Rice variety preferences in Bangladesh: What is the role of public breeders?

 Amlan Biswas, Md. Safiul Islam Afrad, Muhammad Ziaul Hoque, Md. Abdullah Al Mamun, Muhammad Ashraful Habib, Swati Nayak, Saidul Islam, Nuruzzaman, and Stefan Mann   |  

It has been suggested that public breeders should put more emphasis on the integration of public good aspects into their work as compared to private enterprises, so that varietal resistances, for example, should be more important traits than yield. However, this has remained a normative framework so far. It is unclear to what extent the objectives of public breeders really differ from private enterprises’ breeding objectives.

Most crops being grown on the world’s arable land have been bred by private enterprises. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For some crops, in particular perennial ones, the time lag between starting breeding and making a profit is too long to be attractive, so public breeders jump in.

Another exception is rice in Southeast Asia. Both international actors like International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and national research organizations are active in providing a major share of rice species used for production.

It has been suggested that public breeders should put more emphasis on the integration of public good aspects into their work as compared to private enterprises, so that varietal resistances, for example, should be more important traits than yield. However, this has remained a normative framework so far. It is unclear to what extent the objectives of public breeders really differ from private enterprises’ breeding objectives.

Different actors in the food value chain have different demands on the attributes of a variety. In the case of rice, for example, rice that grows well as is resistant to a large scale of diseases and insects is not necessarily well suited for milling. In the case of privately bred varieties, it can be assumed that the “invisible hand of the market” will lead to varieties being adapted to the needs of both farmers and millers. But does this also apply to the work of public breeders?

To shed light on these questions, this paper uses the case of the rice chain in Bangladesh. The structure of this chain, with particular respect to breeders, is sketched in Section 2. Rice production is influenced by the preferences of both producers and consumers, explicitly including the role of intermediates, in particular millers whose role in securing the supply in the rice chain increasingly gets attention.

Rice is produced in Bangladesh mainly in three seasons: aus, aman, and boro. In Bangladesh, aus is the pre-monsoon season of rice cultivation and aman is the wet season. Aman is transplanted with shorter-duration varieties in shallow flooding depths and directly seeded as an upland crop from March to May in deep flooding depths.

The plant then grows in floodwater from June to September and is harvested after the floodwater recedes from November to December. Boro rice is a dry-season irrigated rice. Boro was traditionally produced on very low-lying land (unsuitable for cultivating any crop during the monsoon season), transplanted in November following the receding flood water, and harvested in April– May.

Public breeders are very active to deliver new varieties to the market. They comprise two sorts of actors: IRRI is part of the UN-financed CGIAR institutes and is most active in the release of rice varieties. On the national level, both the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Bangladesh Institute for Nuclear Agriculture (BINA)  are also active to breed, mainly using inputs from the IRRI.

A new variety is often released to replace an old variety that has become susceptible to insects and diseases. It does not necessarily have to be a higher-yielding one. Many factors influence a farmer’s choice of rice variety. In addition to yield, farm size, tenure status, and education, access to extension services and credit facilities have a major influence on the varietal preference of farmers.

Rice variety preferences are primarily influenced by factors such as yield, market value, pest resistance, adaptability to various types of soil, aromatic features, fertilizer use, etc. Also, farmers’ choices of rice varieties depend on the grain quality preferences of consumers and other actors in the rice value chain such as millers, traders, wholesalers, and retailers.

In the 2017–18 boro (dry season), IRRI distributed tons of improved seeds of stress-tolerant rice varieties in Bangladesh and observed a prominent impact on farm income, food security,and livelihoods of rice farmers.

A high level of farmers’ perception was identified for rice straw utilization which also led to a positive effect on agriculture and the surrounding environment. In addition, rice varietal traits such as high yield, disease resistance, drought tolerance, good cooking and eating grain quality, aroma, earliness to maturity, and high market value were preferred by farmers. So, different factors have considerable effects on farmers’ perceptions of rice varieties.

Far less conclusive evidence exists on the preferences of rice millers. Millers’ preferences for procurement of rice varieties were assessed in Tamil Nadu and reported that ‘fineness’ and ‘high milling return’ were the major deciding parameters for procurement by rice millers.

Rice millers prefer varieties with high milling and head rice out-turn, whereas consumers consider physicochemical qualities. Paddy needs to be processed after harvesting for consumption. Before milling rice, all the processes including cleaning, parboiling, soaking, steaming, and drying of paddy are needed.

These processes have important implications for the nutrient content of milled rice. When it comes to ‘excellent rice quality’, 39% of millers consider it should be clean, 35% feel it should not be broken, and 26% think it should have slender grain. 79% of millers polish rice once to ensure good quality, which is the minimum requirement to make rice eatable. However, 21% of millers polish rice more than once to make the grains whiter and thinner.

Bangladesh’s per capita income has improved rapidly in recent decades. As a result of rising income levels, more people are now interested in processed rice since it looks glossy, takes less time to cook, is free of stones and dead rice, and has a longer shelf life.

To meet the demand of the people, new automatic rice mills are being set up at a mounting rate. Thus, rice millers need to take significant steps to keep up with the consumers’ demand. While the channels of communication between IRRI and farmers are well established  IRRI and other public breeders may be less attached to the needs of millers.

To understand the millers’ and farmers’ overall lifestyles and the reasons behind their preference for different rice varieties, a survey of rice growers and millers was carried out. The objective of the study was to identify and compare the salient features of various rice varieties preferred by the millers and farmers. With regard to the research questions formulated above, the following three hypotheses are formulated:

H1: Bangladeshi farmers prioritizing public good attributes like disease resistance will rather prefer publicly bred varieties, whereas
H2: Bangladeshi farmers prioritizing market value will rather prefer privately bred varieties.
H3: Millers, as compared to farmers, will rather prefer privately bred varieties.

Millers and farmers from all around Bangladesh liked to cultivate the mega varieties viz., BRRI dhan28 and BRRI dhan29 for the dry season (Boro). In northeast Bangladesh farmers’ mostly preferred BINA dhan11 and BINA dhan17, while in addition to these varieties, millers also preferred private breeds viz., Pazam and Tulshimala as aman rice varieties.

In the northwest, BRRI dhan49 and Sharna 5 were preferred by millers, and BRRI dhan51 was a favorite among Farmers, whereas in the central region, BINA-invented varieties such as; BINA dhan11 and BINA dhan17 were popular among both millers and framers.

Moreover, in coastal areas, BRRI dhan49 and BRRI dhan51 were the priority for millers, while farmers’ favorite aman varieties were BRRI dhan51 and BRRI dhan52. However, farmers prefer rice varieties with ‘higher yield,’ ‘higher market value,’ and ‘shorter crop duration,’ while millers consider ‘size and shape of the rice grain,’ ‘market demand’ and ‘milling performance’.

The study found that farmers and millers had varied preferences in rice varieties, mostly because public research stations are targeting their efforts towards the need of farmers rather than millers.

This is not only something that researchers have to bear in mind throughout the genesis, development, and expansion of new rice varieties. It is also something that should remind public breeders to be more strongly linked to the needs of the entire chain rather than to farmers.

Therefore, the conventional, less robust rice types need to be replaced with new, potentially superior rice strains. Farmers and millers should have access to different types of rice with desirable characteristics.

Our theoretical consideration that public breeders would be more oriented toward public goods like resistance, whereas private breeders would focus on private amenities like market value could only partly be confirmed.

Read the study:
Biswas A, Afrad MSI, Hoque MZ, Mamun MAA, Habib MA, Nayak  S, Islam S, Nuruzzaman, and Mann S. (2023). Rice Variety Preferences in Bangladesh – What is the Role of Public Breeders?. Asian Journal of Agricultural Extension, Economics & Sociology, 41(5), 152–164.


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