Close-up of hands holding threshed rice. - - Emergency Supply of Agricultural Inputs to Flood-affected Farm Households: TCP/LAO/0166E.

Two companies have announced a development which could transform life for farmers battling against harsh conditions caused by climate change.

Arcadia Biosciences, an American agricultural technology company, and Asian business Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. (Mahyco), say that they have taken a major step forward in the development of a more efficient form of rice. Arcadia has been working to improve crops in conditions which hinder healthy yields and are associated with climate change, including severe drought.

The companies say that WUE rice, which has been developed by Mahyco using Arcadia technology, is among that early examples of crops bred to withstand the varying environmental effects of climate change. They say that the crop’s resilience, aided by its more efficient use of water, means that more land can be brought into use for crop production. Mahyco says that its tests have demonstrated that Arcadia’s WUE technology has significantly increased plant growth under normal conditions and when water is in short supply, showing double-digit increases in plant performance. The work is important because rice is the world’s most valuable crop and is grown on 162 million hectares globally with a harvest value of $334.7 billion in 2012. Rice plays a critical role in ensuring food for more than half of the world’s population and fears have been growing that burgeoning populations will struggle to find enough to eat, a situation exacerbated by the impact of the changing climate.

For example, based on current growth rates, India is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by the year 2030. However, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 221 million people in India, or about one-fifth of the population, are undernourished. Eric Rey, president and CEO of Arcadia, said: “At a time when farmers in India face significant pressure to increase productivity, factors such as urban growth, drought and rainfall variations are limiting water resources available for agriculture, particularly for water intensive crops such as rice. “Through our collaboration with Mahyco on WUE and other agronomic technologies, we’re working to increase yields and improve efficiency in the use of key inputs, such as fresh water.”

Usha Zehr, chief technology officer of Mahyco, said: “With this milestone, we are closer to bringing the benefits of this technology to the farmers who are challenged with reduced water availability on their farms and improving the overall productivity of the crop.” Arcadia Biosciences is based in Davis, California, with additional sites in Seattle, Washington and Phoenix, Arizona. Mahyco was created in 1964 by Dr Badrinarayan R. Barwale and has become a pioneer and leader in the Indian seed industry. It works on plant genetic research and production of quality seeds for the farming community. Currently, it is engaged in the research, production, processing and marketing of approximately 115 products in 30 crop species including cereals, oilseeds, fibre and vegetables.