Secret of India’s rising farm output: It’s all in the genes

Secret of India’s rising farm output: It’s all in the genes
Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 14 2014, 01:47 IST

India’s grain output has risen substantially in recent years, taking the country to the league of the world’s largest producers of rice, wheat and horticultural crops thanks to the use of diverse seed varieties, among other things. And productivity at Indian farms could increase further in coming years thanks to a centrally managed gene bank that would help multiply seed variants. For a country that faced persistently high food inflation for over three years in a row, the enhanced supply of key grains and crops by the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) could be a game-changer.

Located in the heart of Delhi, the national gene bank has meticulously conserved more than 4 lakh accessions (a unique identifier given to a protein sequence) of various food and horticultural crops, which are continuously being used by the state-owned breeder for developing new seed varieties that deal with changes in weather patterns. At present, the bank has the capacity to preserve around 7.5 lakh accessions.

The gene bank managed by NBPGR, which operates under ministry of agriculture, is considered the world’s third-largest in terms of genetic wealth, after China and the US. Germplasms or genetic resources of an organism include those of endangered species, traditional seed varieties and parents of hybrids.

KC Bansal, director, NBPGR, told FE that out of total collection of germplasms, about 35% belong to only paddy (close to 1 lakh accessions) and wheat (more than 40,000 accessions) varieties. The balance genes include those of vegetables (24,000), oilseeds (55,000) and pulses (50,000).

“We have collected genes of around 1,500 crop species, including ornamental, oilseed and medicinal plants. But those which are critical to food and nutritional security will be around 15-20 only. Our mandate is not only to conserve genes but also to utilise them for maintaining food security or nutritional security,” Bansal said.

India’s grain production rose from 218 million tonnes in 2009-10 to 255 million tonnes in 2012-13.

For long-term conservation, the germplasm or sample seeds are kept at a temperature of -18 to -20 degrees Celsius. For medium-term storage, the underground gene bank keeps a temperature of -8 to -10 degrees. For conservation of horticultural crops, the gene is saved in the form of tissue culture.

“We monitor the viability of genes after 10 years in the long term and five years in the medium term,” Bansal said.

The bureau has prioritised 15 categories, including rice, wheat, maize, pearl millet, finger millet, chickpea, mustard, okra, brinjal and mango, for gene preservation initiatives.

At present, as per regulations, the germplasms held with the gene bank is only shared with state-owned research institutes.

“Our vast germplasm resources help us in developing new varieties of seeds which have helped millions of farmers in increasing their income,” said KV Prabhu, deputy director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), a premier institute under the ministry of agriculture.

NBPGR had started the exercise of collecting germplasms since 1976-77 from all over the country. However, in 1996-97, the institute collected the highest number of germplasms (close to 1 lakh) under a mission-mode programme.

Meanwhile, the gene bank has identified core genes out of its stocks of germplasms which would help in development of new varieties of wheat, rice and vegetables which would withstand climatic variations.

Sources said the new wheat varieties developed through identifying around 2,000 core genes from 40,000 accessions are currently being field tested in hotspots such as Gurdaspur (Punjab), Cooch Behar (West Bengal) and Issapur farm (Delhi) prior to transferring them to the state-owned breeder.

India is a signatory to the the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a global agreement in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity that aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

Heat-resistant mustard debuts in southern India

Heat-resistant mustard debuts in southern India

Sandip Das | New Delhi, Jan 4: 2014

Traditionally grown in Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, the heat and drought-tolerant mustard varieties developed by public sector institutions in the last few years have made a debut in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the current rabi, or winter season.

The two heat-resistant varieties, Pusa 21 & 29, developed by Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), an institute under the ministry of agriculture, has been sown on trial basis in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka this season.

The two mustard varieties possess not only ability to withstand higher temperatures in October, when sowing usually commences, but also possess low erucic acid, which reduces pungency in the oil and is considered healthy.

“We grew these two heat resistant varieties in our research stations located in Tamil Nadu in the last few years and we hope consumers in southern parts of the country would like the less pungent mustard oil from the varieties grown,” DK Yadava, principal scientist, division of genetics, IARI told FE. IARI mustard varieties have more than 56% share in total breeder seed market.

If the new varieties are accepted by farmers in the southern India, the country’s annual mustard production is expected to rise sharply during next few years, which may reduce dependence on the edible oil import.

The country’s annual mustard production has been in the range of 6.6 million tonne to about 8 million tonne in the last five years.

The production has been sustained mainly due to early sown heat and drought tolerant varieties such as Pusa mustard 25, 27, 28, besides Vijay, Mahak and Agrani developed by IARI.

“Mustard has been largely grown in largely rainfed regions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh because it could be grown with lesser number of irrigation,” Yadava noted.

A senior official with agriculture ministry said average temperature prevalent in the northern India in the month of October has increased by about 2 degree centigrade in the last one decade.

The early sown (September) variety of the crop, mostly developed by IARI and state government-owned institutions, have been helping farmers dealing with rise in temperature.

“Seed varieties developed for dealing with

climactic variations such as salinity, drought and heat have given wider choices to farmers in the northern parts of the country and this could be replicated in the southern India as well,” agriculture ministry official said.

The government has increased minimum support price (MSP)

for mustard to R3,000 per quintal this year from R2,500 per quintal in 2012-13.

The role of mustard in the country’s edible oil sector is vital as it contributes about 20% of total production. The country is self sufficient in mustard production and a smaller quantity is exported.

Most of the country’s mustard oil consumption is based in eastern and northern parts of the country. Besides being used for cooking, mustard oil is used for preparation of hydrogenated fats (vansapati) and the residue (oilmeal) is used for poultry feed.

Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are major mustard producing states. Rajasthan produces 44% of the country’s mustard output. Globally, India accounts for 19% and 11% of the total acreage and production.

India’s Genebank identifies core wheat genes for development of varieties to deal with climate change

India’s gene bank identified core genes which would help in development of new varieties of wheat, rice and vegetables which would withstand climatic variations.

Sandip Das
New Delhi, Jan 1:

Following three years of research, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) has identified core genes which would help in development of new varieties of wheat, rice and vegetables which would withstand climatic variations.

These varieties, identified from the four lakh accessions held with NBPGR or the national gene bank, would help deal with variations in temperatures, rainfall and alternations in climate conditions witnessed during the last few years.

To start with, new wheat varieties developed through identifying around 2000 core genes from 25,000 accessions have been tested in hotspots such as Gurdaspur (Punjab), Cooch Behar (West Bengal) and Issapur farm (Delhi), in a move prior to transferring them to state-owned breeders for multiplication — for seed development purposes. These core genes are capable of capturing various genetic traits available in the bank.

This assumes significance because due to rising demand, the country needs to increase wheat production gradually. In 2012-13, the country produced 92 million tonne of wheat.
However according to an official with Karnal-based Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), fluctuations in temperature and possibility of yellow rust attack pose a challenge for scientists to sustain and increase wheat production at the current level.

“We are evaluating the performance of core genes thro-ugh field trials before transferring it to breeders for further multiplication,” KC Bansal, director, NBPGR, told FE.

The trials in Gurdaspur are focussing on the varieties of the deadly yellow rust which impacts the wheat crop virtually every year. The experimentation at Cooch Behar is focussed on dealing with blight and the gene bank’s own farm at Issapur is working on developing heat tolerant varieties.

The seed breeder with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has been invited to visit the field trial spots for evaluating performance.

Currently, according to regulations, the germplasm held with the gene bank is only shared with state-owned research institutes.

Similar experimentation on developing a core rice gene is also being undertaken by the gene bank Of the total collection of germplasm with the genebank, about 90,000 belongs to rice varieties. Others include wheat (25,000), vegetables (24,000), oilseeds (55,000) and pulses (50,000). The traits of these crops arekept in a genebank in the form of seeds.
NBPGR has collected genes of around 1,500 crop species, including ornamental, oilseeds and medicinal. But the majority of them, which are critical to food and nutritional security, will be around 15-20.

The bureau has prioritised 15 categories, including rice, wheat, maize, pearl millet, finger millet, chick pea, mustard, okra, brinjal and mango, for gene preservation initiatives.
The bank had started the exercise of collecting germplasm in 1976-77 from all over the country. In 1996-97, the premier institute collected the highest number of germplasms (close to one lakh) under a mission-mode programme.

Top agricultural scientists associated with the characterisation drive by the gene bank say the purpose was to help breeders in providing them with large genetic variability which helps in quality seed development.

Climate change to hit yields of India’s rice, wheat & maize, help soyabean, groundnut and potato

India’s agriculture ministry has projected a decline in yield of crops such as rice, wheat, maize and sorghum……increase in output of soyabean, groundnut and potato

Sandip Das

New Delhi, Dec 19:

With wide variations in climatic conditions becoming a frequent phenomenon, the agriculture ministry has projected a decline in yield of crops such as rice, wheat, maize and sorghum. However, it expects output of soybean, groundnut and potato to rise by 2030 and beyond.

Under the ‘National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture’, scientists project that while the yield of rice grown under irrigated areas is likely to decline by 4%, 7% and 10% by 2020, 2050 and 2080, respectively, the yield of maize, which has seen a quantum jump in production in the last few years, would see a sharp fall of 18% by 2020 and 2050, and about 23% by 2080.

“Rainfed rice yield in India is likely to be lower by close to 6% by 2020 but, in 2050 and 2080 scenarios, the output is projected to decrease only marginally,” a report by Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has stated.

“Overall, temperature increases are predicted to reduce rice yields. An increase of 2- 4ºC is predicted to result in a reduction in yields.The eastern regions are predicted to be the most impacted by increased temperatures and decreased radiation, resulting in relatively fewer grain and shorter grain-filling durations,” a scientist with Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), a premier body under the ministry of agriculture, noted.

The country produced 104.4 million tonne (mt) of rice in 2012-13, with around 44 million hectare of land under cultivation. This year, the storm that lashed many districts of Punjab in September and the severe cyclonic storm, Phalin, which hit Orissa and Andhra Pradesh’s coast, impacted paddy cultivation in three states, an agriculture ministry official told FE.

In the case of wheat, the report projects a 6% reduction in irrigated wheat by 2020 from the existing levels.

“Increases in temperature by about 2ºC reduce potential grain yields in most places. Regions with higher potential productivity, such as northern India, were relatively less impacted by climate change than areas withlower potential productivity, such as eastern India,” the study stated. The country produced 92 mt of wheat in 2012-13.

Similarly, for maize, agricultural scientists have projected an 18% reduction in yield of kharif output by 2020 and 2050, and a huge 23% cut by 2080 due to climate change.According to agriculture ministry data, the country produced a record 22 mt maize in 2012-13.

ICAR, which functions under the ministry of agriculture, conducted climate- change impact analysis on crop yields using crop simulation models incorporating future projections for 2020, 2050 and 2080. However, the study projected increases in kharif soybean yield of 8% and 13% by 2030 and 2080, respectively. Even the output of groundnut is projected to increase by 4% and 7% in 2020 and 2050, respectively.

Climate change is likely to benefit potato-growers in Punjab, Haryana and western and central Uttar Pradesh, with 3-7% increase in output by 2030.

To deal with the impact of climate change, agricultural scientists have carried out extensive screening of the germplasms of wheat, rice, maize and pulses for developing drought-, heat- and flood-tolerant varieties of seed, the report noted.

National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) focusses on strategic research on adaptation and mitigation of important grain and horticulture crops, livestock and fisheries, demonstration of best technologies in 100 most vulnerable districts to cope with current climate variability and capacity-building of researchers, planners and farmers.

Weather-based crop cover finds favour with Indian farmers

Sandip Das

New Delhi, Dec 10:

With unpredictable weather conditions, such as erratic rainfall, fluctuations in temperature and changes in relative humidity affecting crop output, the Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) offered by various private and public sector companies is gradually being accepted by farmers seeking protection from crop losses.

The scheme, piloted in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in rabi of 2007, has, for the first time in the country, given farmers a cover against crop losses from adverse weather conditions.

Provided by Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AICI), a company mainly owned by four state-owned general insurance companies and Nabard, the scheme covers more than 35 perennial crops such as apple, citrus fruit, grapes, mango, pomegranate, cashew nut, oil palm etc.

As per AICI data, the weather-based product scheme, when implemented across 13 states in kharif 2012 and 14 states in rabi 2012-13, had insured 35 lakh and 37 lakh farmer, respectively.

“Although the share of weather-based crop insurance scheme amongst farmers opting for output-based insurance cover is small, it has caught on as it’s easier for the states to administer — we need not do a crop-cutting exercise needed for the implementation of national crop insurance policy. What we need to know is the weather condition of a given area during the life cycle of the crop,” PJ Joseph, chairman and managing director of AICI, told FE.

Joseph said new products like weather -based insurance provide protection to cultivators in the event of a loss in crop yields resulting from adverse weather incidences such as unseasonal or excess rainfall, temperature fluctuations, frost, relative humidity etc. “Triggers are broadly fixed so as to capture the adverse incidence of weather parameters on crop yield,” he said.

“Weather based insurance provides risk management tools for farmers to deal with climate change adaptation initiative,” Pramod Aggarwal, regional programme leader, Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) platform, said. CCAFS has been, in collaboration with AICI, promoting the weather-based insurance among farmers.

So far, only about 30 million farmers out of 120 million have been covered under the National Crop Insurance

Scheme, which mainly covers yield losses. About 70% of these are accounted for by farmers who own less than four hectares.

For the national crop insurance scheme, companies provide coverage based on yield, for which historical yields of the crops concerned are taken into consideration while for weather-based insurance, the historical data of yield is not needed.

The Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme (CCIS), introduced in 1985 by the centre in collaboration with state governments, was linked to short-term crop credit, where all loans for notified crops in a specific area were compulsorily covered.

Close to 60 lakh farmers benefited from the CCIS and the majority of claims were paid in states such as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa.

India’s farmers turn ‘climate smart’

Bihar, Haryana farmers turn ‘climate smart’

Sandip Das Nov 26, 2013
New Delhi : Horil Singh, a farmer from Rajapakkar village of Vaishali district in Bihar, has been seeing fluctuations in rainfall pattern and temperature for almost a decade now.This has impacted his paddy and pulse produce to a large extent till a global initiative launched in 2010, to help small farmers in dealing with climate change, helped him in creating vertical drainage systems that let excess rainwater seep quickly back into a natural acquifer.

Vikas Chaudhary, a farmer from Karnal in Haryana, has adopted conservation farming methods such as zero tillage, direct seeding and soil health-based fertiliser application for the last three years.

Farmers like Singh and Chaudhary are being helped under this initiative. Farmers from around 40 villages are being trained through this method and ‘climate smart’ villages are being piloted in Bihar and Haryana.

Many farmers in the two districts of Bihar and Maharashtra have been trained on the usage of technology such as increasing carbon content in the soil through agro forestry, manure management and optimum application of nitrogen through ‘crop sensors device’, which saves cost and keeps in check greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Through collaborative efforts of various international agencies including ministry of agriculture under Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) platforms, hundreds of farmers have been trained on various agronomic practices that save the crop from excessive rains and drought through ‘climate smart’ villages concept.

“With encouraging response for the climate smart villages concept, the programme would be implemented in Maharashtra in a larger scale shortly,” Pramod Aggarwal, Regional Programme Leader, CCAFS told FE

He said the focus of climate smart village programme has been integrating available local knowledge on conservation technique along with global prospective on climate change mitigation. “We want more villages to adopt these techniques,” Aggarwal said.

Agriculture ministry and Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) provide support through various schemes and data on weather to farmers, global agencies are bringing in technical know-how to help farmers impacted by climate change.

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) helps farmers in prioritising adaptation and mitigation options, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has been helping farmers in dealing with water-logging through vertical drains. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is providing inputs on conservation agriculture through precise use of fertiliser.

“The challenges faced by farmers are going to be more pronounced as climate change worsens. Let’s hope that sustainable agricultural practices show promising results and lower costs.,” said Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

Indian govt to pilot climate change mitigation for agri sector in three states

Sandip Das

With recurrent floods, storms and erratic rainfall adversely impacting farmers and agricultural productivity, the government will soon commence pilot programmes in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh for climate change mitigation through district-level contingency plans.

An agriculture ministry official told FE that in the last three years 450 district-level contingency plans have been prepared to save agricultural crops from damage, and promote the usage of varieties of seeds which deal with erratic weather conditions.

“The effectiveness of these contingency plans would be tested through these pilots to be carried out in six districts in three states,” Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) director B Venkateswarlu said. CRIDA is a Hyderabad-based body affiliated with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Initiated by the agriculture ministry through ICAR and the respective state agricultural universities, a complete district dossier has been prepared which is expected to help the administration in dealing with the vagaries of weather for protecting the crop.

During the next one year, contingency plans for 520 districts would be prepared, Venkateswarlu said. The district-specific documents have been prepared in collaboration with state agriculture universities and the dossiers provide steps to deal with weather-related eventualities.

“This is the most comprehensive initiative in dealing with eventualities in case of deficient rainfall and drought conditions across districts,” an agriculture ministry official said.

The official said farmers in coastal Andhra Pradesh and Orissa could manage to save their paddy crop this kharif season from the fury of cyclone-Phailin as they had sown submergence-tolerant varieties. Similarly in Bihar and Jharkhand, paddy nurseries were grown in a staggered manner, thereby providing seedlings to farmers in villages which faced delay in monsoons this year.

Venkateswarlu said in terms of dealing with drought and flood-related issues, agricultural scientists have developed various seed varieties for saving crops. “We have not developed adequate capability to deal with the impact of cyclones on the crop as there is a dearth of technology at present,” he observed.

CRIDA, which is coordinating the preparation of the contingency plans, has divided the country into five zones. Each district plan contains basic agricultural statistics, physical characteristics of the district (soil mapping) and details of the crops and methods of cultivation to be adopted in the case of exigencies.


Rising temperature, erratic rain will impact India’a rice harvest


SUMMARY‘Temperature, rainfall and soil moisture have a significant impact on rice production.’

With the key rice-growing areas in the country receiving erratic rainfall in the last two decades, scientists have been working on techniques to minimise the adverse impact on foodgrain production. Trilochan Mohapatra, director, Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), INDIA’s premier institute under the ministry of agriculture, talks to FE’s Sandip Das on the issues concerning climate change and its impact rice production.

What has been the impact of climate change on rice cultivation in India in last 20 years?

Temperature, rainfall and soil moisture have a significant impact on rice production. Change in climate is evident from the uneven distribution of rainfall, higher frequency of occurrence of extreme events, rise in atmospheric temperature. These changes are affecting rice in certain years. For example, the 2009 summer monsoon was the weakest since 1972 that reduced kharif rice production by 13 million tonnes to about 71 million tonnes.

Similarly, in 2002, rainfall was only 81% of the long period average. Deficit rainfall was most severe in the months of June, July and August, coinciding with the crucial vegetative and growth stages of rice. The production of rice has shown an upward trend during the period 2005-06 to 2008-09 and it reached a record level of 99.18 million tonnes in 2008-09. However, rice production declined to 89.09 million tonnes in 2009-10 due to long spells of drought.

Is the rainfall pattern change in the country impacting rice cultivation?

As per the National Plan on Climate Change report, a trend of increasing monsoon season rainfall has been found along the west coast, northern Andhra Pradesh, and north-western India (+10% to +12% of the normal over the last 100 years) while a trend of decreasing monsoon seasonal rainfall has been observed over eastern Madhya Pradesh, north-eastern India, and some parts of Gujarat and Kerala (-6% to -8% of the normal over the last 100 years) and parts of south India. Although rice production has been showing a steady upward trend, poor monsoon rainfall is the main reason for low yields in some years. Rainfall unpredictability and increasing temperature due to the impact of climate change are likely to add to the volatility of rice harvests in India and other parts of Asia.

What are new varieties, techniques developed by CRRI that would help rice farmers deal with climate change?

Under the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) programme, various ICAR institutes and state agricultural universities are engaged in developing climate resilient varieties and production technologies to address the possible negative impact of climate change on future rice production and thereby increasing the production and profitability of rice. CRRI, along with other national and international research institutes, have developed climate resilient rice varieties tolerant to submergence (Swarna Sub-1), drought (Sahabaghidhan), salinity (Luna Barial, Luna Sankhi) and high temperatures (Naveen).

What should be the strategy India needs to adopt to sustain the growth in rice production in the next two decades?

Augmenting production by improved crop management, cultivation of climate tolerant varieties, improved seed sector and technology dissemination mechanisms, the lack of which are some of the key reasons for yield gaps. The watershed management programme can yield multiple benefits. Such strategies could be very useful in future climatic stress conditions. Conservation agriculture is one of the most important strategies for combating climate change adverse impacts.

Increasing the income from agricultural enterprises by suitable actions such as accelerated development of location-specific fertilizer practices, improved fertilizer supply and distribution system, improved water and fertilizer use.

Improved risk management through an early warning system and policies that encourage crop insurance can provide protection to the farmers. An early warning system for pest and disease incidence will be highly helpful.