Drought is ravaging Italy’s risotto rice – could biotech help?

Record heat and drought are hitting crops and food supply in the U.S. and around the world – and the latest victim is the rice crop in Italy.

The bleak picture Corriere della Sera presented shows Italy’s worst drought in the last seven decades is drying up rice flats where premium risotto rice, Arborio, has been grown for centuries.

“Because there is no more water in the fields, we seriously risk not having risotto on the table next year,” locals warn.

Due to the limited precipitation and above-average temperatures, the hydrometric level of Po, Italy’s largest river, dropped to -3.7 meters at Ponte della Becca, near Pavia, where last June was a meter taller, shows the data from Coldiretti, Italy’s largest agriculture union. 

An emergency was declared in five northern regions of Italy due to drought affecting “30-40% percent of the seasonal harvest and half the livestock farming in the Po Valley,” reported VOA.

Heat and drought will harm food security

As the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) explained, as quoted by the AP, “drought stress is the most damaging factor for rice, especially in the early stages of its growth.”

Ongoing food supply challenges will only get worse around the world, including in the U.S., if we don’t address climate change, warns the FAO.

“Climate change is indeed exacerbating drought in many parts of the world, increasing its frequency, severity, and duration,” says FAO.

Biotech can help mitigate climate change

Stefano Greppi, President of Coldiretti Pavia, stressed that “it has to rain since there is no plan B.”

However, there is a plan B – biotechnology, that is.

In the short term, gene editing can make crops more resilient, producing drought-resistant rice (and other crops as we’ve previously written). As an added bonus, gene editing can also improve the nutrition of rice.

In the long term, biotech solutions can help us mitigate climate change, especially by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and reducing the footprint of manufacturing and agriculture, a recent Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) report has detailed.

“To meet the challenge of climate change, and foster resiliency and sustainability throughout the agricultural value chain, it is crucial to lead with science and U.S. innovation,” said BIO President and CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath in STAT News.

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