Bhola Man Singh Basnet
With the theme of “Increase in rice production: food security, self-sufficiency and prosperity”, this year’s National Rice Day is being observed today (June 29). Rice is one of the most important cereal crops, and staple food in Nepal. Not only is rice a key source of food, it is also a major source of employment for those who are involved in the agro sector. There is more than 50 per cent share of rice in total food production. Nepal’s economic growth depends upon rice production. As per the Fiscal Year 2020/2021, rice was grown in 1.47 million hectares of land with the production of 5.621 million metric tons. Its productivity was 3.81 tons/ha. Rice yields are low. There exists a gap between what farmers are harvesting in their rice fields and what has been demonstrated by research.
In Nepal, rice contributes nearly 21 per cent and 7 per cent to the agricultural gross domestic product and GDP, respectively. There is less possibility of using additional areas of land for rice production. The promising technologies, generated by agriculture research, play a pivotal role in increasing production and productivity of rice. Nepal has released and registered 91 varieties of rice, except hybrid ones, with complete package of practices over the past 55 years. Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) has released two hybrid rice varieties– Hardinath Hybrid 1 and Hardinath Hybrid 3 for the first time.
The coverage by improved rice varieties in Nepal is about 971 per cent. The modern varieties can express their yield potentiality only when the recommended packages are practiced. The indigenous varieties are the insurance against food insecurity in the future.
This author was instrumental in convincing the Government of Nepal to declare Asadh 15 (Nepali culture of eating beaten rice and curd), Nepali calendar every year as “National Rice Day”.
This year’s Asadh 15 is the 18th National Rice Day. With the continuous and relentless efforts of this author and good performance of Nepal during International Year of Rice–2004 as declared by UN with the theme “Rice is Life “. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in its Rice Today (Vol.3, No.3, 2004) Magazine had mentioned “Year Achieves High-Profile in Nepal”.
In Nepal, rice, maize, wheat, finger millet, barley and buckwheat are taken as food crops. The seed security, food security, nutrition security, water security, profitability and sustainability are equally important. When we meet anyone, we ask him/her: “Have you had rice?”
Agricultural technologies can help reduce poverty, increase profitability and improve quality of life. Not only is rice a key source of food, it is also a major employer and source of income for the poor. When we review the past few years, the food balance of Nepal has been showing positive trends, even though on an average we are importing rice worth about Rs. 2.5 billion every month. Because we eat or demand more than the government’s estimate plus, most of the imported rice is of fine aromatic types. Nepal has released most of the coarse type of rice.
That is why, research institutions like the NARC and others now onwards should release more fine and aromatic type of rice.
Rice is also a versatile crop which can grow in almost all the agro-ecologies and varied environments. Globally, rice is the staple food for more than half of the population and employs one billion people, and rice farms cover around 160 million hectares – more than any other crops. Rice is cultivated in more than half of the Asia’s cultivated lands. The latest world rice production stands at 504 million tons. Most of the world’s poorest and least food-secure people live in rice-producing Asia.
Rice production is arguably the most important economic activity on this planet. Now, research has a challenge of growing more rice on less land using less water, less labour, and fewer chemical inputs. The fast and effective transfer of technologies from the research laboratory to the farmer’s fields or research into use (RiU), is a must.
Every citizen has a right to food. Food security, nutrition security and food sovereignty are mentioned in the Constitution of Nepal, 2015. One-third of total food is wasted globally. The economic health of the country depends on rice production. There are less possibilities of bringing more lands into production. Therefore, we have to increase the productivity per hectare per day, boost cropping intensity or both through the help of research.
Quality seeds alone can contribute 15-20 per cent yield. Seed selection can be done by following the specific gravity principle as practiced by 100 per cent of Japanese farmers. Early paddy and Boro (winter) rice can be used for increasing rice yield by utilising higher intensity of solar radiation. The system of rice intensification (SRI) is the other agronomic manipulation which can increase rice yield.
There is a need to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. It is said that hungry man is no peaceful man, empty stomach is restless one and hungry man is an angry man. How can we expect peace from hungry people?
Had the yield of rice remained at its pre-green revolution (1966-1967) level of 1.9 t/ha, current production would have required more than double the current rice land area and the present forest areas would have been halved. The future of Asia has no life without rice. It is universally accepted that investment on agriculture research has very high returns. Any agriculture programme will be successful when there is ‘research push’ and ‘market pull’.
Indigenous, heirloom varieties are the insurance against food insecurity.
(Basnet is a senior rice expert.)
-The Rising Nepal