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BRRI-IRRI launch project to develop new rice varieties for wetland rice ecosystem

For several years, rice cultivation in the wetlands of the northeastern part of Bangladesh, known as haor areas, have accounted for one-fifth of the total rice production in the country. However, haor areas have been bearing the brunt of climate change. To help them cope with the situation, rice growers in the haor regions need short-duration, cold-tolerant, and high-yielding varieties, according to Additional Agriculture Secretary Kamalaranjan Das during an online workshop organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 14 September 2020.

To help tackle the problem, a new five-year research project with Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Development of Short-duration Cold-tolerant Rice Varieties for Haor Areas of Bangladesh, funded by Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), was launched at the workshop. The aim of this project is to develop short-duration (120-140 days), cold-tolerant, and high-yielding varieties for the boro season.

Boro paddy is the main crop in the haor areas. However, almost every year, flash floods caused by heavy rainfall upstream that occur in April submerge almost the entire Boro yield in the region. The Boro season usually begins in mid-November but many farmers start sowing in late October to avoid the flash floods. However, this also means the crop reproductive stage occurs in January to February, increasing the risk of exposure to winter diseases. This is why haor farmers need varieties that can withstand cold temperatures and can be harvested before the arrival of the flash floods.

“Boro rice is sandwiched by two adverse conditions in the haor areas,” KGF Executive Director Dr. Jiban Krishna Biswas said. “Any deviation in these conditions can damage crops. This project is expected to develop varieties that could withstand these adverse conditions—low temperature and flash floods—and also give high yield.” 

BRRI and IRRI have been working to develop cold- and flood-tolerant varieties. BRRI has already collected germplasms from South Korea, Nepal, and Japan and completed their characterization for this purpose.

Dr. Das noted that the IRRI-Bangladesh ties go a long way. IRRI played a crucial role in ensuring food security in the country, he said, and hoped that the new project would help bring a positive change in the lives of the people in the haor areas, and also contribute to food and nutrition security in the country.

BRRI Director General Dr. Md. Shahjahan Kabir said the population of Bangladesh is increasing at the rate of 1.37% per year, but arable land is decreasing at 0.4%. Moreover, climate change has been continuously challenging the country's food security. There are about 1.26 million hectares of cultivable land in the northeastern haor areas where farmers can only grow one crop every year during the boro season because the land remains underwater most of the year. The crop damage caused by the annual flash floods also puts Bangladesh's food security in jeopardy.

IRRI Director General Mathew Morrell said the critical climate challenges that the haor areas in Bangladesh face are going to intensify in the future. Developing improved rice varieties for the haor areas is imperative in building the region’s resilience.

IRRI Rice Breeding Platform Leader Dr. Hans Bhardwaj, IRRI Regional Representative for South Asia Dr. Nafees Meah, and IRRI Country Representative for Bangladesh Dr. Humnath Bhandari, among others, were also present at the workshop.