A single strain of genetically modified rice has been developed to handle drought, salty soils and lack of fertiliser. The aim is to “climate-proof” rice farms in Asia and Africa so that they can grow the same variety each year, regardless of the conditions. This rice is the first to counter three at once.
According to the International Rice Research Institute, drought affects 23 million hectares of rice in south and South-East Asia and costs $13 billion a year globally. In some states in India, it can reduce rice yields by 40 per cent. Salt is similarly problematic. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 800 million hectares of land are affected by salt, costing agriculture an estimated $1 billion per year.
Under a range of drought conditions, the yield of the modified rice was 12 to 17 per cent greater than that of the parent rice. With low levels of fertiliser, its yield was 13 to 18 per cent greater. When exposed to both of these stresses at once, the yield of the modified rice was 15 per cent more than that of the unmodified rice. Trials using a range of salty conditions showed the altered rice had a yield that was as much as 42 per cent more than the parent rice.