Scientists in the Philippines are developing what could be the future of rice in Asia. ‘Flood tolerant’ rice varieties to solve global losses of the staple grain from seasonal floods are the new frontier according to breeders in the region.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in collaboration with the International Society for Plant Anaerobiosis (ISPA) is working to develop rice that can withstand flooding. Working on similar genes that allow certain aquatic plants to survive submergence, the team is looking to come up with rice plants that can thrive in all types of flooding conditions.
Food losses caused by floods serve as motivator. "We have more people in this planet. We need to produce more food," said Voesenek Laurentius, ISPA President.
The Philippines is a key player in rice technology. The country already grows submergence-tolerant rice such as NSIC 194 or ‘Submarino’ which was observed to have high tolerance to effects of La Nina and typhoons according to the Philippine Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, post-harvest losses remain a different story with its own set of challenges.
In its latest food loss report, the Food and Agriculture Organization stated that airtight storage technology from the Philippines helped cut the country's rice losses by 15 percent.
GrainPro Philippines, Inc. in Subic Bay is a global leader in airtight storage solutions. The company has been very active in helping government agencies and non-profit advocacies to solve post-harvest losses in the country.
"Pre-harvest and post-harvest losses are major problems among rice-developing nations in Asia. Each requires its own unique set of solutions," says Tom De Bruin, President of GrainPro Philippines. GrainPro is also working closely with IRRI and the University of Hohenheim to develop modern innovations to solve problems in post-harvest losses. Some of their solutions allow rice to be safely stored for up to three years without loss in quality.
Recently, Thailand’s Rice Pledging Program collapsed resulting in harvested rice to be flooded and waste away in local warehouses. The program cost the country billions. Some experts agree that the right post-harvest storage solution could’ve helped the already debt-riddled country.
De Bruin hopes that the government will continue to provide much-needed support to encourage companies such as his to come up with long-term solutions to the problem. So far, support has been sparse at best in promoting technology that fights post-harvest losses in Asia. This in itself is a major obstacle for developers and innovators in the region.