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Insights into Editorial: UAHS develops new paddy variety resistant to blast disease

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Context:

As part of its initiative to prevent decline in the area under paddy cultivation, the University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences(UAHS), Shivamogga, has developed ‘Sahyadri Megha’, a new red variety of paddy that is resistant to blast disease and rich in nutrients.

The new variety has been approved by the State-level Seed Sub-Committee and it will be available for farmers from the coming kharif season.

Reasons for developing new hybridised variety:

Previously the ‘Jyothi’ variety, which was widely cultivated in the command areas of the Bhadra and the Tunga reservoirs and in semi-arid areas in Sorab, Shikaripur, Hanagal and Sirsi taluks, had become vulnerable to blast disease and other infestations.

There was a demand for a new paddy variety that is resistant to the infestations.

Another objective of developing the new variety was to cater to the strong demand for red rice, rich in fibre and protein, by health-savvy consumers in urban areas. The research work commenced in 2009.

How ‘Sahyadri Megha’ variety has been developed:

  • ‘Sahyadri Megha’ is developed under the hybridization breeding method by cross-breeding the best among the ‘Jyothi’ variety with that of ‘Akkalu’, a native disease-resistant and protein-rich paddy variety.
  • The results of the field trials conducted have proved that the new variety has a high-level of resistance to blast disease.
  • Optimistic that the rice from the new variety can be sold for a premium by showcasing it as a protein-rich red rice.
  • The protein content in it is 12.48%, higher than the other red rice varieties grown. The yield per hectare from ‘Sahyadri Megha’ is around 65 quintals, substantially higher than other red paddy varieties.
  • Also, as the new variety can be harvested after 120 days of sowing, it is a medium-term paddy that can be grown when there is a delay in the onset of monsoon.
  • The aroma and taste of the rice from the new variety was also praised by farmers.
  • The new variety will be notified under the Indian Seed Act 1966 shortly after which it will become part of the seed chain.
  • It may be mentioned here that the area under paddy that was around 1.5 lakh hectares in Shivamogga district in 1990, has come down to around 1.05 lakh hectares now.
  • Paddy growers are switching over to commercial crops like arecanut, ginger and rubber for lucrative returns.

Hybridization is not genetic modification

  • Unintentionally, humans have been hybridizing plants for 11,000 years or so.
  • With the advent of domesticated agriculture, our ancestors began mixing the genomes of different plant varieties to create new varieties never found in nature. That changed what’s called the gene pool.
  • Through artificial, human-guided selection, our ancestors created novel crops from old plants, just as they created dogs from wolves.
  • Hybridisation is the act of mixing different species or varieties of animals or plants and thus to produce hybrids.
  • Genetic modification, on the other hand is the technology of preparing recombinant DNA in vitro by cutting up DNA molecules and splicing together fragments from more than one organism.
  • In a sense genetic modification and hybridization both accomplish the same thing – they both result in new genetic types.
  • The difference is in how they accomplish this. Hybrids come from seeds that are developed by cross-pollinating specific parental types so that the next generation will be a very uniform crop with hybrid vigor. The hybrid gets half of its genes from each parent.
  • Genetic engineering usually refers to biotechnological methods that can be used to insert a very small piece of genetic material (DNA) so that the resulting plants can be nearly identical to the parent, except for the gene or genes that were inserted.
  • Nowadays, some hybrids may have genes that are artificially inserted, using high tech biotechnology methods.
  • But, generally speaking, hybrids are not genetically engineered, that is, not using high-tech or biotechnology.

‘Sahyadri Megha’ variety: protein-rich red rice:

A Core Macronutrient: Like carbohydrates and fat, protein is a “macronutrient,” meaning that you need relatively large amounts of it to stay healthy. (Vitamins and minerals, which you only need in small quantities, are called “micronutrients.”)

Unlike carbohydrates and fat, your body does not store protein, so it has no reservoir to draw from when you’re running low.

Protein bars and shakes are a great way to supplement your diet to ensure you’re getting the right amount of protein.

The new paddy variety is called as KPR (Karnataka Ponnampet Rice)-1.

The yield of paddy has come down drastically in recent times in Malnad and central Karnataka regions owing to blast disease, which is caused by a fungus called Magnaporthe grisea.

Conclusion:

The ‘Sahyadri Megha’ variety will fetch a good price if its nutrition values, aroma, and taste is properly showcased. As it is disease-resistant, the cultivation cost will be low.

As per the Economic Survey (2018-19), India needs to take big initiatives to improve its food security as it faces supply constraints, water scarcity, small landholdings, low per capita GDP and inadequate irrigation.

The government policy needs to adopt an integrated policy framework to facilitate agriculture productivity.

The measures should focus mainly on rationale distribution of cultivable land, improving the size of the farms and providing security to the tenant cultivators apart from providing the farmers with improved technology for cultivation and improved inputs like irrigation facilities, availability of better-quality seeds, fertilizers and credits at lower interest rates.