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Feeding the Future through Climate-Resilient Agriculture

Dr. Sharat Kumar Pradhan, currently serving as the ADG (Food & Fodder Crops) at ICAR in New Delhi, previously held the position of rice breeder at ICAR-NRRI, Cuttack for an impressive 25 years. Throughout his career, Dr. Pradhan has made significant contributions to the field of rice breeding and genetics.

Having developed 61 rice varieties tailored for various states across the country, including five varieties through molecular breeding, Dr. Pradhan’s impact is widespread. These varieties come highly recommended for cultivation in 20 states, with a breeder seed demand of approximately 300 quintals, covering an extensive area of over 60 lakh hectares.

Not only has Dr. Pradhan’s work manifested in the development of numerous rice varieties, but he has also showcased his expertise through the publication of 150 research articles in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, he is the author of six books and 34 book chapters, further solidifying his authority in the field.

Dr. Pradhan’s involvement in gene/QTLs stacking for climate resilience breeding and mapping various abiotic and biotic stress tolerance traits in rice highlights his commitment to advancing agricultural practices. He has reported an impressive 60 novel QTLs/genes for various traits in rice.

Acknowledged for his contributions, Dr. Pradhan holds the title of Fellow at the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), the Indian Society of Genetics & Plant Breeding (ISGBP), and the Association of Rice Research Workers (ARRW). Notably, he is the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Dr. LK Sikka Award, Dr. EA Siddique Award, Hooker Award, AB Joshi Award, Samanta Chandra Sekhar Award, and has received the NRRI Best Scientist Award three times, among others.

Dr. Pradhan’s commitment to academic mentorship is evident, having guided 11 Ph.D. and 12 MSc students. His leadership extends to editorial roles, as he served as the former Editor-in-Chief of Oryza and held the position of Vice President of the Indian Society of Genetics & Plant Breeding.

In a recent interaction with The Interview World, Dr. Pradhan accents the pressing issue of climate change’s detrimental impact on agriculture. He not only emphasizes the severity of the consequences but also offers insightful measures to mitigate these challenges. Here are the key excerpts from his enlightening interview. 

Q: What are the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture?

A: Climate change manifests itself through various natural calamities, such as droughts, floods, cyclones, and heat waves. These phenomena have a profound impact on the agricultural sector, making it exceptionally vulnerable. Fluctuations in temperature and precipitation directly affect crop yields and their quality. Consequently, this disruption in the agricultural cycle results in a scarcity of food, leading to escalated prices and potential shortages.

Farmers bear the brunt of the adverse effects of climate change in our country. Specifically, rain-fed cultivation faces significant challenges due to climate change. Noteworthy to mention that more than 60% of India’s agricultural areas rely on rainfall. Consequently, these rain-fed regions become susceptible to the repercussions of climate change, impacting both the agriculture and animal husbandry sectors.

For instance, during a drought, the availability of fodder for animals diminishes. This affects the quality of the feed and, consequently, animal products. The adverse effects extend to other sectors, such as fisheries, where changing climate conditions disrupt the natural habitat.

Furthermore, the impact of climate change is not confined to crop yields, it also degrades soil quality. Additional consequences include surface temperature, mineralization, and the disturbance of the Carbon-to-Nitrogen (CN) ratio. The rising sea levels contribute to saline water intrusion into cropland areas, exacerbating the issue of salinity. The impacts of climate change affect various agrarian sectors including the farmers who depend on rainfall.

Q: Which climate-resilient seeds is ICAR currently developing to support Indian farmers?

A: To enhance agricultural resilience in the face of climate change, the first crucial step involves the distribution of advanced and resilient seed varieties to farmers. These intelligent genotypes possess the ability to withstand various stresses, including submergence, floods, droughts, high temperatures, and cyclones. Integrating multiple tolerance factors into a single, high-performing mega variety that aligns with farmers’ current cultivation practices is essential.

By consolidating all tolerance trait genes within this mega variety, farmers can benefit from enhanced adaptability to diverse environmental challenges. This comprehensive approach ensures that the smart varieties endure droughts, submergence, and extreme temperatures. Moreover, they provide a vital safety net for farmers during extreme climates. Essentially, it functions as an insurance policy, offering a reliable cushion against the uncertainties posed by climate change.

Q: How affordable are these seeds for the small farmers?

A: Certainly! The affordability factor is quite significant in this context. However, the initial cost is notably high due to the nature of it being a research project. This high cost encompasses various aspects such as assembling the seed and incorporating essential characteristics.

Cutting-edge research techniques, including genomic selection and gene editing, contribute to the overall expenses. These methods, with their high throughputs, play a crucial role in transferring stress-resistant traits into the seed. This seed will undergo a phased distribution – starting with a pilot input, followed by a major input, and ultimately reaching the farmers.

The responsibility for the initial cost lies jointly with the public sector and private sector partnerships. Despite the upfront investment, the aim is for farmers to benefit from the technology over an extended period, ensuring sustainable usage for many years.

Q: To what extent is your value chain seamlessly integrated to facilitate the transition of seeds from the laboratory to the field?

A: We are introducing a biofortified variety, one that not only boasts stress tolerance but also exhibits enhanced levels of nutrients, micronutrients, zinc, iron, and protein. Despite these commendable traits, farmers cultivating this variety often find themselves not receiving fair market value for their efforts.

This lack of awareness regarding biofortification compounds the issue. The general populace remains uninformed about the benefits of these varieties. Therefore, there is an inherent necessity for the creation of a comprehensive value chain.

Ideally, the cultivation of biofortified varieties within a community or region should be intricately linked to end consumers or industries. Establishing this vital connection ensures that the value generated is seamlessly transmitted from the producer to the industry. The critical need for a well-structured value chain cannot be overstated. It is only through the establishment of such a system that the real profits can reach the farmers, enabling them to truly prosper. By identifying buyers and consumers, farmers are incentivized to embrace the cultivation of biofortified varieties. Hence, the pivotal step in this entire process lies in the establishment and seamless functioning of a robust value chain that connects producers with consumers.

Climate-resilient Agriculture
Climate-resilient Agriculture
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