Research is not magic solutions take a long time

S K SINHA, former director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), is currently a National Professor at the Water Technology Centre. During his tenure, the IARI had seen intensive bask and applied research. Conventional approaches, appropriately buffered by modem experimental techniques, led to the reorientation of research concepts and programmes. Equal emphasis was laid on the lab-to-land programme, operational research projects and the Integrated Whole Village Agricultural Development Approach, which have paid rich dividends. Sinha has worked on mission oriented basic research in thrust areas of national importance, deve Iloped highly skilled and competent humanpower to generate and capture advanced knowledge in the emerging areas of agriculture research. Sinha spoke at length to Ashish Vachhani

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Research is not magic, solutions take a long time There is a trend towards having speciallsed animals and crops in the inclustrialised countries. The developing countries have tried to incorporate this by importing upgraded species, but the attempt has produced mixed results. Why?
Imported crops and animals face the problem of adaptability. In case of crops the high temperature variability and requirements of specific photoperiods make it necessary to create some artificial environment. In India, high costs make this difficult. It succeeds only if you have somehow procured a material in the same nich6. That is why all imported plant materials have to be put, in the backdrop of Indian varieties.

Are you saying that we never realised this fact in our attempts to develop specialised animals and crops?
It has basically been a problem of quantity versus quality. In our country, during the acute food crisis in the '60s, the first objective was to provide enough so that everyone could eat. But after having met this objective, our focus changed to quality- improving strategies. For instance, we began crossing imported high yielding crop varieties with our own genotypes, so that we could develop cultivars adaptable to India. In case of cows, for instance, a high milk- yeilding breed needs grains with high protein content as its feed. Both the quality and quantity of the milk she produces depends on that. But the higher cost of production may not be acceptable to a farmer. This may become possible once the organised private ventures enter the field.

In that kind of a situation, don't you think institutions like the IARI will become redundant?
I expect that. Private industry has to do research if it ii serious about its enterprise. Today, in India, leaving aside the 5-6 large private companies which do some research, most are mere seed producers. In the us, public institutions develop materials up to a certain stage - for which they get a royalty - and beyond that, itlis the responsibility of private institutions.

For instance' if there is a requirement of some parent which is male sterile, the public institutions can produce it, and those who need it can pay for its use.

In the second stage, the public institutions identify the combiners and ask the private institutions to pay for the service.

Today, 1ARi has gone one step ahead of this. We are producing the hybrids and supplying these to the National Seed Corporation (NSC). But Nsc neither has the resources nor the requisite motivation to popularise and spread them amongst the farmers. This motivation will be there in the private sector. 1AR1 cannot produce seeds for the whole country ... it would need thousands of hectares to produce the 200 million kgs of seeds we would need by 2010 AD. We have just 600 ha under our farms.

Livestock in developing countries have multifarious functions, which makes it necessary to have both high quality and quantity of animal feed. But neither the International Rice Research Institute, nor the IARI has ever paid any attention to these selection 'indices. Why? This is not true. In the case of rice there is a peculiar situation, because its silicon content is very high. If you select a plant with low silicon content the plant will lodge, i.e. fail to stand erect. But the cattle refuse to cat fodder with high silicon content, unless they are starving.

In the case of crops like sorghum, bajra or maize, the content of the crop residue is always a major cobsideration. But it is not possible to secure both high yield and quality residue. Are you suggesting that we can never have a positive correlation between high grain yield and high quality and quantity of crop residue?
This is not easy. Theoretically, as well as practically, both these things are not possible together. At the time of grain development in the plant, all its reserves - amino acids, proteins, which otherwise would have gone out as crop residues - are mobilised for that activity. If you choose to have a high yielding plant, this mobilisation comes sooner in the life of the plant and you cannot expect high quality crop residue.

Since when has the IARI been researching for upgrading the quality and quantity of crop residues, and what have been the successes?
Actually, in the past we have researched the feed problem and have produced a few varieties, such as Pusa Chari and Barseem. Then, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) established an institution called the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research institution (IGFRI) at Jhansi. Obviously, now it has become their responsibility.

Is IARI presently concentrating on developing varieties that produce high quality and quantity of crop residue?
No, because now there is a separate institution and it would be an overlap of jurisdiction. The lhansi institute is well equipped to carry out its own breeding research.

The thrust area of research Of 1ARi has been on grain crops, like wheat, rice, particularly basmati rice, or very short duration rice which matures, say, in about 70 days. This variety, also called the laldidhan, caters to the needs of states like Orrisa and Madhya Pradesh, where rainfall and soil moisture do not last for the normally required 100 days.

IARI is involved in developing improved varieties of crops. From the same crops we get crop residue which is used as animal feed. Don't you think that a collaborative interaction between your institute, the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute and those who own livestock and are engaged in agricultural farming, is absolutely essential?
This is again a problem of understanding. From your question, I gaher that you believe that all animal feed has to come from crop residues, and that as long as that happens the animals remain productive. Please understand that producing improved crop varieties, and those which produce high crop residue, are two different things.

Developing good quality and quantity of animal feed is a responsibility of the IGFRI, while IARI'S primary concern is to produce improved quality of grain crops. Similarly, the National Dairy Ikvelopment Board has adequate infrastructure for research with respect to food requirements and output of cattle. I have absolutely no reservations about having a fora for livestock crop research interaction in our country. But what 1 am saying is that if we are to improve the productivity of our cattle, then crop residues are not enough. We have to give them legumes - that is, proteins - like soyabean meal. Ironically, our country produces soyabean, we extract the oil and export the meal to European countries.

Why don't we use it for domestic purposes?
Probably at this stage the government finds it more economical to export it; probably, we don't have that kind of organised private industry in the dairy sector.

You have always emphasised the nee or a livestock policy for our country. What should be its salient features?
Firstly, we should think of improving the health of our livestock population. This care be. done by reducing their numbers. Wheif@we are talking of controlling human population, lf,hy can't we talk of controlling livestock population? I am not suggesting in the least that you go and kill all stray animals. But the population of stray unproductive cattle can be controlled by immunising them. The objective is to have a population that is sustainable and healthy. When this is d6ne, we have to also go for specialisations, as is there in the industrialised countries. We can evolve specific programmes for developing good breeds of different animals.

What are the problems that you are facing in your research?
To my mind, the basic problem is the expectations of the people. They believe that research is some kind of a magic wand which gives desired results when it is waved over the problem. Research is science-based, and even if we are to produce a new variety, it takes 6-8 years, So research is not magic, because you cannot expect anything and everything from research. If expectations are controlled, or at least, they are made more realistic, it is the best we can hope for.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.