“Don’t Pass the Rice”: Borlaug Dialogue to discuss options for improving rice productivity in the face of climate change
13 October 2022, US: The US State Department and other partners will on Thursday 20th October 2022 host a dialogue to discuss how innovative tools can be deployed to tackle the negative impact of climate change on global agricultural production.
The discussion will feature experts from the USA and Asia, and will be one of the 2022 Borlaug Dialogues that will be held during the annual World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa. The side event will be in-person but there will also be virtual options for people to participate from all over the world.
Under the theme, “Don’t Pass the Rice: Adapting to the Climate Crisis,” the panel will focus on raising awareness on the impact of the climate crisis on the production of rice and other staple crops in Southeast Asia and other parts of the world; the tools, techniques, and approaches that are needed to help the crops adapt to increased temperatures, a greater frequency of extreme weather events, and rising sea levels.
One panel member, Dr. David F. Savage, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, has been speaking to Alliance for Science ahead of the dialogue. He says the public needs to become more aware of the challenges food systems are facing because of the climate crisis, and they will get that deeper understanding when they tune into the dialogue.
“As animals, we all require food… One way that we will be all impacted by climate change is through shocks to the food systems. And this is something that it is important for us to be aware of. And so, it’s important to know what’s happening because we have to prepare for future shocks,” he noted.
Rice is a food staple for more than 3.5 billion people around the world. It grows best in warm and wet climates, where the soils are waterlogged. However, the crop is highly vulnerable to climate change. Warmer weather, more frequent floods, sea level rise, and saltwater intrusion due to climate change, are negatively impacting rice productivity across the globe.
A 2018 study led by scientists from China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia predicted that the increase in the frequency of higher temperatures in rice-growing parts of the globe will cause a 40% reduction in crop yields by the close of the 21st Century.
They warned that increased temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) will make it difficult for rice plants to flower, as heat stress will negatively affect the process of pollination.
The panel will discuss, among others, what could be done to ensure the sustainable production of rice and other food crops for the benefit of the populace, in light of climate change. They will share ideas on how climate-smart agricultural practices and technological innovations can be applied to address global food insecurity challenges brought on by climate change.
“As we go into the next few decades, there will be many pressures on food systems that we don’t understand. But I am at least hopeful as a technologist that many of the new modern tools can facilitate how plant breeders attack some of these problems,” Savage observed.
He says technologies like genome editing can play a role in making crops more resilient in the face of the changing climate. “With genome editing tools, we are starting to be able to go in and make specific kinds of modifications or develop targeted kinds of diversity which in some ways is similar to what plant breeders have always done. But it gives us some specificity in a way,” he said.
“(Using genome editing tools), we may have crops that efficiently use water. ..we might have crops that don’t need to be fertilized with nitrogen as much… And from the carbon perspective, there might be crops which have an ability to both regenerate the quality of topsoils by fixing carbon, and as well potentially act as carbon sequestration stores,” he noted.
Other panelists are Jocelyn Brown Hall, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Liaison Office for North America. Dr. Arif Hossain, who is Executive Director of the Dhaka-based Farming Future Bangladesh and a visiting fellow at Cornell University will also be speaking, alongside Dr. Nafees Meah, Asia Representative for the International Rice Research Institute. Department of State Assistant Secretary Ramin Toloui will deliver opening remarks ahead of the panel discussion.
Greg Jaffe, Associate Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs at the Alliance for Science, Boyce Thompson Institute, will moderate the session.
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