Rice farmers in the Sahel region will be able to successfully grow rice in a sustainable way despite climate change if they amend their irrigation in the short term and rice varieties are developed able to cope with higher temperatures. This is the result of research with which Michiel de Vries hopes to obtain his doctorate at Wageningen University on September 14, 2011. The study combines computer models and field experiments to show how farmers can save up to 40 percent on water consumption while maintaining a good yield.
According to De Vries it is a misconception, including among farmers, that growing rice requires a great deal of water. It is true, however, that rice plants need water for their growth and development. Due to irregular rainfall, rice farmers in the Sahel depend on irrigation. De Vries research shows that by adapting their irrigation approach, the farmers can save up to 40 per cent of their water consumption while maintaining a good yield. The saved water can then be used to grow rice or other crops on fields where no water is available. This could help make rice production more sustainable while also improving the local food supply.
The research by De Vries also demonstrates that the water-saving measures are probably most effective when applied over a longer time period as incidental interventions could still lead to losses in yield.
Although rice needs a lot less water than farmers think, rising temperatures due to climate change could increase crop failure as rice plant flowers become sterile at above 36 C. This means that they cannot be pollinated and do not produce rice seeds, resulting in drastic falls in yield.
With climate change expected to cause temperatures in the Sahel to increase by two to five degrees, thermometers will be passing the 36oC mark. De Vries reinforces the necessity to quickly develop rice varieties that are more heat resistant, produce good pollen and ova, or are able to avoid heat.
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