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.

 

 

Punjab Village during winters

Punjab is called the bread basket of India. A state in Northern Indian plains formed and irrigated by five perennial rivers originating from Himalayas. The land surface is deposited by the alluvial brought up by the rivers. The land is flat, devoid of any geographical features. Standing out in the open in a field you can feel the unending flatness meeting the horizon.

The farmers of the area are known for their hard working nature. Earlier the farming was largely non- mechanized. Bullocks and manual labor was used. Slowly to keep with the times machines like tractors, tubewells and other implements were introduced making the work faster and less manual.

There is hardly anytime of the year when any piece of land is fallow. One after the other crops are grown depleting the natural fertility of soil and making the water usage very high. Insecticides and fertilizers are required in high quantities to make up for loss of natural fertility. The crops have been diversified to vegetables and flowers in addition to the common rice, and wheat.    These are cash crops/

But still the scene in the countryside are beautiful in the winter. There is wheat growing, mustard flowers color the country yellow and tractors filled with cauliflower, carrots, Kinno, radishes and peas are frequently seen.

Let us see some pictures.

Some Local Varieties of Rice in Bengal

Rice is the staple food of the populations in many countries especially the south east Asian, china and Japan. It is rich is carbohydrates and easy to digest. It goes particularly well with curries of fish and other vegetables.

In Bengal, people eat the rice daily. It is considered very pious  and is used in many religious ceremonies. A concoction made from rice and milk called Kheer is very popular sweet dish in the subcontinent.

Since the composition and climate of different places is not the same, the strains adapt to the given conditions and become localized. They have their unique taste. Below are some local varieties of rice used in Bengal.

Local people specifically grow Tulaipanji which is soft-kernelled aromatic rice with good digestibility and use it in marriage ceremonies or annaprasan a ceremony in which infant is offered food for the first time. Like-wise local varities Chini sakkar (taste- like sugar) and Kalonunia (black- textured small rice) are also used for religious ceremonies in Raiganj area of Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur districts. In Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur districts, use of broken rice (boiled and fermented) with Coccinia grandis called Jungli kundri, Clerodendrum viscosum called Ghato), Plumbago zeylanica called Chitawar and Vernonia cinerea called Chhepra has been reported for preparing local rice beer called Jhara or wine called Haria. Another variety, Binni dhan, mainly grown in Dakshin Dinajpur, has been mostly used during Kali puja for worshipping Goddess Kali.

Generally, aromatic rice, Magursail, is preferred for preparation of Kheer, a kind of pudding made from rice and milk in Dakshin Dinajpur and adjoining regions. A distinct variety, Kala mogha: black- scented rice named after a region, is also used for Kheer preparation by local people in Uttar Dinajpur districts, particularly in Majlispur and Maldwar villages. In Uttar Dinajpur district, local people boil atop (soaked rice) of Kalonunia in milk and sugar or molasses to prepare a delicious dish known as Payas. Parboiling of different rice landraces is common practice in West Bengal.

 

Pusa 1121: The longest single grain rice

Pusa 1121 is an evolved variety of Pusa Basmati rice developed by Indian scientists at PUSA. This variety of rice is known for its extraordinary length, which can be as much as 9.5 mm for a single grain which is world record length. It is in high demand among the rice loving Middle East.

Punjab and Haryana produce maximum rice of this variety. At 5 lakh tonnes annually, Ferozepur in Punjab tops the production. India and Pakistan both produce the rice in large quantities and export. Earlier the rice to Middle East was exported from Pakistan but India seemed to beat the Pakistan now.

Rough, milled and cooked rice of Pusa 1121(top), Pusa Basmati 1(middle) & Taraori Basmati (bottom)

In the Ferozepur area bordering the Pakistan, politics are being played on negotiating with Pakistan for giving train passage to rice for taking it to Karachi and from there exporting it to Middle East. The demand is made to revive the Rewari Karachi railway line which operated till independence. Channan wala is the last station in the Indian side. There is also demand for opening an truck route from Hussainiwala on the lines of Attari route. Below is the chart comparing rough, milled and boiled with two more varieties

Apples

For those who are from  science stream, the Apple occupies a place of esteem. As the story goes, an apple fell on Newton,  on of the greatest physicists, mathematicians an philosophers as he was sitting under an apple tree and mulling over the gravity and suddenly the darkness was dispelled and outcome was his laws of gravity. This seems very ludicrous because the process of ideation is not  momentary. It goes on and on.

Apple is also the brand name of the revolutionary electronic products founded by Steve Jobs. Its product line includes laptops, ipods and ipads.

But one thing is true that Apple is the king of fruits. It is about apples hat doctors said “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Apples are the most widely cultivated fruit trees. There are thousands of varieties of apples in the world. It is grown in the mild to cold climates. The apple has, like other fruits that has been domesticated, undergone a sea change from its original wild varieties.

Thousands of the varieties that are grown today can be divided broadly into three: Cider varieties, Cooking varieties and Eating varieties.

Cider varieties are usually more acidic, although cider can be made from any type of apple. Cyder is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit juice, most commonly apple juice but also the juice of peaches or other fruits.

Cooking varieties include the Bramley, one of the most popular and easily stored types of apple. Eating varieties include the well-known Cox’s Orange Pippin, Granny Smiths, Russets, Braemar, Golden and Red Delicious.

Eating apples have been selected for several centuries for their colour, size, ‘bite’ sweetness, physical nature of the pulp revealed once bitten, and their aftertaste. The aroma of the ripe apple before consumption is also an important commercial consideration. Modern selections are now so high in sugar and low in balancing Malic acid that dentists often no longer recommend apples to clean the teeth. It is same story like white rice. Rice in the natural form has a coating of brown color on the seed. This coating is rich in many vitamins especially “Vitamin B” and in the process of polishing this coating is removed and resulting rice is rich only in starch but poor in the minerals and vitamins. So the rice has to be taken with supplements like green leafy vegetables and fish to compensate for the minerals and vitamins. The famous 1930s slogan, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ extolling its value as a source of carbohydrate and dietary fiber, is no longer universally applicable as many varieties now contain so much sugar they actually cause tooth decay.

Rice Magician

Rice is the staple food for the people living in many Asian countries particularly those living along the coastal areas because fish and rice go along best. Rice is held in high esteem and is used in many religious ceremonies. For example in India Annapurna is the Hindu Goddess of rice. Her name comes from the Sanskrit word for rice, anna. She is often depicted with a rice spoon in her hand. Rice requires plenty of water for its growth and many flood prone areas in Bangladesh, rice is grown extensively.

In contrast, wheat is grown in North India and population eats bread made from the wheat. Wheat does not require much water as compared to Rice. Wheat contains more micro-nutrients than rice.

As the population is increasing, the number of mouths to feed are increasing. So every Government is striving to increase the production. Research is being done continually to develop strains which give more yield, less prone to attack by bugs and do not grow much stalk because longer the stock more are chances of its falling and getting damaged.

And surprisingly, the man behind this research hails from Punjab where the wheat is the dominant crop. Dr Gurdev Singh Khush may not be a household name. But his rice varieties are. By the time he was 25, Dr. Khush had already received a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture at the Punjab Agricultural University in India, as well as a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California, Davis in the US. After several years at UC Davis researching genetics of tomatoes, Dr. Khush moved on to the International Rice Research Institute plant breeding department in 1967, where he worked with Dr. Beachell. In less than five years, he became head of IRRI’s plant breeding department and was well on his way to developing his own new varieties of “miracle rice” based on Dr. Beachell’s IR8.In the last 32 years, he and his team at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, have introduced over 300 new grain varieties, including IR8, IR36, IR64 and IR72, which triggered the Green Revolution in Asia in the 1960s. Today, IRRI rice varieties and their progenies are planted in over 70 per cent of the world’s rice-fields.
“Farmers were initially sceptical about our new grain varieties, which took less time to mature than traditional varieties. But our perseverance paid dividends,” recalls Dr Khush. During the first 25 years of Dr Khush’s programme, world rice production doubled from 256 million tonnes in 1966 to 518 million tonnes in 1990, enabling an additional 700 million people to obtain adequate nutrition.
In 1976, Dr Khush introduced IR36, called “the miracle rice” that has since become one of the world’s most widely grown food crop varieties. According to IRRI estimates, IR36 has added about five million tonnes of rice annually to Asia’s food supply and accounts for an additional $1 billion yearly income to Asian farmers.
What prompted Khush to take up a career in agricultural research? “I come from Punjab, in northern India. There was a lot of poverty and not enough food. My father was a farmer, and he strongly encouraged me to do something for the agricultural community,” says the 64-year-old scientist. His pioneering research has won him many awards, the most notable being the World Food Prize in 1996, which he won for his contribution to “advancing human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of the world’s food supply.” The prize, widely regarded as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for agriculture, is awarded by the World Food Prize Foundation based at Des Moines (USA).
Khush is now working on new grain varieties designed to increase yields by another 25 per cent. “The mission of my life is to continue to work towards the improvement of rice, and to be able to feed more and more people,” says Dr Khush who now lives in Los Banos, near Manila in the Philippines, with his wife, Dr Harwant K. Khush.