A panel discussion in Hindi, broadcasted on Indian national TV (DD Kisan) on rice with emphasis on IR8 and its impact on Indian agriculture.

SOS from monsoon chief: bring El-Nino on table

When Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi meet on Monday, both sides will ensure that nothing casts a cloud on the tremendous significance of the occasion. But, perhaps, when they have their bilateral, there’s one issue they may not wish to defer: the rising El Nino and its spectre of an impending drought across both nations.

Calling for the immediate launch of an India-Pak “joint monsoon observational campaign”, M Rajeevan, who heads India’s Rs 400-crore Monsoon Mission at the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told The Indian Express Sunday that the need for both countries to put their heads together is a scientific imperative, not just a diplomatic one.

 For, the monsoon circulation is born in the southern Indian Ocean but its progress and spread depend on how strongly it is pulled north-westwards due to the heating up of the vast landmass over India and Pakistan.

More so this year when Met departments of both countries have forecast a strong El Nino, the name given to the gradual warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean that is expected to adversely affect this monsoon, said Rajeevan, in the process, the agrarian economies of both nations.

On nine of 17 occasions when the El Nino struck the oceans, it led to a drought in India and Pakistan. The most recent was in 2009 when India saw a 33 per cent shortfall in rains during the monsoon. Other monsoon seasons when the linkage between occurrence of a drought and the rise of El Nino was noticed were 1951, 1965, 1972, 1982, 1986, 1997, 2002, 2004. Never has there been excess rainfall when there has been an El Nino.

All the signs point to a repeat this year, Rajeevan says. Last month, the India Meteorological Department announced that there was “considerable confidence” that an El Nino would happen this year. The Pakistan Met Office agreed too.

This was reinforced last month by the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. In a joint statement, these countries warned of El Nino and its “adverse impact” across the region.
Read More.......

Rice Paddy Absorbs Rather Emits Carbon, Study Shows

A study conducted by the Central Rice Research Institute inCuttack, India, showed that rice paddy in flooded fields during cultivation absorbs rather than emits carbon. The study showed that carbon inputs -photosynthesis, algal biomass and organic carbon added as manure - exceed output, thus concluding that rice paddy absorbs carbon.

According to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, flooded paddy fields in tropical countries account for up to 11% of man-made global methane emissions, estimated at between 493 - 723 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents a year. However, while the emissions are considerable they may be less than the carbon absorbtion.

Scientists conducted research on two hectares of rice field during 2012-13, in both the wet season (July-Nov)and the dry season (Jan - May), to measure the amount of carbon dioxide and methane produced in rice field. The study showed that methane production was higher during the initial growth stages of the rice plant.

As all plants, rice paddy also takes carbon dioxide from the air to make food and releases some of it during respiration; and post-harvest decaying rice stalks and organic matter in the paddies release carbon back to the soil, the study showed. The scientists used the ‘eddy covariance’ method to measure accurately carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Then they calculated the amount of carbon lost during harvest, dissolution in water, fire, erosion and bacterial production of methane, to calculate the net carbon balance.

A scientist told SciDev.Net, “Although methane was a source of carbon loss, considering all the components of carbon balance, this ecosystem has a good potential to store a considerable amount of carbon.”

“Generally, during the growing season of a flooded rice field, there is a net carbon uptake because a lot of carbon dioxide is being absorbed by the plant through photosynthesis and only part of it is released to the atmosphere through respiration,” also told Ma. Carmelita Alberto, a researcher with the International Rice Research Institute, Manila to SciDev.Net. She added, “Further studies are needed to check if other rice varieties, and other modes of rice cultivation, also act as carbon sinks.
Read more........

High-yielding variety seeds still not popular with Bihar farmers

Vithika Salomi,TNN | May 15, 2014, 12.36 AM IST

PATNA: While Bihar is way ahead in use of hybrid seeds of maize, it still needs to cover a lot of ground in using high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds for increasing rice production, the staple cereal loved by most Indians. The gap in production is evident from the fact that while India's rice yield is in the range of 3 tonnes per hectare, Japan's average rice yield is over 10 tonnes per hectare and that of Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia almost double compared to India.

Speaking at the inaugural session of a summit on 'Enhancing the seed supply chain in eastern India' on Wednesday, experts said despite a better yield percentage, farmers avoided using hybrid rice varieties developed by scientists and research institutes across the globe because of poor taste of its produce. "Lack of awareness and lack of access to the better seed varieties are other reasons behind Indian farmers not taking to its cultivation," International Rice Research Institute senior scientist Takashi Yamano said.

According to senior research fellow at US-based International Food Policy Research Institute David J Spielman, India is the fifth largest seed market in the world growing at 12 % annually.

Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Hub activities coordinator RK Malik praised Bihar for excelling in adoption of high-yield variety of hybrid seeds in maize and rice, which is leading to rapid increase in agricultural productivity. "Maize productivity in Bihar has risen from 1.8 tonne per hectare to 2.7 tonne in the recent years. However, there is much scope for improvement," added Malik.

Indian Maize Development Association president Sain Dass said, "Proper infrastructure and storage to maintain seed quality, local production and sale to ensure timely availability, better extension services and more demonstrations to increase awareness among farmers will help enhance the seed supply chain in eastern India."

Scientists said the summit was aimed at bringing together key players from the government, research and private sector to discuss and design actionable solutions that will improve the delivery of improved rice and wheat varieties to farmers.

The event was organised by CSISA in association with USAID and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

India needs hybrid seeds to increase rice production: IRRI

Press Trust of India | Patna May 14, 2014

Taste is one of the main reasons Indian farmers are not taking to cultivation of high-yield hybrid rice varieties developed by scientists and research institutes across the globe, experts said today.

"One of the main reasons that Indian cultivators are not planting the latest hybrid rice varieties is they do not like the taste. The other reasons are lack of awareness and access to the better seed varieties," said International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) senior scientist Takashi Yamano.

Yamano was among several scientists from different countries who spoke at the inaugural session of the two-day 'Seed Summit on Enhancing the Seed Supply Chain in Eastern India', organised here by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA).

The yield of rice is in the range of three tonnes per hectare in India. The yield of rice in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia is almost double in comparison to India, Yamano said.

"Indian farmers are using hybrid seed varieties of rice generated 20 to 30 years ago, despite the fact that better varieties have been released over the last two decades. Cultivators of Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha and Northeast India lag way behind other Indian states in the use of hybrid seeds. This keeps productivity at a very low level," said Yamano.

David J Spielman, Senior Research Fellow at US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said taste and cooking quality proves to be a hindrance when it comes to adoption of hybrid varieties, but expressed the hope that the situation would improve in the coming years to help provide food security cover to a billion people in India.

"We have the example of IR36, the hybrid rice variety which is widely planted across the globe. In the beginning, farmers in India resisted it in 1960s and 1970s on the grounds of taste, but it has become very popular now. We hope the latest high yield hybrids will also catch up in the same way," said Spielman.

Speaking at the summit CSISA Hub Activities Coordinator R K Malik was all praise for Bihar as it was excelling in adoption of high-yield variety of hybrid seeds of maize and rice, which was leading to a rapid increase in productivity.

"Maize productivity in Bihar has risen from 1.8 tonne per hectare to 2.7 tonne in the recent years due to very good adoption of hybrid seeds for the winter or Rabi maize crop. However there is much scope for improvement in the Kharif or summer maize crop as the use of hybrid seeds is still low," added Malik.

The two-day summit will focus on prioritising hybrid seed breeding, increasing seed replacement, leveraging civil society organisations and government bodies to ensure better adoption of new varieties of seeds and ensuring continuous supply of seeds to farmers during the planting season.

Philippines Claims Highest Rice Production Growth in Asia, Up Nearly 9% from Last Year; Meanwhile Imports Up 33% from Previous Year Amid Rampant Rice Smuggling

May 05, 2014

The Philippines milled rice production growth is highest in Asia and has surpassed that of Asia's top rice exporters such as India, Thailand and Vietnam, according to a press release by the Philippines Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). PhilRice noted in the press release that the Philippines became the Asia's fastest rice producer despite achieving only 97% rice self-sufficiency target in 2013, due to increased rice research in the country.

Based on the data from the USDA's World Markets Trade report in April 2014, PhilRice stated that the Philippines milled rice production is likely to increase by about 8.7% to about 11.64 million tons in MY 2013-14 (July - June) from about 10.71 million tons in MY 2011-12, and record highest growth among Asia's other top producers such as China, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

However, Philippines' rice imports, which are likely to increase to about 2 million tons in MY 2013-14, up by about 33% from about 1.5 million tons, are also surpassed those of Asia's top importer China, whose imports are likely to increase by about 10% during the same period, the press release quotes some rice analysts as saying. The imports are mainly to maintain buffer stocks and to contain inflation in the country, according to the National Food Authority (NFA).

The Philippines Agriculture Secretary stated that his department is encouraging farmers to increase rice production. “We will work harder so that the rice that we’ll serve on our table will be planted and harvested in the country,” he adds, the press release quotes him as saying.

PhilRice and the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have been striving hard to increase production in the Philippines as well as in Asia, stated the press release. Recently, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate and conduct rice research in the country.

Global rice analysts view that food security in Asia could be combated by an integrated approach and information sharing between all the rice producing countries. Relating the USDA data to the regional rice industry integration in Asia, two researchers from a private rice research agency in the U.S, said, "increasing private sector efforts in integrating increasingly ASEAN-wide modern farming and modern economic activities along agri-food supply chains and international trading networks could and should be harnessed and leveraged to complement and supplement on-going government efforts [towards food security in Asia], " according to the press release.

Meanwhile, the Philippines Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner has claimed that the BOC is striving hard to end rice smuggling in the country. He noted that rice prices are relatively stable in the domestic markets, and it is an indication of a reduction in the smuggling activities. However, data from the Philippines Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) shows that average domestic rice prices in the Philippines have increased in January - March 2014 compared to those during the same period in 2013. The Supreme Court's ruling rejecting the release of about 300,000 bags of suspected smuggled rice seized by the BOC is being hailed by the BOC officials.

Water fast depleting in south India’s reservoirs

Vishwa Mohan,TNN | May 5, 2014, 01.00 AM IST

NEW DELHI: The forecast of a weak monsoon this year has brought back worries of a water crisis in the country. Water is fast depleting in key reservoirs, and although current levels are significantly higher than normal in most places with the exception of south India, a slow start to the monsoon next month could quickly bring the situation to a head.

The latest update from the Central Water Commission (CWC), which monitors the status of 85 important reservoirs in the country, said 'live' storage in these water bodies was 33% (51.13 billion cubic metre or BCM) of total capacity (155.046 BCM) as on May 1. Thirty of these reservoirs are in south India and these have recorded the maximum dip in storage in the past four months.

It's normal for water bodies to deplete sharply in the pre-monsoon summer months. As a whole, the water level in these reservoirs was 126% of the corresponding period last year and 142% of the average in the past 10 years. But these bodies get mainly recharged by monsoon rains in June to September. If rains are patchy in June and July, the situation could get acute.

There's already a crisis brewing in parts of south India. CWC says the key reservoirs in the region are currently at just 16% of total capacity, much below the 10-year average (at the corresponding period) of 21%.

According to the commission, all-India storage declined from 61.78 BCM on April 3 to 51.13 BCM on May 1. Besides affecting agricultural production due to poor canal irrigation in certain parts of the country, the declining storage will also impact drinking water supplies and hydro-power generation.

The IMD last month said the country may get below average rainfall this year as the probability of a normal monsoon was just 35%, mainly because of a developing El Nino. El Nino, which refers to a periodic warming of the central and east equatorial Pacific waters, happens every four to 12 years and affects weather systems across large parts of the globe.

An El Nino last occurred in 2009, which led to the worst drought in India in nearly four decades, hitting foodgrain production in 2009-10.

Thirty out of 85 reservoirs monitored by CWC are in south India followed by 22 in west, 15 in east, 12 in central and six in northern region of the country.

Gobind Sagar (Bhakra) and Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh, Thein in Punjab, Rana Pratap Sagar in Rajasthan, Panchet Hill in Jharkhand, Hirakud and Upper Indravati in Odisha, Ukai and Sardar Sarovar in Gujarat, Koyana and Upper Vaitarna in Maharashtra, Rihand in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi Sagar and Indira Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, Nagarjuna Sagar in Andhra Pradesh, Almati and Tungbhadra in Karnataka, Idukki and Periyar in Kerala and Mettur and Sholayar in Tamil Nadu are some of the big reservoirs which are also used to generate hydro-power.

Spend More on Agricultural R&D 'By Express News Service - CHENNAI Published: 19th March'

Technology is one of the prime movers of agricultural productivity and growth, said K Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission, Government of India, here recently. He was speaking at the inauguration of the Norman Borlaug Birth Centenary Dialogue, a conference themed on the topic ‘Take it to the farmer’, conducted by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation.

Kasturirangan said that India currently spends about 0.7 per cent of the agricultural GDP on agricultural research and development, while it is widely believed by experts that India needs to raise it to one per cent of the GDP if it has to raise the agricultural production and make it sustainable.

According to Kasturirangan, the national mission on agricultural extension and technology management will be focussed on various aspects like dissemination of technology, availability of seeds and planting material, and farm mechanisation. This, he said, will also help address the shortage of farm labourers in the country. “Crop production is central to the country’s agricultural development and it constitutes about 70 per cent to the total output of the sector. Performance is vital for farming and food security,” he said. He constantly reiterated the need to develop farming tools, in collaboration with agricultural research universities and farmers’ organisations, in order to increase production. “Close linkage with agricultural universities, farmers associations and self help groups is required to promote quality planting material with high-tech horticulture,” he said.

MS Swaminathan, founder, MSSRF, S Ayyappan, director general, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, and other agriculture scientists and research scholars were present during the programme.

India: IRRI joins “Consumer and Marketplace Literacy for Women Entrepreneurs”

The Marketplace Literacy Community Trust, an NGO in India that seeks to promote consumer literacy and entrepreneurship amongst the rural poor, conducted training activity for women’s Self Help Groups in Chennai using their innovative video-based marketplace literacy approach.

This approach to helping disadvantaged and marginalized groups was developed by Professor Madhu Viswanathan of the University of Illinois, with whom IRRI is a partner in understanding postharvest needs.

IRRI’s Alfred Schmidley, value chain specialist, and Aanand Kumar, postharvest specialist of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), joined the event to learn more about this approach firsthand.

The training, held on 19-21 February 2014, was organized by MLC founder and director R. Venkatasen and his staff, who arranged visits for farmers, millers, and other postharvest chain actors during the visit of Alfred and Aanand.

“This innovative learning approach can be extended to serve postharvest needs and opportunities for women and marginalized farmers as entrepreneurs,” said Alfred. “This could help foster the sustainable adoption of improved post harvest technologies and a better understanding of markets and linkages in the chain.”

Chances of El Nino in 2014 put at over 70%

In what could be bad news for Indian agriculture, conditions in the Pacific Ocean seem to be increasingly favouring the onset of an El Nino this summer. In its latest update, Australian Bureau of Meteorology said there was now a more than 70% chance that the unusual weather pattern will develop in the next few months.

The update, however, was the most categorical about the onset of an El Nino till date. An El Nino increases the chances of poor monsoon in India although there have been several exceptions in the past.

El Nino is the name given to unusual warming of waters in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, which is linked to changes in wind patterns and anomalous weather in many parts of the globe.