Dr S. Rajendra Prasad is the Vice-Chancellor, University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore. Dr Prasad obtained his Master’s degree in Seed Technology from College of Agriculture, Dharwad, and Doctoral in Seed Technology from University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore with distinction. To his credit, he also has a PG Diploma in Business Administration. He started his career as Research Assistant in University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore and subsequently has served National Seed Project with distinction for 27 years in various capacities such as Seed Research Officer and Special Officer (Seeds). Dr Prasad has been trained by internationally acclaimed institutions – International Agricultural Centre (IAC), Wageningen, Netherlands, University of Philippines Los Banos, Phillippines and IAC and DOAE-Seed Division, Chiang mai Thailand on Advance Seed Production, Post -Harvest Seed Handling Technology and Plant Variety Protection.
1. Please tell us about the importance of plant breeding and its impact. How the technology is faring globally and in India?
Despite decline in arable land and water available for Agriculture, food grain production has increased from 50 million tons in 1950 to close to 300 million tons in 2020. Within a span of 70 years, productivity of major food grains and commercial crops has increased four to five folds. According to an estimate by Global Initiative on Plant Breeding Capacity Building, nearly 50 per cent of this productivity enhancement at least in major food crops has been attributed to adoption of improved cultivars bred through Plant Breeding Globally. This enhanced productivity has been possible due to introgression of genes controlling high vigor, semi-dwarfness, early maturity, biotic and abiotic stress tolerance including salinity and temperature stress tolerance in most of the food grain crops. Also enhanced nutrition in crops like maize (QPM), rice, (vitamin A, iron zinc and protein) wheat (iron and zinc) and sunflower (oil content). Discovery and introgression of genes controlling male sterility in crops like rice, sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, sunflower, onion, chilli has resulted in the commercialization of high yielding heterotic hybrids in these crops. Plant Breeding continues to play a significant role in productivity enhancements across the globe and in India. Plant breeding offers no cost solutions at least to grower’s production problems as both productivity per se and traits that stabilize productivity are packaged in seed (basic input in agriculture).
2. What are some other technologies/innovations that needs to be readily adopted by India to increase food security?
a) Precision farming and Nanotechnology in delivery of nutrients and pesticides.
b) Genetic interventions including precision Plant Breeding Tools such as Marker Assisted Selection, Genomic Selection, Phenomics and Genome editing coupled with Rapid generation Advance/Speed Breeding need to be readily adopted to increase genetic gains per cycle, and use of sensor based tools to manage the natural resources.
c) Mechanization by small holding farmers.
d) Post harvest processing of farm produce.
3.Cotton is the only crop where new technology has been adopted. What are the other crops where you think technology and innovation should be adopted?
Maize, sorghum, rice, canola, sugarcane and chilli (tolerance to herbicide and Lepidopteran pests), tomato (ToLCV& shelf life), brinjal (fruit borer),pigeonpea for sterility mosaic, Fusarium wilt and pod borer.
- Cotton is one of the important commercial crops and ranks first for its agro-based industrial share in India & it is the only Genetically Modified crop that is approved for commercial cultivation by GOI.
- Other crops where GM technology is required are staple cereals like rice, wheat & corn where biofortification with nutritional quality traits like rich in iron, vitamins and protein. This can help to solve the malnutrition problem in India.
- Other possible crops where GM technology is required are pest & disease resistant, transgenics in Maize specially for shoot borer and fungal diseases.
- Among vegetables, Bt-Brinjal for resistance to fruit borer and papaya for ring spot virus resistance are also important to adopt GM technology.
Another area to adopt GM technology is development of drought tolerant transgenetic varieties in cereal crops like Rice, Wheat, Sorghum and oilseed crops like Groundnut, Brassica and other rainfed crops which are directly associated with food security and to meet edible oil requirement in the country.
4. Do you think PPP structured finance help to meet development goals?
It is indeed the Best Way Forward. Public and private organization have complementing roles and expertise’s in product development, processing and delivery to the end user. For instance, in millets, public organisations are strong in developing improved cultivars, private organisations have assisted in diversifying the end product usage and reach out to stake holders due to their strong network, forward and backward linkages.
5. How important is research for agriculture and how can it help tackle impacts of climate change?
As the famous saying goes, “anything can wait but not Agriculture”, greater investments in agriculture research needs to be made. Further, Investments should be focused on developing technologies including improved cultivars, crop production and protection practices that address negative impact of climate change.
Keeping in view the expected climate change in rainfall, temperature and other weather parameters in the coming years, an attempt was made to know the agriculture crop productivity by the year 2035,using the InfoCrop simulation model under the project Karnataka State Action Plan for Climate Change 2020 (SAPCC-2020).
The output data for Karnataka state revealed that, cotton yield is gaining by 55.6 %, Soybean by 28.9 %, maize by 24.5 %, Sorghum by 20.3 %, redgram by 19.2 %, chickpea by 13.5 %, finger millet by 12.0 % and sugarcane by 6.1%; whereas groundnut is losing by 9.6 % and rice by 5.6% under the changed climate scenario during the year 2035.
In view of increasing the total agricultural production to meet the growing populations of the state, potential crops identified through the model prediction have to be promoted in the years to come. Therefore, the area under rice and groundnut in South Interior Karnataka, wheat and groundnut in North Interior Karnataka, chickpea, maize, rice, sorghum and redgram in hilly region and rice and finger millet in coastal regions have to be reduced and they should be replaced by other potential crops.
Weather based IFS,strengthening of the agromet advisory services in the State, rainwater management in rainfed areas, flood adaptation strategies, good agronomic practices and strategies to protect soil health are some of the adaptation strategies identified to enhance the food production.
In order to minimize the climate change magnitude, some of the mitigation strategies like reduction of methane emission from rice fields, amelioration of enteric methane emission in ruminants, reduction of nitrous oxide emission and sequestration of carbon in agricultural soils, has been addressed
Contingent crop plan for different weather aberrations have been prepared for south Karnataka in particular by UASB and for all the districts of the state in association with CRIDA, Hyderabad from research output of UAS(B).
6. Please tell us some of the breakthrough research done by your University. Further, how is your university managing technology in different aspects of agriculture for the benefit of farmer?
Our University (UASB) is the first to develop hybrids in cotton, rice and sunflower. Karnataka being the second most drought prone state in the country, it has prompted UASB to become the pioneer in development of soil and water conservation technology. Models developed at UASB are being followed by several farms and institutes.
7. How ready are Indian agriculture scientist for supporting farmers tackle severe and unpredictable weather changes? How is your university preparing the region to handle such challenges?
Micro level Agromet advisory services (MAAS) is being issued under NICRA project on every Tuesday and Friday, based on the block level weather forecast and technical input from subject matter specialist (SMS). Based on the success story, MAAS is being extended for each district under KVK (DAMU) and for each Agro-climatic zone under GKMS.
Cumulative benefits of NICRA project to the farming community in association withIMD and KSNDMC
Advisory to 23 lakh farmers throughout the state (block wise) in collaboration with KSNDMC and IMD is being issued.
Cumulative benefit through horizontal spread of our advisories is to the tune of Rs. 1782 crores per annum by timely agricultural operations starting from sowing to post harvest management.
8. Are you running any programmes or projects for the benefit of farmers? How is it helping them and their families?
All research projects of the University are addressing the State farmers issues which is one of the mandates of the university.
University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore is conducting various Research programmes about 300 projects including 32 All India Co-ordinated Research Projects. Among them, many projects benefited farmers directly viz., IFS, National Seed Project, Biofuel Project, Organic farming etc.
AICRP on IFS, UAS, Bengaluru centre is advocating IFS models to farmers comprising of crops / cropping systems + animal and other subsidiary enterprises having minimum competition, maximum complementarity, maximum recycling of byproducts thereby slowly reducing the dependency on the externally purchased inputs, improving the soil health. Providing additional employment opportunities for the entire family members, regular flow of income throughout the year.
University funded project under the various thematic areas like Farmer Centric Demand driven project and climate smart Agriculture projects addressing the field problems faced by farmers. These projects also help in understanding the farmers problems leading to problematic situation like farmers suicide. Also helps in addressing the problems like value addition to the agriculture waste both at farmers field and agriculture-based industries. Further in order to create awareness among farmers about the technologies, climate smart villages are being adopted to demonstrate latest technologies to create awareness among farmers.