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BISA Organizes Interaction Meeting with Seed Companies

The Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) organized an interaction meeting with the private sector/seed companies at the National Agricultural Science Complex (NASC), New Delhi on January 20, 2015. The meeting was chaired by Dr H S Gupta, Director General, BISA, and attended by the representatives of Monsanto, Bioseed Research India, Bayer Crop Sciences, MAHYCO, UPL Limited, APSA, Rasi Seeds, and Field Fresh (Bharti Enterprises) besides Dr Etienne Duveiller and Dr Vibha Dhawan of BISA.

Dr Gupta welcomed the participants and said that BISA had been established to accelerate the efforts in bringing food and nutritional security in South Asia. Private and public sectors had their limitations; so it would be good if both the sectors worked together to overcome these limitations and complement each other’s efforts. Acknowledging that the private sector had played a key role in South Asian agriculture, Dr Gupta emphasized the need for developing innovative cropping systems for enhancing productivity, and greater efforts for the enhancement of germplasm, especially for wheat and maize.
Some of the important observations/suggestions made at the meeting are as follows:
i) Many of the companies started research on wheat with the germplasm being provided mainly by CIMMYT. Most varieties were stable for 3-4 years but the average yield at national level stagnated at 3 tonnes or so, as compared to that in US, Australia and China, where it is 4.4 – 5.00 tonnes. It is important for BISA to find solutions for small holdings.
ii) Wheat is grown in diverse climate. The yields are affected by droughts and terminal heat stress. At present, the germplasm used has a very narrow genetic base. There is a need to explore the possibility of incorporating rust resistance from the wild relatives. Outbreak of rust in some of the claimed resistant varieties and poor grain quality are becoming serious issues.
iii) There is an ongoing programme on genome sequencing of wheat with the participation of both public and private sectors. However, it is only the large multinationals, who are participating with large investments. CIMMYT is also a partner under this programme.
iv) Despite a large number of national and international programmes aimed towards improvement, agronomy for wheat production has not improved. Packages of practices are largely developed region-wise and not according to varieties. One can expect an increase of 5-10% simply by improving the agronomy. Water management in wheat is not a problem especially in good monsoon year, but drip irrigation even in crops like wheat could bring about enormous benefits for nutrient and water use efficiency.
v) In the case of wheat, it would be good to work on developing technologies/machines so as to reduce the seed rate from the prevailing 100 kg/hectare to 40-45 kg. Also the private sector was looking forward to hybrids in wheat, and BISA’s assistance in developing germplasm/varieties/hybrids that are more resilient to climate change, and that have better nitrogen use efficiency and heat tolerance.
vi) BISA should have dialogue with the end user industry and help farmers do industry based farming; for example, Durum for Pasta and Dicoccum for porridge. There are varieties available with as much as 14% protein which should be commercialised through proper branding.
vii) At present, there is very little information available in public domain about quality parameters. The farmer usually opts for a high yielding variety as there is no incentive on growing varieties which are nutritionally better but are with a yield drag. There is a need to look into the entire value chain so as to introduce a particular variety. BISA, being a not-for-profit organisation, should champion oil seed production in the country.
viii) Baby corn varieties suitable for round the year production would be welcome, and some companies might be willing to do trials of technologies developed by BISA in farmers’ fields.
ix) BISA may develop di-haploid facilities and run them in a service mode.
x) In the prevailing circumstances, it might be advisable to use molecular markers in wheat/maize improvement. After due consultation, BISA might introduce transgenic research as well.
xi) BISA may set up a breeding academy for training in wheat and maize breeding, where colleagues from the private sector could be invited for 2-3 weeks’ training on traits, value addition, etc., during the breeding season. BISA can supplement the efforts of the private sector through new agronomies bringing authentic data, which perhaps should be treated as equivalent to the trial data generated at state agricultural universities. Further, being an international not-for-profit organisation, it can play an important role in shaping the policies of the government, putting macro picture to the policy makers, opportunity cost for not following certain paths, etc.
The seed companies requested BISA to develop guidelines for:
1) Conditions for joint research
2) Charges for putting trials on BISA farm
3) Introducing oil seed crops as a plan of diversification
4) Identifying new diseases and their cure
5) Development of value added crops such as high protein wheat, high oil corn, etc.