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[JAKARTA] A team of scientists is developing improvements to a computer model that can predict the best planting dates for rice farming in areas affected by monsoons as a way of adaptation in an era of climate change.

The Japanese government-funded research was presented in a session on the effects of climate change on rice farming in Asia, which was part of the Asia Pacific Advanced Network conference held in Bandung last 20-24 January.

“Because of climate change, extreme weather events such as uncertainties in rainfall and droughts make rainfed rice farming systems more vulnerable in the Asian monsoon area,” says Kei Tanaka, researcher at Japan’s Agricultural Research Centre and one of the leaders of the project.

The knowledge that will be gained from the research will help farmers from Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam adapt better to a changing climate, Tanaka noted.

Currently, farmers and agricultural managers can get information about how the climate can influence their rice yields from a computer model called ORYZA2000, a widely-used rice growth model developed by the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Information, such as daily meteorological data (temperature, sunshine hours, wind speed, precipitation), soil properties and farming management (fertilisation and irrigation), is entered into the model which will then generate estimates on the amount of rice yields for a given planting period.

Bruce Tolentino, IRRI spokesman, says the ORYZA2000 source code is in the public domain and available to anyone who wants to tweak it.

But the IRRI ORYZA team will soon release an updated version, ORYZA3000, the source code of which will not be available publicly.

Tanaka says the current ORYZA model is time consuming and needs to be run “tens of thousands of times” to produce rice yield estimates. To improve the model, the Japanese researchers created a computer program that enabled ORYZA2000 to run on several computers at the same time to speed up its performance.

The main concern for the researchers now is the availability of meteorological data.

“We are working with meteorologists to generate climate data from a climate modelling and so far we only have data for north-eastern Thailand and the Philippines,” says Tanaka, adding that his team has only implemented the model in those areas.

Heni Purnamawar,
a professor of agriculture and horticultural crops at Indonesia’s Bogor Agricultural University, agrees that the main challenge for the project will be data collection from rice fields.

“We have long known that agricultural models can give us a good way of adaptation in an era of climate change. But in running such models, we need data such as soil condition and farm management from all growing regions as input. This needs time and money,” she says.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.