50 Years of IR8 :: The rice variety which saved the world

Rice is the staple food of millions in South East Asia. People in South India and North East grow rice as the main crop. It is eaten with fish. It is the rice, that ushered green revolution in India and brought India back from the jaws of starvation. Punjab became the leader in growing the rice, a crop which was alien to North india as most people liked wheat. It is another matter that Punjab has to pay a untold price for feeding the Indian population.

Story of IR8 Rice

A few days back, it was 50 years ago, the rice variety nicknamed IR8 was launched and it saved millions in Asia and particularly in India from starvation and acted as a launchpad for Green Revolution in India.

It was almost a famine like situation in this area. The available production of edibles was insufficient to cope with the requirement. Traditional varieties of rice took 160 to 180 days for the crop cycle and yields were low.

The rice variety was developed by International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which is based in Manila and works under FAO. The strain matures in 130 days and has higher yields for the same nitrogen consumption.

In the year 1962, the Institute made a cross variety using Peta, a Indonesian tall, pest resistant and vigorous variety with a dwarf Chinese variety called dee-geo-woo-gen (DGWG) in the laboratory.

During field tests in Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan using the variety named IR8-288-3 showed great promise and yields it gave were almost 9 times the existing from 1 ton per hectare to 9 ton per hectare.

In Andhra Pradesh, a farmer called Nekkanti Subba Rao, experimented and sowed this rice in 2000 acres in Atchanta in West godavari. He earned the nickname of “Mr.IR8”.

The variety was commercially introduced in 1967 in the Vietnam during the American war.

The variety became popular worldwide and earned local nicknames worldwide. For example in Burma it is called Magyaw, Padi Ria in Malaysia ,Peta Baru 8 in Indonesia, Milagaru Philipino in Mexico . It was grown in Pakistan, India, Taiwan, China, and even in US.

In an interesting tale, a farmer K.N.Ganesan of Tamil Nadu named one of his sons “Irretu” meaning IR8 in Tamil.

Similarly in Vietnam the rice came to known as Honda rice as its bumper harvest enabled one farmer to purchase an Honda motorcycle.

 

 

Rediscovering the house sparrows 

The very name of sparrows, harks the mind back to my childhood days when we lived in a village. Most of the houses were made of mud and roofs supported by wooden logs. These left so many awnings which acted as the niches where these creatures made their nests for raising their chicks.

Whole day, they will dart inside and out bringing semi dry grass stubble for construction of the nest. There was chirping all day. There was a mulberry tree in our courtyard where in the evening these birds rested in its cool and secure boughs. The cacophony in the evening would be ear deafening.

They were so common that we hardly noticed them. They were the part of Punjabi folklore. For example, the unmarried girls were compared with them, saying that these girls are like sparrows chirping all day in the verandahs of their parents and will also fly away when married.

As the time passed, moving towards modernisation, the cities began expanding and eating away the agricultural land in the neighbouring villages. The houses in the villages also gave way to pucallpa houses which left no scope for these birds to make their nests. In other words their habitat was destroyed and factors like mobile towers radiations from which are supposed to be interfering with their lives, added the more trouble.

But still there are places in rural areas which have awnings and bushes for them to survive. I discovered them at many places in my neighbourhood.

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Below is the slideshow…..

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Land Stories 

Land used to be like one’s mother in India as more than 70% people were connected to land. Before the introduction of modern agricultural equipment like tractors, bullocks were used virtually for agricultural jobs like tilling the land, pulling the cart which the farmer used for bringing the produce and fodder home for cattle. Agriculture was completely manual and commerce was not in force. Farmer produced only enough for his family needs. Agriculture was dependent on the surface water available through rivers and rains.

Now the story is different. Even small farmers own the tractors which is economically not viable for small pieces of land. But it is a rat race. Many of them take the loans which become difficult to repay. A tractor can do many days work in a few hours. Need for manual labor arises only during the sowing of the crops. Bullocks have been faced out and are facing the same fate as the girls faced: they have become unwelcome.

Land is so much precious to the owner that hawks are on the outlook to grab any piece of it by hook or crook. Wars had been fought over the land. Most prominent example is the epic story of Mahabharata in which cause of the biggest battle between cousins was about the possession of land and women.

But as the cities are expanding at a furious rate, the value of the land is increasing. What the land can do to its owners will be illustrated by three scenarios.

Scenario No.1

State of Haryana was carved out from Punjab. It is a fact that people of Haryana were neglected by Punjab and so the state was separated from Punjab. But city of Chandigarh, which was the capital of Punjab was not given to any one of these states but made a union territory. It was also made the capital of both the states. The reality now is that the capital of both these sites is located nor in the centre but in one corner of the states.

As Chandigarh could not be expanded more, both Haryana and Punjab decided to construct the extensions of it on their own sides. Haryana thus acquired the agricultural land adjacent to Chandigarh. There were many villages in the area with farmers having small land holdings. All were given a meagre compensation. Overnight they become lost what they were dependent on. Being conversant with agriculture only, they faced difficulty to carry on their lives. They migrated here and there and on their lands mushrooms the concrete buildings with their owners being outsiders who could afford to buy them.

Scenario No.2

This one is a really interesting and shows how in same country but at different time points, the fortunes can turn for some. District of Mohali in Punjab was carved in such a way that it’s one side touched Panchkula district of Haryana. So some villages which though were very near to Panchkula became part of Punjab and their lands were not acquired by government.

These villages are situated near the ghaggar river and land is very poor for manual farming. The reason is that where the land is situated, the river flowed once and thus has left huge amounts of pebbles and sand covered with alluvial. Thus it is full of pebbles and bullocks were unable to till it.  Additionally there were uneven land surfaces which again posed challenges for farming.

Thus the land owners eked out a pathetic life. They lived hand to mouth. But somehow, barring a few they didn’t part off with their land which in any case no other farmer will buy due to poor quality.

But the demon of city expansion and opening of information technology parks and some pharmaceutical companies resulted in the large influx of people from interiors of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh,and so on resulted in the construction frenzy. There was no scope for expansion of Panchkula. So these adjoining areas became the focal points of building activity. Overnight, the land which was useless became the gold mine for the owners. They sold portions for a windfall. The farmers who have not seen money were dazed and it took them days to come back to reality from dream.

They constructed palaces for living. They became educated suddenly. As the money came, so we’re associations with powerful people like politicians. Some of them even began to grab the unoccupied or reserved lands. With a part of money bought tractors and modern equipment for remainder of land and procured cheaper land in the nearby districts. The elderly still can be identified to have done back breaking work but new generation is all like managers and leaders.

Scenario No.3

This story is similar to previous one but with small difference. It is from Sanand district in Gujarat. As the Tata nano car factory relocated here, the villagers nearby had windfall. Their used to be working as labors, peon and other lower rung jobs in the future Factories and manufacturing units for monthly wages like rupees 6000 to 15000 as their land was not fertile or due to lack of resources was not providing them with enough. Suddenly the arrival of entrepreneurs they became millionaires overnight by selling their land. After the initial excitement, Many of them have decided to carry on with those peanut wages jobs to keep themselves busy. More than hundreds of millionaires are working as helping hands in the factories there. The interest on their fixed deposits is enough for their requirements.

Thus as the Mark Twain once advised someone who came to him for investing the money to “invest in the land because they don’t make it anymore”, land can catapult your future.

Brown Rock Chat

Everyday while sitting in the balcony of my flat, I see this bird in the playground below. They don’t sit idle for long at one place. They suddenly dive to ground, catch some insect and fly to roost on the top of poles, basketball board or on the wire net along the boundary.

While sitting, they usually lift their head and wag their tails. Sometimes they sit in the bushes from where they swoop to grass to catch the insects.

The common name of this bird is Brown Rock Chat and the scientific is Cercomela fusca. It belongs to the category of Flycatchers, Chats. It is usually 17 centimeters long.

It is usually found in pairs, around ruins, dusty villages, rocky hillsides; often approaches close; tame and confiding; captures insects on ground; rather aggressive when breeding. It’s habitat in India is North India and to South till Narbada river and to east up to Bihar and Bengal.

They are reported to possess a wide variety of calls. As many as eight type of calls have been recorded. These include territory call, alarming call, threat call, begging call, contact call, distress call.

Although, they don’t sit still for long, I managed to take many pictures over many days. Here are some of these.

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How clean was water of Sukhna Choe once upon a time 

“Choe” in local language in Punjab means a stream or a rivulet. Sukhna choe is the name of stream after which the lake in Chandigarh is called. The choe passes through area of union territory Chandigarh, Haryana and Punjab before merging with Ghaggar river. Many unauthorized settlements have mushroomed along it particularly in Union territory of Chandigarh. Some industries have also come near it.

There was a time about 50 years ago when the clean water flowed from the dam but these days if you pass by the gates of Lake hardly any water flows there. At that time I was about 10 years old. Our elder sister was married in a village called Gazipur which is in Punjab and this choe passes near this village. We used to visit our sister many a times and water in this stream was so clean that we used to swim and bath in it.

Then after doing my M.Sc., I got the job and left this place. After 35 years, I have returned. I went to see the choe and was aghast to see its plight. A workable bridge with big pipes have been constructed over the narrowed span over it. Building activity has reached all around.

In the older times, there was no pass over this choe. Hardly anyone came here with vehicles. Farmers who have their land on the other side of stream used to cross it with bullock carts or on foot.

The black frothy water flows under the bridge through pipes. It is giving nauseating smell. Industries and effluent from households is discharged into it. Although union territory administration has installed effluent treatment plant to treat the effluent generated in the area of there jurisdiction, it is said that Haryana is discharging the Untreated effluent into it. There seems to be no coordination between the three agencies and also it seems corrupt people in the environment supervision agencies have turned the blind eye towards its plight.

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Still, I found a big flock of one bird species in the stream. This bird is called Black Winged Stilt. I think they don’t have anywhere else to go or have adopted themselves to the changed circumstances. But they seem to avoiding the frothy area down the bridge. They were largely seen in the area near a place where another stream of relatively cleaner water was confluencing with this stream.

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These birds have very long legs and 60% of their body weight is in the legs. The longer legs have advantage in that they can catch their food in deeper waters. They usually live in the groups and catch the insects and other aquatic animals.

Baya Weaver

It is very small sized bird which fabricates beautiful nests. These nests hang from the fronds of trees which have thorny in nature to ward off the predators like snakes which are a threat to their eggs. The entry of the nest is near bottom. So the nests are generally made in large groups on trees like Acacia and Palm fronds.

These birds generally live in large groups as can be seen from the number of nests made on a single tree. Secondly they prefer, in addition to the type of tree being acacia or palm, the location where food is easily available and also pools of water are there. They prefer to be near fields of Bajra ( pearl millet), jowar (sorghum) and teosinte which grow seeds at thr top. One can see, these birds making visits to these fields and back to the nest and listen to their chirping standing near the fields

Baya weaver is scientifically called Ploceus Phillippinus. It is found commonly in South East Asia. Flocks are found in the cultivated areas, grasslands where food is available in plenty and and raw material for construction of nests and specific trees are standing.

Like the humans, female of the pair dominates. There are intersting sequences while making the nests. It the male who make many template nests. These are then inspected by the female. Female destroys the templates which it does not like. When finally, the one is approved, both of them complete the rest of construction together. One can see birds in frenzy during the nest making activity is going on.

In North Indian states like Punjab and Haryana, the conditions for making the nests are fulfilled, nests can be seen in the rural areas. With the building activity the habitats of these birds are being destroyed and one has to go deep inside the rural areas to locate these nests.

I live in the area near Panchkula in Haryana where all around were grasslands and cultivated lands. But now these are being gobbled by buildings. Still there are some spaces where I found these birds and their nests. I used canon camera to take some pictures.

 

Nests hangings from the palm fronds
  



Baya weaver exiting from nest
  
Bird preparing to enter
  



A completed nest
 
  

2.6 Million Old Fossils found in Masol Village of Punjab

Shivalik mountains have been suggested to be 16 to 5 million years old. Much of present day Himachal Pradesh is situated in these hills. Punjab, Haryana plains sit just below these hills. This area has many perrenial rivers flowing through these states. Due to this, the area must have been rich in vegetation and plenty of water made which had made it an ideal place for many animals to inhabit it.

In fact, a research conducted jointly  by India-based Society for Archaeological & Anthropological Research (SAAR) and France’s National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) and department of prehistory of the National Museum of Natural History has found rich cache of diverse fossils of fauna which is being dated back to 2.6 millions years claiming them to be the oldest fossils shadowing the ones found in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia which are said to be 2.58 million years old.

The excavations were carried out in the Masol village of Mohali which is situated in the foothills of Shivalik.

In fact, more than 2,000 fossils of different herbivores have been found by the team during digging. These include Stegodon, an ancient elephant with tusks up to four metres, and Sivatherium, a giant giraffe.

Stegodon
sivatherium

The study adds that before this find, the oldest sites were in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia dating back to 2.58 million years.The team has also found 14 fossils of Leptobos, pre-historic ancestors of modern-day cows that weighed up to 320 kilogrammes

Leptobos
Leptobos

These rare fossils, excavated between September 2009 and March 2015, were bubble-wrapped and dispatched to a French lab.

The team says that it is a multi disciplinary effort involving specialists from the field of geology, geomorphology, sedementology , physics, palaeontology , taphonomy. The research paper on these fossils has been called “Taphonomical studies of the Plio-Pleistocene Transition Fauna of Masol in Shivalik Frontal Range, Northwestern India”. Due to the tectonic activity in this region, many fossils buried deeper have moved to shallower depths.

The scientists have already conducted paleo-magnetic dating electron spin resonance (ESR) tests on the fossils to know their age.

The Punjab government is planning to start eco-tourism trail of these villages in Shivalik Hills where fossils of wild camel, horses and bulls dating back to nearly three million years have been found. Besides the scenic beauty and wild life of the area being major attractions, Siswan Dam site is picnic spot and can be developed further as a tourist destination.

Siswan Dam

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