Sunday, May 26, 2019

Stronger rice varieties to help farmers cope with climate change

THE effects of climate change have become hurdles in the regular farm cycles of our farmers as unprecedented amounts of rainfall and severe dry weather conditions seem to become the norms rather than the exceptions.

Every year, rice farmers in Central Luzon, the country’s rice granary region, experience heavy damage to their crops and with typhoons getting stronger each year, the damage to rice and other agricultural crops have reached unbelievable numbers.

In 2015 alone, Typhoon Lando damaged at least P5 billion worth of crops in Central Luzon. The Department of Agriculture (DA) data showed that some P4.8 billion of the damage was on the region’s rice crops and just before 2015 ended some P438 million was recorded as damage to rice crops due to the flooding brought by Typhoon Nona. In 2016, Typhoon Nina damaged some P4 billion of agricultural crops in the whole region with Nueva Ecija, the number one rice-producing province in the country, being the hardest hit.

But what makes these figures more alarming is the fact that Central Luzon accounts for 14 to 15 percent of the country’s total rice production. In the first cropping season of 2015, Central Luzon’s share is 67.31 percent or 355,682 metric tons and 19.85 percent over all contribution to the national production. But all these are threatened by the continuing negative effects of climate change.

According to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the Philippines ranks third among the most vulnerable countries set to experience weather-related extreme events. And each year, adverse weather conditions have been observed not just in Central Luzon but all over the country posing further challenge to farmers to try technologies to adapt to, as well as fight, the effects of climate change.

In 2015, the DA, PhilRice and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) announced that they are working on varieties that can withstand adverse conditions as well as pests and diseases. The project aims to reduce the 12 years of breeding work for the development, production and commercial distribution of such seeds.

Included in the project are 766 entries for multi-location environment testing (MET) and these included 206 PhilRice-bred lines, 488 IRRI lines and 72 GSR lines to address the need for seeds in frequently flooded rice fields and rice fields that regularly experience lack of irrigation and dry conditions.

Rising ocean and sea levels are also among the consequences of climate change rendering freshwater irrigation difficult because of salt water intrusion into the ground water sources of coastal communities.

To address this, the IRRI had successfully released nine salt-tolerant varieties in country to address concerns on adverse soil conditions and help reclaim lands lost to saltwater intrusion and revive rice farming in coastal communities.

Two of these salt-tolerant rice varieties are Salinas 1 and Salinas 9 and these rice types can survive in saline-prone soil with salt levels of at least 0.3 percent.

Also, two varieties have been identified by PhilRice “as climate change-resilient rice varieties with superior performance in irrigated lowland ecosystems.” These were identified as NSIC Rc308 (Tubigan 26) and NSIC Rc358 (Tubigan 30) which are both 2013 PhilRice-bred varieties.

“Under favorable irrigated lowland ecosystems, NSIC Rc308 has a maximum average yield of 10.9 t/ha and matures in 11 days if transplanted. When direct-seeded, it matures in 105 days and has a maximum yield of 8.0 t/ha. Under the same farming condition, NSIC Rc358 can also attain a maximum average yield of 5.4 t/ha to 9.1 t/ha if transplanted,” the DA said in a statement.

NSIC Rc308, for one, was seen to demonstrate resilience against pests like stemborer, brown planthopper, and bacterial leaf light.

However, despite these varieties, farmers would still need to have access to such seeds on a more regular level.

Hipolito Mangiliman, 75, said that while their local cooperative in Santa Rita town has access to stronger seed varieties, supply is not enough to maintain the demand of local farmers especially during the aftermath of a calamity.

There is also the growing need to get farmers acquainted with changing weather conditions to level up their preparations.

“The dry seasons are getting hotter and we also need seeds that are able to withstand such conditions,” Mangiliman said.

In fact, the Asian Development Bank, in 2013, said that the recent climate change estimates predict the intensity and frequency of water shortage to deteriorate further.

This problem has a huge impact on the production of rice, a water-adapted plant grown in flooded fields.

Mangiliman said that with the developments in climate change-resilient rice varieties, farmers have a better chance of coping with climate change. The real challenge, he said, is making these varieties more accessible and readily available to meet local demands.

He also hopes that farmers would be given enough orientation on how to use these varieties and other climate change adaptive technologies to cushion the impacts of climate change on the agriculture sector which, undoubtedly, is among the most vulnerable sectors.


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