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‘2% crop-yield loss per decade threatens global food supply’

THE goal of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to develop better rice strains and promote the massive cultivation of Golden Rice should be hastened in the face of the prediction by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that crops yields in this century would lose 2 percent per decade due to global heating and new climatic conditions.

This translates into a compounded crop loss ranging from 16 percent to 20 percent for the rest of the century, an eventuality that IPCC predicted would increase the likelihood of wars and destructive conficts due to dwindling food supply.

A draft final report of the IPCC’s fifth assessment since 1990 was revealed by freelance journalist John Upton, who stressed that the world need not wait for the report’s release in March 2014 before acting.

“The biggest impacts from climate change will be felt on farms, which will endure worsening water shortages and will have to deal with shifting growing ranges. That’s going to make it harder to feed the world its staples of wheat, rice, and corn,” Upton said.

“Climate change could reduce yields of these crops by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of the century, and that will coincide with rising demand for food by growing populations,” he added.

However, the IPCC also noted that the dire consequence should prompt a response if the farming sector wishes to supply enough food for the country’s teeming billions.

“But if farms and agricultural systems proactively adapt to global warming, they could actually reap a rare benefit and increase yields by as much as 18 percent compared with today’s harvests,” Upton said.

Farming regions near the poles are benefiting from climatic changes but the IPCC noted that “negative impacts of climate change on crop and terrestrial food production have been more common than positive impacts.”

In a news briefing on November 4 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Makati City  during the  Seventh International Rice Genetics Symposium, Dr. Achim Doberman said the IRRI is focusing on developing high-yielding rice varieties, including genetically modified (GM) rice, that are armed with beta carotene precursors to allow humans to create vitamin A.

Doberman, a soil scientist and agronomist for 25 years, said IRRI is pushing Golden Rice, which offers high humanitarian, environmental and productivity benefit for consumers and farmers, and admitted that IRRI’s work on GM rice breeding is only 5 percent, compared to conventional varieties.

He said IRRI has already developed rice strains equipped with traits that allow them to thrive even when submerged, thus the moniker “scuba rice,” which is similar to the four submergence-tolerant rice varieties developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

For his part, Dr. Hei Lung, principal scientist and program leader for Genetic Diversity and Gene Discovery at IRRI, said that as plant pathologist and geneticist with primary interest in disease resistance and genetic diversity, his main concern is how to raise output and inform the public about the crying need to conserve genetic diversity.

Genetic sequencing can unlock the useful traits for new and better rice varieties but so far, only about 25 percent of the genetic diversity has been explored and 5 percent used for breeding, a small figure, indeed, considering that the International Rice Genebank has more than 117,000 different types of rice.






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