Thursday, April 23, 2015

BMGF lauds STRASA for speeding up the process of bringing new rice varieties to farmers in South Asia

By Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

Gary Atlin, senior program officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, cited the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project for reinventing the process of varietal release and dissemination. 

“STRASA has been a flagship program for the Gates Foundation for the past 8 years,” said Dr. Atlin during the first year review of the project’s 3rd Phase. “It has the strongest abiotic pipeline development process in the world.” STRASA is the best investment that BMGF has made, he added.

“STRASA’s partnership with the national programs in eastern India made great progress through the years,” said Dr. J.S. Sandhu, deputy director general (Crop Sciences) at ICAR during the plenary session on 21 April. “Climate change is the biggest challenge we face but it is a good time now to move on and face these challenges in partnership with STRASA and the BMGF.” Climate change is expected to aggravate droughts, floods, and soil salinity.  

Concurrent sessions on the project’s four major objectives evaluated progress since the launching of phase 3 in 2014. The networks for each objective—Drought, Submergence, Salinity, and Seed Tracking and Dissemination—presented reports and reviews on their activities with partners including national research institutions and non-government organizations (NGOs). One of the activities is increasing awareness and use of stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs) by farmers, especially marginalized women and farmers in remote areas. They also reported on how state governments and private companies are continuously becoming active partners in STRV dissemination and commercialization.

The Drought Breeding Network (DBN), the Eastern Indian Rainfed Lowland Shuttle Breeding Network (EIRLSBN), and the Salinity Tolerance Breeding Network (STBN) have been key movers in the development, evaluation and commercial release of drought-tolerant varieties, Sahbhagi Dhan, CR Dhan 201, 202, 204, and 205; submergence-tolerant varieties, Swarna-Sub1, Samba-Sub1 (Samba Mahsuri), CR1009-Sub1, and Rajdeep; and salt-tolerant varieties CSR43, CR-Dhan 405 and 406, and Gozaba 5, respectively. 

Other major research institutions under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), such as the Central Rice Research Institute, Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, and the Directorate for Rice Research, in partnership with major state agricultural universities, also contributed to the release and commercialization of STRVs last year, particularly, DRR Dhan 42, 43, and 44 and Tripura Khara Dhan 1 and 2, Tripura Hakuchuk 1 and 2, and Tripura Aus Dhan, all drought-tolerant varieties. 

Reports on progress of rice varieties tolerant to multiple abiotic stresses (submergence + salinity or drought + submergence) indicated these varieties are currently being evaluated in multi-environmental trial (MET) sites. Issues on MET protocols and procedures for consolidation in each network were a major focus in these sessions. 

Farmer partners gave their testimonies on the benefits gained in planting STRVs, particularly, the flood-tolerant Swarna-Sub1 and the drought-tolerant Sahbhagi Dhan. 

Mr. Anand Kumar Singh, a farmer from Bihar, who planted Swarna-Sub1, narrated, "I was the only one to have a harvest after flooding hit our rice fields. Since then, I have not stopped planting Swarna-Sub1 and have shared my success story with more than 400 farmers."

The first year review of phase 3 of the STRASA project  was held from 19 to 22 April. Highlighting the plenary was a brainstorming discussion on the way forward for STRASA, focusing on the challenges and opportunities in the rainfed lowlands.

Capping the activity were joint meetings of STRASA-associated projects under European Commission-International Fund for Agricultural Development, National Food Security Mission, Improved Rice-based Rainfed Agricultural Systems, and the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative. A special information/training session was conducted for breeders by Eero Nissila, head, Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Marco Karkkainen on the new Breeding for Rice (B4R) software being developed by IRRI. 

About 150 participants attended the event.  

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