When talking about agriculture, year 2030 is closer than it seems, especially when rice production is at risk in a country such as Colombia, where only in 2014, 1,758,739 tons were harvested and per-capita consumption reached 39.62 kg a year.
Among the effects associated with climate change, there is changing rainfall patterns and reduced water availability, a natural resource in high demand when growing irrigated rice. This, along with the commitment to reducing 20% of GHG emissions by 2030 that Colombia made during the last Conference of the Parties (COP21) held in Paris in December 2015, make it even more imperative to find alternatives that are sustainable for producers as well as the environment.
The use of alternate wetting and drying (AWD) technology developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) – which involves drying the fields periodically and then flooding them to their optimum water level – seems to be the answer to this complex challenge, as it helps using water more efficiently, reducing GHG emissions, and lowering costs for farmers who use pump irrigation, while maintaining high production yields.
The identification of priority areas for the application of AWD technology is among the outcomes and consequences of the implementation of the first phase of the rice component of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in Colombia, completed in December 2015, with the support of the National Federation of Rice Producers (FEDEARROZ), the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR), the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MADS), the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR), and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) led by CIAT, since there is a shortage of water during the sowing season in those areas.
“For the first six months of the year, we have identified optimal areas with moderate and high levels in the North Coast and the Central zone. This means that the AWD technology may be applied. Then, on the second half of the year, it may be applied in the Lower Cauca Basin, North Coast and Eastern Plains,” explains Ngonidzashe Chirinda, agroecologist of CIAT’s Soils research area.
The identification is the result of the data collected by FEDEARROZ, through the National Rice Survey (ENA, for its Spanish acronym), climate information collected from different sources for the period 1951–2011, and soil texture maps prepared by CIAT researchers.
The spatial and temporal dynamics still need to be analyzed under climate variability scenarios, such as the El Niño phenomenon and a longer term projection (2030). It is for this reason, and due to factors like the incidence of climate variability, that researchers are currently focusing on the validation of this technology in Colombia, by measuring levels of methane emissions in the field and crop yields, in order to ensure that productivity is not affected.
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The team of researchers to which Chirinda belongs is interested in harnessing the application of this technology and the outcomes of its usage to determine Colombia’s emission factor, which would be the basis to develop the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) for the rice sector, which would feed into the livestock NAMA. This aims to help the country meet the commitment made at COP21 to reducing 20% of GHG emissions by 2030.