The country has to unlock the potential of non-conventional methods, including new hybrid variety seeds, genetically modified crops and effective crop management system, to meet the future foodgrain requirements, said Padma Shri EA Siddiq, former vice chancellor of agri-research body ANGRAU.
"With the climate change already costing farmers with decreasing crop yields (up to 10 per cent) and new crop land constraints, efforts should be made to develop hybrid varieties that can withstand physical stresses, including water submergence during severe monsoon, drought and high salinity," said Siddiq, who is now honorary director of Institute of Biotechnology, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), Hyderabad.
Supported by the Melinda Gates Foundation, world scientists are re-engineering photosynthesis aspect in C3 cultivated variety of rice to combat the affect of climate change. "The new C4 rice variety would see changes in anatomy, biochemistry, and would see increased yields of up to 50 per cent and improved nitrogen use efficiency," Siddiq said.
The foundation is also helping scientists develop high-yielding Green Super Rice (GSR) suited for tropical countries of Asia.
"Till now, the irrigated area, accounting for only 35 per cent of the total cropped area was acting as an anchor to our claims of higher food production. However, hybrid technology has to be utilised to achieve higher production in the larger rain-fed area," he said.
According to him, we could simply add 30-40 million tonnes (mt) to our foodgrains production by employing hybrid technology varieties in the rain-fed area without bringing additional area into the system.
"In India, we've under-exploited hybrid technology in rice, mustard seed and pigeon pea among others. We have to try crop biotechnology to overcome difficulties that cannot be mitigated by conventional approach," he said.
He said China had already embarked upon a mega project for breeding super rice varieties and hybrids for raising yield in paddy to 15 tonne per hectare. China has employed hybrid varieties of rice in 20 million ha since 1990s, as against India's 2.01 million ha, by taking advantage of parental lines of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines.
The country had to produce around 460 mt of foodgrains by 2050, up from the current 257 mt, he said. India's total food grain production rose from 51 mt in 1950 to 257 mt now. Despite this, around 240 million people in the country do not get proper access to food. To adjust this gap, the country has come up with the Food Security Act to provide foodgrains at subsidised rates.