Print Edition - 2015-06-30 | Oped
Hail the humble paddy
Jun 29, 2015-
It is surprising to know that the world’s population two centuries back was less than the present population of India (1.25 billion). While the population has grown from a little more than a billion people to seven billion now, resulting in the scarcity of arable land, food production has not increased to match with the increasing population.
Even in Nepal’s case, its population as well as the production of food grains have doubled in the last 30 years. But even now, crop yields are low as compared to the developed countries and a large yield gap exist between farmers’ annual harvest and the research outcome. So there is a need to meet the growing food demand by developing and practicing appropriate technologies to narrow the yield gap.
As per the preliminary estimate of the Fiscal Year 2014/2015, rice was grown in 1.425 million hectares in the country with an average productivity of 3.36 tonnes/hectare. Sadly, due to the disastrous earthquake and uneven monsoon, rice production is expected to decrease by five percent this year. Rice contributes more than 20 percent to the agricultural gross domestic product and fulfills more than 50 percent of the total calories requirement of Nepalis. But since we have little possibility of increasing the size of arable land in our country, it is important that we increase the productivity per hectare by using technology and innovative farming methods.
Nepal has released and registered 107 rice varieties in the last 50 years. As per the 2013/14 statistics, the coverage of improved varieties of rice in Nepal was 93 percent. Rice varieties like Radha-4, Radha-12, Sabitri, Bindeswori and Hardinath-1 are popular among farmers in the Tarai, while Khumal-4, Khumal-11 and Chainung-242 varieties are loved by mid-hill farmers and Chandannath-3 has been appreciated by those in high hills. But apart from proper seeds, Nepali farmers have to use other scientific means to increase rice productivity.
Good seed high yield
The start of the process to obtaining good harvest begins from selecting the right seed. The importance of planting healthy seeds cannot be overemphasised simply because better seeds result in healthier seedlings, which go on to provide higher yields. Therefore, careful seed selection is vital for better productivity. The late Japanese scientist Seizo Matsushima did an extensive research on the selection of paddy seeds based on the principle of specific gravity. Uniform paddy seedlings can be obtained by sowing well-developed seeds having the specific gravity of at least 1.13, in case of non-glutinous varieties, and at least 1.10 in case of glutinous ones. Uniform sowing (spacing), uniform spreading of fertilisers and perfectly leveled nursery beds are equally important for getting uniform seedlings. Some of the rice diseases like blast are seed-borne. As per the experiments done in Nepal, the best way of choosing healthy seeds is by pouring rice seeds into a brine solution prepared by mixing 200 grams of common salt with one liter of water. Healthy seeds settle in the bottom of the brine while the unhealthy and chaffy ones float on the surface or stay in the middle. These unhealthy seeds are about 15 to 25 percent lighter as compared to the healthy ones. The presence of disease-causing organisms in these unhealthy seeds is 40 to 60 percent, and their germination percentage is 15 to 25 percent lesser than those in the bottom.
Along with this, Nepali farmers also need to start adopting agronomic manipulation techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The practice, which has also been successfully adapted to rain-fed (unirrigated) conditions as well, involves a labour-intensive, low-water, organic method in which younger seedlings are singly-spaced while being planted. Ten to12-day-old seedlings are transplanted (in case of Tarai) immediately after being uprooted, in a land where organic manures like compost/FYM and green manure have been applied.
Then there are Plant Growth Regulators (also known as plant hormones). These chemicals, which influence the growth and differentiation of plant cells and tissues, can boost rice yield if applied with proper knowhow. Similarly, adding required fertilisers also help to increase yield. Research has shown that one kilogram of nitrogen can increase rice yield by 20 kilograms.
Along with the rice varieties mentioned above, there are many other varieties in the pipeline. But these modern varieties can demonstrate their yield potentiality only when recommended methods are practiced. Let alone the SRI and plant hormones, even a simple method like the seed-selection technique, which is practiced by all Japanese farmers, is yet to be adopted by the majority of Nepali farmers.
National food security
In a country like Nepal, increased rice production is closely related not just with the national economic health but also with less hunger, better nutrition, lower levels of poverty and a better quality of life. Additionally, increasing rice yield also helps tackle the inflation problem induced by food crisis. It is high time the Nepali government formed a high-level National Food Security Mission, involving experts with outstanding track-records who have a concrete plan of action to cope with the problem. Rice/food self-sufficiency is the urgent demand of our time. Because food grains cannot be produced overnight, the global food crisis like the one we saw in 2007/2008 can have an adverse impact on our population. If Nepal does not achieve self sufficiency in food grains, a situation may come when we cannot buy them even if we have money in our pockets (the Indian government, for example, banned the export of wheat and coarse rice or non-basmati rice during the 2007/2008 food crisis).
- Basnet is a rice expert
Published: 30-06-2015 13:27