Soil and Water Management Research: India-IRRI collaboration

PK Sharma RT

Pradeep Sharma
Vice Chancellor,
Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Jammu (SKUAST-Jammu)
Main Campus Chatha
Jammu 180009,
Jammu & Kashmir

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is proudly celebrating its 50th Annual Rice Group Meeting of the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project (AICRIP). Soil and water today are the two natural resources that are threatened by overexploitation and misuse as well as by climate change. Sustenance of soil health is a major issue in rice-based cropping systems because of the unique tillage practices in rice, especially puddling and submergence.

Puddling destroys the soil structure while continuous submergence lowers soil redox potential, sometimes to the extent of creating serious nutrient imbalances and phytotoxic elements. These tillage practices cause crop establishment problems and lower productivity. With regard to water resources, rice has a poor water-use efficiency. The total water requirement of irrigated rice (750−2,500 mm) is three to four times or more that of many cereal crops (300−400 mm). Its transpiration ratio (250−350 cc) is equal to or less than that of upland cereal and dry-land crops (200−300 cc). Hence, increasing agricultural water productivity is a major issue in rice-based cropping systems.

Significant research has been done in India and at IRRI, independently as well as in a collaborative mode, to overcome problems in rice-based cropping systems related to soil and water management. These include puddling effects on soil properties and processes; crop establishment methods (upland rice, aerobic rice, the System of Rice Intensification, reduced tillage in wheat, etc.); organic residue recycling; irrigation scheduling; percolation management; water, fertilizer, and tillage interactions; nutrient-use efficiency (real-time fertilizer use, slow-release fertilizers, methods of fertilizer placement, bio-fertilizers, etc.); the development of nutrient- and water-efficient cultivars, and others.

But, increasing water productivity in rice is still a big challenge. Fertilizer-use efficiency continues to be low. Factor productivity in agriculture is declining. Assessment of soil health remains an unanswered question. Pollution of soil and groundwater sources in several locations has reached toxic levels.

Research should focus on the use of modern techniques such as nano- and biotechnology to improve water- and nutrient-use efficiency in crop plants (the development of nano-products, water- and nutrient-efficient germplasm). The transpiration ratio of rice comparable in magnitude to that of other cereal crops offers hope to lower its total water requirement. Soil health parameters need to be defined and technologies developed to sustain soil health without compromising food productivity (soil-C sequestration, conservation tillage, efficient use of chemical fertilizers, safe disposal of rice crop residues, etc.). Studies must be undertaken to understand the significance of soil health for plant, animal, and human health in an effort to produce safe and nutritional food. There is also a need to address the problem of labor scarcity through mechanization to make agricultural operations time- and energy-efficient, and cost-effective.

IRRI has been supporting soil and water management research in India by training students, scientists, and rice workers. It supports collaborative research programs, professional visits, and organizing symposia, seminars, and workshops. Several of the research activities undertaken at IRRI are directly applicable to the Indian subcontinent. However, many significant challenges remain and require more concerted efforts between India and IRRI.