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IRRI-BMGF-PAU collaborate on the Dry Direct Seeded Rice Systems Project for the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India

(Ludhiana, Punjab, March 3, 2023) - The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) co-organized an event with the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) to launch its project PlantDirect - Dry direct seeded rice (DDSR) for the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India in partnership with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).  This project is supported by a grant to IRRI from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

PlantDirect will involve collaboration with ICAR institutions such as the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, ICAR Research Complex for Eastern Region, Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Punjab Agricultural University, Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Center for Research and Development, and the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology, to develop water-efficient direct-seeded rice varieties to help stabilize India’s rice-wheat cropping system in the face of climate change.  It is among the thematic projects covered under the IRRI and ICAR initiatives that complement and directly contribute to strengthening India’s IRRI-ICAR 2023-2027 work plan. The project comprises three work packages focused on tailored DDSR products, program and network development, and addressing elite germplasm trait gaps.

The Indo-Gangetic plains (IGP) of India are highly fertile and provide food security to nearly 40 percent of the country’s population. Farmers here predominantly practice the rice-wheat cropping system. However, current farming practices are not sustainable in the face of a rapidly changing climate.  Transplanted rice is a heavy user of water. Its production is contributing to rapid groundwater depletion on the Western IGP.  In the wheat crop, earlier onset of high temperatures is decreasing yield.  Another major cause of concern related to rice farming in the Western IGP is the issue of crop residue burning, resulting in increased emissions and air pollution in the northern part of the country.  

Short-duration DDSR varieties are a critical part of the solution to all of these problems.  They require less water than transplanted rice and are harvested earlier, advancing the planting of the following wheat crop to allow it to avoid heat stress during grain-filling.  A smaller footprint for the rice crop also provides more time for straw management options other than burning.

The project is underpinned by IRRI’s Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) flagship research program, which develops varieties and management practices enabling sowing rice seeds directly into dry soil. Benefits of direct seeding include reduced input and labor requirements and reduced methane emissions compared to the  traditional transplanting method. Because of lower input costs, DSR has the potential to enhance smallholder farmers’ income.

Although there are numerous advantages of using DDSR technology for rice farmers, previous research done by IRRI shows that adequate varieties with essential traits that promote adoption to DDSR are critical for the technology to be successful. The absence of such varieties makes the technology risky, leading to poor adoption.

“The issues associated with long-duration rice varieties can be eliminated using DDSR technology by adopting short-duration rice varieties adapted to non-flooded soils, coupled with proper water management approaches, resulting in efficient water use and significantly reduced methane emissions,” said Dr. Hans Bhardwaj, IRRI Rice Breeding Innovations Platform Leader.

“Previous research done by IRRI shows that varieties with essential traits related to early uniform germination, early vigor, weed competitiveness, drought tolerance, and other abiotic and biotic stress resistance that adapt to DDSR are critical for the technology to be successful. Continued genetic gain through breeding with elite germplasm and rapid recycling of parents with high breeding value is needed to progress in these systems,” stated Dr. Sankalp Bhosale, PI of PlantDirect, IRRI.

Drawing attention to the novel technique of Tar-Wattar (sufficiently high and workable moisture) DSR, PAU Vice Chancellor Dr. S.S. Gosal stated, “We are proud to partner with IRRI as knowledge partners and to share our research and expertise for the implementation of this project. The Tar-Wattar DSR technique is one of the most suitable forms of DSR for Punjab and will enable farmers to maintain their yields and contribute to environmental sustainability. We are committed to refining DSR technologies, with a focus on aerobic rice varieties, biotic/abiotic stress management, improved agronomy, and mechanization.”

IRRI envisages advancing the research in strong collaboration with the NARES network in India as part of the proposed IRRI-ICAR work plan with forward-looking and solution-driven activities.

“This project launch is a key milestone for us. It is essential to have our NARES partners and colleagues in this endeavour. We need to exchange ideas and hold conversations to ensure DDS will reach farmers. We can do it if we are committed to working together,” said IRRI Director General Jean Balié.”