Heat-tolerant rice developed by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute is under trial at its Habiganj research station

Trials underway both at farmers’ fields and regional research stations; Brri trying to expedite the official release of promising new rice variety

This season’s crop loss owing to heat stress comes as a stark reminder of what the rice scientists have long been forewarning. 

High temperatures would considerably limit rice production – that’s what they had warned. And scientists at the country’s premier research station – Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) – went ahead with research in 2013 aimed at developing rice varieties capable of withstanding heat stress.     

It now appears that success has come their way. It couldn’t have been better timed. 

BRRI’s breeder success in developing heat-tolerant rice comes at a time when Boro farmers have suffered crop loss in different districts due to a heat shock-induced sterility in paddy plants. The April 4 nor’wester that came along with hot gusty winds damaged paddy on thousands of hectares in some central, central-east and northwest districts of the country.  

“We have just harvested rice in a Gazipur experiment field where one of our new heat-tolerant lines was grown. It yields good, it yields fast,” Md Sazzadur Rahman, BRRI Plant Physiologist and a principal architect behind the development of heat-tolerant rice, told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday.

Farm workers plant Boro saplings at a field in Paba upazila of Rajshahi | Dhaka Tribune

The new line, which is still under regional yield trial (RYT) and has not been officially released yet, brings promise of a slightly higher yield compared to BRRI dhan 28 – one of Bangladesh’s most popular high yielding varieties.

“Moreover, we have been able to harvest the rice a week ahead of BRRI dhan 28, meaning it’s going to be comparatively a shorter-duration rice variety,” said Md Sazzadur Rahman.

The good news comes at a time when heat-induced Boro loss prompted the agriculture minister, secretary of the ministry and other senior agriculture officials to rush to the BRRI facility in Gazipur and see first hand the advancements that have been made in releasing a heat-tolerant variety. 

BRRI Director General Dr Md Shahjahan Kabir told this correspondent on Wednesday: “We have been working on developing heat stress tolerant rice since 2013 and success is now coming our way. Trials are underway on new lines in 12 regions in the country.”

He said BRRI had also been engaging with the Seed Certification Agency on how it could expedite the release process of at least one of the most promising tolerant lines as a new rice variety.

Also Read – Boro procurement: Govt’s delay worries farmers

Plant physiologist Md Sazzadur Rahman said BRRI had taken the benefit of a quantitative trait locus (QTL) of a region of DNA of a rice cultivar called N22 and infused that heat tolerant trait in some of Bangladesh’s high yielding rice varieties – i.e. BRRI dhan 28, BRRI dhan 29, etc. 

N22 or Nagina-22 is named after India’s Nagina Rice Research Station. This otherwise low-productive Aus rice variety is rich in tolerance traits and is resilient against high temperature. The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (Irri) had earlier sequenced the genetic mapping of N22, thereby helping breeders in Bangladesh to utilize the heat tolerant trait.

“I’ve monitored temperatures that our Gazipur region experienced in late March this year when Boro usually starts grain formation. On some days, it was as high as 35 to 39 degree Celsius,” said Md Sazzadur Rahman, who is based at BRRI headquarters in Gazipur.

He added: “The rice lines we developed will be able to tolerate up to 38 degree Celsius of day time temperature. We’ve to keep working in this area (heat tolerance) more as, you know, the April 4 heat wave that swept through many rice-growing regions actually triggered several hours of hot wind flow during night time.”

Officials both at the Ministry of Agriculture and at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (Barc), the federating body of all public sector farm research stations in the country, consider that Bangladesh would do better if it invested more on stress-tolerant varietal development for future food security.

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