Rice is not only a staple diet for most Indians, it is also deeply entrenched in Indian culture. Newly-wed Indian brides throw a handful of rice over their back during their bidai (departure from their maternal house) in gratitude towards years of love and support from their parents. They push a kalash or a pot of rice in the new house for an auspicious beginning. Be it mouth-watering Biryani and festive kheer/payasam or daily comfort foods like curd rice, khichdi, rice continues to be an indispensable part of our lives.
Rice in India
Rice consumption in India dates back to as early as 2500 B.C! Rice is the staple food for more than half of India’s 1.3 billion population and provides 43% calorie requirement for more than 70% of Indians. 90% of the land under rice cultivation in India belongs to small and marginal farmers and more than 50 million households depend on rice cultivation as their source of livelihood. Yet, rice contributes to only 15% of the annual agricultural GDP of India.
Though India is the second-largest producer of rice globally (after China), India’s productivity of 2.6 tonnes per hectare is almost half of the global average. Among other major rice producing countries, India’s productivity ranking stands at 16! This is largely because 95% percent of rice growers in India use traditional high yielding varieties instead of hybrid seeds. Of the 43 million hectares of arable land in India used for rice cultivation, only 6% is under hybrid rice.
India achieved self-sufficiency in rice production in 1977, but our population of 1.3 billion is growing at 1.8% per year, outpacing the 1.4% annual growth rate of rice production. In order to keep pace with the growing population, the estimated rice requirement by 2025 is about 130 metric tons of milled rice. To maintain self-sufficiency, annual production needs to increase by 2 million tons every year. This will be a daunting task, in light of limited natural resources such as water and shrinking arable land and climate change.
Hybrid Rice – A game changer?
After the Green Revolution in Indian agriculture in the 1960s, one technology that has immense untapped potential to enhance India’s rice productivity is hybrid rice. Hybrids offer various benefits like stronger biotic stress tolerance and protection against devastating pests and diseases and in-built abiotic stress tolerance and increased resilience towards adverse growing conditions such as temporary drought, moderate salinity and flash floods. By growing hybrid rice, farmers can achieve an additional yield advantage of 1 ton/hectare and additional income of Rs. 6000 to 10000/acre. This will also lead to better accessibility and wider choice for rice consumers.
In some geographies in the country, the use of hybrid rice has revealed better heterosis in unfavourable soil and climatic conditions such as saline soils and uplands (rainfed ecosystems). Better water stress tolerance in hybrids ensures better production even if there is scanty or low rainfall. In the present scenario, among the many genetic approaches being explored to enhance rice productivity, hybrid rice technology appears to be the most feasible and readily adoptable one. India should embrace hybrid rice technology to ensure food security for the growing population and enhance prosperity for smallholder farmers.
As hybrid rice is still a relatively new technology in Indian agriculture, the adoption of hybrid rice as a more profitable and sustainable solution for rice farmers will require considerable efforts. There are currently 60+ players with 100+ hybrids in the market. But, the major companies are only in single digit. Only few companies are involved in demand creation activities whereas others are merely catering to the market demand. Strenuous efforts in technology dissemination by these companies have been instrumental in successful adoption of hybrid technology. In 2018, the private seed sector accounted for more than 99% of the estimated 40,000 metric tons of hybrid seed sown in India.
25 Years of ‘Better Rice, Better Life’ with Arize
Bayer is the global leader in developing rice hybrids which are adapted to various agro-climatic conditions. Our journey in hybrid rice seeds began in 1995 with the launch of Arize. Since then, Arize has helped more than 2 million rice farmers in India enhance their crop productivity and farm incomes. Today, Arize is India’s leading hybrid seed brand in rice and enjoys the implicit trust of farmers.
In 2001, Bayer launched Arize 6444, a revolutionary hybrid that helped establish the concept of hybrid rice in India. It also started the hybrid adoption revolution with its wider adaptability and consistent higher yield. Then came Arize Dhani in 2008, which was the first Bacterial Leaf Blight (BLB) tolerant hybrid in India.
In 2017, Bayer launched Arize AZ 8433 DT, a first-of-its-kind hybrid with in-built tolerance to Brown Plant Hopper (BPH), one of the most dreaded pests in rice. Wherever this insect is present, it causes losses that can amount to 60% of the harvest. Another innovative hybrid which was added to the Arize portfolio in 2017 is AZ 7006 which comes with a unique submergence tolerant trait. This climate smart hybrid rice can withstand submergence conditions for up to two weeks and possesses inbuilt BLB tolerance.
Currently, Bayer markets 14 different Arize varieties in India which provide 20 to 35% higher yields on average than conventional rice. 6 of these Arize varieties come with inbuilt tolerance against BLB. Bayer conducts all its rice breeding activities at Chandipa near Hyderabad, where 30 breeding experts work on developing hybrid seeds.
2019 marks the completion of 25 successful years of Arize in the Indian market. Bayer is commemorating the brand’s 25th anniversary with Arize farmers, employees and various industry and government stakeholders. A year-long, on-ground campaign titled: “Arize: 25 Saal Bemisaal” was kicked off on May 3 to thank all Arize customers and stakeholders for their implicit trust on the brand and their openness to embrace new technologies in rice cultivation. Bayer looks forward to another glorious 25 years and more of pioneering the hybrid rice seed segment and creating value for Indian farmers.