Salinity intrusion on rice crop

Rice is a staple food for more than half of all people worldwide. But in many regions, rising temperatures and more extreme weather are making it harder to grow rice.

For example, in the coastal wetlands of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, droughts are becoming more frequent.

When there’s not enough freshwater flowing down the Mekong River, more salt water from the South China Sea washes into coastal waterways. It ends up on fields and in soil, where it can devastate rice crops.

Bjoern Ole Sander of the International Rice Research Institute says that in 2016, during a very hot, dry period …

Sander: “We had much higher levels of salinity in the water and that strongly impacted rice production.”

It’s a problem that will only get worse as rising seas push even more salt water inland.

So to help farmers cope, Sander’s organization is breeding new varieties of rice …

Sander: “… that are more tolerant to certain stresses like salinity stress or drought stress or heat stress.”

Other rice farmers have switched to raising shrimp, which can handle the saltier conditions.

So as the climate warms, farmers around the world will likely need to change how – or what – they farm.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image credit: IRRI video.

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...