‘Cli­mate change, shrink­ing land next decade chal­lenges for agri­cul­ture sec­tor’

In an in­ter­view, Dr. Ajoy Ku­mar Singh, Vice Chan­cel­lor, Bi­har Agri­cul­ture Univer­sity, Sabour tells Mohd Mus­taquim about the steps taken for sec­ond green revo­lu­tion in east­ern re­gion of In­dia, suc­cess sto­ries of maize and makhana cul­ti­va­tion and chal­lenges

Rural & Marketing - - CONTENT -

What are the big­gest chal­lenges agri­cul­ture sec­tor is go­ing to face in the next decade, es­pe­cially in the east­ern re­gion of the coun­try? And what are the way outs?

The grow­ing pop­u­la­tion cou­pled with cli­mate change and shrink­ing land resources are the big­gest chal­lenges of agri­cul­tural sec­tor in next decades. Nearly 65 per­cent of the In­dian pop­u­la­tion is de­pen­dent upon agri­cul­ture and 80 per­cent of the farm­ers cul­ti­vate less than one hectare land­hold­ing. East­ern In­dia, con­sist­ing Bi­har, West Ben­gal, Odisha and Jharkhand, which is

a home of 69.16 mil­lion of poor in the coun­try fac­ing sev­eral chal­lenges in agri­cul­ture sec­tor. At present, the farm­ers con­cen­trate mainly on crop pro­duc­tion which is sub­jected to high de­gree of un­cer­tainty in in­come and em­ploy­ment.

Cli­mate change is a ma­jor chal­lenge for agri­cul­ture, food se­cu­rity and ru­ral liveli­hoods for mil­lions of peo­ple, af­fect­ing more to small­hold­ing farm­ers. Ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties face an im­me­di­ate and ever-grow­ing risk of in­creased crop fail­ure. Droughts, floods and storms are most com­monly

oc­cur­ring phe­nom­e­non. Heavy rain­fall in up­per catch­ment area due to er­ratic mon­soon pat­tern and oc­cur­rence of cy­clone in bay of Ben­gal, causes flood in river basins of Ganga, Koshi and Ma­hanadi. The floods in this re­gion cause huge crop loss.

Some of the strate­gies that could be adopted for com­bat­ing chal­lenges of Agri­cul­ture sec­tor in east­ern In­dia are con­tin­gent crop plan­ning un­der drought and flood situation, man­age­ment of rice­fal­low, main­te­nance of soil cover and or­ganic matter in soil along with chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers, adop­tion

of makhana cul­ti­va­tion in crop­ping and farm­ing sys­tem mode, use of in­te­grated farm­ing sys­tem (IFS), Syn­er­gis­ing live­stock with farm­ing, scal­ing up wa­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity, in­te­grated fish farm­ing par­tic­u­larly in wa­ter logged area, agro­forestry in­ter­ven­tions, con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able use of flood­plain wet­lands and ap­pro­pri­ate mech­a­ni­sa­tion.

How has con­stant er­ratic mon­soon af­fected the agri­cul­ture sec­tor in the east­ern states which are known as rice bowl of the coun­try?

In Bi­har the av­er­age an­nual rain­fall in south western part of the state has showed de­creas­ing trend, while, in other re­gion it is al­most same. How­ever, win­ter rain­fall is de­creas­ing all over the state and there is a sharp shift in be­havioural pat­tern of the mon­soon. East­ern In­dia has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing spe­cific cli­mate change im­pacts due to shift­ing of rain­fall pat­tern. The er­ratic be­hav­iour of mon­soon re­sults in oc­cur­rence of drought and flood situation.

Dras­tic re­duc­tion in rice yield (IET 5786 dur­ing the boro sea­sons of 1999-2000 and 2000-01) was ob­served when the tem­per­a­ture in­creased by 1, 2 and 3 de­grees Cel­sius re­spec­tively in Gangetic plains of West Ben­gal. Wheat yield in th­ese re­gions has been ad­versely af­fected due to rise in tem­per­a­ture. Re­duc­tion in grain yield un­der heat stress is fre­quently oc­curred due to speedy phe­no­log­i­cal changes, ac­cel­er­ated leaf senes­cence, min­i­mal pho­to­syn­the­sis and re­stric­tion for starch syn­the­sis. Ul­ti­mate fac­tors that im­pose heat stress re­sult­ing yield loss in wheat is ex­treme tem­per­a­ture by min­imis­ing growth pe­riod of live plants.

De­spite hav­ing abun­dant wa­ter farm­ers in the re­gion ir­ri­gate Rabi rice through high-cost diesel pump sets which makes the prac­tice non-prof­itable. What steps BAU has been tak­ing in this direction?

Farm­ers are us­ing diesel pump sets for ir­ri­ga­tion due to lack of elec­tri­cal sup­ply sys­tem. North-East­ern re­gion of Bi­har also known as 'Kosi' re­gion com­prises of Sa­harsa, Mad­hep­ura, Su­paul, Purnea, Kati­har, Darb­hanga, Mad­hubani, and Kha­garia dis­tricts, is char­ac­terised by high wa­ter-level dur­ing good mon­soon years. Large tracts of land be­come un­suit­able for tra­di­tional rabi crop due to wa­ter log­ging and flood­ing. Wheat cul­ti­va­tion is a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity due to wa­ter stag­na­tion, thus rice is the only op­tion left. Boro rice has come as a boon to the farm­ers with the in­tro­duc­tion of cold tol­er­ant and short du­ra­tion photo-in­sen­si­tive rice va­ri­eties. Dur­ing course of time, in­cre­ment of in­put cost mis­matched with the in­come, makes the cul­ti­va­tion less prof­itable. After the in­cep­tion of BAU, Sabour and si­mul­ta­ne­ous es­tab­lish­ment of Bhola Paswan Shas­tri Agri­cul­tural Col­lege, Purnea; sys­tem­atic re­search work on Makhana cul­ti­va­tion has been ini­ti­ated. The con­certed ef­forts of Makhana re­search team of the univer­sity has re­sulted in re­leas­ing “Sabour Makhana-1” hav­ing yield po­ten­tial of 32-35 quin­tal/ha with pop re­cov­ery of 55-60 per­cent. Boro rice (Rabi rice) is shift­ing to­ward makhana cul­ti­va­tion. This di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion from high vol­ume low value crop to low vol­ume high value crop may also help in­crease farm­ers’ in­come as well as job op­por­tu­nity for ru­ral youth.

There has been a trend in East­ern Bi­har that farm­ers are shift­ing to­wards maize cul­ti­va­tion. How did this development hap­pen? Also kindly throw some light on how it is im­pact­ing the farm­ers’ in­comes.

It is the fact that farm­ers of East­ern Bi­har are shift­ing from wheat and rice in up­land and medium up­land to maize cul­ti­va­tion. As per re­cent estimates, maize is grown in Bi­har over an area of 0.75 mha with a pro­duc­tion of 2.02 mil­lion tonnes. The an­nual pro­duc­tion growth rate, in maize, is much higher, ow­ing to high yields, which had been much more than other ma­jor ce­re­als. The in­crease in acreage is a re­sult of prof­itabil­ity, va­ri­etal adapt­abil­ity to di­verse agro-cli­mate con­di­tions and its adop­tion as win­ter/Rabi crop in rice belt of In­dia. The in­crease in pro­duc­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity is at­trib­uted to the in­tro­duc­tion of sin­gle cross hy­brids and im­proved agron­omy cou­pled with in­dus­trial de­mand. As agribusi­ness, maize pro­cess­ing economies con­tinue to grow and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for use of maize have in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly. Higher pro­duc­tiv­ity of rabi maize is due to less dis­ease and pest in­ci­dent, bet­ter use of sun­shine and wa­ter as well as nu­tri­ent man­age­ment, lower photo res­pi­ra­tion losses due to lower night tem­per­a­tures.

The stretch from Pur­nia, Kati­har and Bha­galpur to Mad­hep­ura, Sa­harsa, Kha­garia and Sa­mas­tipur – north of the Ganga and on

ei­ther side of Kosi – emerged as a corn belt. The ex­port boom also ben­e­fited Bi­har’s farm­ers, who saw their price re­al­i­sa­tions from Rs 400 to Rs 1,200 per quin­tal between 2005 and 2012.

In 2012-13, then fi­nance min­is­ter, Pranab Mukher­jee had said that east­ern states, Bi­har, Jharkhand, West Ben­gal and As­sam are go­ing to see the Sec­ond Green Revo­lu­tion. Since the state­ment was made, what de­vel­op­ments have been made in this direction?

The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia had launched the strate­gic ini­tia­tive ‘Bring­ing Green Revo­lu­tion in East­ern In­dia (BGREI) in 2010–11, and so that state­ment made by the then Fi­nance min­is­ter. The pro­gramme is still con­tin­u­ing. Dur­ing the ini­ti­a­tion of BGREI, CRRI (now NRRI) Cut­tak has been made the nodal agency to im­ple­ment the pro­gramme with the in­volve­ment of states. Most im­por­tant tech­nolo­gies like sys­tem of rice in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, hy­brid rice pro­duc­tion, green ma­nur­ing and other mea­sures have been adopted.

The In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search (ICAR) has es­tab­lished In­dian Agri­cul­tural Re­search In­sti­tute (IARI), Hazaribag in Jharkhand, In­dian In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­tural Biotech­nol­ogy, Ranchi and Na­tional Re­search Cen­tre on In­te­grated Farm­ing at Moti­hari in Bi­har, to fur­ther strengthen the agri­cul­tural re­search for the east­ern re­gion. The sec­ond GR cell has also been es­tab­lished at the ICAR-Re­search Com­plex for East­ern Re­gion, Patna, to co­or­di­nate the var­i­ous re­searches, de­vel­op­men­tal and pol­icy is­sues of the east­ern states in col­lab­o­ra­tion with re­spec­tive state gov­ern­ments, State Agri­cul­tural Uni­ver­si­ties, ICAR and CGIAR in­sti­tutes.

BAU in the cen­tre stage of this re­gion, will have to play a piv­otal role in sec­ond Green Revo­lu­tion, what prepa­ra­tions it has made or done so far?

The sec­ond green revo­lu­tion will come through use of ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy, use of farm­ing sys­tem ap­proach, crop­ping sys­tem in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion us­ing ce­re­als, pulses and veg­eta­bles and de­vel­op­ing high yield­ing va­ri­eties. All th­ese as­pects are ac­tively be­ing taken care of by the univer­sity. Since the in­cep­tion of BGREI dur­ing 201011, univer­sity sci­en­tists in­clud­ing KVK sci­en­tists have been in­volved in for­mu­la­tion and ex­e­cu­tion of the development ac­tiv­i­ties.

Soils of East­ern Indo-Gangetic Plains are fer­tile but de­fi­cient in mi­cronu­tri­ents (Zn, Fe, cu, Mn, B). BAU is con­duct­ing re­search on site spe­cific nu­tri­ent man­age­ment op­tions, to im­prove the soil fer­til­ity. Medium du­ra­tion High Yield­ing Va­ri­eties of rice and wheat are be­ing de­vel­oped to es­cape mois­ture stress and ter­mi­nal heat stress. Pro­tected cul­ti­va­tion and tech­nolo­gies for pro­duc­ing more from less land and wa­ter is be­ing de­vel­oped and pop­u­larised.

Plant Ge­netic Resources would play im­por­tant role in sec­ond Green Revo­lu­tion. Your take on this...

Plant ge­netic resources pro­vide po­ten­tial hub for har­ness­ing genes which can be in­cor­po­rated into the ex­ist­ing crop va­ri­eties through breed­ing or ge­netic engi­neer­ing in or­der to in­crease crop yield and also to mit­i­gate the ad­verse im­pact of cli­mate change. It has been suc­cess­fully utilised in past for in­cor­po­rat­ing traits like dwarfism which re­sulted in high yield through in­put re­spon­sive­ness and lodg­ing re­sis­tance, led to first green revo­lu­tion. There­after, new chal­lenges like abi­otic - drought, sub­mer­gence and salin­ity - and bi­otic stress - fun­gal, bac­te­rial and in­sect-pest - are be­ing suc­cess­fully ad­dressed through po­ten­tial

ge­netic resources. Greater ef­forts are needed to con­serve the plant di­ver­sity and to es­ti­mate the full po­ten­tial of plant ge­netic resources, and to bring this in­for­ma­tion to the at­ten­tion of pol­icy-makers and the gen­eral pub­lic so that they can be used for bring­ing sec­ond green revo­lu­tion.

Ge­net­i­cally Mod­i­fied Or­gan­ism (GMO) has been con­tro­ver­sial in In­dia. It’s yet to be ap­plied in food grains. Now, there is a new tech­nol­ogy called Genome Edit­ing. How do you see this development?

Ge­net­i­cally Mod­i­fied or­gan­isms (GMOs) are gen­er­ated through the trans­genic in­tro­duc­tion of trans­genic DNA se­quences and they have been con­tro­ver­sial. They face many reg­u­la­tory is­sues de­spite the fact that those cur­rently on the mar­ket have passed safety tests and are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered safe to eat. Genome edit­ing , a new forms of ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion, al­lows sci­en­tists to ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neer or­gan­isms with­out in­sert­ing trans­genic DNA. Crops de­vel­oped through genome edit­ing are sim­i­lar to crop de­vel­oped through con­ven­tional breed­ing meth­ods as they do not carry any trans­genic genes. Although two crops de­vel­oped by dif­fer­ent, ge­need­it­ing and non-GM, meth­ods may pos­sess the same trait, and even the same DNA se­quence in the re­gion of in­ter­est, this does not make them equiv­a­lent in terms of the whole genome.

The ef­fi­cacy of CRISPR/ Cas9 tech­nique to ob­tain pre­cise ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tions makes more dif­fi­cult to iden­tify a GMO` once out­side the lab and also to reg­u­late this or­gan­isms in the mar­ket. In prac­tice, this is one of the main rea­sons why risk as­sess­ment of GMOs is car­ried out - in or­der to de­ter­mine if any un­in­tended changes have im­pli­ca­tions for food and en­vi­ron­men­tal safety, so there is need of reg­u­la­tion for safety as­sess­ment of genome edited crops too although this is­sue is yet de­bat­able.

What are the ar­eas of agri­cul­tural re­search BAU is fo­cus­ing on and how many stu­dents are cur­rently study­ing with the varsity?

The re­search pro­grammes of BAU are fo­cused on crop improvement, nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment, crop pro­tec­tion, so­cial sciences, prod­uct development and mar­ket­ing. The pro­grammes are run by dif­fer­ent units and col­leges along with col­lab­o­ra­tions with var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tutes. New re­search development fa­cil­ity has been cre­ated for mi­cro prop­a­ga­tion of ba­nana; pro­tected cul­ti­va­tion; bio-fer­tilis­ers and bio-pes­ti­cides pro­duc­tion.

BAU is en­deav­our­ing to pro­duce trained and qual­ity hu­man resources in the form of agri­cul­tural grad­u­ates hav­ing knowl­edge, skills, pro­fi­cien­cies and en­trepreneur­ship abil­i­ties in vi­tal ar­eas of agri­cul­ture. The to­tal in­take ca­pac­ity at un­der­grad­u­ate level is 410 stu­dents while in Masters, it is 100 seats and 34 in Ph.D, to­talling an in­take of 598 stu­dents every years.

Since last 6 years, BAU has achieved many new heights in the field of ed­u­ca­tion. In re­search, it has 236 re­search projects to ad­dress the needs of the re­gion. The univer­sity has re­leased 16 va­ri­eties and de­vel­oped more than 20 tech­nolo­gies for the farm­ers

How has been the jour­ney of BAU in agri­cul­tural re­search and ed­u­ca­tion and how has the varsity changed the farm­ing land­scape in Bi­har?

BAU is play­ing a piv­otal role in re­search, development and tech­nol­ogy trans­fer at field level. Re­search de­vo­tions to­wards solv­ing prob­lems of agri­cul­tural development has re­sulted in en­com­pass­ing crop improvement pro­grammes. Grain qual­ity, bio­for­ti­fi­ca­tion and improvement for ma­jor bi­otic and abi­otic stresses have been at­tempted to ad­dress the needs of ecol­ogy; con­ven­tional het­ero­sis and molec­u­lar breed­ing ap­proaches are in­ten­sively pur­sued to im­prove the ge­netic po­ten­tial. Ad­dress­ing the nu­tri­tional se­cu­rity and self-suf­fi­ciency in pulses, the re­search ac­tiv­ity in chick­pea, pi­geon peas, mung bean for pro­duc­tion and pro­duc­tiv­ity are be­ing car­ried out.

The varsity got quit suc­cess, es­pe­cially in di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of farm in­come of re­source poor fam­i­lies by use of IFS, cash crops, mush­room pro­duc­tion, bee­keep­ing, back­yard poul­try, value ad­di­tion and pro­cess­ing of fruits and veg­eta­bles.

Dr. Ajoy Ku­mar Singh, Vice Chan­cel­lor, Bi­har Agri­cul­ture Univer­sity, Sabour

Dr. AK Singh, VC, BAU (far right) while in­ter­act­ing with pa­paya farm­ers dur­ing a field visit

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