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New seeds of hope for Nepal’s farmers

posted Oct 16, 2014, 3:22 AM by G.Lavina@irri.org   [ updated Oct 16, 2014, 3:24 AM ]

By Om Astha Rai

Climate-resilient varieties of rice could help to protect crop yields from the ravages of droughts and floods caused by the increasingly erratic weather patterns in South Asia.

KATHMANDU, 30 July, 2014 − Farmers badly affected by changing weather patterns in South Asia now have the opportunity to improve food security by planting new varieties of rice capable of withstanding the impact of both severe droughts and floods.

This is particularly good news for countries such as Nepal, where around 65% of its more than 26 million people are involved in agriculture. Rice is the country’s most important crop, planted on more than 50% of its arable land.

And it comes at a time when new research using satellite imaging has highlighted the growing need to change agricultural practices in South Asia as higher average temperatures cause the reduction of crop yields on the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Scientists say the new seeds, developed by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and approved by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), are vital in order to deal with changing weather patterns − in particular, the increasingly erratic behaviour of the all-important South Asia monsoon.

“These new varieties can really change the future of the country’s farmers,” says Dr Dil Bahadur Gurung, NARC’s executive director. “The new rice can, in most cases, beat the effects of droughts and floods. Read more

Flood, drought resistant seeds to rescue Nepal farmers

posted Oct 16, 2014, 3:09 AM by G.Lavina@irri.org   [ updated Oct 16, 2014, 3:20 AM ]

By Ram Prasad Bhushal

The development of rice seeds resistant to floods and droughts is a boon for Nepal farmers struggling to cope with too much, or too little water

The new rice seeds can withstand six weeks of drought and two weeks of floods, say scientists (Photo by Dmitry Sumin)
After years of research, scientists in Nepal have developed rice seeds that are resistant to droughts and floods, the twin scourges that annually threaten the livelihoods of poor farmers in the country as well as in lowland areas in neighbouring India and Bangladesh.

Hoping to help farmers adapt to the vagaries of climate change, the Nepal government has begun the process of certifying the seeds for use by farmers. Calledsukkha dhan in the country, the seeds were tested in lowland areas adjoining India. Similar research in India and Bangladesh – where farmers have also been victim to the increasing phenomenon of either no water or too much of it – has also been successful, say agricultural scientists. The seeds in these countries are called sahabhagi.

In Nepal, 10 years of research by a joint team of scientists from the Nepal Agricultural Research Council and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) yielded three new rice seeds tolerant to droughts and floods. “It doesn’t mean it resists unlimited drought and flood but the seeds we produced can tolerate continuous drought up to one-and-a-half months and floods up to two weeks or both,” explained Bhaba Tripathi, senior scientist with IRRI and head of the Nepal programme. According to him, IRRI uses a breeding method that helps incorporate specific desirable traits from genes into new varieties. The newly developed seeds were produced by the same method.

According to scientists, the seeds will be no more expensive than normal rice seeds.

Scientists say the seeds were tested for three years in the field in various parts of the country and it took about six years to develop them in the laboratory. “We conducted research works at the IRRI laboratory in the Philippines where about 3,000 seed samples from Nepal have been stored in a seed bank,” added Tripathi.

“We have been doing similar tests in India and Bangladesh and the results are encouraging as the yield is between two to four tonnes per hectare,” added Tripathi who is closely working with scientists in India and Bangladesh too. The market availability of such seeds will be facilitated by the respective agricultural agencies of various countries.

The Nepali government’s endorsement is also on its way. “We will endorse and certify within a couple of months,” said Dilaram Bhandari, chief of the seed quality control centre, ministry of agricultural development.

Scientists believe the new seeds will be a boon for famers suffering from the impacts of climate change in the region where the incidence of extreme floods and droughts have been increasing. More than 65% of Nepal’s population is dependent on agriculture and rice is the major crop, accounting for 20% of the agricultural gross domestic product.

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