Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Oct 05, 2004
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Industry & Economy - Bio-tech & Genetics
ICAR focusing on genetic improvement of rice
(From left) Dr C.S. Shastry, Scientist, Dr D. Gustafason, FAO Representative to India and Bhutan, Mr B. Mishra, Principal Secretary, Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh, Dr Mangala Rai, Secretary, DARE and Director-General, ICAR, Dr G. Kalloo, Deputy Director General, ICAR, and Dr Gurdev S. Khush, Eminent rice scientist and Professor, University of California, at an International symposium on "Rice From Green Revolution to Gene Revolution" in Hyderabad on Monday. A. Roy Chowdhury
Hyderabad , Oct. 4
THE Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is moving forward in functional genomics and has already formulated a Rs 32-crore project that would initially focus on the production of transgenic rice variety, which would be resistant to yellow stem borer, according to ICAR Director-General, Dr Mangala Rai.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an international symposium, "Rice from Green Revolution to Gene Revolution", on Monday, Dr Rai said the project would subsequently focus on other aspects of transgenic rice like salinity, development of drought-resistant varieties, improvement of yield and quality, reduction of crop duration and efficient use of inputs like water and fertilisers.
"Our endeavour is to enhance productivity, reduce input costs and increase the profit margins of the producers so that we are competitive in cost as well as quality, locally and globally."
Dr Rai said ICAR research trends on rice were currently associated with genetic improvement with a special focus on conservation technology.
The three-day symposium is being held by ICAR with the participation of the Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), Hyderabad and the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack on the occasion of the International Year of Rice.
Stating that ICAR has also initiated work on organic farming, Dr Rai said there was a need to conduct a mass campaign for the production of vermicompost.
"Whether it is organic or inorganic farming, the plant will accept nutrients only in ionic form. Hence, there is a need to check the source of the organic matter."
Dr Gurdev S. Khush, Professor at the University of California and former Head of Planting Breeding at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute, said organic farming could be adopted in limited areas for production of small quantity of agricultural products for the purpose of export. "We can't think of feeding the entire population of India with organic agriculture."
He added that several new technologies were coming up for increasing productivity and improving the nutritional quality of rice.
Currently, research is being conducted for enhancing photosynthesis process in rice plants.
In this regard, genes from maize and sorghum - which have higher photosynthesis - are being injected into rice. This is expected to increase the rice yields by nearly 35 per cent.
He said the `Golden Rice' genes have been now put into commercially grown rice varieties like IR 20 and Suvarna in India.
Meanwhile, tests are being made on the digestive capability, food safety and environmental safety aspects of the transgenic `Golden Rice' that contains betacarotene and thus, would be useful in eliminating Vitamin A deficiency problems among rice consumers.
A humanitarian board comprising several scientists and organisations is also looking into aspect of whether people who are used to consuming white rice would prefer to eat `Golden Rice'.
On the other hand, Dr Khush said, research was also being conducted through conventional methods for production of high-yielding rice varieties that would have high iron content.
"These varieties are non-transgenic and may be available for commercialisation in 2-3 years."
Earlier, inaugurating the symposium, Dr Rai said rice was probably the only crop in the world that was grown in most fragile ecosystems, adding that a `Gene Revolution' was possible if pursued persistently.
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