IRRI and the Green Revolution in India

Khush RT

Gurdev S. Khush
Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences
Adjunct Professor, University of California, Davis
Former Head, Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Division, IRRI

The Green Revolution had a remarkable impact on food security in India. During the 1960s, India imported up to 10 million tons of food grains per year. For the past 10 years, India has exported 4 to 6 million tons of food grains every year. The quantity of rice exported in 2013-14 was 10.7 million tons—more than any other country. Considering that the population of India has increased from 350 million in 1960 to 1.3 billion at present, this is a remarkable achievement.

The present food grain situation in the country is the result of the unprecedented increase in rice and wheat production because of wide-scale adoption of Green Revolution technology. For example, wheat production increased from 10.3 million tons in 1960 to 97 million tons in 2013-14. Rice production increased from 34.6 million tons in 1960 to 154 million tons in 2013-14.

The rice revolution in India started with the introduction of the experimental line IR8-288-3, the first semidwarf and stiff-strawed rice variety. Later named IR8, it was tested in yield trials in India during 1965-66 and yielded more than 10 tons per hectare at the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack. Yields of this magnitude were unheard of before. Rice scientists in India started testing semidwarf IRRI breeding lines and changed the direction of their breeding programs to develop varieties with similar plant types. The farming community adopted the new varieties rapidly.

IR8 was named as a variety by IRRI in 1966 and it was released in India in 1968. Numerous improved IRRI breeding lines with plant types similar to that of IR8 were supplied to Indian rice scientists every year based on their requests. Starting in 1975, IRRI breeding lines were also shared with Indian scientists through the International Rice Testing Program (now the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice).

Indian scholars also took seeds of IRRI materials with them upon completion of their studies. These were evaluated in various coordinated trials conducted by the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project as well as by rice scientists of various universities. Some of the promising lines were released as varieties and others were used as parents in local breeding programs. To date, more than 50 IRRI breeding lines have been released as varieties in India. Some of them, such as IR36 and IR64, are still widely grown.

Rice breeding programs in India are very strong and productive, with more than 1,000 improved rice varieties developed by Indian rice breeders. Most of these varieties have IRRI germplasm in their ancestry. Wide-scale adoption of these varieties, management practices, and benign public policies have contributed to the present status of food security.

Collaboration between IRRI and Indian rice breeding programs continues to be strong. IRRI germplasm materials are now primarily used as building blocks for new varieties. I would like to conclude that I have had 35 years of fond memories of my interaction and collaboration with Indian rice scientists.