While global outlook for rice production is adequate as of today, complacency of policy-makers worldwide in terms of making enough investments in agriculture has led to resurfacing of old diseases in addition to new ones threatening the gains made in this field in the past, according to R S Zeigler, director general of the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Addressing the annual rice research group meeting held by Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) here on Saturday, Zeigler said investments in agriculture were far too low and needed to be doubled in the next couple of decades to maintain what the global community had achieved so far in terms of food security.
As future poses more challenges with less land to cultivate and less number of people inclined to take up agriculture as an occupation besides adverse climatic changes, the governments and scientific community needs to focus on new strategies to raise food production, he said.
According to him, the country needs to transform agriculture while tackling productivity issues and wastage of human capital. “Emergence of new diseases and resurfacing of old diseases suggest that we are slipping. Many gains are at risk. Punjab and Haryana will not continue to produce rice as they did in the past. Therefore, the country needs to focus on eastern India, which has abundant water to produce more rice.”
The IRRI is spearheading a global alliance in association with other international rice research organisations to increase rice production and India is a major partner in that endeavour. With climatic changes playing havoc through floods and droughts, developing new rice varieties that can withstand submergence and drought conditions at the same time will help sustain production, he said. The new varieties are due to be released in the next couple of years.
He said India made a tremendous progress in producing flood tolerant rice varieties that could withstand submergence up to 2 weeks. These were expected to be cultivated by a million farmers in the country soon.
On the controversies surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops, Zeigler said branding the GM crops, including Bt cotton, as harmful to humans and environment was completely unfounded. They are not only not harmful but also helpful to environment with fewer pesticides being sprayed, besides improving the incomes of farmers, he said.
On the progress of the Golden Rice variety, which was developed with a combination of genetic modifications and breeding methods, he said it was expected to be released in the next couple of years first in Philippines followed by Bangladesh. Golden Rice contains beta carotin that provides the much-needed Vitamin A.
Look East Policy
Swapan K Datta, deputy director general (Crop Sciences) — Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), said a high-level team, including secretary, agriculture and the Government of India, would be visiting eastern India to chalk out steps to tap the huge potential that Bihar, West Bengal and other eastern states have in increasing rice production. This shift in focus on water-rich parts of the country had become necessary as northern parts have been witnessing increasing water scarcity in recent years, he said.
The country is expected to touch the targeted production of 90 million tonne rice this year and hopes to achieve the target of 100 million tonne next year. India’s rice production was estimated at 85 million tonne last year. The Twelfth Five Year Plan will focus on water management, bio fortification, promotion of monsoon independent rice among other things, according to Datta.