The 2014 SFIAR award for the best PhD/post-doc project, endowed with CHF 5,000 prize money, goes to Dr. Gurbir S. Bhullar for his project entitled "A novel cropping system for climate-neutral and bio-diverse rice farming". Bhullar was engaged in research at ETH Zurich until 2013 and now works in the Department of International Cooperation of FiBL.
In order to feed a growing global population, rice farmers must increase their production. This, however, is problematic for the global climate: flooded paddy fields are one of the most significant sources of the greenhouse gas methane. In response to this conflict of interests, Dr Bhullar investigated new, less climate-damaging cultivation methods for rice, while he was still working at ETH.
He established the potential of certain aquatic plants to reduce methane emissions from soil. According to a media release by SFIAR, Dr Bhullar demonstrated that a larger diversity of plants reduces greenhouse emissions from paddy fields. He also identified which aquatic plants are generally suitable for co-cultivation with rice. Finally, he proved that certain aquatic plants could halve methane emissions from rice cultivation without adversely affecting rice production. These results open interesting perspectives for rural development in rice-growing regions. The co-cultivation of rice and aquatic plants would not only have a positive effect on the climate and biodiversity but would also contribute to improved nutrition for the farmers and create new income-generating opportunities.
sfiar.ch: Website SFIAR award