An ambitious project to provide struggling Asian farmers with a more-resilient crop has seen a Wagga glasshouse transformed into a hot, humid recreation of a Vietnamese rice field.
For the past five months, Dr Brooke Kaveney has been carefully growing quinoa and cowpea in the sweltering glasshouse, curating detailed information on how they react to the conditions.
Dr Kaveney, a post-doctoral research fellow at Charles Sturt University, said the aim of the project is to see if the crops could be an alternative for rice growers in southern Vietnam who have had their crops decimated by salt water travelling up the Mekong River.
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"In 2016 and 2020 there were very bad droughts and they had massive losses of rice, including up to 50 and 70 per cent losses in areas where rice is a lot of people's sole income," Dr Kaveney said.
"It has had a substantial impact on a lot of people's lives and we're trying to find alternative crops that can be grown in these condirions that tolerate salinity and don't use much water."
Quinoa and cowpea are both significantly more water-efficient than rice, but to see if they could be grown in southern Vietnam Dr Kaveney has pumped the glasshouse to 30 degrees each day, filling the room with humidity and maximum light.
"By growing crops that are more water-use efficient, the farmers won't have to use as much water and their crops will be able to tolerate the dry season's saline conditions so that they produce a yeild at the end of the production cycle," she said.
"That way they can sell that product instead of rice and their income and fresh water availability won't be impacted so much."
Dr Kaveney is hoping to finish up this aspect of the project in the next month or two, after which all the data will be collated and examined.
The study will then potentially be brought out onto the field in Vietnam.
The project has been funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research through Charles Sturt University.
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