Thursday, June 23, 2016

India agriculture officials look to IRRI technologies for improving food security

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – “IRRI has an important role in food security and in ensuring that rice production is sufficient in India,” said  Ashok Dalwai, additional secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers' Welfare.

“We are interested in raising our productivity to meet the increasing demand of food and nutrition security of the population,” Dalwai said when he and a team of senior agriculture officials (photo) visited IRRI headquarters on 22 June. “We are here to study the latest research and technologies in terms of varietal development, production strategies, as well as postproduction and storage technologies. 

We are keen on understanding these technologies and adopt them in India. The country produces 21% of the world’s rice, according to Dalwai. But the official said rice production must be increased in eastern India where some of the areas are low-lying rainfed areas. Currently, rice yields in these areas are low--about 1.8 to 2.2 tons per hectare. If the country could increase yield in eastern India to 4 tons per hectare, these areas can help secure the food requirements of  a hundred million people in India.

“Climate change is a reality,” said  Dalwai. He mentioned that growing seasons are already unpredictable and farmers are the ones most affected by climate change. Climate change makes agriculture a risky business. "With 49% of the population (14 million farm households) depending on agriculture, the government is doing its best to support the people through welfare, such as subsidizing crop insurance for farmers," he said

With the increasing purchasing power of the Indian population, consumer demand for high-value crops, such as fruits, vegetables, and pulses, is also rising. Farmers in Punjab, an important area for rice, production, are responding to this demand.

“There is a need to grow rice in ‘lesser areas’ such as Assam, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh,” said Dalwai. Thus, the government has been promoting Bringing the Green Revolution in Eastern India (BGREI) program over the past few years. BGREI includes introducing a rice-based cropping system to increase production through planting resilient and stress-tolerant varieties in rainfed areas in eastern India.

In relation to this, R.K. Singh, IRRI plant breeder, discussed climate-smart rice varieties that can withstand drought, salinity, and flooding—problems exacerbated by climate change. These varieties are now distributed under the projectm Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA).  Singh reported on how these varieties were able to save the livelihoods of millions of farmers in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

“These stress-tolerant varieties are like crop insurance,” said Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director for communication and partnerships. “Now these varieties are already reaching 12 million farmers in South and Southeast Asia.” He also presented the latest developments in the C4 Rice project, a 15- to 20-year research effort that aims to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis in rice by 30–50%, and recent developments in high-zinc and high-iron rice as the institute’s response to creating a healthier staple.

Aside from developing improved varieties, Tolentino mentioned some of IRRI’s best bets when it comes to improved practices such as the alternate wetting and drying technology that can help farmers save water by as much as 30%. The Rice Crop Manager (RCM) was also featured during his presentation. RCM is an communication tool that helps farmers decide how to manage their rice crops better.

The senior officials also met with Martin Gummert (at right in photo), IRRI’s postharvest expert. Gummert showed the senior officials postharvest technologies such as the Super Bag, the solar bubble dryers, among other others and storage technologies that reduce losses. 

“The losses on account of poor storage, poor processing, and poor transportation are very substantive,” said Dalwai. "About 10% of the country's cereal production is lost because of this. It equals about 10.5 million tons of milled rice, which could feed more than 100 million people in India annually.

In general, the senior officials were impressed with the presentation of technologies. They acknowledged IRRI as a premier rice research center for the last 50 years. They are looking forward to further collaboration with IRRI. “There can be further collaboration between IRRI and research institutes in India, which has a good agricultural research infrastructure,” Dalwai added.

Aside from Secretary Dalwai, the Indian delegation included Subashish Panda, joint secretary, Ministry of Food; Deepak Kumar, joint secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution;  Dr. S.K. Malhotra, agriculture commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare; and A.P. Singh, additional commissioner on agricultural production.

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