Over the past two decades, Bangladesh, with its low-lying river delta and lengthy coastline, has been listed among the top ten countries most affected by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. Two-thirds of the country lies below sea level and is highly prone to ever-intensifying floods, cyclones, storms, droughts and landslides. As the effects of global warming become more pronounced, they expose crops’ vulnerability to extreme weather and pose a growing threat to the food and nutrition security of Bangladeshis, almost 40 per cent of whom work in agriculture, according to the International Labour Organization.
Nuclear science and technology offer the means to improve the productivity of agriculture while also increasing its resilience to climate change. Through a nuclear technique known as plant mutation breeding, Bangladeshi specialists have developed improved varieties of crops, including rice, chickpea, mung bean, lentil and soybean.
“Natural hazards that come from the increased rainfall, rising sea levels and tropical cyclones are expected to increase as the climate changes, seriously affecting agriculture, water and food security,” said Mohammad Abul Kalam Azad from the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA). “Using plant mutation breeding, we can produce crop varieties that are more resistant to drought, salinity, high and low temperatures, plant diseases and pests, and offer higher yields with shorter growing times.”
BINA has successfully produced a total of 85 types of different crops, including an improved variety of rice called Binadhan-14, developed in record time. While it typically takes 8 to 12 years to produce a new variety, the Bangladeshi experts completed the task within just 4 years. Binadhan-14 was developed through an innovative technique in which experts used an ion beam rather than gamma rays or X-rays, as is usually the case.
Thanks to the new variety, farmers now harvest almost seven tonnes of rice per hectare — 75 per cent more than the world’s average yield per hectare. While rice normally takes between 100 and 160 days to grow, depending on the variety, Binadhan-14 is at the lower end of this spectrum; it is harvested just within 105 to 115 days after sowing. While the optimum temperature for rice cultivation is between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius, Binadhan-14 is tolerant to temperatures as high as 38 degrees, Azad explained.
Bangladesh is the world’s fourth largest producer and consumer of rice, and the new varieties adapted to the changing climate are set to help feed the country’s 165 million people, almost a third of whom are moderately or severely food insecure, according to a 2022 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Thanks to plant mutation breeding, rice production in Bangladesh has tripled in recent years.