Flood-tolerant rice saves farmers livelihoods

  • The need

  • What IRRI has done

  • The impact

  • How you can help

  • Resources

submerged rice field

Rice dies within days of complete submergence, resulting in total crop loss. These losses affect rice farmers in rainfed and flood-affected areas where alternative livelihoods are limited. Therefore, the incidences and severity of poverty in these areas are high.

In Asia, where most of the world’s rice is grown, about 20 million hectares of rice land is prone to flooding. In India and Bangladesh alone, more than 5 million hectares of rice field are flooded during most of the planting seasons.

The erratic floods experienced in rainfed and flood-affected areas are usually caused by heavy rainfall, overflow of nearby rivers and canals or sometimes tidal movements as in coastal areas. These floods cause serious problems for rice and other crops because of the poor or non-existent drainage and, in some cases, the topography of the land prevents fast water movement to drain flooded fields. Flooding is therefore considered a major challenge for rice production in South and Southeast Asia, where the majority of the world’s rice farmers live.

flood-tolerant rice in Asia

A rice variety that can withstand being submerged under water for two weeks has been developed by IRRI. Through conventional breeding, scientists scoured rice’s rich diversity for a gene that gives flood-tolerance. After the gene (called SUB1 gene) was found, it was infused into popularly grown rice varieties in rice-growing countries in Asia.

Several varieties with the “scuba” gene were released to India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, and Nepal. The gene is also being transferred into popular varieties in Africa.

Swarna Sub-1 flood-tolerant rice variety

Farmer Nakanti Subbarao of Andhra Pradesh, India, was one of the first to adopt Swarna-Sub1 in his community. After seeing that he recovered 70% of this rice after 3 weeks of flooding, he distributed Swarna-Sub1 seeds to his fellow farmers in Maruteru, which led to coverage of 800 ha in his village, and its nearby areas during the wet season of 2009.

Sitaram Yadav from the Mau Village of Uttar Pradesh, India tried three (Swarna-Sub1, IR64-Sub1, Samba-Mahsuri-Sub1) sub1 varieties during the wet season of 2008. After his farm was flooded three times, he was about to harvest a decent yield, which led him to call the new varieties, ‘nothing less than a miracle”.

Nepal's Virender Thakur of Mahottari District, used Swarna-Sub1 in 2009 in his commonly flooded field. His field was submerged for 16 days at 10 days after transplanting, but he still obtained about 3.5 t/ha, whereas other varieties grown by his neighbors were all lost. He believed that Swarna-Sub1 has less disease incidence than Swarna and that the scuba rice also tastes good. He shared most of his seeds with other farmers in the wet season of 2010.

Scuba rice is spreading fast in several countries over the last few years, and are currently grown by more than 5 million farmers in Asia.

Swarna Sub-1 flood-tolerant rice variety

Despite the successes that IRRI had achieved and continue to achieve, there’s still a lot of work that needs to get done and the Institute can’t do it alone. Funding plays a very important role on whether or not we could do more. This is where you come in.

Help us continue this project by donating to either fund.irri.org or foundation.irri.org. The donation you give will enable us to continue our important research and, ultimately, help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

More than just money, we encourage you to share these stories on social media and in your personal networks. Spread the word.

Your support can help turn this vision of a bright tomorrow into a reality.

Give to IRRI through the following:

  • Direct bank deposit

Bank Account Name: International Rice Research Institute
Bank Account Number : 6212-56654027
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Scuba rice in action in a time-lapse video

IRRI references