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.
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.
Post-Green Revolution technologies
By the 1990s, stagnation of yield in rice was apparent with the HYVs, with the sd-1 gene for dwarfing having certain genetic limitations for further enhancement of yield potential. In order to keep pace with the growing population, the estimated rice requirement by 2025 is about 130 million tons. The plateauing of rice yields after the initial quantum jump with the first semidwarf varieties such as IR8 and Jaya and declining natural resources causing an impending water, land, and labor crises in the years to come made the task of enhancing rice production to the scale envisaged look insurmountable. Thus, the current alarming situation necessitated looking for some innovative technologies to boost rice production such as hybrid rice technology and rapid strides in harnessing the strengths of biotechnology.
Thus, the present Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) has been instrumental in successfully integrating two streams of research systems available under the central and state governments. It has extensively contributed to the development of appropriate rice varieties and production and protection technologies suitable for different seasons, conditions, and ecosystems and bringing in the much-needed gains to rice production. The unique concept of multi-location and multi-disciplinary testing with the underlying philosophy of cooperative effort in problem identification and action played a catalytic role in the adoption and spread of the first generation of HYVs and appropriate package of practices for varied ecosystems across the country.
The elevation of AICRIP to directorate status in 1975 added an additional mandate to conduct strategic and applied research in the major thrust areas of irrigated rice, which marked the beginning of the second phase, in which facilities were strengthened, new research networks initiated, and transfer of technology and breeder seed production activities undertaken. This impressive growth culminated in the largest network with 46 funded centers and more than 100 voluntary cooperating centers. The intellectual input of more than 300 multidisciplinary teams of scientists associated with AICRIP is its greatest strength.
During 2011-13, the magnitude of trials conducted at various experimental sites ranged from 2,049 (2012) to 2,324 (2011) from all the disciplines included in AICRIP activity, which include breeding, hybrid rice, agronomy, physiology, soil science, entomology, and pathology (Table 1). Reviewing only the breeding and varietal trials during the last three years, the total number of trials organized was 117, constituted by 2,878 nominations contributed by rice breeders from both public and private sector organizations from all over India, who are partners in this endeavor. The program is so extensive, with the total number of experimental test sites being 2,380 covering all ecosystems such as irrigated, rainfed uplands, shallow lowlands, semi-deep and deepwater areas, boro, problem soil situations, and hill regions, and is one of the biggest cooperative partnerships in India. As rice in India is grown on nearly 44 million hectares (the highest amount of area in the world), AICRIP has been through its massive targeted efforts attempting to find solutions to problems on hand with the emerging newer issues.
Smaller networks exclusively devoted to the development and use of hybrid rice technology, rice biotechnology, improvement of quality rice for export, and evaluation of rice germplasm for biotic stresses and others have achieved impressive results in the realms of varietal and crop management advisories. The mission of DRR as outlined in vision 2025 is to develop technologies to enhance rice productivity, resource- and input-use efficiency, and profitability of rice cultivation without adversely affecting the environment. The mandate of DRR involves:
- Coordinating multilocation testing at the national level to identify appropriate varietal and management technologies for all rice ecosystems.
- Conducting strategic and applied research in the major thrust areas of irrigated rice aimed at enhancing production, productivity, and profitability and at preserving environmental quality.
- Initiating and coordinating research networks relating to problems of national and regional importance.
- Serving as a major center for the exchange of research material and information.
- Accelerating the pace of technology transfer through frontline demonstrations, training programs, and ICT.
- Developing linkages with national, international, and private organizations for collaborative research programs.
- Providing consultancy services and undertaking contractual research.
For this purpose, the AICRIP multi-tier/multi-location testing program with the objective of developing suitable varieties and crop management advisories for diverse conditions was instrumental in developing and releasing 1,011 varieties, including 67 hybrids, up to 2012-13. Of these varieties, 623 (constituting 61.6%) are for irrigated areas while 380 (35.5%) are for rainfed ecosystems. Again, the Central Variety Release Committee approved the release of 147 varieties/hybrids (14.5%) for wider adaptability while 26 State Variety Release Committees released 856 (84.7%) varieties/hybrids. Among these varietal releases, 125 are for rainfed uplands, 186 for rainfed shallow lowlands, 40 for semideep and 17 for deepwater conditions, 42 for irrigated areas, 8 for upland hills, 41 for saline and alkaline areas, 19 for boro season, 67 basmati and aromatic short-grain varieties, and 4 for aerobic conditions (Fig. 2 and Table 2).
Emphasis was given to developing varieties with resistance to biotic stresses for endemic areas, as in some years crop losses caused by bacterial leaf blight (BLB) and rice tungro virus (RTV) among diseases and brown planthopper (BPH) and gall midge among insect pests were devastating in different parts of the country. Systematic breeding efforts of the last five decades resulted in the development and release of a wide choice of varieties with specific and multiple resistance. These include varieties predominantly resistant to blast followed by BLB, RTV, stem borer, green leafhopper, BPH, white-backed planthopper, and gall midge. These varieties have greatly accelerated rice production and productivity in the country. The spread of HYVs doubled from a meager 37.9% in 1966-67 to nearly 84% by 2010. Likewise, the demand for breeder seed shot up from about 250 tons in the mid-1990s to 5,552 tons by 2013-14, indicating the special efforts made by the government through the National Seed Project (NSP) to enhance the availability of pure seed of new varieties as it is vital that the gains of varietal technology reach farmers in the shortest possible time.
Varieties such as Swarna, Samba Mahsuri (BPT 5204), Cottondora Sannalu (MTU 1010), Vijetha (MTU 1001), Jyothi, Sarjoo 52, IR64, Jaya, IR36, and NDR 359 need a special mention since they have wide coverage across several states and are termed “mega-varieties” and many of them are also the recipient parents for the introgression of biotic and abiotic stress tolerance genes through molecular marker-aided selection (MAS). Some of the landmark MAS-derived products are Swarna-Sub1, exhibiting 12 days of submergence tolerance 4 weeks after planting, with the major SUB1 QTL introgressed from traditional flood-resistant Indian variety FR13A, and Improved Samba Mahsuri and Improved Pusa Basmati 1 introgressed with multiple BLB-resistance genes showing a high degree of resistance to BLB but similar to recurrent parents in all traits that are known for their excellent grain quality in nonbasmati and basmati segments, respectively.
Some of the popular hybrids that are widely grown are PHB 71, KRH 2, PA 6444, PA 6201, DRRH 2, Pusa RH10, and Sahyadri. Having realized the scope and potential of quality rice for export, special thrust was given to the genetic enhancement of quality rice in the country, which led to the release of 67 basmati and other aromatic varieties. Thus, a wide varietal choice of high-yielding basmati varieties is available, which raised the quantum of exports of basmati rice from the country. Becoming the top rice exporter in the world recently (in 2012), India earned US$564 million in 2012-13. Being a niche exporter for basmati rice, India exported about 3.4 million tons earning US$323 million. Some of the notable export-quality basmati varieties are Taroari Basmati, Basmati 386, and Basmati CSR 30 among the tall types, with the latter variety also having tolerance of sodicity, and Pusa Basmati 1121, Pusa Basmati 1, Pusa 1509, Vasumati, Punjab Mehak 1, Vallabh Bsmati, etc., among the evolved highly productive basmati varieties released recently.
Likewise, in the rainfed rice ecosystem, no visible progress could be discerned for a long time. Augmented national effort together with the active participation of the IRRI-sponsored upland and lowland consortia resulted in the development and release of many promising strains. Tapping the yield potential of these varieties and their spread would bring the much-needed advancement in production to this vast long-neglected region. Savithri, Bahadur, Sona Mahsuri, Samba Mahsuri, Improved Samba Mahsuri, Swarna, Krishna Veni, Kranti, Kanak, Swarnadhan, Shashi, and ADT 44 for rainfed shallow lowlands; Amulya, Utkal Prabha, Sabita, Jitendra, and Purnendu for semideep water; Jalmagna, Barah Avarodhi, Dinesh, Eremaphou, and Sunil for deepwater areas; and Tulasi, Varalu, PNR 381, Vandana, Kalinga III, Danteswari, Vana Prabha, Neela, and Narendradhan 97 for rainfed uplands are important varieties released for the rainfed ecosystem.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Robert F. Chandler, Jr., said, “So far as rice is concerned, India is the most exciting place in the world today.” This is so because India has the largest rice area in the world, with varied ecosystems and abundant rich genetic diversity. Thus, there has been a firm partnership between IRRI and India in human resource development. The ICAR-IRRI collaborative program since 1974 aimed at genetic evaluation and use has helped India significantly in enhancing rice production and productivity. IRRI initiated a project similar to the AICRIP model called the International Rice Testing Program (IRTP) with India as a major partner in 1975. Later, the IRTP was renamed the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER). The main objective of INGER has always been the exchange of genetic material among researchers working under diverse rice-growing ecosystems around the globe. This effort has been instrumental in identifying and developing several hundred elite breeding lines that were either released directly or used extensively in breeding programs to develop varieties in various countries, along with India.
During the past four decades, the DRR (AICRIP) and IRRI (INGER) partnership played a vital role in strengthening the crop improvement program by facilitating access to world germplasm and India has been one of the major beneficiaries of the program. INGER nurseries covering cross ecosystems, that is, irrigated, rainfed upland, lowland, deep water, saline-alkaline, temperate, aromatic fine grain, Green Super Rice, pest/disease, etc., were conducted. Recently, during 2011-13, a total of 38 INGER nurseries with 2,072 entries were organized at 239 trial sites across India. India has immensely benefited from the germplasm and breeding lines received from IRRI.
The process over the years has resulted in the identification of 62 IRRI-bred lines and another 32 of exotic origin from other countries tested through INGER and released as varieties in India for commercial cultivation. In addition, 265 varieties released in the country have IRRI lines in the immediate parental background (Shobha Rani et al 2011-DRR Technical Bulletin No. 55/2011). Realizing the potential of hybrid rice technology, when ICAR launched a mission-mode project in 1989, IRRI actively collaborated by providing the needed germplasm and technical support. These concerted efforts enabled the country to enter into an era of development and use of hybrid rice technology, which resulted in the release of 67 public-/private-bred hybrids, with many having IRRI-bred CMS lines and restorer lines showing consistent yield superiority over local inbred varieties. Thus, the strong collaboration between ICAR and IRRI has been a standing testimony to the mutual benefit in terms of germplasm exchange and varietal improvement.
Through INGER, the exchange of germplasm and breeding material was freely effected and the germplasm supplied was screened and used in Indian breeding programs. Similarly, the rich and diverse germplasm resources of India contributed profusely to international breeding programs. Of 31 landraces used in IRRI-bred varietal release, 11 of these originated from India. Notable among them are Latisail, GEB 24, Co 18, O. nivara, Ptb 18, Ptb 21, Ptb 33, SLO 17, Soruchinnamali, N22, BJ1, Eswarakora, ARC 6650, etc. Pusa 150, developed by IARI, New Delhi, was one of the elite lines used in the development of IRRI-bred CMS lines and especially in the widely used IR58025A. Likewise, several germplasm accessions and breeding lines from India were used in breeding programs in many rice-growing countries across continents. Global adoption of 46 varieties of Indian origin emphasized the significant impact of INGER testing and added to the strength of Indian breeding programs.
Present scenario and future concerns
Rice production has witnessed major advances during the last five decades because of the wide-scale adoption of Green Revolution technology. At the global level between 1966 and 2009, the population increased by 90% but rice production has overtaken it by 166%, from 257 million tons in 1966 to 684 million tons in 2009. Although in India the population more than doubled, rice production went ahead by 3.5 times from 30.4 million tons in 1966 to 105.2 million tons in 2012 (Table 4). This commendable achievement was mainly possible because of the development of plant type-based, fertilizer-responsive high-yielding varieties for all ecosystems with pest/disease resistance. But, what causes concern is the fact that the growth rate decelerated in the 1990s from what had been witnessed in the ‘80s because of the practice of intensified agriculture.
Therefore, the anticipated increase in production has to necessarily come from surmounting the problems of yield plateauing, declining trends in total factor productivity, the depleting natural resource base, and coping with climate change while making rice farming a profitable venture for farmers. If the growth trend of recent years is any indication, it will not be an easy proposition to achieve the targeted production of almost 130 million tons by 2025 (Fig. 3). The challenge ahead is therefore sustaining productivity growth without endangering the natural resource base that exists and producing more. This warrants enhancing current rice productivity from 2.9 t/ha in the irrigated ecosystem to almost 3.9 t/ha and in the rainfed ecosystem from 1.3 t/ha to 2.5 t/ha at the current or even reduced level of irrigation and input use. Assuming that the total rice area in the country would stabilize around 43 million hectares within this time frame, average rice productivity should reach 3.2 t/ha from the present 2.05 t/ha by 2025.
Strategies to move forward
In the last five decades, the accomplishments of AICRIP have been many and it won several accolades. The program received the Best AICRIP-Rice Award for its organization, conduct of experimentation, and significant achievements. Rice productivity has doubled and production has tripled, peaking at an all-time high of 105 million tons. Wide varietal choice of more than 1,000 HYVs/hybrids is now available because of the success of AICRIP multi-location testing of elite breeding lines and sound integrated and validated crop management practices that can further tap the unexploited potential of present-day varieties and hybrids. More than a dozen hybrids are being aggressively marketed and the area under hybrid rice has surpassed the 2 million hectare mark in the country.
Precision breeding using molecular marker technology is reaping rich dividends on account of its proven efficiency and accelerated line development. To achieve another quantum jump in yield to meet the compelling future demand for more rice, basic, strategic, and anticipatory research programs of an innovative nature in the form of networks or consortia and, more importantly, bridging the gap between technology development and its adoption through vibrant technology transfer programs are dire requirements.
Various strategies for enhancing yield potential include (1) prebreeding for widening the genetic base to further increase yield potential; (2) breaking the yield barrier through wide hybridization, exploiting hybrid vigor, allele mining, and gene discovery; (3) accelerated efforts at breeding Green Super Rice varieties suitable for Indian conditions that can withstand abiotic and biotic stresses for sustainability under changing climatic regimes; (4) tackling hidden hunger by enhancing the nutritive value of rice through conventional and genetic modification approaches; (5) agronomic manipulations to harness maximum output from shrinking resources such as land, water, and other inputs through increasing resource-use efficiency and through integrated nutrient and crop management strategies, organic farming, and Integrated crop management approaches for the sustainability of rice farming; (6) arresting yield losses caused by biotic stresses through host-plant resistance, integrated disease and pest management strategies, and eco-friendly methods; (7) the efficient use of biomass on the farm to achieve higher energy sufficiency and the use of solar, wind, and water energy that can provide much-needed additional energy in farming systems; (8) making rice farming remunerative to rice farmers and making rice, which has become an item of commerce globally, more competitive with quality assurance; and (9) developing effective transfer of technology networks using modern information and communication technologies by giving special emphasis to the creation of online dissemination of knowledge. Futuristic and high-level research programs also include (1) the development of C4 rice and (2) designing a rice plant with biological nitrogen-fixing ability, etc.
In this context, the mature interinstitutional collaboration that exists between India and IRRI is the cornerstone for the implementation of innovative programs. The symbiotic interactions and partnerships between national and international research centers to learn, develop, and acquire from each other technologies and skills and the interpolation of this knowledge to find solutions to the emerging challenges need to be further strengthened and nurtured. A new way of organizing collaborative agricultural research was conceptualized by IRRI as the consortium approach to research, especially for rainfed environments, hybrid technology, mobilizing biotechnology approaches for rice breeding, crop modeling, germplasm management, etc. NARES and IRRI partnerships would thus have synergistic benefits, shortening the time needed to solve problems, and the knowledge so developed can be extrapolated across complex rice-growing conditions in finding viable solutions for meeting the future demand for rice.