Rice is India’s preeminent crop, and is the staple of most Indians. India has the world’s largest area under rice cultivation and is one of the largest producers of white rice, accounting for 20% of global rice production. Rice production increased from 54 million tons in 1980 to 75 million tons in 1990, a 39% increase over the decade. In 2011-12, production reached a record high of 104.3 million tons.

In its tremendous efforts to achieve and sustain food security, the Government of India has enjoyed continuing support from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)

IRRI is a nonprofit autonomous international research and training organization, organized in 1960 with a mission to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability through cutting-edge collaborative research, international partnerships, and the strengthening of national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES).

IRRI is a member of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and works in partnership with public- and private-sector partners in the national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) in the major rice-growing countries to do research, training, and knowledge transfer. IRRI is the lead center of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), a new CGIAR Research Program (CRP). Over more than five decades of operation, IRRI has amassed a unique portfolio of research products and intellectual assets on all aspects of rice systems, and these assets remain as public goods.

IRRI and India

IRRI and India have been successfully collaborating for more than four decades. India has been actively involved in IRRI’s priority setting, strategic planning, scientific advising, and implementation of research across South Asia. The results of this collaboration have been outstanding and have set an example in international research collaboration. India began its partnership with IRRI through the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 1967 when Indian scientists from ICAR’s two main rice research centers—the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) in Cuttack and the Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) in Hyderabad—began regularly visiting IRRI.

Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is IRRI’s nodal agency in India. The ICAR is an autonomous organization under the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. Formerly known as Imperial Council of Agricultural Research, it was established on 16 July 1929 as a registered society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 in pursuance of the report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture. The ICAR has its headquarters at New Delhi. The Council is the apex body for coordinating, guiding and managing research and education in agriculture including horticulture, fisheries and animal sciences in the entire country. With 99 ICAR institutes and 53 state agricultural universities spread across the country this is one of the largest national agricultural systems in the world. Formal collaboration ICAR with IRRI dates back to 1974 when ICAR and IRRI agreed on research cooperation. On 15 March 1974, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and N.C. Brady, the then directors general of ICAR and IRRI, respectively, signed the ICAR-IRRI Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for cooperation in research and training. Under this umbrella and in accordance with Article VII of the MOA, the two institutions sign new work plans every 4 years after reviewing the MOA’s research progress and identifying new and future opportunities and areas of research collaboration. IRRI has been working in India under this broad framework, collaborating with a wide range of NARES institutions involved in agricultural research and development, which include ICAR institutes, state agricultural universities, and NGOs engaged in agricultural development in the country.

New varieties, practices, and technologies

The success in the partnership between India and IRRI began with the introduction of high-yielding rice variety IR8, dubbed the miracle rice, which helped save India from a massive famine in the 1970s. This was only the beginning of a productive partnership that has led to more than 400 improved rice varieties with resistance to pests and diseases, streamlined rice production practices, and extensive information exchange with Indian scientists, along with capacity building.

The most recent contribution of critical importance to India is the introgression of the flash flood tolerance gene (SUB1) into four Indian mega rice varieties, which now makes them flood tolerant. Many single and multiple stress-tolerant lines (flash flood, stagnant flood, drought, salinity, etc.) introduced by IRRI in India are being evaluated by the national system. These varieties will not only enhance but also stabilize rice productivity under the ever-changing climate in the region. Today in India, ICAR and IRRI are engaged in developing new rice varieties, rice crop and resource management practices, and postharvest technologies that help rice farmers improve the yield and quality of their rice in an environmentally sustainable way. Both institutions train scientists, provide equitable access to information, and conduct socioeconomic research.

Expanding activities in India

IRRI’s activities and related infrastructure within India have grown and will be growing even more as explained further below. These diverse activities are being looked after by a sizable IRRI staff, both internationally recruited and nationally recruited in India. Apart from this, the IRRI Office in Delhi, India has become a major hub of rice research in South Asia by hosting regional project leaders and supporting activities of IRRI’s mega-projects such as Stress-Tolerant Rice for Poor Farmers in Africa and South Asia (STRASA) and the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. In this process, a lot of scientific and administrative talent from both within the country and abroad is being attracted. In addition, resources are being pooled for increased and scaled-up activities in India.

India-IRRI Collaboration: New Paradigms

Although IRRI-India collaboration has matured, so have the needs, expectations, and environment of doing business in relation to what is happening, not only in India but also regionally and globally. India has a very strong national rice research program with increasing participation by the private sector (seed industry) and civil society organizations. The need to work together is stronger than ever and it is crucial to meet the agricultural, nutrition, health, and environmental challenges facing India.

CGIAR created the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), led by IRRI, in 2010 after close consultation with scientists, policymakers, advanced research institutes, and the private sector from around the world, including India. ICAR, as the nodal body for IRRI’s program in India, endorsed GRiSP on 4 September 2010 and mutually agreed to continue and strengthen collaboration under the following thematic areas of the GRiSP program:

  1. Harnessing genetic diversity to chart new productivity, quality, and health horizons;
  2. Accelerating the development, delivery, and adoption of improved rice varieties;
  3. Enhancing the ecological and sustainable management of rice-based production systems;
  4. Extracting more value from rice harvests through improved quality, processing, market systems, and new products;
  5. Enhancing impact via technology evaluation, targeting, and policy options; and
  6. Supporting the growth of the global rice sector.

GRiSP provides new opportunities to increase the focus of the partnership with India in upstream and innovative research and to catalyze the transfer of new technologies to farmers and others in the value chain. IRRI will play a major role in further developing the rice sector, particularly in eastern and southern India.

IRRI is also embarking on an unprecedented overhaul of its breeding agenda to achieve the adoption of its improved rice varieties and be more efficient with resources. This involves the establishment of two breeding hubs, one in South Asia, with India as the focal point, and the other in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA).

With the establishment of these regional rice breeding hub, in close collaboration with ICAR and other public- and private-sector institutions, the IRRI-India partnership can significantly assist many rice-growing countries in South Asia and in Africa (particularly the ESA countries of Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, and Uganda) in strengthening their rice programs.

ICAR-IRRI Work Plan 2013-2016

Consistent with the priorities of the Indian Rice Program and those of GRiSP, IRRI, and ICAR, on behalf of and in consultation with various institutions in India, an exciting and forward-looking research and development agenda for the next 4 years (2013-16) has been developed and approved. Signed by the directors general of both ICAR (S. Ayyappan) and IRRI (Robert S. Zeigler) on 29 November 2012, the MOA involves 24 projects (16 ongoing and 8 new) with major efforts in upstream research in areas such as crop genetic improvement and future intensive rice systems. The eight new strategic projects are tied directly to GRiSP, to be led by various Indian research institutions, with additional funding being sought from the Government of India.

As can be seen from all of these very significant activities, the expanded mandate under GRiSP and active involvement of India with this global program, IRRI’s partnership has reached beyond ICAR by forging a collaboration with the National Food Security Mission of the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, the Department of Biotechnology, and the Departments of Agriculture of various state governments with more presence in Eastern India. Broad areas of work have been agreed upon under the above ministries/departments. In addition, IRRI and India are exploring how a training program can be initiated to improve Africa’s infant seed distribution system.