N. Shobha Rani
Acting Director, DRR and Director of AICRIP (June-August 2014)
Head, Crop Improvement Section (retired), DRR
Rajendra Nagar, Hyderabad, India
As we stepped into 2015, there was an inexplicable awareness that it is the Golden Jubilee of the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project (AICRIP)—a time to celebrate success, and a time to pause and reflect on the way forward in facing several new challenges. It is time to hear the heartbeat of rice farmers and come up with remedial measures with “farmers first” as our directive principle.
When India attained independence, the prospects for rice were bleak. The proliferating population, multitude of scattered and small landholdings, severely impoverished farmers, low rice productivity (0.668 t/ha in 1950-51), overdependence on the monsoon, poor water management systems, limited availability and use of fertilizers, and disorganized agricultural services were the factors that presented a dismal scenario with little hope of increasing the productivity of rice—the major staple food of Indian people.
Early rice improvement work was mainly confined to tall indica varieties that suited farm conditions of low-investment and low-returns rice culture that involved minimal amounts of fertilizer use, plant protection, water management, and weed control. Attempts to improve production through an indica × japonica breeding program produced a few varieties that, at best, were marginally better than those previously cultivated. Plant type, the key problem, had at that time not been recognized. However, the government of India had taken some enterprising policy initiatives relating to increased irrigation facilities, commissioning agro-chemicals, and strengthening of agricultural research, education, and extension systems, which were important in bringing incremental gains in rice production with the available know-how.
At that point, the introduction of the Taiwanese dwarf rice variety Taichung-Native 1 (TN1) through the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in 1964 was a significant milestone in India’s rice culture. Despite the limitations of its pest-disease problems, TN1 raised the hopes of scientists and extension workers by recording a doubling in yield vis-à-vis local varieties. Thus, the higher yield potential of the semidwarf plant type outweighed its lacunae such as pest and disease vulnerability and gave the cue for more aggressive research programs to evolve varieties with good plant type possessing a wider choice in duration, grain type, and pest/disease resistance. The urgency of intensifying research leading to the development of locally acceptable technology was recognized immediately and resulted in the initiation AICRIP in 1965.
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