Strategic public and private partnership help accelerate dissemination of new varieties in eastern India

 Alaric Santiaguel   |  

It could take between 3 to 6 years from initial evaluation of a breeding line to the release of a new rice variety. Add to that the slow rate of varietal adoption by farmers, because of problems with the seed industry and extensions services, and you have a system with low production, productivity and farm incomes. Now, the dissemination of newly released stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs) in eastern India is getting a boost through the partnership between public and private seed producers.

The Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project has been working with partners in the region to spearhead initiatives to accelerate the adoption and dissemination of stress-tolerant varieties so they can reach farmers’ fields much quicker. STRASA is using this strategy to create awareness among the farming communities in 50 districts in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These districts mostly have marginal farmers without access to quality seed of new varieties. The strategy also promotes proper channels as seed sources to ensure a sustainable seed system in the future.

STRASA facilitated the activities in which public and private formal seed sectors and extension systems participate in the promotion and multiplication of the flood-tolerant BINA dhan 11 and Sambha Mahsuri Sub 1, the drought-tolerant DRR42, DRR 43, DRR44, and salinity tolerant DRR 39. These are suitable for areas where farmers suffer heavy losses due to floods and drought and salinity. The varieties are early maturing and have characteristics and traits preferred by most farmers and consumers.

Farmers evaluate the varieties in multi-location field trials through the extension system. Extension agencies collect the feedback from the farmers then convey the information to seed producers. The feedback from these demonstrations help the national system to determine which new varieties for improving the rice yields in rainfed conditions are suitable for large-scale promotion and seed upscaling. The seed production sector engages in the upscaling and the comparison of the new varieties with existing varieties.

Farmer seed systems and formal seed systems have complementary tasks in supporting agricultural development. STRASA is strengthening both systems to expedite the upscaling and adoption of new varieties in the pipeline. The project is developing a promotion roadmap by linking public, private, and state seed corporations with institutions that produce breeder seeds.  This will allow new varieties to enter the formal seed chain as early as the first year of their release.

For example, the Seed Association of Bengal, a group of more than 45 seed companies which supplies seeds to several states in eastern India, has taken up the multiplication of DRR42 seed in the first year of its release. This will speed up the replacement of high-yielding, but short-rooted and drought-prone commercial rice variety, IR64.

STRASA supports these small seed companies by creating awareness of the varieties by providing technical information about the varieties and conducting small demonstrations through their dealers’ network.

These partnerships are gaining momentum in the seed sector, allowing for fast-track commercialization of STRV seeds that enable large-scale distribution so more farmers benefit. STRVs is a top priority of breeder seed indent from different agencies across the states submitted to the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture.

In 2014, STRASA facilitated the production of 5 tons of breeder seed of the new rice varieties allocated to public and private seed companies. This will produce about 400 tons of foundation seeds in 2015 and is sufficient to produce more than 25,000 tons in next two years. The seed will be commercially available to farmers.

In target areas where farmers traditionally use their own seeds and depend on their own varieties, the foundation seed will be used in demonstration areas to generate further awareness and demand through multiple channels. STRASA is demonstrating the STRVS with support from the states and partners (mostly NGOs) in collaboration with scientists and extension workers. These demonstration areas are in small clusters to cover more areas. Quality seed-production training and meetings are conducted to increase awareness of STRV varieties and accelerate the informal seed diffusion.

The governments of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand joined IRRI in establishing demonstration areas of STRVs to improve and stabilize rice productivity in 15 target districts. There are 40 demonstration areas (50 hectares each) in Uttar Pradesh and 12 demonstrations (100 hectares each) in Jharkhand. The demonstration areas are linked to producers to make the seeds available to farmers.  Along with STRVS, the improved management practices are also shown. More than 8000 farmers, many of them registered as seed growers, are participating in these activities. The target producing more than 1500 tons certified seed of these varieties.

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