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A rice variety that can earn carbon credits!

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Needs 50% less water, no transplantation: Bangalore varsity

NEW ON THE BLOCK: Dr H E Shashidhar, Professor &Head, Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding, University of Agricultural Sciences, displaying aerobic rice on a trial plot in Doddajala on the outskirts of Bangalore on Friday. G.R.N. Somashekar
NEW ON THE BLOCK: Dr H E Shashidhar, Professor &Head, Department of Genetics and Plant Breeding, University of Agricultural Sciences, displaying aerobic rice on a trial plot in Doddajala on the outskirts of Bangalore on Friday. G.R.N. Somashekar

Vishwanath Kulkarni

Bangalore Nov. 17

In a major breakthrough, scientists at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, have developed a new rice variety that consumes 50 per cent less water than conventional types and precludes release of methane.

The new rice variety is termed as "aerobic rice", because of its intensive roots that help in better absorption of water thereby eliminating the need for water logging and non-methane emitting capabilities.

Aerobic rice, set for commercial release next year, has been developed under a research grant of $3,50,000 from Rockfeller Foundation by Prof H. E. Shashidhar and the team from Dept of Genetics and Plant Breeding, UAS, Bangalore.

Special features

Unlike the conventional varieties that have shorter roots, the long roots of aerobic rice, almost thrice the length of conventional types at about 30 cm, help better absorption of water and facilitates better air circulation.

As a result, the process of methanogenesis (emission of methane through decomposition of organic) is prevented.

This is because soil bacteria decompose organic matter under aerobic conditions.

Normally, methane is produced during flooded rice cultivation by the anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition of organic matter in the soil. It is estimated that paddy cultivation accounts for 20-25 per cent of the methane gases emitted in the atmosphere.

Developed over a period of six years using the hybridisation process, the aerobic rice is a result of cross-breeding of local variety and IR64 procured from International Rice Research Institute Philippines, Mr Shashidhar said.

Saves water

Aerobic rice requires almost half the water needed to grow conventional varieties, said Mr Shashidhar. As against 5,000 litres of water required to produce one kg of conventional rice, the aerobic rice requires between 2,000-2,500 litres, Mr Shashidhar said adding the crop could also be grown in low rainfall areas.

As part of a participatory plant breeding exercise along with farmers, UAS, currently, is undertaking trials of different varieties of aerobic rice at six different locations across the country in Bangalore, Chhattisgarh, Cuttack, Faizabad, Coimbatore and Hazaribagh.

The yield is about 55 quintals per hectares, on par with the traditional varieties, but saves labour costs as this variety does not need transplanting like conventional variety and could be sown directly, he said.

UAS has developed about six different types of aerobic rice, which taste like the conventional types.

"We are also looking at developing aromatic rice on these lines," he said adding the aerobic rice does not require pesticides.

Carbon credits

"As growing aerobic rice prevents the release of methane, we could look forward to claim carbon credits," Mr Shashidhar said.

Farmers as individual growers will not be able to leverage, but as a group under local bodies like panchayat or as a self help groups, they could be able to take benefits of this, he said.

"We have developed a technology, but a mechanism needs to be built to claim carbon credits," Mr Shashidhar said adding that his department would approach the Ministry of Environment and Forests to take the process forward.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 18, 2006)
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