India: Drought-resistant rice variety struggles to find any takers
Sep. 26, 2017
Even as the government remains firm on not allowing paddy to be grown in Karnataka's rice bowl Mandya fearing over-utilization of water from the Cauvery basin, a lesser-known variety of rice which doesn't consume much water seems to be struggling to create a market.
Aerobic rice needs only half the water used for conventional rice cultivation. In the trial phase for the past 10 years, it has seen little exposure. So much so, a mela was held in Mandya on Saturday to attract farmers towards the variety.
Dr H E Shashidhar, retired professor of genetics and plant breeding from the University of Agricultural Sciences, was the lead scientist who helped in the trial runs.Funded by the famed Rockefellar Foundation in the late 90s, the trials continued through the 2000s and are still on, but farmers have shown minimal interest in using aerobic rice as an alternative to traditional varieties.
"The aerobic variety can yield nearly 20-22 quintals of rice per acre at not more than Rs 15,000 as input cost. Conventional paddy cultivation approximately costs Rs 25,000 per acre for the same yield.Unfortunately , the mindset of the farmers has not changed," said the scientist.
"With people still believ ing that paddy cannot give a good yield if not flood irrigated, farmers are not giving themselves a chance to grow this drought-resistant variety," added Shashidhar. As part of the trial runs, UAS assisted farmers in Bidadi (five acre), Dodballapura (10 acre) and Vishweshwaraiah Canal farm (70 acre) in Mandya to cultivate the rice.
Industry sources claim successive state governments have ignored the variety due to increased weeding during cultivation, besides being sceptical of experimenting the most staple produce of the state. The agriculture department said it is yet to ascertain whether the variety has come to their notice or not.
The scientist has now tied up with a private company, KisanKraft, which supplies agricultural equipment, to publicize aerobic rice.
Vouching for the rice variety, firm director Ravindra Kumar Agarwal said, "We had supported a field trial in 2013 involving farmers near Bengaluru and the yield was better than puddled cultivation by the same farmers on adjoining fields."
Embroiled in the decades-old Cauvery row with Tamil Nadu and having endured successive droughts, Karnataka understands that water is a very precious resource. In this scenario, the state's nonpromotion of aerobic rice is bewildering. Though scientists say trial runs have yielded positive results, the government can do its own due diligence. As it consumes less water, aerobic rice should be considered as an alternative to conventional paddy cultivation. For too long have our farmers been at the mercy of erratic rainfall, and any practice which holds the slightest promise of benefiting them should be explored and aggressively promoted.