1) Researchers Take A Step Forward Towards Developing Drought-Tolerant Rice (December 2000)

Major rice-growing countries, such as China and India, are now alarmed by the increasing rate of soil water depletion and environmental degradation. Researchers are, therefore, under great pressure to find ways to maximize the water use efficiency of food crops, especially rice, which is one of the biggest users of water.

With over a quarter century of experience in drought research, ICRISAT was specifically chosen to host a workshop on “Field Screening for Drought Tolerance in Rice”, 11-14 December 2000, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and to act as a catalyst to pool the expertise in this field.

Over 50 crop experts from Asia and Africa participated in the workshop to find ways to crack one of the most intractable agricultural problems of our times – drought. The immediate aim of the workshop participants was to share their knowledge and experience and to develop common protocols for doing research in this field. The common research protocols would accelerate the process of developing drought-tolerant varieties.

“All the methods, ranging from field screening to molecular markers will be used to overcome this problem and we have set time-frames to our research in this field,” said Dr. N P Saxena, Former ICRISAT Senior Crop Physiologist, who is now a Consultant Scientist for ICRISAT and Coordinator of this Workshop. Dr. Saxena explained that ICRISAT's facilities and drought screening techniques would be useful for this research, which has strong links to the project on rice-sorghum synteny.

The synteny project is based on the knowledge that many cereals, such as rice and sorghum, share a common genetic heritage and may contain some of the same gene structures. For example, sorghum can thrive with only 500 mm of rainfall, while paddy rice requires almost total immersion in standing water. Thus, if scientists could locate in rice, the genes that enable sorghum to grow with so little water, it may be possible for them to activate the genes and develop a more water-efficient rice plant.

Dr. J. C. O'Toole, Senior Scientist and Field Representative for South and Southeast Asia, Rockefeller Foundation, explained why Rockefeller Foundation is supporting this area of research, “Since this particular area has not been successful, it has not been funded by governments. However, new technologies and new approaches, such as networking of world experts, can now make this research a big success.” Quoting from the World Bank on the crisis of water scarcity, Dr. O'Toole said, “Today's irrigated areas may be tomorrow's water-limited environments.”

Dr. A. Blum, Scientist Emeritus from Israel, Dr. Renee Lafitte, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Philippines, Dr. Marianne Banziger, International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT-Zimbabwe), Dr. Alain Audebert, Plant Physiologist, West African Rice Development Association (WARDA), Cote d'Ivoire, Dr. Arjula R Reddy, University of Hyderabad, were among the participants


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