food security across AsiaRice is the primary food source of more than two billion people worldwide. However, a quarter of the world’s rice production depends on rain instead of irrigation, threatening yields. “Current commercial rice strains have little genetic diversity.” Farmers require new drought-resistant and submersion-tolerant strains of rice. Resilient rice strains may potentially increase food security across Asia.

Challenges in Rice Growing

Climate change brings with it an increased frequency of floods and droughts, which rice is especially vulnerable to. Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) sent an international resilient rice team to rain-dependent agricultural areas of India to introduce new strains of rice to help subsistence farmers maintain or increase their yields. To create these new strains, SCPRID bred wild ancestor plants with currently available rice plants to create a strain that is more tolerant to harsh weather conditions.

Another issue rice growers face is salt inundation since rice is an extremely salt-sensitive crop. Two historic disasters, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Japan’s 2011 tsunami flooded more than 65,000 hectares of cropland in multiple surrounding countries. Land flooded with salt water may be usable again after a year or two once sufficient rain has washed the salt away, but the immediate impacts of the salt inundation seriously threaten the food security of households in affected areas.

Hybrid Rice Varieties to Guarantee Harvests

As a salt-sensitive crop, salinity greatly impacts rice yields. In the last few decades, plant breeders have “introduced salt tolerance” into modern rice varieties. This is achieved by introducing the genes of traditional rice varieties that often grow in saline regions to create a hybrid, more resilient rice. For example, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines led a collaboration that discovered a gene called Saltol in the Pokkali rice breed. Saltol gives plants a higher salt tolerance. A strain of rice made resilient by the Saltol gene can survive in higher-salinity environments, preventing large crop losses.

Food Security in Asia

The increase in world food supply between 1961 and 2011 came mostly from Asia, with the supply of all staple foods increasing multifold on the continent. Production particularly shot up in the 1980s. However, Asia’s 48 countries still house about 66% of the global undernourished population.

Reducing the high undernourishment rate will require significant amounts of extra food. The continent’s increasing urban population, along with “the growing disposable income” of some, will also heighten the demand for food. Furthermore, Asia’s total population is predicted to expand to 5.16 billion by 2050, an increase of 779 million people, heightening the food demand even further.

Due to a higher demand for housing and other infrastructure projects, “the amount of natural resources available for agriculture has been declining.” The quality of these resources is also lowering as a result of human activity. If left unaddressed, the shortage of quality natural resources will lead to decreased food quality and yields.

The Road Ahead

Resilient rice strains that can better stand up to high salinity, droughts and floods will help improve food security in Asia. By making the crop hardier, plant breeders can guarantee that fewer rice crops will be ruined by natural disasters and extreme climates. More yields mean increased food security in the region. Resilient rice could help reduce the rate of undernourishment in Asia by ensuring the food supply keeps up with the growing population.

Courtney Roe
Photo: Flickr

Agricultural Development in the Philippines
Southeastern Asian country of the Philippines faces many problems in the agricultural sector. This sector employs around 37 percent of people in the country, being a major source of income for many households.

Yet, this sector’s share in the country’s GDP has gone down over the years, showing a decline. The Philippines government is also decreasing funding on agriculture. Starting in 2011, agriculture only makes up about 4 percent of the national budget. This makes agricultural development in the Philippines questionable.

To make matters worse, the Philippines is notoriously vulnerable to natural disasters, facing around 20 typhoons each year. For farmers, one typhoon or tropical storm could be enough to wipe out the entire crop. Starting over with the work can be expensive and time-consuming. For example, coconut farmers need up to 10 years for their crops to grow. The lack of financial support coupled with frequent natural disasters leaves farmers in a compromising state.

As a result, 57 percent of agricultural households are impoverished. In comparison, non-agricultural households are three times less impoverished. This rate is even worse in agricultural-dependant areas, and reach up to 74 percent in Central Visayas.

Government’s Role in Agricultural Development in the Philippines

For these farmers, high poverty rates can be attributed to underemployment. Almost 70 percent of underemployed Filipinos work in agriculture, forestry or fishery. While many farmers and agricultural workers are searching for employment, the Government of the Philippines seems to be moving away from reliance on local farmers, turning to imports instead.

In 2016, the Philippines was the biggest rice importer in the world, with close to 2.45 million tons of imported rice. The lowered funding and employment of Filipino farmers put more than 12 million people who work in the agricultural sector at risk. Evidently, more support needs to be given to farmers in order to reduce poverty. Consequently, many poverty-fighting organizations target agricultural development in the Philippines.


The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), for example, has developed a rice variety that can survive natural disasters, especially floods. With funding from the Gates Foundation, the IRRI hopes to increase rice yields by 50 percent in the next 10 years. Based on an Indian rice variety called Swarma, this climate-smart rice has an additional flood-resistant gene.

The rice was able to grow even after two weeks of flooding, whereas most rice varieties would not survive more than four days. This is a huge advancement that can attribute to the lingering agricultural issues in the Philippines.

The Philipinnes government is also working towards agricultural development by implementing the Inclusive Partnerships for Agricultural Competitiveness (IPAC) Project. Funded partially by the World Bank, the project works on expanding the capacity of small farmers to make a living.

Through commercial agriculture and improved infrastructure, small-holder farmers can increase their incomes and slowly become more self-reliant. Developing irrigation systems in rural farming lands which is an important aspect of the project, makes farming more efficient for the people of the Philippines. The project plays an important role in reducing poverty, with 20 percent of the beneficiaries being poor farmers.

IFAC Projects in the Philippines

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has funded 16 projects that aid farmers from the Philippines. One project, Convergence on Value Chain Enhancement for Rural Growth and Empowerment (ConVERGE), helps Filipinos develop their farms into larger businesses by utilizing value chains.

IFAD provides investment and business plans to 55,000 farming households in the poorest parts of the Philippines. Through educating and guiding farmers, especially with the use of sustainable farming methods, IFAD hopes to increase their incomes and reduce poverty in the Philippines.

Through the combined efforts of organizations and the government, the issue of poverty among farmers in the Philippines is being addressed. Still, more work needs to be done in the field of agriculture development so that poverty rates in the country can begin to decrease.

– Massarath Fatima
Photo: Flickr

In order to address the threat of climate change on global food security, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has released 44 varieties of rice that are resilient to some of the effects of climate change. Currently, around half of the entire global population is dependent upon rice as the staple of its meals.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the adaptations necessary due to climate change impacts and states, “starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease [are] likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change.” The effects of climate change on agriculture, food security and poverty are particularly distressing; billions of people may face an extreme threat to their food and water security by the year 2050.

Because of the dangers that climate change poses on agriculture, the establishment of climate resilient agricultural sectors is a necessary for nations such as Ghana, where food security is diminishing and poverty is increasing. The rice variations introduced by the IRRI can account for some of the environmental concerns placed upon rice production in many nations that are facing impacts of climate change. The 44 types of rice released include “nine salt-tolerant varieties in the Philippines, three flood-tolerant varieties in South Asia, and six in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although genetically modified crops, such as the climate resilient rice variations introduced by the IRRI, have faced backlash in developed nations, they are beginning to become a necessity in developing nations. Climate change impacts are expected to worsen, as the global environment is a complex system where much can be left unconsidered. Therefore, resiliency in crops is a necessary avenue for research and development in the very near future.

The 44 rice varieties are expected to bolster the agricultural sectors of nations within Africa and Asia including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nigeria, Tanzania, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Rwanda. With the global population on a steep rise and mass cases of socio-economic ascension from poverty to the middle class, food demand is significantly high. Currently, the IRRI is working on a tripartite rice variation that is resilient to droughts, floods and saltiness, all of which are staples of climate change impacts on the agriculture sector.

Jugal Patel

Sources: Interaksyon, Think Progress
Photo: Golden Diamond