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Farmers should soon have access to a new strain of flood-resistant rice, say scientists.

The development was discussed at the 3rd steering committee meeting of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Hanoi, Vietnam last week (8–9 October).

A large portion of Asian rice land is located in deltas and low-lying areas that are at risk from flooding during the monsoon season, and climate change intensifies these risks, said Reiner Wassmann, coordinator of the Rice and Climate Change Consortium of IRRI.

Crop scientists estimate that annual flooding leads to losses worth US$1 billion across south and South-East Asia.

Wassmann told SciDev.Net that a flood-resistant rice variety called Swarna Submergence 1 should reach farmers by 2009. The plant carries the sub1a gene that enables it to be submerged for up to 17 days.

Scientists led by David Mackill of IRRI and Pamela Ronald of the US-based University of California are working on the flood-resistant rice and are currently conducting field trials in several Asian countries.

According to IRRI, global rice prices have hit record highs while supply has plummeted to its lowest levels in a decade.

Around 60 international rice scientists from 13 countries gathered at the meeting to discuss improved rice varieties and innovative crop management techniques to help farmers address problems of growing rice in a changing climate, along with scarce water resources.

"We acknowledged the urgency of developing new varieties that can cope with flooding as well as higher temperatures because rice production may become unfavourable in some countries, especially vulnerable regions that are affected by sea level rise," Wassmann said.

Also at the conference, IRRI and the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences presented a study showing that low lift irrigation pumps — where water is pumped onto land difficult to serve by a gravity canal system — and drip irrigation can help to reduce water use between 15–20 per cent during the dry season, while boosting productivity by up to 15 per cent.