THE ALL INDIA COORDINATED RICE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT
ICAR approved the setting up of AICRIP with its headquarters in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. The Rockefeller Foundation, IRRI, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been associated with the project to enhance the pace of rice research in the country. The photo shows S.V.S. Shastry (right) and Wayne Freeman as AICRIP’s first joint coordinators.
AICRIP’s mandate at that time was the development of an integrated national network of cooperative experimentation on all aspects of rice production to accelerate breeding efforts with semidwarf varieties. The importance of rice required a closer spirit of cooperation with IRRI and USAID, which extended substantial personnel and financial support.
As a result, within a short time, AICRIP emerged as a major unifying force bringing cohesion to the national rice research effort. Rich dividends started pouring in with the release of IR8, acclaimed as miracle rice—the first semidwarf, profuse-tillering, photo-insensitive, fertilizer-responsive, nonlodging, high-yielding variety (HYV) developed at IRRI, which made history and transformed the face of agriculture across Asia.
The first similar HYV of rice developed in India and tested through AICRIP was named and released as Jaya in 1968, which was even higher yielding and earlier in maturity than IR8. Both of these landmark varieties were accepted by farmers with alacrity and this triggered the Green Revolution in India (Fig. 1). During the 1960s and in the next two decades encompassing the 1970s and ‘80s, 158 varieties were developed and released for various ecosystems. Twelve of these were released by the central agency for cultivation across the country while the rest were released for specific states by state release authorities. The duration of the varieties ranged from 75 to 185 days and their yield potential from 3.0 to 7.5 t/ha. During these three initial decades, rice area increased from 34.1 million hectares to 40.1 million ha (17.6%). Production rose from 34.5 million tons to 53.6 million tons (55.1%) and productivity from 0.874 t/ha to 1.33 t/ha (53.1%). This remarkable gain in production and productivity extricated the country from the status of a begging bowl to a bread basket, bringing self-sufficiency and curtailing imports. In addition, India began to export surplus rice, thus earning high foreign exchange for the country since the 1990s.
The modern photoperiod-insensitive HYVs helped farmers to grow two rice crops during the year in areas where good irrigation facilities existed and enabled the development of innumerable rice-based cropping systems depending on the local available resources. Although the profitability of rice farming increased with new varieties, the intense adoption of crop management practices, with a limited number of HYVs substituting for thousands of traditional landraces, reduced genetic variability and increased the vulnerability of the rice crop to insects and diseases. Therefore, during the 1980s, the problem of incorporating resistance to major insects and diseases into HYVs was addressed through strong resistance breeding programs. Large germplasm collections were screened and donors for resistance identified. Using these donors, improved varieties with resistance to three major diseases (blast, bacterial blight, and tungro) and three insects (brown planthopper, green leafhopper, and gall midge) were developed. Large-scale adoption of varieties with a broader genetic base has helped to stabilize rice yields.
Not only biotic stress tolerance but also quality were given importance since the early 1990s as consumer preference changed with increases in income. During this phase, the emphasis was also on the development of varieties with better grain quality suited to different regions of the country and for export. The traditional basmati rice that has great demand in national and international markets was improved and the world’s first semidwarf basmati varieties such as Pusa Basmati 1 and Kasturi were developed, which gave a tremendous boost to rice exports in general and basmati rice exports in particular.