Sant S. Virmani
Retired Principal Scientist and Former Leader of the Hybrid Rice Program
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
IRRI’s and India’s collaboration played a key role in the development and dissemination of hybrid rice in India. Exploratory research on hybrid rice in the tropics at IRRI began in 1980 after the success of hybrid rice technology development and wide-scale dissemination in China in the 1970s. The available Chinese rice hybrids, when tested at IRRI, were found to be susceptible to major tropical diseases and insects; hence, these were considered nonadaptable to tropical rice-growing countries.
A comprehensive research program on developing hybrid rice technology for the tropics was therefore started at the Institute in 1981. India, a major tropical rice-growing country, began an informal collaboration with the participation of some Indian rice breeders in IRRI-sponsored hybrid rice training in China in 1980 and 1981. Subsequently, Indian rice breeders and research managers visiting IRRI became aware of the ongoing hybrid rice research at the Institute and the potential and challenges of developing and disseminating hybrid rice technology in India.
In 1986, IRRI invited the deputy director general (crops) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR); the commissioner of agriculture, Government of India; and several rice scientists to the First International Hybrid Rice Symposium in Hunan, China. Following that event, the party proceeded to IRRI headquarters in the Philippines to get acquainted with ongoing and future hybrid rice research programs. The chairman of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd. (Mahyco) of India also joined the group and, as a result, Mahyco invested in a comprehensive research and development program on hybrid rice in India in collaboration with IRRI.
In the following years, while working as a hybrid rice breeder at IRRI, I was invited by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help India design a national program on the development and dissemination of hybrid rice. The ICAR implemented the program in 1989 with financial support from FAO and the government of India. Subsequently, the Mahyco Research Foundation also provided financial support to further strengthen the Indian hybrid rice program.
IRRI supported the program by continuously sharing hybrid rice breeding materials and seed production technology and providing regular consulting services through visiting IRRI hybrid rice breeders. Concurrently, IRRI also provided Indian scientists and seed production personnel with postdoctoral, on-the-job, short-term, and medium-term training at IRRI as well as in India necessary for developing the required human resources.
IRRI hybrid rice breeders also encouraged India’s private sector in developing and disseminating hybrid rice technology by freely sharing IRRI-developed hybrid rice breeding materials and seed production technology with it. These concerted efforts resulted in the development and commercialization of hybrid rice technology in 1994. In recognition of this development, India, in collaboration with IRRI, hosted the Third International Symposium on Hybrid Rice in 1996.
These developments encouraged other tropical rice-growing countries in Asia to initiate and/or strengthen their hybrid rice research and development programs. Consequently, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided financial support to IRRI in two phases (1998-2001 and 2001-04) to expedite the development and dissemination of hybrid rice in Asia in collaboration with national programs and the private sector, represented by the Asia Pacific Seed Association.
In 2003, IRRI and the Maharashtra Department of Agriculture organized an international seminar on public-private partnership under the ADB project in Pune, Maharashtra. Representatives from the public, private, and NGO sector from several countries participated to discuss opportunities and challenges of developing and disseminating hybrid rice technology using such partnership.
The recommendations from the seminar initiated discussions at IRRI to develop an IRRI-private sector partnership to expedite the development and dissemination of hybrid rice technology, leading to the creation of the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium (HRDC) in 2008.
The Consortium uses the strengths of IRRI and private seed companies in various countries to develop and disseminate hybrid rice technology. IRRI-India collaboration on hybrid rice has resulted in the establishment of a comprehensive hybrid rice research and development program in India using the resources of the public, private, and NGO sector as well as human resources developed through training programs at IRRI and in India. In 2014, hybrid rice varieties developed by the private and public sector were cultivated on an area of about 2.4 million hectares in India.
The higher yield (1−1.5 tons per hectare more than that of nonhybrid rice varieties) produced about 3 million tons of extra paddy (worth US$650 million) annually. About 50 private seed companies (10 to 15 of which have their own comprehensive R&D programs and are also part of the HRDC) are actively involved in the development and/or dissemination of hybrid rice. These companies use selected farmers of certain regions in hybrid seed production, which provides higher income than the cultivation of hybrid rice or inbred rice varieties.
ICAR is also considering the establishment of an Indian Consortium on Hybrid Rice using the IRRI model to further expand the development and dissemination of hybrid rice technology in the country.
IRRI-India collaboration on hybrid rice has been a unique example of developing hybrid rice technology from scratch and is eventually significantly contributing toward increased rice production and increased farmers’ income.