International Rice Research Institute (Irri-Philippines), is developing new biotechnology rice varieties, including Golden Rice, which will improve rice quality in an environmentally-sustainable way and will help rice farmers of the world to increase crop yields.
Golden Rice contains beta-carotene, a source of Vitamin-A.
The institute is developing these new varieties with the support of its public and private sectors partners.
The new varieties will also.
"World needs eight to 10 million tons of more rice each year (an extra 1.5 per cent per year) to meet the growing population's needs at an affordable price.
Research of the Irri in this regard benefits rice consumers and farmers world-wide, particularly those in Asia, where 90 per cent of rice is produced and consumed."
This was highlighted during presentations made by scientists of Irri at a seminar, which was a part of the '6th Pan-Asia Farmers Exchange Programme', arranged by CropLife Asia and Biotech Coalition of the Philippines during the last week of March.
Objective of this annual programme, being held for the past six years, is to create awareness among farmers and other stakeholders about benefits of genetically-modified (GM) crops.
During the visit, participants hailing from nine countries were briefed about the work being done by the Irri.
They were also informed that different countries are using biotechnology to meet their specific needs.
According to the speakers, only biotech crops can cater to the needs of a growing world population.
During visit to a local university, the participants were told that the university is working on BT Papaya and BT Brinjal, which offer resistance to different diseases and in turn increases the yields of both the crops.
Speaking during the sessions, Ms Bita Avendano, Ms Cornita Guerta and Dr Parminder Virk shared Irri's research and development activities.
They said that Golden Rice will help overcome Vitamin-A deficiency, especially Asia, where rice is a major source of food.
Irri scientists said that more than 67,000 children die every year because of Vitamin-A deficiency while this deficiency is also causing night blindness among children and women, besides many other issues.
Fortunately Pakistan falls in an area where Vitamin-A deficiency is moderate because of high consumption of meat and vegetables, scientists pointed out during a presentation.
They said IRRI was working on introducing Golden Rice and its field tests are underway and hoped to get it approved for commercial plantation in the next two years.
However, this is not a long-grain variety, said Dr Parminder Virk while replying to questions of farmers from Pakistan and India.
To meet the growing demand of rice and keeping in mind the challenges like water scarcity and climate change, the scientists said, the world needs varieties that are resistant to drought, salt, flood, insect pests and diseases and this can only be made possible by using the latest technology (biotechnology).
"Irri has already released a rice variety tolerant to submergence in India and Philippines and will be releasing the same in Nepal soon," the scientists said.
The participants also visited two BT corn fields being supported by two different companies dealing in GM crops to witness the benefits of this corn crop.
They were informed that GM corn is also known as 'vaccinated corn' in the Philippines because it offers resistance to various insect pests besides having other qualities.
Mang Melan, a corn farmer for almost 18 years, shared his experience of Bt corn.
He said that after starting sowing BT corn, he has managed to improve yield, saying that GM corn has given him peace of mind because he knows that now different insects and pests will not be able to cause damage to his crop.
He said that he has improved corn production from 6,000 tons to 9,000 tons per acre by using GM corn.
He attributed this increase in yield through the use of improved high yielding varieties, corn borer protected (Yieldgard or BT technology) and better farming technologies like row and plant spacing, right timings and rate of fertiliser application, water and weed management.