Brigitte Courtois1, Rama Kant Singh, Sushil Pandey, Colin Piggin, Thelma Paris, Suraphong Sarkarung, Virendra Pal Singh, Graham McLaren,2; Suraj Singh Baghel, Ram Kumar Sahu, Vishwa Nath Sahu, Sharad Kumar Sharma,3; Sanjay Singh, Hari Nath Singh, Abha Singh, Omar Nath Singh, Bhupinder Veer Singh Sisodia, Chandra Hari Misra,4; Jafran Keshari Roy, Devendra Chaudhary,5; Kameshwari Prasad, Rama Kant Singh, Pramod Kumar Sinha, Nimai Prasas Mandal6
1Seconded to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from the Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (CIRAD), Montpellier, France; 2International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Manila, Philippines; 3Indira Gandhi Agricultural University (IGAU), Madhya Pradesh, India; 4Narendra Deva University of Agriculture and Technology (NDUAT), Uttar Pradesh, India; 5 Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Orissa, India.; 6Central Rainfed Upland Rice Research Station (CRURRS), Bihar, India.
Almost 45% of the world’s rice land is rainfed (IRRI 1997). These areas depend solely on rainfall and runoff for water supply. Rice yields are low and fluctuate widely because of highly variable rainfall patterns. The rural poor of Asia are concentrated in rainfed areas. Rice is their staple food and rice production is their major economic activity. Reducing poverty for these populations will require a major increase in agricultural productivity, which entails, among other factors, a higher and more stable rice yield. A challenge facing the agricultural research sector is to develop rice varieties for these complex rainfed environments and make them available to farmers.
Classical breeding approaches for developing improved rice varieties have been highly effective in the relatively homogenous irrigated ecosystem. In contrast, the success of such an approach has been limited in rainfed environments because of high levels of agroecological diversity. Farmers’ social and economic environments are diverse and interact with biophysical factors resulting in a multitude of rice-based systems, each demanding specific management strategies. Despite continued effort to develop suitable varieties for these environments, the adoption rate has remained low and farmers rely predominantly on traditional rice varieties. The limited impact of breeding programs is relatively well quantified in some areas (Kshirsagar and Pandey 1995) and less documented in others.
Poor adoption of varieties released for these environments may be caused by several factors such as poor adaptation of improved varieties, limited access to seeds, and a range of socioeconomic constraints. Obviously, the problem of limited access to improved varieties reflects institutional impediments and is better addressed through institutional and policy reforms. However, if the modern varieties currently available are poorly adapted to these rainfed environments, the breeding strategies utilized need to be re-examined.
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