Early in 2015 the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Service Administration officially announced the onslaught of El Niño in the Philippines that caused drastic decline in crop production. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows that rice and corn alone respectively fell by 818,000 and 251,800 mt that year compared in 2014. Losses were also recorded in sugarcane, coffee, tobacco, onion, cabbage, and rubber. It was one of the strongest dry spells on record that affected many regions worldwide.
Despite early warnings, farmers like Gennith, 36, and her husband Randy Ricaforte, 39, never thought how much the extreme weather can get. For them, the usual good climate in the confines of high rise mountains in Bukidnon is enough to assure their yield.
“There were rainfalls that time and the field was moist so we thought it would be enough to grow rice,” the rainfed rice farmers recalled.
But it wasn’t. They never harvested anything for two seasons.
Though devastated by previous outcomes, Gennith said they decided to give it another try. This time, rice black bug infested their farm leaving nothing to reap.
“Maybe we don’t have good luck in rice farming, nakaka-stress,” she sighed.
From traditional to ‘promising’
The Recafortes’ story and many others like them are just some of the many reasons that pushes rice research for development (R4D). PhilRice anew has developed more mutant lines (variants) to help farmers deal with climate-related stress such as drought.
Christopher Cabusora, a rice breeder of the Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Division, explained that these new lines were derived from Salumpikit, a Philippine traditional rice variety that is highly tolerant to drought. It has been used as a drought tolerant check variety since the 1970s.
“Traditional rice varieties are highly tolerant to stress but unfortunately, they are tall and late-maturing, and produce less tillers that make them less acceptable for cultivation. Our goal is to improve them and make them appealing to farmers,” the researcher said.
Employing in vitro mutagenesis (IVM), a technique that combines tissue culture and gamma irradiation to produce mutants, the team led by Cabusora started improving Salumpikit in 2011. This resulted in 10 IVM1 families that generated 484 IVM2 plants.
In 2012, the team evaluated these plants for trait differences that led to the selection of 39 plants with improved acceptability compared with the wild type. These mutant lines were evaluated for abiotic stress tolerance (submergence, salinity, and drought), blast resistance, grain quality, and field performance under irrigated and managed-drought conditions from 2013 to 2015.
In a paper titled, “Improving Drought Tolerant Rice Cultivar Salumpikit through Combining Tissue Culture and Gamma Irradiation,” Cabusora and his team argued that the mutants are comparable with the tolerant check FR13A under submergence, making its wild type significantly inferior. Meanwhile, salinity tolerance screening identified 1 line as highly tolerant; 9, tolerant; and 20, moderately tolerant. Furthermore, 12 lines with seedling drought and salinity tolerance under submerged conditions were classified.
Field performance trials also showed that 30 lines with higher yield than the wild type and are comparable with NSIC Rc222 under non-stress conditions while 1 line yielded higher than the highest yielding check, PSB Rc14, under managed drought stress conditions. Stress tolerance index of 38 mutant lines were also higher than NSIC Rc222 and 3 lines were higher than the wild type.
“These lines surpassed the 5% yield advantage over PSB Rc 14 and NSIC Rc 222,” Cabusora said.
Moreover, 32 of the mutant lines were labeled as resistant to the Maligaya Strain of blast and 5 with intermediate resistance. Blast is one of the most destructive diseases of rice, which can kill seedlings or plants.
When it comes to milling recovery, more than 30 lines had improved milling recovery and had a soft cooked rice texture.
At present, PR45713-SalumpikitIVM2011WS 1-9-12 was selected for evaluation in a multi-environment trial in rainfed-drought prone areas and PR45713-Salumpikit-IVM2011WS 1-3-18 (saline tolerant) has been nominated to the National Cooperative Test before finally recommended for accreditation and registration to the National Seed Industry Council, which approves the release of plant varieties.
The paper won the Best Paper Award during the 11th Philippine Association for Plant Tissue Culture and Biotechnology scientific convention in Bohol, July 9-14.
Gennith, a mother of three, said that farmers always aim for good yield to feed their family. For her, rice varieties that are not only high yielding but can also thrive through climate-related challenges are very important.
“This is good news for us. We will be more than happy to try it,” she said.
Against ‘bad luck,’ she and her husband never lost hope in farming.
“There are a lots of things many agencies have done and are doing to make farming easier. Farmers only need be updated of these new technologies,” she said.