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STRASA Economic Briefs, No.

1 (March 2013)

Stress-Tolerant Rice in Eastern India: Development and Distribution

T. Yamano, M. Malabayabas, and M. Dar

1. Introduction Approximately 80% of the rice-growing area in eastern India is rainfed and exposed to abiotic stresses, such as drought and flooding. These conditions partly explain why eastern India generates less than half of the national rice production, despite accounting for more than 60% of the total rice cropped area in the country. Droughts and floods are examples of the most severe abiotic stresses for rice crops across India. In 2002, a severe drought affected 56% of the geographic area and the livelihood of 300 million people in 18 states. Although this is not documented, farmers are affected every year by droughts in local regions. Eastern India has the largest rainfed lowland area in the world and is prone to floods. According to the International Disaster Database (EM-DAT), approximately 20 million people in India were affected by floods annually between 2001 and 2011. Because farmers in rainfed areas are mostly poor, crop losses caused by abiotic stresses can have a devastating impact, potentially exacerbating poverty in the region. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its collaborators have developed rice varieties that are tolerant of various abiotic stresses. Recent advances in conventional and molecular breeding techniques have facilitated the breeding of rice varieties with desirable traits in a relatively short period. Since 2008, the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project has introduced such rice varieties to India. In 2010, seed distribution expanded significantly when the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) included stress-tolerant rice varieties in its eastern India programs. In this brief, we describe (A) stress-prone areas in South Asia and (B) the development and distribution of stress-tolerant rice varieties in eastern India. We conclude by outlining recommendations for the dissemination of stress-tolerant rice varieties to help farmers mitigate crop losses caused by abiotic stresses in this region of India. 2. Stress-prone areas in South Asia Figure 1 presents a map of stress-prone areas in South Asia. The map was generated by using remote-sensing techniques. The areas with red dots are drought-prone areas, whereas the areas with blue dots are submergence-prone areas. In Uttar Pradesh, approximately 8% of the rice area is prone to submergence from floods, whereas a further 21.8% is drought prone. In Bihar and West Bengal, more than 40% of the total rice cultivation area is prone to submergence, whereas 29% and 17% is drought prone in the two areas, respectively. In Odisha, 27% of the total rice-growing area is prone to
T. Yamano is a senior scientist, M. Malabayabas is an assistant scientist, and M. Dar is a senior associate scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).


STRASA has been established by IRRI and Africa Rice with a view to reduce poverty and to stabilize rice production in drought- and flood-prone rainfed ecosystems with poor soil in South Asia and Africa through the use of modern technology. STRASA is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Fig. 1. Map of stress-prone areas in South Asia. submergence and 19% is prone to drought. Figure 1 clearly shows that submergenceprone areas are concentrated along rivers, whereas drought-prone areas are scattered across regions. Rice farmers in drought-prone areas are mostly poor, with limited income-generating opportunities outside of farming, and thus they are vulnerable to disasters. In addition, because of climate change, the amount of rainfall is expected to decline and become more erratic in the future. Therefore, the need to plant stress-tolerant rice varieties is very high in this region. 3. Development of stress-tolerant rice varieties Rice plants respond to flooding through two mechanisms: (A) the ability for plants to elongate, which prevents them from becoming completely submerged beneath rising floodwater, and (B) submergence tolerance, whereby certain rice varieties survive submergence in shallow water through the adjustment of metabolic processes. As late as the 1980s, rice scientists failed to successfully combine submergence tolerance (i.e., mechanism b) and high grain yield through conventional breeding. However, in the 1990s, rice scientists found that, in certain rice varieties, submergence tolerance is controlled by a single major quantitative trait locus (QTL), which was termed SUB1 (Xu and Mackill 1996). In early 2002, through marker-assisted backcrossing (MAB), the SUB1 QTL was successfully introgressed, that is, a hybridization technique in which one gene is transferred from one plant to another through breeding, not through genetic modification, into a popular Indian rice variety, called Swarna. Swarna was selected because it is one of the most popular rice varieties in the region and, as a consequence, farmers might be more inclined to adopt Swarna-Sub1. Under normal conditions, previous studies found no significant differences in agronomic performance, grain yield, and grain quality between Swarna and Swarna-Sub1. However, after submergence, Swarna-Sub1 exhibited a yield advantage over Swarna. For more information, please visit and

Table 1. Major stress-tolerant rice varieties released recently in India.

Variety Swarna-Sub1 Sahbhagi Dhan CSR 43 CR Dhan 405 Tolerant of Submergence Drought Salinity Salinity Release year 2009 2010 2012 2012 Notes Survives up to 14 days of submergence 1 ton/ha yield advantage under drought Developed by CSSRI and IRRI Developed by CRRI and IRRI

Indeed, a recent household survey found that, when farmers in Odisha experienced 7 to 15 days of submergence, the average yield of Swarna-Sub1 was 2.7 tons/ha, whereas Swarna yielded just 1.4 tons/ha (Yamano et al 2013). Unlike Swarna-Sub1, the most successful drought-tolerant variety in India is a product of conventional breeding. It is called Sahbhagi Dhan, which means rice developed through collaboration in Hindi (Reyes 2009). This name was given to it because the variety was tested under a collaborative project between IRRI and many Indian organizations. Sahbhagi Dhan has shown a yield advantage of 0.8 to 1 ton/ha over other varieties under drought conditions. 4. Distribution of stress-tolerant rice varieties in India The STRASA project has been multiplying stress-tolerant rice variety seeds and distributing them with help from several Indian organizations, including NGOs, agricultural universities, and governmental agencies. When the project began in India in 2008, there were 21 collaborating organizations, with the project distributing 3 tons of stress-tolerant rice (mostly Swarna-Sub1) to 117 farmers (Fig. 2). Seed distribution started in collaboration with a few NGOs in Uttar Pradesh in 2008. Since then, many additional NGOs have joined the distribution efforts in Odisha and other states. In 2010, seed distribution expanded significantly when the NFSM began distributing SwarnaSub1 seeds within the framework of its projects. The NFSM distributed approximately 1,000 tons of Swarna-Sub1 seeds to more than 60,000 farmers (approx. 6 kg per farmer) in six states during 2010. This quantity increased to 9,800 and 38,000 tons in 2011 and 2012, respectively. The number of farmers reached through the NFSM programs was estimated to be 1.3 and 3.0 million in 2011 and 2012, respectively. For instance, in 2011, 269 block demonstrations on approximately 269,000 ha were implemented in five agroecological regions. The large-scale viability of Swarna-Sub1 was demonstrated in lowland and medium lowland areas, while Sahbhagi Dhan was introduced to droughtprone lowlands and to upland areas on a small scale. A significant increase in the quantity of Sahbhagi Dhan seed distribution is scheduled in 2013. 5. Concluding remarks Since its initiation in 2008, the STRASA project has successfully multiplied and distributed stress-tolerant rice varieties, particularly Swarna-Sub1, throughout India. The success of this project was made possible by strong collaboration with local counterparts. However, to extend its successful distribution in the future, the project For more information, please visit and

Quantity (tons)
45,000 40,000 35,000 30,000 25,000 20,000 15,000 10,000 5,000 0 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

Year Fig. 2. Quantity of stress-tolerant rice seeds distributed in eastern India.

The following are key issues. First, the distribution of stress-tolerant rice variety seeds will remain proportional to public support until farmers begin exchanging the seeds among themselves. Once farmers begin exchanging seeds, seed distribution will increase exponentially. Farmerto-farmer seed exchange requires investigation and support if necessary. Second, seed quality must be maintained. It is relatively easy to monitor and control the quality of certified seeds that are multiplied by formal organizations. However, it is difficult to monitor the quality of seeds farmers produce. Once poor-quality seeds are circulated among farmers, these seeds will fail to mitigate the losses caused by abiotic stresses. It would be difficult to reverse the opinion of farmers about the seeds if their perceptions become negative. Farmers may need to be trained on how to store and prepare their own seeds properly. Finally, the quantity of Sahbhagi Dhan and other stress-tolerant varieties remains small at the pilot level. However, because the land of a large number of rice farmers is subject to drought and high salinity every year, the success of Swarna-Sub1 should be extended to Sahbhagi Dhan and other salt-tolerant rice varieties. Indeed, the potential benefit of Sahbhagi Dhan is expected to be larger than that of Swarna-Sub1 because drought affects more farmers than floods. However, drought-prone areas are scattered across regions (Fig. 1); therefore, it is necessary to disseminate seeds through multiple channels, in addition to encouraging farmers to exchange seeds among themselves, while maintaining seed quality.
References Reyes LC. 2009. Making rice less thirsty. Rice Today 8:12-15. Xu K, Mackill DJ. 1996. A major locus for submergence tolerance mapped on rice chromosome. Mol. Breed. 2:219-224. Yamano T, Malayabas M, Dar M, Gumma MK. 2013. Diffusion of submergence tolerant rice in eastern India: preliminary report. In mimeo. International Rice Research Institute, Los Baos, Philippines.


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