Breeding hardy, high-yielding, and nutritious Golden Rice for Bangladesh

Top Quote Dr. Alamgir Hossain, principal plant breeder at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute blogs about breeding hardy, high-yielding, and nutritious Golden Rice for Bangladesh. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) June 08, 2011 - I grew up in an urban area of Bangladesh. I learned about planting and growing crops, breeding, genetics, and other important agricultural subjects only when I entered the Bangladesh Agricultural University to become a plant breeder. Today I am still learning what farmers need to grow good rice crops in Bangladesh. People in Bangladesh grow rice for their food, eat rice to fill their stomach for appetite. With new tools to breed healthier rice, including Golden Rice, our challenge is to develop varieties that are hardy, high-yielding, and nutritious. Growing a good crop of rice can be challenging.

    A rice farmer in Bangladesh has to face the possibilities of drought, flooding, and salinity-and sometimes more than one of these conditions in a single season. Insects and diseases can destroy a paddy with little warning. To make things even more complicated, we have three separate growing seasons in one year, which means we need varieties that mature at different rates to match the length of the season. High yields under all of these conditions are necessary, especially because the land available for farming is decreasing while our population is continuously growing.

    Fortunately, recent breakthroughs in plant breeding have helped us develop rice varieties that can tolerate and even thrive under these tough conditions. For example, by breeding submergence tolerance into our existing high-performing varieties, they can now withstand up to two weeks of flooding and still yield well. The new possibility of increasing the nutritional quality of rice is equally exciting. Rice is incredibly important part of our diet in Bangladesh, providing more than 70 percent of our calories every day on average. Unfortunately, rice is all some Bangladeshis can afford to eat many days. Although it fills their stomachs, it doesn't provide healthy micronutrients. That's why I lead research at BRRI to discover native varieties in our Gene Bank that might have higher amounts of micronutrients to help combat iron and zinc deficiencies. Through the HarvestPlus program, we've looked at hundreds of different varieties and found some with promising amounts of zinc to use in our breeding programs. Unfortunately, the same is not true for beta carotene, which would be needed to combat the devastating effects of vitamin A deficiency.

    To develop rice varieties with beta-carotene, I've been working with the inventors of Golden Rice as well as with IRRI scientists in the Philippines for many years. Our work focuses on putting the Golden Rice trait into the very best all-around varieties, such as BRRI dhan29, the most popular variety of rice in Bangladesh. As we do in our work with high-iron and high-zinc rice, we will be looking at the performance of the Golden Rice version of BRRI dhan29 over many generations, across different regions of Bangladesh, and in different seasons. We want to be sure that Golden Rice grows just as well as the original, so farmers won't have to give up yield, or pest resistance, or other attributes in order to help those most in need of a healthy and filling meal.

    About IRRI: The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is a nonprofit independent research and training organization that develops new rice varieties and rice crop management techniques that help rice farmers improve the yield and quality of their rice in an environmentally sustainable way. The organization works with public and private sector partners in national agricultural research and extension systems in major rice-growing countries to do research, training, and knowledge transfer. Their social and economic research also informs governments to help them formulate policy to improve the equitable supply of rice.

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