Stress-tolerant rice builds resilience in Myanmar

Rice is the center of many lives in Myanmar, where the grain is both a food staple and a vital part of the economy.

But natural disasters can wreak havoc on rice crops — and lives — especially in the coastal communities along the Bay of Bengal. Relief International is working with these communities to introduce stress-tolerant seeds and new farming technologies that will allow them to rebound more quickly from natural disasters. Launched in 2014, the three-year project aims to reduce crop loss by giving communities the tools and knowledge to choose rice seeds that are better suited to disaster prone environments. The project is funded by USAID through the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Roughly 22 million people work in lowland rice production in the coastal regions of Rakhine and Ayeyarwaddy, where storms and other events put them at risk of hunger and job loss. Cyclones can devastate millions of acres by contaminating crops with saltwater, ultimately killing them. Seasonal monsoon rains can deliver massive floods that submerge fields for weeks, drowning the crop. A weak monsoon will starve the crops with drought. Climate change also threatens to continue and intensify these events.

Relief International’s program engages the community in growing and choosing different flood- and salt-resistant rice varieties to ensure that farmers get the ones best suited to their needs and the local environment. In one example, a local farmer was given 11 different seed varieties to grow. Farmers from the surrounding area were invited to monitor crop growth and hardiness, and even to offer opinions on taste and texture. At the end of the growing season, the farmers all voted to select the variety that best met their farming needs.

Once a community selects a variety, RI distributes seed and provides training to farmers on production, distribution and harvesting techniques. Local staff also manage the project’s continued success, ensuring a steady supply of both food and jobs for coastal Myanmar’s economy.