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Speeding the Seed

October 8, 2010

Flood-tolerant rice. Photo: IRRI.

A novel approach to seed dissemination has put a new flood-tolerant rice variety in the hands of 100,000 Indian farmers within just 1 year after its release, according to scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The new variety, Swarna-Sub1, is the submergence-tolerant version of a so-called rice “mega-variety” (Swarna), which is sown to some 6 million hectares in India. “Sub1” refers to the single gene conferring this valuable trait, which greatly enhances Swarna’s appeal across the country’s 12 million hectares of flood-prone agricultural land. Even if submerged for up to 17 days, the new version offers a yield advantage over the original of about 1 ton per hectare.

Normally, it can take up to 8 years to test a new variety for release and to disseminate it widely among farmers. The original version of Swarna took 25 years to attain its current mega status. Yet, thanks to faster seed multiplication, targeted dissemination of seed in flood-prone areas and active collaboration between IRRI and various Indian government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private seed companies, Swarna-Sub1 is spreading at an unprecedented rate, with 70,000 minikits, each containing a 5-kilogram packet of seed, delivered so far.

At that rate, suggests Umesh Singh, a senior scientist at IRRI, “we’re hoping that Swarna-Sub1 reaches [mega] status in only 5 years. It could entirely replace Swarna and spread to flood-prone areas all over the country.”

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