05 March 2023, Punjab: A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) supported initiative; Plant Direct – Dry Direct Seeded Rice for the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India – was launched in alignment with Proposed Thematic IRRI-ICAR (International Rice Research Institute, Philippines – Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi) Work Plan 2023-2027 at Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
Chaired by PAU Vice-Chancellor, Dr Satbir Singh Gosal, distinguished dignitaries namely, Dr Hans Bhardwaj, Platform Leader – Rice Breeding Innovations Platform, IRRI; Dr Jean Balie, Director General, IRRI; Dr Jeet Ram, Director Research, Haryana Agricultural University; Dr B.N. Singh, Chairman, CRD, Gorakhpur; Dr Renee Lafitee, Director, Crops Research and Development, BMGF; Dr Vipula Shukla, Senior Officer, BMGF and Dr Vikas Kumar Singh, Regional Breeding Lead – South Asia, IRRI, India, participated in the launch function. Besides the presence of many other scientists from different regions, Dr Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer, BMGF, joined online.
Calling attention to the novel technique of Tar-Wattar (sufficiently high and workable moisture) DSR, Dr S.S. Gosal reported that it was developed and recommended by PAU in 2020 to reduce water footprints in rice cultivation. In this technique, pre-sowing irrigation is applied and primed seed is sown in a Tar-Wattar field preferably using Lucky Seed Drill. A major departure from the conventional dry-DSR, delayed first irrigation applied at three weeks after sowing (21 days) offers higher savings (15-20 percent) in irrigation water, lesser incidence of iron deficiency as roots go deeper, lesser weed germination, wider soil adaptability and provides yield/profit similar to puddle transplanted rice, he observed.
Explaining further, Dr Gosal talked about raised-bed DSR under Tar-Wattar conditions which was developed and recommended in 2022. This technique offers 8 percent higher savings in irrigation over flat sown Tar-Wattar DSR, he pointed out. He also enumerated the state government’s initiatives like a subsidy for lucky seed drill, capacity-building programmes and farmers’ field demonstrations in clusters. Promising commitment to work in refining DSR technologies, he remarked that the focus would be on aerobic rice varieties, biotic/abiotic stress management, improved agronomy and mechanization.
Sharing the legacy of participating institutions in rice research, Dr Hans Bhardwaj opined that continuing improvements for efficiency is the cornerstone of any working unit from individuals to organizations and Plant Direct Initiative is no different. He underscored the need for an integrated and scientific approach to make direct-seeded rice socioeconomically and environmentally sustainable.
In a video message, Dr Jean Balie highlighted the vulnerability of rice production to the negative impacts of climate change and, paradoxically, it being a contributing factor to climate change. He pointed out that rice cultivation is a leading driver of habitat loss in wetlands and forests, uses one-third of the world’s freshwater, and is responsible for 10 percent of man-made methane emissions globally. Initiatives like DSR and short-duration varieties ensure water efficiency, reduce labour requirement, mitigate pollution, increase drought resilience, accelerate cropping intensity and enhance the farmers’ income, he added.
Dr B.N. Singh informed that DSR eliminated the cost of raising nursery, transplantation and its related impact on the health of labour. He advocated some supplementation with irrigation as the dry seeding process involved certain problems like weeds. Two progressive farmers, who have been practicing the PAU-recommended Tar-Wattar DSR technique employing Lucky Seed Drill shared their experiences and revealed that this technology lowered weed infestation in PR 126, zero foot-rot in basmati and proper germination of seeds. They suggested farmer-led extension for promoting Tar-Wattar technology and the development of early-germinating varieties.
Unveiling the objectives of BMGF in agricultural development, Dr Renee Lafitte mentioned that the foundation is driven by the belief that all lives have equal value and that everyone has a right to live a healthy, productive life. Farmers need to become more productive, using sustainable approaches that respect limits on natural resources and the need to preserve biodiversity and fragile ecosystems, she emphasized. According to her, the potential for farmer-led progress is substantial.
Dr Gary Atlin stressed the need for evolving water-efficient rice management systems to stabilize the critical component of the declining water table in the Indian agricultural system. He listed several advantages of DSR like savings on irrigation water, reduction in labor and drudgery by eliminating seedling uprooting and transplanting, lessened cultivation time, energy, and cost, faster maturation and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The vote of thanks was proposed by Dr Vikas Kumar Singh and the dignitaries were honoured with mementos. Later, in the plenary session, an overview of DSR priorities and activities of the project partners were discussed. The post-lunch session had lectures on product concepts, breeding networks and programs as well as assessment of trait gaps in elite germplasm by the participating scientists.
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