Saturday, March 9, 2013


China and India are two of the major rice producing countries and naturally both can be expected to intensify their research efforts to increase paddy productivity to meet the increasing needs of their ever growing populations. The Green Revolution in India during the last millennium achieved quantum jump in productivity which helped to tide over food scarcity for a few years. However further increase in productivity could not be achieved to any significant extent though the agriculture research institutions brought out many new varieties with traits like lesser water requirement, better nutritive value, improved cooking characteristics etc. Against such a background came the news from a Bihar farmer in India that he was able to harvest more than 22 tons from one hectare of land during the year 2011. This claim is now being challenged by China which does not concede that such a yield is possible at all. Here is the expose on this issue as is being debated by the international community. 

China's leading rice scientist has questioned India's claims of a world record harvest, following a report in last week's Observer of astonishing yields achieved by farmers growing the crop in the state of Bihar.
Professor Yuan Longping, known as the "father of rice", said he doubted whether the Indian government had properly verified young Indian farmer Sumant Kumar's claim that he had produced 22.4 tonnes of rice from one hectare of land in Bihar in 2011. Yuan, director-general of China's national rice research centre  
and holder of the previous record of 19.4 tonnes a hectare, asked: "How could the Indian government have confirmed the number after the harvesting was already done?" The dispute centres on a controversial method of growing rice that is spreading quickly in Asia. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) uses fewer seeds and less water, but seeks to stimulate the roots of young plants, mainly with organic manures. It can work with all kinds of seeds, including GM, and has the effect of getting plants to grow larger, healthier root systems. Many scientists initially doubted whether yields of this magnitude were possible, but peer-reviewed papers have shown consistent improvements over conventional rice farming methods. Yuan told the Chinese press after seeing the Observer Food Monthlyarticle: "I introduced the intensification method to China myself. It could increase yields by 10-15% in low-yield fields, but it's not possible for fields that are already producing relatively high yields." However, Norman Uphoff, professor of agriculture at Cornell University in the US, defended Kumar and the Indian authorities. "The yield measurements for Kumar and other farmers in the Nalanda district of Bihar, which matched or exceeded the previous record, were at first rejected by Indian scientists, who did not believe such results were possible. "The measurements were made by staking out 10 by 5 metre plots in the centre of one-acre fields, not sampled crop-cuts from small areas. The 50 square metre plots were harvested with hundreds of people watching the cutting, threshing and weighing because everyone anticipated unprecedented yields," he said. "These results were achieved with hybrid varieties which derive from Yuan's own innovation of hybridising rice, considered for decades by most rice scientists to be impossible." The measurements were later acknowledged as valid by both the Indian Council for Agricultural Research and the Ministry of Agriculture.

One can understand the frustration of the Chinese scientist who was instrumental in developing the much acclaimed SIR cultivation technique which is based on stimulating the root of the young paddy plants to grow larger root system enabling them to bear more flowering and fruiting resulting in higher yield per plant. Since the yield figures have been verified more than once through scientific measuring methodology in presence of international experts there is no reason to doubt the claims of the Bihar farmer. While India need not bother about any certificate from Chinese scientist, efforts must be made to spread the technique in all paddy growing regions to achieve huge production jump in the country. The country is not in competition with any other country for getting into the record books but trying hard to provide adequate food to its population. While yield increase is laudable, lesser water requirement for this technology is an added bonus to go by if such efforts succeed on a wider scale.


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