Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sea level rise threatens Mekong rice

Marwaan Macan-Markar in AlertNet via IPS: With Vietnam's fertile Mekong delta threatened by rising sea levels and salt water ingress, the country's future as a major rice exporter depends critically on research underway in the Philippines.

Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are working with Vietnamese counterparts in the town of Los Banos, 63 km southeast of Manila, to develop a new strain of rice that can withstand submergence for over two weeks and also resist salinity.

A flood-tolerant variety, dubbed ‘scuba rice', which has the submergence (SUB 1) rice gene, already offers half the solution. "IRRI is experimenting to find a rice variety to deal with both problems," says Bjorn Ole Sander, a scientist at the world's leading non-governmental research centre on rice. "Even if we have rice crops that are tolerant to floods they can die because of salinity."

The search for this new grain had its roots in the Indian state of Orissa, home to the flood-resistant rice variety that resumes growth after being underwater for even 14 days - unlike other rice varieties that die if submerged for just over a week.

"This has been achieved without genetic manipulation, by breeding the SUB 1 variety," Sander said in an interview. "It can be submerged for 17 days." But the quest for a salinity-tolerant variety that could be blended with scuba rice is more daunting. "It will take at least four years to find a rice variety that will be tolerant to both - salinity and flooding," he said.

"That would be the answer to the problems faced in the Mekong Delta from flooding and salinity from the rising sea tides," he added....

A rice field on the west side of the Mekong River (in Cambodia), shot by KY Geologist, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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