerant version
of popular Bangladeshi variety BR11,
which accounts for more than one-

third of the countrys wet-season

plantings. After completing his thesis
research, he returned to Bangladesh,
where he is now the BRRI breeder
responsible for refining BR11-Sub1
varieties for official release.
We are very much hopeful that
well be able to release at least two
varieties from our efforts, says Mr.
Iftekharuddaula, who is also working
with IRRI to incorporate disease
resistance and salinity tolerance into
As Sub1 varieties are officially
released over the next 2 years,
the key will be dissemination to
smallholder farmers in flood-prone
areas. IRRI is leading this initiative
through the project Stress-Tolerant
Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa
and South Asia, funded by the Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation. IRRI
is also collaborating with national
organizations to test Sub1 varieties in
Southeast Asian countries, including
Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia,
Vietnam, and the Philippines,
through a project funded by Japans
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dr. Ismail adds that SUB1As
effectiveness offers hope for research
into tolerance of other so-called abiotic
stresses, such as drought and salinity.
The general notion with abiotic
stresses used to be that it would be
very difficult to find a single gene that
can make much difference, he says.

This work has shown that you can

get a single gene of great agronomic
value. I think this has set the tone for
solving other major difficulties in the
field, such as problem soils.
The story of the SUB1 research
underscores the capacity of science
to improve peoples lives, as well
as the power inherent in a gene. It
seems a long and unlikely journey
from experimental plots in the
Philippines and the laboratory
benches in California to a small farm
in Bangladesh.
For Drs. Ronald and BaileySerres, the chance to get out of the
lab and see the Sub1 varieties in
farmers fields has been a profound
It was amazing to see that this
detailed genetic and physiological
analysis ultimately has potential for a
grand impact on people who are often
living in pretty desperate situations,
Dr. Bailey-Serres says.
Even Dr. Heuer, who, through her
work at IRRI, is no stranger to Asias
rice fields, has been moved. I had no
idea about the impact we can have
before seeing it with my own eyes,
she adds. Ive learned about the
power of agricultural research here.
I think it will have a huge impact.
Mr. Barclay is a freelance writer
based in Australia. See www.irri.

IRRI MolECUlaR biologist Sigrid Heuer (center) with her ph.D. student namrata Singh (left) and IRRI
assistant scientist Darlene Sanchez at the Chinsurah Rice Research Station, in west Bengal, India.

Rice Today April-June 2009


Climate-smart rice for Africa

by Savitri Mohapatra

Africa faces the reality of climate change with new rice varieties adapted to environmental
stresses expected to become more frequent and intense

he best adaptation to
climate change is a
breeding and seed system
that rapidly develops,
deploys, and then replaces varieties
so that farmers will always have
access to varieties adapted to their
current conditions, said Gary
Atlin, senior program officer, Bill
& Melinda Gates Foundation,
in his keynote address at the
3rd Africa Rice Congress held
in October 2013 in Yaound,
This strategy is at the heart of
the project Stress-Tolerant Rice for
Africa and South Asia (STRASA),
which is helping smallholder farmers
who produce their crop under mainly
rainfed conditions and are vulnerable
to flooding, drought, extreme
temperatures, and soil problems, such
as high salt and iron toxicity, that
reduce yields. Some of these stresses
are forecast to become more frequent
and intense with climate change.

Climate change and farming

Climate change is already having a

negative impact on Africa through
extreme temperatures, frequent
flooding and droughts, and increased
salinity according to Baboucarr
Manneh, irrigated-rice breeder at
Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) and
coordinator of the African component
of the STRASA project.
These environmental stresses
covered by the STRASA project have a
significant impact on the productivity
of rice farms and farmers income.
Drought, for example, is a major
problem in rice-growing areas of
Africa that are predominantly rainfed.
Rice yield losses attributed to iron
toxicity range from 10 to 100%, with
an estimated average of 50%. A survey

A new generation of rice

That is why we welcome the new

rice varieties tolerant of salt, cold, and
iron toxicity for Africa announced
by the Africa Rice Breeding Task
Force, she said.
The stress-tolerant varieties
are welcome additions to the
ARICA (Advanced RICes for
Africa) brand which was launched
by AfricaRice in 2013 to offer
farmers a new generation of highperforming rice varieties for Africa.
Unlike the NERICA varieties,
the ARICAs are not restricted to
interspecific crosses. Any line that
shows promise, regardless of its
origin, can become an ARICA variety
as long as the data that are collected
are convincing.
ARICA varieties are selected
after being successfully tested in
many different conditions, including

COLD-TOLERANT rice variety nominated as ARICA10

by Africa Rice Breeding Task Force.

conducted in three West African

countries (Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and
Guinea) by AfricaRice and national
partners showed that more than 50%
of the lowlands studied and about
60% of the cultivated rice plots were
affected by iron toxicity.
Until now, farmers didnt
have any solution to climate change
except to keep using their traditional
varieties, said Peinda Ciss, a rice
seed producer and founder-president
of FEPRODES in Senegal (see Senegal's
mother of modern rice farming, pages
38-39). She cited the Senegal River
Delta as an example. Vast areas in
the delta have been abandoned
by rice farmers because of high
soil salinity.
Mrs. Ciss also mentioned
low night temperatures that
often drop to 9C during the
harmattan (a dry, dusty wind on
the West African coast occurring
from December to February) season
as another big constraint to rice
production in the region.
Rice Today April-June 2014

DR. BABOUCARR Manneh, STRASA-Africa Coordinator,

working in the molecular biology laboratory,
AfricaRice-Saint Louis, Senegal.



participatory varietal selection

involving farmers. Improved rice
varieties that are approved for
release by some countries are also
considered. Five ARICA varieties
three for rainfed lowland and two
for upland ecologywere selected in
In March 2014, the Rice Breeding
Task Force nominated the second
series of ARICA consisting of six
varieties with improved tolerance
of environmental stresses, one of
which is noteworthy as it combines
tolerance of iron toxicity and of cold
ARICA 6 (IR75887-1-3-WAB1):
released in Guinea and
identified for release in Ghana
ARICA 8 (WAT 1046-B-43-22-2): released in Burkina Faso
and identified for release in
Cold-tolerant identified in Mali
ARICA 10 (WAS 200-B-B-1-1-1)
ARICA 11 (IR63275-B-1-1-1-33-2): released in The Gambia.
Cold- and iron-tolerant
ARICA 7 (WAS 21-B-B-204-3-3): identified for release
in Ghana (tolerant of iron
toxicity)/identified for release
in Senegal (cold-tolerant)
These varieties were evaluated
through the STRASA project,
implemented by IRRI and AfricaRice
in partnership with national
programs in 18 countries
and with support from
the Bill & Melinda
Gates Foundation.
Its wonderful to
see that products of
the first two phases of
the STRASA project
in Africa have now
reached the stage to
move into farmers
fields, said Dr. Atlin. I
am also impressed by the

Africa Rice Breeding Task

Force testing network set
up in partnership with
the national systems
as it is a great conduit
for moving improved
materials into
farmers fields.
In addition to the
project has many
other stress-tolerant
or climate-smart rice
varieties in the pipeline
that will be delivered to
farmers. The STRASA project
uses conventional breeding
combined with molecular breeding
to develop these kinds of varieties.
Incorporating stress tolerance
into popular high-yielding varieties
has proven to be a very effective
approach, explained Dr. Manneh.
More than 30 stress-tolerant rice
varieties have already been released
in nine African countries with
support from the STRASA project,
according to Dr. Manneh. However,
as they were developed before the
launching of the ARICA brand, they
were not nominated as ARICAs.

Diffusing technology

Through the project, STRASA

partners produced more than 15,000
tons of improved seed between
2008 and 2012 and distributed these
to farmers. More than a thousand
scientists, technicians, and farmers
have been trained in improved
rice cultivation techniques, seed
production, new breeding methods,
and seed enterprise management.
One of the key impact
points for STRASA
will be the
quantity of seed
produced and
to farmers,
said Dr.
As seed
RICE for cold
be a major
bottleneck in Africa,
the main thrust of our

part of STRASA-Africa

recent STRASA meeting was to help

countries develop seed road maps.
The project is linking up
with various partners, including
nongovernment organizations
such as the Alliance for a Green
Revolution in Africa and BRAC, as
well as private seed producers such
as FEPRODES and NAFASO, for the
dissemination of improved seed in
Africa. AfricaRice has developed an
automated monitoring and evaluation
tool to track the diffusion of new

Multiple tolerance

Sometimes, various stresses, such as

salinity, cold, submergence, and iron
toxicity, can occur at the same time.
Thats why the third phase
of the STRASA project will focus
on breeding for multiple stress
tolerance, Dr. Manneh explained.
The rice varieties that are being
developed will help overcome the
hurdles imposed by the widespread
environmental stresses that limit rice
yields in Africa.
To achieve this, we will
strengthen our collaboration with
development partners who have
the capacity for rapid delivery
of improved rice varieties to our
farmers, Dr. Manneh added.
Ms. Mohapatra is the head of Marketing
and Communications at AfricaRice.


Rice Today April-June 2014


by Gene Hettel

avid Mackill grew up in San

Diego, California, in the 1960s
and early 70s, enjoying the
life of a surfer on the nearby
Pacific coast. I spent a lot of time on
the waves and quite a bit of time being
submerged by the waves, he said,
fondly recalling his surfer days. And,
I sometimes thought, its too bad there
isnt a career in this. Little did he know
then, thatusing the operational word
submergedhe indeed would end up in
a profession that would ultimately enable
him to improve the lives of millions of
rice farmers in Asia and beyond!

Father of the SUB1 gene

Flash forward about 40 years to

Tilaktajpur (photo above) and Samauta
villages in Bihar State situated in
northeastern India. In this region, vast
expanses of rice fields are annually
prone to total crop losses due to serious
flooding or submergence of the plants.
When farmers from these areas heard
that Dr. Mackill was in India, they
invited the former principal scientist
and plant breeder for the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to visit
them in their fields. When he arrived in
Samauta village, many hailed him as
their messiah and the father of the
SUB1 gene.
These farmers had started planting
Swarna-Sub1, a new submergence-tolerant
rice variety, during the 2009-10 growing
season. They had received the seeds
through Rajendra Agricultural University
in Pusa, Bihar, under IRRIs StressTolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa
and South Asia (STRASA) project.
During that cropping season,
many rice fields around the villages


were flooded for 8 to 12 days and the

crop failed completely. However, some
farmers who had planted Swarna-Sub1
in the same areas and experienced the
same submergence were surprised to
see the rice plants in their fields rapidly
regenerate after the water receded. The
farmers harvested 56 tons per hectare
from their fields and found the new
submergence-tolerant rice to have good
cooking quality as well. They called it
a miracle varietya variety that Dr.
Mackill and his colleagues at IRRI were
responsible for developing.
The farmers also shared their
experiences and concerns with me, Dr.
Mackill recalled. Many of the farmers
in Samauta village were excited about
growing Swarna-Sub1 in the forthcoming
season, which has started in June 2011. I
thanked them for their invitation to visit
them and promised that their feedback
will help in our further research to
improve rice.
Later, upon hearing about Dr.
Mackills interactions with the Bihar
farmers, IRRI Director General Robert
Zeigler commented: The gratitude of
the farmers expressed towards Dave is a
profound reminder and endorsement of
what IRRI is all about.
Those particular encounters also
fulfilled a young surfers dream to do
something one day that would have a lot
of impact and help people. As he planned
his university studies back in 1972 to
achieve that dream, Dr. Mackill began to
look into agriculture and the agricultural

Rice by chance

He started college at UC San Diego, but

then switched to the large agricultural
Rice Today July-September 2011

college at UC Davis, the University of

California campus just west of the state
capital of Sacramento. I was always
interested in genetics, which was one
of my best subjects in the biological
sciences, Dr. Mackill said. Fortuitously,
I put genetics and agriculture together
and came up with plant breeding. One
thing I like about plant breeding is that
it is kind of an art. It is not just confined
to analyzing data; you never really know
what is going to come out of your efforts.
During the time he was an
undergraduate in college (1972-76),
the international agricultural research
centers were becoming well known for
their work on the hunger problem in
the world. IRRI, of course, was at the
forefront of the Green Revolution in Asia.
So, this came to his attention early on.
More or less by chance, I
ended up getting a job working as an
undergraduate in a rice research project
involving genetics at UC Davis, recalled
Dr. Mackill.
While at UC Davis working on rice,
the budding plant breeder got to know
some of the people who occasionally
visited from IRRI, including Gurdev
Khush, future World Food Prize
Laureate and IRRI rice breeder and
principal scientist, 1967-2001; and
Ronnie Coffman, IRRI plant breeder,
1971-81, and currently chair of Cornell
Universitys Department of Plant
Breeding and Genetics, and director of
International Programs. Soon, he would
be a colleague of both.
I became aware of a project of
the Rockefeller Foundation that gave
students fellowships to work overseas at
one of the international centers, said Dr.
Mackill. So, in 1978, Ronnie Coffman

Bringing the Green Revolution

to more farmers

His new job at IRRI was to try to bring

the Green Revolution to probably more
than half of the worlds rice farmers
who, as of the early 1980s, had not yet
benefited from the new short-statured
rice plants. The new varieties were not
suited to the field-submergence conditions
that prevailed in the densely populated
deltas, estuaries, and river valleys of
India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand,
Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
There were other rice farmers in these
same countries whose crops suffered due
to drought and poor soils as well.
On the submergence front, Dr.
Mackill pointed out that scientists had
long known that an Indian rice variety,
called FR13A, could survive a week
or more of complete submergence, but
conventional breeding methods were
not successful in developing varieties
popular with the farmers. So, he and
his colleagues at IRRI and UC Davis
during his 1991-2001 stint therebegan
using marker-assisted selection (MAS)
to transfer the FR13A submergencetolerance trait to modern rice varieties.
It turned out to be nearly a 30-year
odyssey of ups and downs to achieve
what now has farmers like those in Bihar
so excited and grateful. This rice saga is
aptly told in the 2009 article Scuba rice:
stemming the tide in flood-prone Asia, on
pages 26-31 of Rice Today Vol. 8, No. 2.
When the article, SUB1A is an
ethylene-response-factor-like gene
that confers submergence tolerance to

rice, was published in Nature (442:705708, 10 August 2006), there was really
tremendous excitement among the
California and IRRI groups. I was
really pleased that this reflected the
basic work that I started at UC Davis
with Pamela Ronald and Kenong Xu
in the Department of Plant Pathology
there, and other colleagues at UC
Davis and Riverside, said Dr. Mackill.
But it also included the work done at
IRRI. That paper essentially recorded
the development of Swarna-Sub1 and
everyones contributions. At that time,
Swarna-Sub1 was so new that we didnt
know how it would perform. But, since
then, it has done rather well as, for
example, the Tilaktajpur and Samauta
village farmers can attest to.
Dr. Mackill thinks that, over the last
several years, IRRI has been able to push
the MAS technology to develop varieties
that give farmers a better chance to
have a decent crop when their fields are
threatened by not only submergence but
also other abiotic stresses such as drought
and salinity.
IRRI researchers havent found
any single gene like the SUB1 gene that
bestows the same level of tolerance
for other stresses, but they have, for
example, found multiple genes that
impart a significant drought tolerance.
By combining several of them,
explained Dr. Mackill, we can transfer
a pretty good degree of multiple stress
tolerance, for both submergence and
drought, into a given popular variety
that is already being used by farmers.
Instead of introducing only the SUB1
During his 20 years at IRRI, Dr.
Mackill has worked with many
other renowned rice breeders
such as Gurdev Khush and Ronnie
Coffman. Here, he confers with Dr.
Darshan Brar (left), his successor
as head of IRRIs Plant Breeding,
Genetics, and Biotechnology
Division since 2007 and who, after
24 years at the Institute himself,
is scheduled to retire at the end of
2011. Of his relationship with his
colleague and friend, Dr. Mackill
said, I think we share similar
experiences of being at IRRI for
so long and during the same era.
Weve experienced a lot of changes
at IRRI over the years and so we
share similar viewpoints.

Rice Today July-September 2011

gene, a variety can now have two or three

drought-tolerance genes in it as well.

Onward to "Mars"

After nearly 20 years combined over two

assignments at IRRI, Dr. Mackill has
decided to try something new back home
in California. I dont know any scientist
who has left IRRI previously who can
say that he or she went to Mars next, but
that is where Ive been since February,
he smiled. Mars Incorporated is a
private company that owns, among many
other enterprises, Uncle Bens Rice.
In a press release, Marc Turcan,
Mars Incorporateds vice president of
R&D and supply, stated, David will
be the bridge between the company and
the scientific community, initiating new
research to advance global understanding
as well as channeling the worlds leading
scientific expertise into Mars, to help us
continually improve our sustainability
and nutritional performance.
His future collaboration with IRRI
was cemented with the announcement
on 1 April that he had been appointed
as a consultant to the Plant Breeding,
Genetics, and Biotechnology Division
at the Institute to assist in planning
STRASAs Phase 2 work as well as
to advise the Eastern India Rainfed
Lowland Shuttle Breeding Network. The
odyssey continues.
View Dr. Mackills exit seminar at
IRRI on YouTube at http://snipurl.com/
mackill_seminar. His full IRRI Pioneer
interview can be found at http://archive.
chris quintana

A rice breeders
odyssey from surfer
to scientistand
onward to Mars

helped me set up my thesis research on

heat tolerance in rice at IRRI.
After obtaining his PhD in genetics
in 1981, he went job hunting still very
interested in agriculture. He got an
opportunity to work on sorghum as an
international intern at the International
Crops Research Institute for the SemiArid-Tropics (ICRISAT). I found that
dealing with sorghum was quite different
from working on rice and I missed
IRRI, he said. So, about a year later,
when IRRI expressed an interest that I
come back to the Philippines, I jumped
at the opportunity to join IRRIs Plant
Breeding Department as a breeder
working on rice improvement for rainfed
lowland conditions and the genetics of
resistance to rice blast and tolerance
for drought, problem soilsand


Ready for climate change

Story and photos by Mutya Frio

Farmers are fast adopting stress-tolerant varieties of rice to

head off yield losses

am Behal Maurya (right), 54,

coughs as he settles himself
slowly on a run-down cot just
outside his house. In 10 days
time, he and his sons will be harvesting
rice from a small piece of land he
inherited from his father. Unfortunately,
Mr. Mauryas farm is in one of the flashflood-prone areas in the eastern state of
Uttar Pradesh in India, where crops can
be completely wiped out from floods. For
a poor farmer tilling less than a hectare
of land planted mostly with rice and
wheat, he reaps an average of 1.6 tons of
rice per hectare, barely enough to feed
his extended family of 13 members until
the next harvest. But this season, he has
high hopes of getting a higher yield.
A growing number of subsistence
farmers as well as seed growers are now
planting climate-change-ready rice
in the rice bowl state of Uttar Pradesh
and the speedy uptake is unprecedented.
The improved varieties are capable of
surviving even under harsh environments
such as drought or floods that are
predicted to get worse with climate
change or in problematic soils with
high salt content that may become more
widespread as sea levels rise because
of climate change. The climate-changeready rice has been bred into local
mega-varieties that are high-yielding and
widely grown by farmers.

Breeding for farmers

The International Rice Research Institute

(IRRI), together with its partners,
develops improved rice varieties that
are tolerant of various environmental
stresses, helping farmers curb yield
losses, particularly those who farm on
stress-prone farmlands.
Through IRRIs research, plant
breeders have identified a gene that
confers tolerance of submergence
and chromosomal regions that confer
tolerance of drought and soil salinity.

The key is in partnerships

The result is a rice variety that is resilient

to a particular environmental stress, is
high-yielding, and retains other desirable
qualities of the original variety, such
as good grain quality and palatability.
Under the IRRI-led project StressTolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in South
Asia and Africa (STRASA), farmers
now see the results in their own fields.
Thousands more in India and parts of
South Asia have been adopting stresstolerant varieties at unprecedented rates.

Seeing is believing

About 78 kilometers away from Mr.

Mauryas farm is Rampur Village, where
Kamalawati Ramkeval (see photo on
page 19) is happy with her harvest. Both
farmers suffer from annual harvest
losses caused by incessant rains and
flash floods. IRRI plant breeders found
that the SUB1 gene confers tolerance of
submergence. They bred the SUB1 gene
into the mega-variety Swarna, a highyielding variety widely grown in Uttar
Pradesh. In field trials, Swarna-Sub1
survived up to 14 days in floodwater and
outyielded flood-susceptible varieties
by at least 1 ton per hectare. In 2009,
Swarna-Sub1 was officially released for
planting by the government of India.
Mr. Maurya and Ms. Ramkeval each
planted the flood-proof Swarna-Sub1 in
their respective fields during the kharif
or monsoon season. Although his crop
was under floodwater for 12 days, Mr.
Maurya was able to harvest 2.5 tons
per hectare of unmilled Swarna-Sub1,
almost twice his harvest from variety
Soankhar of past cropping seasons.
Although Soankhar has the ability to
grow as water rises, it yields barely 1 ton
per hectare. As for his latest harvest, Mr.
Maurya intends to keep a small portion
of Swarna-Sub1 seeds for planting next
season and sell the remaining seeds to
farmers in adjoining villages.
Ms. Ramkeval, on the other hand,
Rice Today April-June 2011

be used for breeding in the same way

as the SUB1 gene to develop droughttolerant rice varieties. Last season, Ms.
Prabunath harvested 4.15 tons per hectare
of Sabhagi dhan, transforming a formerly
drought-prone land into a viable source of
sustenance and income for her family.

was lucky as her field was not flooded this

year. She harvested 6.5 tons per hectare
of unmilled Swarna-Sub1. I will save
the harvest for my family, she says. We
work hard to grow it so wed rather not
sell it. Like Mr. Maurya, she has seen
a substantial increase in yields in her
familys rice fields and she plans to keep
some of the seeds for the next monsoon.
Meanwhile, Meera Prabunath, also
from Rampur Village, had a bountiful
harvest but of a different rice variety.
In the past, her less-than-a-hectare land
was left to fallow because of drought.
In 2010, Ms. Prabunath planted seeds
of a drought-tolerant rice variety
released in India as Sabhagi dhan. IRRI
scientists developed this variety through
conventional breeding but have now
discovered the region of a chromosome,
known as quantitative trait loci (QTLs),
that contains genes believed to express
drought tolerance. These QTLs will

New rice technologies, such as these

stress-tolerant varieties, will hardly make
a dent in ensuring food security in the
household and nationally unless they
are widely adopted by farmers. Some
effective mechanisms make new rice
varieties accessible to and adoptable by
farmers. The key to success is through
In India, IRRI has been working
with various stakeholders to develop and
disseminate climate-change-ready rice.
These partners are national and state
governments, agricultural research and
extension centers, universities, nonprofit
organizations, farmers groups, and seed
What makes climate-change-ready
rice easily accessible to farmers is
that various research institutions have
already been multiplying the seeds
even before the variety is officially
released by the government. Dr. Umesh
Singh, IRRI senior scientist and project
coordinator for STRASA in India, says,
Once it is released, we encourage state
governments as they distribute the seeds
to seed corporations for large-scale
multiplication, and they also disseminate
the seeds directly to farmers in target
areas. Farmers do not have to wait for
23 years for mass distribution.
Furthermore, IRRI has partnered
with Indias National Food Security
Mission (NFSM), the national
governments mega-scheme that aims to
increase food self-sufficiency in targeted
states where food production is low. In
2010, NFSM distributed 16,000 mini-kits
(5-kilogram seed packets) of the floodproof Swarna-Sub1 in Uttar Pradesh
in time for the following years kharif.
Through targeted dissemination, IRRI has
identified more than 2,000 flood-prone
villages in Uttar Pradesh. Each village
received 510 mini-kits of Swarna-Sub1.
More seeds had to be multiplied.
In time for last years kharif, the state
government of Uttar Pradesh launched

a program for seed multiplication of

Swarna-Sub1, to be planted on 1,200
hectares. The STRASA project is
very important to us, says Dr. Mukesh
Gautam, director of agriculture in Uttar
Pradesh. About a million hectares of
land is flood-affected, he reveals. We
fully support the production of SwarnaSub1 and we see this improved variety
eventually replacing the original Swarna
In 2010, NSFM approved the
distribution of 69,000 mini-kits for
planting on more than 11,000 hectares all
over India.

From the grass roots

Agricultural extension agencies, farmers

groups, and nonprofit organizations
are highly effective conduits of
technology dissemination because they
are directly in touch with farmers. One
such organization is Nand Educational
Foundation for Rural Development
(NEFORD), which helps spread
information about Swarna-Sub1.
Farmers have to be convinced
of the technology first, says Dr. R.K.
Singh, NEFORD executive director.
Then, we do a systems technology
transfernot just mere technology
transfer, but a model where all the
elements are in place.
Kissan mela or a farmers fair is
also a good venue for farmers and input
providers, where Swarna-Sub1 seeds
can be purchased at an affordable price
subsidized by the government. Using

Rice Today April-June 2011

mass media, both state and national

media, helps spread the word not only
to farmers and seed growers, but, more
importantly, to policymakers and other
players in the rice sector.
Once you have created a demand
for the technology, you can promote it
and influence policy, Dr. R.K. Singh
shares. This is how it worked for us in
promoting Swarna-Sub1.
Moreover, making the technology
affordable and available to farmers
ensures a quick adoption. The Gorakhpur
Environmental Action Group (GEAG), a
nonprofit organization, helps sell SwarnaSub1 seeds to farmers at a subsidized rate
of 1820 rupees or less than half a dollar
per kilogram. GEAG purchases the seeds
from the Baranas Hindu University,
which multiplies the seeds.
When farmers see satisfying
results, they ask where they can get
seeds, says Dr. Anita Singh, GEAG
project coordinator. In 2010, more
farmers multiplied Swarna-Sub1 seeds
and this will continue to grow. More
seeds need to be distributed in 2011.
Meanwhile, a Primary Producers
Company (PPC) was established by
Grameen Development Services (GDS)
in Uttar Pradesh, another partner in the
STRASA project. The PPC, led and
managed by farmers, is a registered
company licensed to sell and market
seeds, register seed producers as
members, run a seed processing plant, and
distribute and sell fertilizers. It boasts of
1,500 farmer-members who can procure
seeds from universities at a wholesale
rate, thus avoiding the black market where
prices can become exorbitant.
Through the PPC, farmers
reduce the middlemen in the process
of procurement and distribution,
explains Ghansyan Mishra, GDS project
coordinator. They can now procure
truthfully labeled seeds directly, instead
of waiting for a long time for certified
seeds to come into the market. We want
to reduce the time lag and the inputs.
Truly, forging partnerships with
the public and private sector as well as
with nonprofit organizations is key to a
successful technology adoption. For small
farmers like Ram Behal, Kamalawati, and
Meera, they are the ultimate measures of
success where the products of research are
gaining ground fast.

Creating an oasis with rice

Story and photos by Lanie Reyes

Under the scorching sun

and cloudless skies, farmer
Prabhawati Devi builds her
oasis using a rice variety that
defies the drought that often
parches her land

car can usually travel

down the narrow concrete
road in Nagwa Village of
Maharanjganj District in
eastern Uttar Pradesh. However,
during this second week of
Novemberharvest time in the fields
surrounding the villagepiles of
rice straw clogged the way, making
passage virtually impossible.
Most of the women, including
Prabhawati Devi, were busy cutting
the straw and piling it neatly on jute
sacks that were cut open to serve as
mats for the straw. As she was gathering the edges of the stalks, Mrs. Devi
said with a smile, These are Sahbhagi. Sahbhagi is what the farmers
and villagers call Sahbhagi dhan, a
drought-tolerant rice variety released
in India in 2009 (see Making rice less
thirsty on pages 12-15 of Rice Today,
Vol. 8, No. 3). The straw of Sahbhagi
dhan is popular among the women in
Nagwa, who feed it to their cattle.

Its a womans life

PRABHAWATI DEVI shows her newly

harvested Sahbhagi dhan, a rice variety
that assures her of a harvest even when
drought strikes.


Rice Today April-June 2014

Brick and mud houses, scattered

along the road of Nagwa, are not
big enough to shield from view the
residents inside as they go about
their daily chores. One woman was
cooking just inside her front door,
squinting under the almost-midday
sun and shielding her eyes with her
hands from the smoke of the burning
Outside her house, another
woman was threshing rice manually
raising her arms as high as she could

as she smashed a bunch of rice stalks

on a surface covered with fine mesh
net. She gathered the separated grains
with her hands, placing the grains at
the center of the net and putting the
empty stalks neatly to her side. She
rose once in a while to straighten her
back from her squatting position. Yet
another woman had just returned
from harvesting rice bundles in the
field. Women often harvest rice in
staggered shifts because they want to
give the fresh rice stalks to their cattle.
Nagwa looked like a village of
women in a flurry of activities. Their
bright saris made them more visible
under the bright, scorching sun.
"As more men migrate from
rural areas to the cities to look for
'greener pastures,' women then
take on the farming activities that
the men leave behind," commented
Abha Singh, an associate scientist
based in Faizabad, eastern Uttar
Pradesh. She is one of the many
women who Thelma Paris, a gender
specialist recently retired from
the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI), took under her
wings (see Blazing the trail of women's
empowerment on pages 18-19).

An all-or-nothing gamble

In eastern Uttar Pradesh, where rice

production is predominantly rainfed,
growing rice is so risky that farmers
take a gamble every cropping season
and can only hope for the best. They
have no choice but to place their bet.
When luck is on their side, during a
year with ample rainfall, the farmers
are blessed with enough food to
sustain their families till the next
cropping season. But, when drought
strikes, the price of crop failure
means losing all their investments
labor, seed, and inputsand long,
lean, hungry months ahead.
The eastern part of India was
considered a hunger belt that is
why IRRI started working on the

dissemination of stress-tolerant
rice varieties in 2008 through the
Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and
South Asia (STRASA) project, said
Umesh Singh, STRASAs regional
coordinator. In 2007, Dr. Singh,
along with other IRRI scientists,
successfully convinced the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation that this
project would provide much-needed
assistance to these farmers.
The project aims to develop rice
varieties that can withstand flood,
drought, and salinity, among other
stresses brought about by climate
change, he added. We call these
new varieties climate-smart rice.
STRASA researchers evaluate
these varieties, including participatory
varietal selection (PVS) involving
farmers. Gender is integrated into
most activities under STRASA and
the Global Rice Science Partnership
(GRiSP), the CGIAR Program on
Rice, that aim to give women farmers
input into the selection of improved
rice varieties that are approved for
release. It also helps in creating
awareness among the farmers even
before the formal release of a variety.
This participatory varietal selection
process, modified by Dr. Paris and

her research team, initially required

that women make up at least 30% of
the participating farmers. Womens
participation will hopefully increase
to 50% in the next phase.
STRASA works with the national research partners to get the varieties released and notified for commercial cultivation," explained Dr.
Singh. It also works closely with the
developmental organizations including federal and state governments for
the outscaling of new varieties.

A refuge of a woman farmer

Women farmers such as Mrs. Devi

are benefiting greatly from STRASA.
Her concrete house has sturdy
concrete posts; its blue paint faded
just slightly, hinting that she has lived
there for just a short time. As I made
myself comfortable on a wooden
stool, I noticed a gathering crowd
of women, children, and some men
blocking the natural light coming in
from the door. Mrs. Devi grabbed
a chair and sat in front of me. Her
smile concealed her age and the hard
life she has endured.
This year, I harvested around 22
quintals per acre of Sahbhagi on my
three acres of land, she said excited-

THE STRAW of Sahbhagi dhan, a

drought-tolerant rice, is a popular
cattle feed.

Rice Today April-June 2014


Rice facts

Swarna -Sub1:

WOMEN FARMERS, especially those

from the lower castes, do most of
the work in rice farming.

Odishas food
for a goddess
by Samarendu Mohanty and Debdutt Behura

Empowered gender

The strong-spirited Mrs. Devi is

known in the village for having a
progressive outlook. She took on
the role of the family breadwinner
when her husband was stricken with
hypertension and a heart problem,
making him unable to work.
God has blessed me with four
cows, so no worries, she said with
an air of cheerfulness that never left
her face since I met her two hours ago.
Cows are considered helpmeets in
rural India as they provide milk, a
source of protein for the family. She
sells some extra milk to her neighbors.
A cow can assure them of additional
income of about $3 a day. Cows will
continue to give milk for several
months as long as they are healthy
and well-fed. This is why Sahbhagi
dhan straw is very important in most
farming households.
Four of my five daughters are
married, she proudly related. In her
village, a married daughter implies
that a household has a healthy
financial status because the cost of
dhan matures earlier,
farmers can plant
three crops in a
year. Mrs. Devi and
her husband usually
cultivate pea and
onion crops after rice.

the dowry can range from $400 to

more than $800an amount that
is difficult to come by for ordinary
My life is now easier as I have
only one daughter left to marry, she
said. After that day comes, Mrs. Devi
dreams of enhancing her oasis by
purchasing a new house and maybe
even a new car. She already owns a
second-hand white van that she rents
out as a public utility vehicle.
When a young man in his early
twenties approached Mrs. Devi,
she proudly introduced him as her
son, who graduated from a threeyear college course and now works
in Bombay. Mrs. Devi has become
an inspiration to other women in
Nagwa. She has been able to save
$800 through a self-help group (SHG)
for women. This amount was added
to the SHGs capital that is available
for loans to members at very low
interest rates. They can use the
money for household or farm-related
At the end of each year, they
distribute the dividends among
themselves. One woman farmer
bought a pair of earrings from the
dividend she got. This speaks a lot
about these women, Dr. Paris later
pointed out. The money theyve
earned themselves can now be used
in any way they want. To them,
jewelry is a valuable asset they can
claim they own. They can sell it, use
it as collateral for more loans or give it
as a gift for a daughers dowry. This is
empowerment in plain clothes.
Ms. Reyes is the managing editor of Rice


Rice Today April-June 2014

Odisha farmers embraced flood-tolerant rice not only as food on their table but as a worthy
offering to Lakshmi, their goddess.

is the floodtolerant
version of the
popular mega-variety
Swarna (MTU 7029)
in eastern India. It
was developed by
scientists from the
International Rice
Research Institute
(IRRI), evaluated and
released in India by
Central Rice research
Institute (CRRI), and
disseminated by
IRRI in collaboration
with the national
agricultural research
systems, government organizations,
nongovernment organizations, and
public and private seed companies in
India. In the eastern state of Odisha,
where Swarna occupies more than
30% of the total rice area, both the
state and central government are
distributing Swarna-Sub1 seeds
through various schemes such as the
National Food Security Mission and
Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern
India (BGREI).
Swarna-Sub1 is almost identical
to its counterpart Swarna in terms
of grain yield and grain quality, but
it has an added advantageit can
survive full submergence for more
than 2 weeks. However, the husk
color of Swarna-Sub1 is much lighter
than that of Swarna, which is reddish.


regarding seed
shattering of SwarnaSub1 during harvest
and transportation.
But, most of the
farmers who grew
Swarna-Sub1 for the
first time in 2012 on
parts of their land have
expanded it to their
entire landholding.
In Amathpur
Village, located
between two rivers, the
Birupa and Brahmani,
we also came across
a large patch of land
of about 80 hectares,
which was mostly
planted with Swarna-Sub1. Normally
before, this area was left fallow
because of frequent flooding during
the kharif season. Then, the farmers
would plant the area with mungbean
once the floodwater receded.
We were told that that was the
first time many farmers planted rice in
the area because they were able to get
access to flood-tolerant Swarna-Sub1
through the BGREI seed distribution
program. Coincidently, the area was
flooded for 6 to 8 days due to heavy
rainfall that preceded the cyclone and,
as expected, Swarna-Sub1 recovered
quite well from the flood.
In the late afternoon, we visited
a few nonflood-prone villages in
Binjharpur block where a nonprofit
organization had distributed Swarna-

Mana filled with freshly

harvested Swarna-Sub1.

DebDutt behura (3)

ly. (Twenty-two quintals is equivalent

to 2.2 tons and one acre is 0.4 hectare.)
Over the last two years, when planting Sahbhagi, I earned around 20,000
rupees (about US$330) per acre.
Dr. Singh confirmed that the
average yield of Sahbhagi dhan
is 4 to 5 tons per hectare when
other traditional varieties yield
only about 2.5 tons under normal
conditions. What is remarkable
is that even under severe drought,
where traditional and other highyielding varieties often yield nothing,
Sahbhagi dhan can still produce
1 to 2 tons per hectare, Dr. Singh
said. And since Sahbhagi dhan is a
short-duration crop that matures in
105 days (medium- to long-duration
traditional varieties take 120150
days to maturity), another bonus is
that farmers can plant the next crop
earlier giving them enough time to
plant three crops in a year!
Mrs. Devi plants peas, after rice,
and then follows with onions. She
usually earns $750 from her peas and
as much as $580 from the onion crop.
For the last two years, she has also
been selling Sahbhagi seeds at about
$0.50 per kilogram compared to $0.25
per kilogram when sold as grains.
This gives her an extra $250.00 per
ton of rice.
While a traditional variety such
as Sarju55 requires four irrigations,
Sahbhagi dhan requires only two.
Farmers can save up to two irrigations; each irrigation usually incurs
an energy cost of $30. Therefore,
farmers planting Sahbhagi dhan can
save $60 per crop.

Because of this difference, the farmers

in Odisha call Swarna Nali Swarna
(Red Swarna) and Swarna-Sub1
Dhala Swarna (White Swarna).

Farmers feedback

In October 2013, during our visit

to Jajpur District, a stronghold of
Swarna, which is grown on 65% of
the total rice area, we made several
stops throughout the day and talked
with farmers about the performance
of Swarna-Sub1. Our visit took place 2
days before the state was expected to
be pounded by cyclone Phailin, one
of the most powerful tropical storms
ever to make landfall in India.
Most of the feedback from
farmers on Swarna-Sub1 was quite
positive. There were a few complaints
Rice Today January-March 2014


Overcoming the toughest stress in rice:

Braided Swarna-Sub1 paddy is hung in

front of the house to bring prosperity.

by Lanie C. Reyes

Efficient GM technologies and an innovative drought-screening facility at IRRI increase the

chances of discovering new candidate genes for the development of drought-tolerant rice

clean and decorate the floor, wall,

entrances, and grain storage structure
with chita. The new paddy harvest
is also braided and hung in front
of the house, near a pooja altar (a
special place in the room used during
worship and also kept near the mana).
We went back to Jajpur District
in December, the last Manabasa
Gurubar of 2013, to witness the use of
new Swarna-Sub1 paddy during this
holy month. After visiting around
15 villages in Binjharpur block, we

knew already that Swarna-Sub1 is

widely accepted by the community
for Manabasa Gurubar and for other
religious uses.

The future of Swarna-Sub1

Swarna-Sub1 outyields Swarna

and other popular varieties under
submerged conditions. This makes
Swarna ideal for flood-prone rice
areas in the state. Apart from
replacing Swarna and other popular
nonflood-tolerant varieties, it can
make perennially flooded areas
flourish with rice. Before, these areas
were normally left fallow during
the kharif season, just like what has
happened in Amathpur Village.
Lastly, Swarna-Sub1 may not be just
limited to flood-prone rice areas.
It could potentially take a slice of
nonflood-prone rice areas because
it is becoming more acceptable for
cultural and religious uses.
Note: Thanks to Drs. Achim
Dobermann, Umesh Singh, Abdel Ismail,
and Takashi Yamano for some excellent

The enTrance of a house decorated with chita.


Rice Today January-March 2014

Dr. Mohanty is the head of the Social

Sciences Division and program leader
(Targetting and policy) at IRRI. Dr.
Behura is an assistant professor at the
Orissa University of Agriculture and

rought brings to mind negative

images of wide expanses of dry
and parched lands. It is often
associated with abject poverty,
distraught farmers, hungry children,
sickness, and sometimes hopelessness
(see Dreams beyond drought, pages
15-21 of Rice Today Vol. 4 No. 2).
According to the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI),1 about
38% of the world areahome to 70%
of the total population and source
of 70% of global food production
suffers from drought. The effects
of this problem are massive and
devastating for the rice farmers who
need to plant the crop that feeds half
the world's people.
Drought is a formidable foe,
which IRRI fights untiringly through
rice research. Most scientists agree
that it is one of the most complex and
toughest stresses to overcome when
compared with other constraints
such as salinity, flooding, pests, and
Considering that rice is a wateradapted plant grown in flooded fields,
helping it cope with water stress and
enabling it to produce economically
good yields under drought is a great
But, this does not stop IRRI
scientists from finding answers
and new solutions for breeding new
varieties and from understanding
the effects of drought on rice at the
genetic and molecular level (see



Making rice less

thirsty on pages
12-14). For them, the
challenge is clear
increase rice yield
despite drought.
One potential
solution for better
drought complexities
is through genetic
(GM, also called
uses modern
techniques to change
the genes of an organism).
Concidentally, scientists have
been using genetic modification in
some forms for years. In fact, all
crops have been genetically improved
(modified) for millennia by selection
by farmers and by breeding in the
past hundred years.2 In addition,
the Nuffield Council on Bioethics
concluded in 1999 that genetic
engineering could be considered
as natural as conventional plant
For farmers, GM crops are no
longer a novelty. The International
Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA)
reported in 2008 that 25 countries
cultivated GM crops, including the
developing countries Egypt and
Burkina Faso. ISAAA reported that

william sta. clara (4)

Sub1 seeds in the 2012 wet season.

Surprisingly, even in areas that
are not prone to flooding, many
farmers had a favorable opinion
about Swarna-Sub1. Swarna-Sub1
has been adopted by some farmers
in the second season because of its
resistance to diseases, particularly
to sheath blight. However, many
other farmers have decided to grow
Swarna-Sub1 on parts of their land
because of its lighter husk color,
which is preferred for offerings to
their deities during religious rites.
Margasira masa (month in
Oriya), which normally falls in midNovember to mid-December, is one of
the auspicious months that coincides
with the paddy harvest, threshing,
and storage. Every Thursday of
this month, known as the Manabasa
Gurubar, freshly harvested paddy is
filled in a mana (a pot made out of
bamboo cane used for measuring
paddy in the old days) and is placed
at the center of a circular chita to
worship the goddess Lakshmi.
Chita is the traditional Oriya art
form in which walls and floors are
decorated with murals using semiliquid rice paste. The drawings could
be small footmarks of Lakshmi, a
stack of paddy, flowers, peacocks, and
elephants, among other designs. The
married women in every household

Dr. Rachid Serraj

Dr. Inez Slamet-Loedin

between 2007 and 2008, the area

grown to GM crops rose by 9.4%
or 10.7 million hectares, totaling
more than 120 million hectares. An
increasing number of people consider
GM as a potential source for more
benefits in agriculture, for example,
for a rice variety tolerant to drought.
Research groups at IRRI, led by
Drs. Rachid Serraj, crop physiologist,
and Inez H. Slamet-Loedin, cell
biologist, are currently working on
drought-tolerant varieties using GM.
(For a general idea about this process,
see Tool box for making GM rice.).
Current GM technologies at IRRI
are very efficient for both indica and
japonica rice cultivars, and there
is no major technical bottleneck in
producing a large number of events
(independent plants generated from

See Economic costs of drought and rice farmers coping mechanisms, edited by S. Pandey, H. Bhandari, and B. Hardy, 2007.
See Redesigning rice photosynthesis to increase yield, edited by J.E. Sheehy, P.L. Mitchell, and B. Hardy, 2000.


Rice Today July-September 2009


a GM cell) as long as there is space to

plant and characterize them, said Dr.
A new drought-screening facility
and a protocol that mimics drought
conditions in the lowland rice
ecosystem have been established at
IRRI to support, enhance, and expand
the scientists work on developing a
drought-tolerant crop. Unlike in the
past, when GM drought-tolerant crops
were mostly tested under artificial
conditions using pots, the new facility
allows scientists to better predict the
crops yield, which previously was
difficult to estimate.
The new drought-screening
facility can assess a bigger population
of plants to take into account the
possible variation in the effects of a


transgene on plant growth and yield

performance, Dr. Serraj said.
Since IRRI is able to generate
large numbers of transgenic events, it
is more efficient to select and discard
plants from the early steps, and
keep only those showing promising
responses, he added. The rice plants
can be robustly and comprehensively
selected based on their phenotypes
(physical attributes) and yield
Rice farmers, however, are often
not interested in the significance of
having a drought-tolerant crop per se,
since they are more concerned about
whether the crop will produce a good
and sustainable yield. An improved
crop could survive drought stress, yet
not produce a harvestable yield. So,

it is crucial for scientists to measure

biomass accumulation (weight or
total quantity of the plant) and yield
performance that would result from
modifying a gene.
At an early step of the
evaluation, we assess the impact of
water deficit on plant growth and
use nondestructive measurements
to analyze crop performance, Dr.
Serraj said. Plant phenology (the
plants biological stage, that is,
flowering, tillering, grain formation,
etc.), growth, transpiration, canopy
temperature, photosynthesis, leaf
rolling, tillering ability, root biomass,
and spikelet fertility are among the
parameters to be measured for a large
number of plants.4
Moreover, Dr. Dong Jin Kang,

See Drought frontiers in rice: crop improvement for increased rainfed production, edited by R. Serraj, J. Bennett, and B. Hardy, 2008.

Rice Today July-September 2009


an IRRI postdoctoral fellow,

explained (with reference to
the samples in the droughtscreening facility), Plants
that grow and produce well
in this condition are selected
as candidates for drought
tolerance. The facility also
contains a flooded control plot
of GM rice. Scientists compare
the performance of the tested
varieties under different
conditions, to make sure that
any selected material would
be able to perform well under
a variety of environments.
Dr. Slamet-Loedin said
Nancy Sadiasa, Evelyn Liwanag, and Flor Montecillo, research
that the performance of GM
technicians; Malen Estrada, assistant scientist (front row);
Dr. Rachid Serraj, crop physiologist, and Dr. Dong Jin Kang, a
rice is tested under drought
postdoctoral fellow (at the back) at IRRI, inside the droughtand irrigated conditions to
screening facility.
identify transgenic events in
both conditions since drought
may not occur in each planting
ruin these experiments, the scientists
placed a 1-meter-deep physical barrier
Sometimes, the transgenic plant
around the plots to prevent water
performs better than the wild-type
seepage and percolation from adjacent
counterpart in drought conditions, but flooded plots. The bed under the
may yield less in normal conditions.
drought treatment, on the other hand,
This is a crucial factor and the reason
is equipped with a drainage system in
candidate genes tested at IRRI are
which water gravitationally flows and
designed to be activated by drought
gradually reduces the soil moisture of
(making the expression of the drought the topsoil.
tolerance gene inducible by drought)
Moreover, to maintain the
to avoid any yield penalty in normal
precision of soil drying, scientists
constantly monitor the amount of
To further ensure that no
moisture and water tension in the soil,
uncontrolled water will enter and
as well as the air temperature, relative
humidity, and vapor-pressure deficit.
Periods of managed water
Agrobacterium tumefaciens
containing a binary vector
deficits are imposed with precise
is dispensed on immature
parameters of stress timing,
duration, and severity, Dr.
Serraj explained. Soil water is
gradually reduced a few weeks after
transplanting until the flowering
and grain-setting stages, with soil
moisture decreasing from fully
saturated to minimal, he added.
The facility also has a doublelayered mesh on the ceiling and
the surrounding divider to satisfy
biosafety requirements. Without
protection, flying insects could enter
the facility, Dr. Kang explained.
The drought-screening facility has
been successful in creating realistic
drought conditions. During the dry
season of 2007, the first drought32

Rice Today July-September 2009

screening experiment using the

facility was carried out to test the
effects of a gene for drought tolerance
provided by the Japan International
Research Center for Agricultural
Sciences. The scientists were pleased
to observe that the data on yield under
irrigated and drought conditions
inside the drought-screening facility
were similar to the ones obtained
from non-transgenic field experiments
at IRRI..
We are making progress
and we have already identified a
few promising lines, Dr. Serraj
confidently stated. These, however,
will need further testing and
validation. The drought-screening
facility greatly helped in our
transgenic research, so we plan to
establish a similar and bigger facility
in the future. This will allow us to test
more gene candidates.
Not leaving any stone unturned,
IRRI scientists intend to find more
ways to help farmers cope with
drought. With advances in technology,
things are definitely looking up for
both scientists and farmers. Droughttolerant varieties are developed and
enhanced by the integration of GM
approaches into breeding programs,
as well as the by the use of this new
facility that enhances precision and
effectiveness in delivering new and
improved genetic lines.