Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and IRRI

Written by Kenneth Lojo.

Swapan Datta RT

Swapan Datta
Former Deputy Director General (Crop Science), ICAR
now Pro-Vice Chancellor,
Visva-Bharati University
Santiniketan, India

Rice is life. It is a vital staple crop for sustainable food and nutrition security for more than 1.2 billion people in India. India has a long history of ric e research and crop diversity and it has had a partnership with IRRI over the last 50 years.

In 2015, the Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), established through the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), is celebrating its 50th Rice Workshop—a milestone in Indian rice research. In its Golden Jubilee year, the DRR will transform itself into a national institute and will be renamed the Indian Institute of Rice Research.

IRRI and ICAR have been natural partners working on rice research activities for more than 50 years. The dynamic nature of this relationship has changed in recent times and both agreed to focus on IRRI-ICAR work plan activities and develop next year’s program during the 50th Rice Workshop in India. About 30 scientists from IRRI will attend the workshop and interact with about 400 Indian rice scientists participating at the event.

This research program became very successful and beneficial for both partners. Considering the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), new developments in global partnership with the private sector, germplasm exchange under the agreement and obligations with ICAR, rice workshops, state agricultural universities, and private sector involvement in rice research are becoming more important and vital. We now require global science, partnership (national and international) supported by single/multiple donors, including national programs supported by the Government of India and international donors aiming to focus outcomes that must deliver benefits to the farmers and consumers of India.

All stakeholders from India and IRRI, along with other research collaborators, must ensure the sustainability of this friendly partnership for years to come to safeguard the food security of billions of people.

India has benefited from IRRI since its founding in 1960. Both have worked on all aspects of the crop’s improvement, including in biotechnology. Both are firm believers that farmers can produce more rice with built-in plant protection and with enriched nutrition at an affordable price.

The Rockefeller Foundation supported the Rice Biotechnology Program, and later the Asian Rice Biotechnology Network (ARBN) led by IRRI. This resulted in significant human resources and capacity development in biotechnology research and rice improvement programs in India. Using marker-assisted selection (MAS), allele mining, and gene (Xa + Pi) pyramiding, rice breeders developed IR72 with the Xa2 gene, the first transgenic rice resistant to bacterial blight. Other MAS-based rice varieties with disease and pest resistance and submergence tolerance have been shared with India and other countries.

A large number of PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scientists from India and IRRI are involved in collaborative rice research. For the next 20 years, IRRI and India’s key collaborative research activities in the genomics era will include next-generation genome sequencing, the use of plant genetic resources for prospecting for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance genes/traits, C4 rice, and genome-editing.