Climate Change Pushes Indian Farmers To Adopt Water-Resistant Rice Variety

Mar 6th, 2014 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture

Joyram Das, a poor Indian farmer of Kamrup district of Assam, has collected a few kilograms of Swarna Sub-1 (SS-1) rice seeds very carefully. Farmers call it ‘Kothia’ to be used as seed for next cultivation season that usually starts from April-May. He had a good harvest last year. Despite a devastating flood, this particular variety yielded a production of 4 tonnes per hectare. SS-1 variety of rice can survive for more than 15 days under water. A flood-affected farmer, Joyram, now prefer SS-1 to any other variety and hopes for an even higher yield the next season.

SS-1 was introduced among flood-hit farmers in Assam for the first time in 2013. While other seed varieties were totally damaged in the flood the Swarna Sub-1 withstood the vagaries of flood and excessive rainfall.

‘Suvarna Sub-1′ or Swarna Submergence-1 or Swarna Sub-1 variety of rice is an updated version of India’s polpular rice variety ‘Swarna’ (gold)–a flood-tolerant hybrid rice that improves yields in India by almost half has been found to benefit marginalised people living in flood-prone areas. It yields upto 3 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare when submerged, which can go upto 6 tonnes in normal conditions. Swarna Sub-1 was developed by International Rice Research Institution (IRRI, The Phillipines) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (IIAR) under a collaborative programme and has become one of the most sought after seed varieties in the region over a period of three years. It was introduced in India for the first time in Andhra Pradesh in 2009.

Since late 2009, the seed is being provided to randomly-selected farmers in Odisha’s coastal districts, which are mainly rainfed lowlands and prone to floods. It has become favourite of farmers of Odisha and other flood-hit states. Suvarna as a rice seed variety has been quite popular in India for many years mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamilnadu.It is not that this efficient diver variety was developed overnight. It was after almost 10 years of extensive research that Swarna Sub-1 variety was developed and has come as a boon to thousands of flood-hit cultivators who would otherwise throw in the towel and desperately await the meagre amount of government relief materials.

Usually, a flood means a very little yield or no yield at all –to the farmers. Joyram also took the last floods as being a sign of complete loss and devastation. His paddy fields were submerged. But this time when the flood waters subsided after 12 days, it brought a smile to his face to see the standing crops, he said.

Like Joyram Das, many other flood-affected farmers of the area are now getting ready with SS-1 for the forthcoming Sali Kheti or cultivation season that starts with the advent of spring. Joyram cultivated the new variety under guidance of a field management committee.

After successfully experimenting with this submergence-resistant paddy, the Assam agriculture department distributed the seeds of this variety among farmers of flood-prone areas in different districts. These farmers successfully harvested from this submergence-resistant paddy during last November and December. They harvested it after Swarna Sub-1 was put to use across the state, especially in the flood prone areas, in the last cultivation season (June-July). Despite a harsh climate the state managed to produce 52.33 lacs metric tonnes of rice in the last financial year and the production in the current financial year is estimated to increase to 61 metric tonnes.

Assam is preparing a plan to bring in 40,000 hectares mostly in flood affected areas under SS-1 variety in forthcoming season.The yield advantage of Swarna-Sub1 increases as flood severity worsens, with a maximum advantage of around 718 kg per ha, an approximate 66% increase, occurring at approximately 13 days of flooding.

With successful experimentation and good harvesting with Swarna Sub-1, the Agriculture Department is carrying on different programmes to promote it on a wider scale during the next Sali season. The Assam Agricultural Department collected 17,000 kg seeds last year. People are quite impressed with the yield from this water-resistant variety. Flood is common in 44 million hectares where rice is grown in India; and Swarna Sub-1 would prove beneficial if grown in 12-14 million hectares, or almost a third of the rice cultivated area.

Swarna Sub-1′ s yield is substantial (3 tonnes) even when it is under water for over two weeks and in normal circumstances it is double (6 tonnes). It also has a good taste too. The success in Odisha’s coastal districts is being replicated in some other districts in the state, and also in Bihar and Assam . According to official source 266 lacs hectares of agricultural land in eastern India, almost 50.2 lakh hectares is submergence-prone and are regularly impacted by floods. There are 141 million hectares rice cultivated land in India and only 47% of it is rain fed. In more eastern part of country, where around 52% of the sown area are rain-fed.

India’s Annual Rice Production (in million tonnes)

Year            Production

2012-13     104.40
2011-12      105.30
2010-11      95.98
2009-10     89.09
2008-09     99.18

Note: Rice is cultivated both during the kharif and rabi sowing season. But more than 80% of the crop is harvested in kharif season.
Source: Department of Agriculture

IRRI has released India-developed seed ‘Suvarna Sub-1′ seed abroad too. IRRI, ICAR and CRRI incorporated submergence resistant properties in the traditional varieties and made a new new seed which was accepted by farmers without hesitation or any doubt. The variety has also been released in Bangladesh and Nepal, and in some South-East Asian countries including Myanmar and Cambodia. The trials showed that yields of Swarna-Sub1 could be 45 per cent higher, even when it was submerged under water for one to two weeks, compared to Swarna. Governments and some other non-governmental agencies are working to popularise submergence tolerance rice variety among flood an farmers in India and other flood prone South Asian region.

A source of ICAR reveals that farmers of drought-prone areas will also get new rice seeds to help them out like submerge resistant rice variety. The Indian Agricultural Research (ICAR) along with Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is planning to come out with its upgraded version which will have droughts damage standing paddy crops. Scientists are working with drought and water submergence resistant properties will be instilled in other popular rice varities in India like Sambha masuri, IR-64 etc. The new variety will be a higher version of existing ‘Suvarna Sub-1′ with more aided features. A team of scientists from Titabor Regional Agricultural Research Station (TRAS) busy with their research works of the four flood-fighter varities. They have already recommended one post-flood rice variety Disang and two pre-flood varieties Luit and Kolong so far. However, the pre-flood varities are still waiting central recognition.

The results of SS-1 were reported in the journal Scientific Reports on 22 November 2013.The scientists used an advanced genetics technique called ‘marker assisted selection’ in which they select the precise gene of interest (in this case flood tolerance), by zeroing in on a marker linked to it, which could be a chemical molecule or a piece of genetic material.

The report says that low-lying flood-prone areas tend to be more heavily occupied by people belonging to socially disadvantaged groups. So, a policy-relevant implication of the findings is that “flood-tolerant rice can deliver both efficiency gains, through reduced yield variability and higher expected yield, and equity gains in disproportionately benefiting the most marginal group of farmers.”.

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