Drought is the major constraint to rice production in rainfed areas across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Frequent droughts result in enormous economic losses and have long-term destabilizing socioeconomic effects on resource-poor farmers and communities. In the context of current and predicted water scarcity scenarios, irrigation is generally not a viable option to alleviate drought problems in the rainfed rice-growing systems. It is therefore critical that genetic management strategies of drought focus on maximum extraction of available soil moisture and its efficient use in crop establishment, growth, and maximum biomass and seed yield. Drought mitigation, through improved drought-resistant rice varieties and complementary management practices, represents an important exit pathway from poverty.
Recent advances in drought physiology and genetics together with progress in cereal functional genomics have set the stage for an initiative focusing on the genetic enhancement of drought resistance in rice. Extensive genetic variation for drought resistance exists in the rice germplasm. However, the current challenge is to decipher the complexities of drought resistance in rice and exploit all available genetic resources to produce rice varieties combining drought adaptation with high yield potential, quality, and tolerance of biotic stresses. The aim will be to develop a pipeline for elite \"prebred\" varieties or hybrids in which drought-resistance genes can be effectively delivered to rice farmers. The Frontier Project on Drought-Resistant Rice will scale up gene detection and delivery for use in marker-aided breeding. The development of high-throughput, high-precision phenotyping systems will allow genes for component traits to be efficiently mapped, and their effects assessed on a range of drought-related traits, moving the most promising into widely grown rice mega-varieties.
In: Drought frontiers in rice – Crop improvement for increased rainfed production (Serraj R, Bennett J and Hardy B, eds). World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, pp 385–400 (DOI: 10.1142/9789814280013_0022). ISBN: 978-981-4280-00-6