Brazilian rice needs to toughen up for a dry future

Brazilian rice needs to toughen up for a dry future

Climate change has the potential to flip our world upside down. There’s a rising concern about how future climate change will affect crops and the livelihoods of millions of people.

Confronting those future changes means assessing the problem before it happens and doing what’s necessary to prevent it.

A team of scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the University of Leeds (U.K.), conducted a study assessing the impact of climate change on upland rice in Brazil and its implications on rice breeding.

The research focused on central Brazilian states – Goiás, Rondônia, Mato Grosso, and Tocantins – which are some of the world’s largest upland rice-growing areas.


The importance of rice

Rice is one of the most important food crops in the world. Globally, around 4 billion people consume it; in low- and middle-income countries, the crop provides 27 percent of calories.

As per projections, demand for rice around the world will continue to increase over coming decades. This is due to continued population and income growth.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil is the largest producer and consumer of rice. The average annual rice consumption varies from 15 to 90 kg among the Brazilian states.

Brazil produces both irrigated and upland rice. The latter, unlike the former, relies solely on rainfall. Land dedicated to upland rice accounts for nearly two-thirds of the country’s rice-growing areas.

“Rice likes water,” says Dr. Cecile Grenier, rice breeder and geneticist at CIAT and CIRAD. “If you talk about upland rice, well, you don’t need to have the irrigation, but you need to have a good rainfall pattern. So it’s good to have enough rain and good soil quality and sun.”

Climate change, as per studies, poses a risk on farming, affecting overall farm productivity and food security. As such, farmers and rice breeders need to take action now to help avert possible damage from climate change in the future.

Climate change and implications on rice breeding

The joint study by CIAT scientists et al looked at the current rice breeding strategy of EMBRAPA.

In general, breeding aims to improve crops so they, for instance, can produce higher yields, better adapt to environments, and be resistant to pests and diseases, among other things.

At EMBRAPA, there are two breeding programs. One that strives to increase grain yield; and the other, which the organization launched in 2004, that focuses on breeding for drought tolerance.

The study team constructed scenarios for rice growth under future climate conditions to understand what climate change means for Brazilian upland rice. The findings provide guidance to rice breeders on how to adjust their methods.

Results from the simulation models show increases in temperature and decreases in precipitation throughout the four central Brazilian states. They suggest that Embrapa shift its focus from breeding only for optimal conditions to breeding rice that can adapt and respond well to drought conditions.


“The success in the process of breeding new varieties depends on how well you know what you are breeding for. Our study gives breeders critical information as to the types of drought that they need to prepare for in the coming decades.”

Dr. Julian Ramirez-Villegas

Climate impacts scientist , CIAT

As a result of this investigation, CIAT is doing similar studies in Colombia to identify the effects of climate change for beans and the implications they have on the Center’s bean breeding program, according to Ramirez-Villegas.


This research was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the CGIAR Research Program on RICE.

Find the paper here