Aug 4, 2009

Paddy that survives the floods

I am sure you have heard it again and again. Agricultural scientists are developing crop varieties that are resistant to drought and also resistant to floods. These varieties are being developed by transferring a gene from such naturally available varieties into the high-yielding varieties, and the scientists are giving an impression as if they have actually invented these drought-resistant or flood-resistant varieties.

I have always wondered why can't these scientists search, conserve and preserve the naturally ocurring crop varieties that are either resistant to floods or drought or for that matter can be grown successfully in saline soils. Once you have identified such varieties, it is not difficult to select the promising ones and promote them in the environment to which they belong. For instance, some of my colleagues have already identified more than a dozen rice varieties that are suitable for the flood prone regions of the northeast. Similarly, there are numerable rice varieties available that are resistant to drought, and I know a number of groups/farmers who have such varieties in the traditional gene banks or in in situ conservation.

After Tsunami had struck the coastal belt of Tamil Nadu, scientists were amazed at the performance of at least two rice varieties that resisted the intrusion of salt water.

Deep water rice, for instance, was an area of specialisation at the International Rice Research Institute, Los Banos, in the Philippines. I remember how much importance IRRI gave to deep water rice (and also upland rice) in the 1980s and 1990s. But instead of conserving and developing the traditional deep water rices, I am amazed at the shift in IRRI research focus on transferring genes from these varieties into the HYVs. This only shows that scientists have little to do nowadays and are looking for such unwanted research focus so as to justify the research investment.

On such discovery is the Sub1 gene from the Indian rice accession FR13A. This gene has been transferred into some of the popular rice varieties not only in India but also in other Asian countries. The National Seed Industry Council of the Philippines has approved its 'first flood-resistant variety' (see the report: http://greenbio.checkbiotech.org/news/first_flood_tolerant_rice_variety_approved_rp_use).
In India, the gene has been transferred into Swarna, a popular HYV. Scientists claim that Swarna can survive 10 days of complete submergence in water at the vegetative stage.

I wonder whether scientists have ever seen traditional flood-resistant varieties in the Sunderbans Delta region? Claims about production potential notwithstanding, these varieties have fared well over centuries. As far as the production claims are concerned, much of it is simply an exaggeration. I challenge agricultural scientists to show me when were they able to achieve the production figures they claim. None of the universities/agriculture institutes have been able to replicate the production potential claims. The reason is obvious. These figures are based on a small test plot, and the crop harvested is then transpolated to a hectare. You get production figures which are not based on actual yields in bigger fields.   

But not all is lost. There are NGOs and farmers in India who are trying to preserve the ancient wisdom, and conserving these excellent rice varieties that nature has provided. As a nation we need to appreciate and applaud such efforts. I am so delighted to read an article in today's edition of Deccan Herald on deep water rice, and the credit must go to the writer Anitha Reddy. Not many journalists and writers nowadays are keen to write on such topics, and I therefore extend my gratitude to Anitha Reddy for bringing this to public attention. Thank you once again.

Paddy that survives the flood
Anitha Reddy

In an era when yield performance of crops is the only factor taken into consideration, Varada basin farmers are striving to conserve strains that they have inherited and retained over four decades, writes Anitha Reddy

Farmers in the Varada river belt have adapted to the fury of the river that flows in Sagar, Soraba and Sirsi taluks. The rivulet, which takes birth at Sagar, flows through Sirsi and Soraba for about 11 kms before joining the Tungabhadra. During its short journey, the Varada wreaks havoc and destroys thousands of acres of paddy fields when continuous rain swells the waterways. This puts at risk at least 30,000 people in 25 villages depending on it.


Flooding is an annual phenomenon here. However, it does not mean that farmers do not grow anything during the flood. They possess a unique wealth that enables them to grow paddy even in flooded conditions, and the varieties of rice can subsist deep standing water for a long period.


Now, while scientists are pondering over developing submergence-tolerant varieties of paddy, farmers around Sirsi, Sagar and Soraba taluks are much ahead of them when it comes to cultivating flood-resistant varieties.


“Flooding is a common phenomenon here. Every year, there is flooding and farmers have adapted to it. At a time when agriculture by itself is considered a tough occupation, farmers have found a way out by cultivating some of these rare varieties,” says Raghunandana Bhat, a resident of Banavasi.


Remarkable diversity


Over centuries, farmers in the region have carefully developed and preserved varieties that can survive when their lifeline, the river Varada, invades their fields. These flood-resistant varieties hold a significant place in the biodiversity of the area.


The Varada basin is home to deepwater rice varieties like Nereguli, Karibatha, Sannavaalya, Karijaddu, Kani Somasale, Jenugoodu, Nettibatha, Kari kantaka, Edi kuni, and Karekal Dadiga.


The most popular among these varieties is Nereguli, which has proved to be the best deepwater variety for years. It is liked for its vigour, taste and health quotient. This variety is organically grown using traditional methods and is highly nutritious and in great demand, in Kerala and Goa.

Read the full report at http://www.deccanherald.com/content/17595/paddy-survives-flood.html

1 comment:

vikramvgarg said...

There was an article in the BBC about a drought resistant paddy in Jharkhand. It wasnt immediately clear from the piece how much local knowledge and co-operation was sought in the development of the paddy, but that is definitely something we need to encourage.