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Now, designer rice to beat hunger

Jul 10, 2012

Some of the best brains on rice research are meeting in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh for a debate on designer rice as part of a conference organised by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). According to William D Dar, ICRISAT's Director General, the latest science-led innovations can be used to generate new varieties to ensure enough food for 9.2 bn population by 2050.

The dialogue was organized for the scientists to deliberate on the prospects of designing rice that can meet future challenges of global food-nutrition-livelihood security.

Rice is one of the three cereals along with wheat and maize that meet maximum the global food requirement.  Though the current trends of rice production are in pace with the demands of the growing populations across Asia, Africa and south America, changes in the economy and life styles of the region are going to be more demanding in quantity and quality of the commodity.  Moreover, limiting natural resources like land, water, soil health, plant genetic resources and the inevitable adverse effects of the changing climate, however, are bound to decelerate growth rates in rice production and productivity.

Experts gathered at the symposium deliberated whether the existing rice genotypes will be able to meet the future requirements of food and nutrition and if crop intensification and management practices with the currently available high yielding varieties be able to maximize productivity of the crop to desired level.

Some scientists are now of the opinion that with the kind of advances in the area of crop sciences and new and emerging biosciences, it should be possible to design rice for meeting the future food-nutrition needs on ecologically and economically sustainable basis.

William D Dar, ICRISAT's Director General summed up his concerns around any hype the terminology might provoke, saying that "I want to set the record straight.  We are not here to create products for the affluent few.  We want to use the latest science-led innovations to generate new varieties that will ensure there will be enough food for 9.2 Bn population by 2050."

To explain this further, he added,  "We want to create rice varieties with desirable nutritional values, or better yield despite increasingly adverse environmental stresses. Our designer item is beyond marketing hype.  It’s a response to the global need for food, nutrition and health."

One of the issues that rice scientists across the globe are best with is if the rice plant can meet  its own nutrient needs while also growing well under stress.

Dar feels that crop plants can be developed by modifications at the DNA level for desired characters. This, he feels, can be achieved through the use of modern biotechnological tools.

The dialogue, organised by the Society for Advancement of Rice Research, is co-sponsored by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, ICRISAT and  the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority and generously supported by a few private sector enterprises.

Ten international experts from six countries along with ten eminent Indian scientists will be presenting lead papers which will be supplemented by 30 equally eminent international panel of discussants.  In addition, 30 young, active and outstanding young scientists/research scholars are participating in the Dialogue and present their recent research findings as posters.

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