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From: S G Naravane
From: S G Naravane
In personal life it would be considered a huge tragedy if we lost an invaluable treasure simply because its value was not realised in time. Yet at the national level, we seem to be quite oblivious to the dangers of losing invaluable biodiversity possibly for all times to come, as is evident from the highly careless attitude towards the loss of numerous plant species at a rapid pace.
Nowhere is this callous neglect more evident than in the case of our most important food crop - rice. India has been blessed with highly favourable agro-climatic conditions in which diverse rice cultivation can flourish. These favourable conditions were utilized by hundreds of generations of farmers to nurture a fabulously rich diversity of rice varieties and cultivars, each of these known to farmers of various regions for their numerous qualities.
With the advance of formal disciplines of botany, agronomy, various life sciences and agricultural research conducive opportunities should have been available to use more advanced methods to protect this great heritage of rice varieties in field conditions backed by scientific cataloguing and conservation.
Unfortunately what has happened is that instead of adopting protective policies to nurture this bio-diversity with care, highly destructive policies were unleashed which led to the loss of thousands of rice-varieties and their sub-varieties in field conditions so that farmers now find it extremely difficult to get them.
During the last five decades the government supported by some international institutions has put all resources into spreading exotic fertilizer responsive dwarf varieties (mistakenly called HYVs). With the support of government subsidies and extension efforts these have spread over a wide area despite several problems including higher susceptibility to pests and diseases. This has led to the ouster and loss of many valuable indigenous rice varieties.
This tragic story started in 1965-66 at the time when the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) Cuttack was ready with plans to improve rice cultivation significantly using indigenous varieties. If these plans had succeeded, India would have emerged as a world leader in rice, showing the path of eco-friendly farming progress based on protection of bio-diversity. But this was not liked by some international institutions who wanted to spread the exotic HYVs dependent on high doses of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other expensive agri-chemicals.
On 15 March 1966 the director of CRRI wrote a confidential and extremely important letter to the Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Delhi. "The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Manila, has been sending a lot of rice experimental material from time to time into this country", this letter said, "and these are grown in several states. It has come to my notice that most of this material are susceptible to a very peculiar disease, not known to this country so far; it is suspected to be (a) virus".
Having sounded this warning the author went on to state, "I may point out that in the last Rice Research Workers' Conference during November 1965, I.R. 9-60 has been recommended as one of the donor parents for hybridization programme in the various rice-growing states. But this material, as has already been reported earlier, has been observed by me at CRRI and two other centres to be infected with the yellowing disease at an early vegetative phase. I may also inform that from some source of information I have learnt that I.R. 9-60 is not only susceptible to Tungru virus, but also to bacterial blight. As such it is not a desirable material for being used as a donor parent; if used, it may spread diseases whereever the material is grown. Under these circumstances it would soon be beyond our control.
"That some sort of inoculum of this dreadful disease is getting built up in the country is evident from the fact that Taichung Native-I which was not showing the yellowing of leaves in the early vegetative phase of the summer crop of last year, has now exhibited it. Since the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has a huge programme of speedily spreading this variety in the near future, timely action has to be taken against any future catastrophe of the kind being observed now."