By Paula Bianca Ferrer
After Super Cyclone Paradip devastated Odisha, India in 1999, people started having problems with food. They couldn’t grow anything after the soil became too saline, except in the wet season. Aside from salinity, flooding is also a problem because the area was near a river mouth and the sea. Most of these soils used to remain fallow during the dry season.
Through the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), Dr. RK Singh, IRRI senior scientist, and his team then decided to introduce some IRRI varieties considered to be elite cultures — especially for the dry season through CRRI collaborators —which were not only saline-tolerant but also early-maturing.
The varieties were tested through participatory varietal selection (PVS) trials that not only involved farmers from the specific village affected by the super typhoon, but also farmers from neighboring villages. Slowly over time, they screened a few high yielding saline-tolerant rice varieties and around 2005 to 2007, a few hectares had already been planted to these varieties in the area. But it wasn’t until they introduced IR72046-B-R-3-3-3-1 that a considerable track of rice area became productive again.
“Before IR72046, the wet season was just their main season. But because they were near the river mouth and the sea, there was frequent flooding and salt water intrusion,” said Dr. Singh. But later on, with the involvement of CURE, the two seasons — both wet and dry — became their main seasons. “It was a transformation.”
In the wet season, Dr. Singh explained that harvest is so low, didn’t have enough to last them through the dry season. But, when they were able to try the varieties, it became possible for them to grow rice even in the dry season. So they then had enough food enough for the whole year and were also able to sell some of the rice so they earned some money. They were also able to send their children to school. IR72046-B-R-3-3-3-1 was later released and commercialized as CR Dhan 405 in Odisha, and disseminated to large areas.
“You know that is the satisfaction when you work somewhere, and you see the result going out of a specific village and into the neighboring villages,” Dr. Singh said. Within 2-3 years, the Stress-tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project reported through remote sensing that area grown to the saline-tolerant varieties started to increase. After three years, the area grown to the varieties had grown by more than 400%. “So that was one example, where we really ignited the hope of the farmers because they knew they had something good to plant even in the dry season,” he added.
In the saline-affected areas of Khulna and Jessore in Bangladesh, Dr. Singh and his team also helped to not only further disseminate a variety that was previously developed from an IRRI project, but also taught farmers how to grow the variety for higher yield. Besides India and Bangladesh, Dr. Singh also have sites in Vietnam and Indonesia since he started working for CURE in 2005, and had led its technical working group on salinity. “At that time, I saw that things were not in good shape with the NARES partners,” Dr. Singh recalled. “They really wanted help but not just in terms of the technology. The technology is there, but they also want their capacity to be built up because IRRI scientists are not always there. So they need someone, who cannot only give them the materials, but also technical backstopping. So we were able to address those situations in CURE,” explained Dr. Singh.
“The belief and trust of partners at the national agricultural research and extension systems in IRRI is at a different level,” he said. “I think working with CURE gave me more depth in understanding the different problems in unfavorable rice environments so that really helped me to become a better scientist,” he said.
Dr. Rakesh Kumar "RK" Singh is a senior scientist and workgroup leader for drought in International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). He can be reached thru his email at email@example.com.
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