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Catastrophic flooding calls for more scuba rice

posted Feb 3, 2014, 10:14 PM by Rowena Baltazar ‎(IRRI)‎

by Paula Bianca Ferrer

Scuba rice is set to make major waves in Asia as climate change makes monsoons and flooding more frequent and severe. 

The Swarna-Sub1 rice variety, called scuba rice, is a flood-proof variety that can survive underwater for up to 2 weeks. The SUB1 gene discovered by researchers from a traditional Indian rice variety, called FR13A, was incorporated into Swarna using the usual breeding methods. The gene triggers a hibernation-like response when the plant is submerged in water, and also resumes growth when the water recedes. It is now incorporated into many popular varieties in Asia.

In 2012, it was estimated that more than three million farmers in India have received Swarna-Sub1 since its distribution to farmers in 2009, an increase of almost 2 million farmers from 2011.    

The increase in the number of Swarna-Sub1 recipients was reportedly because of the catastrophic floods that happened in India in 2011.

According to BBC, those floods affected more than two million farmers from the Indian states of Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.

Because of severe flooding, India may potentially lose about four million tons of rice per year—enough to feed 30 million people.

"These floods can usually last for a period of 2 weeks or 15 days, in which case most of the rice fields in the eastern states of Odisha and Uttar Pradesh may completely lose their crops," said Ms. Maria Luz Malabayabas, an Assistant Scientist from the Social Sciences Division of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

"It seems that the benefits of Swarna-Sub1 become mostly visible when catastrophic floods, like those that happened in India in 2011, occur," she added.

"In a way, this raises a concern for us that many farmers may still remain unprotected from floods until they or their neighbors experience these catastrophes," she said.

To address this and other climate change-related issues such as drought, salinity, and others, it was imperative for the Government of India, IRRI, and other collaborators to forge a partnership that not only supports the development and delivery of stress-tolerant varieties, but also, does large-scale demonstrations for farmers.

This partnership, called the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, started in 2007 and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now in its second phase, the project aims to reach around 20 million farmers by 2018.


Fast facts

1. An estimated three million farmers in India received Swarna-Sub1, also known as scuba rice, in 2012.

2. Heavy flooding in 2011 was a factor in the increased awareness and distribution of the Swarna-Sub1 variety.

3. These results raise a concern that many farmers may still remain unprotected against floods. Stronger and more active awareness programs are needed to bring flood-tolerant varieties to farmers who are likely to be affected in the future.