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Bangladeshi rice research lags behind due to legal framework

  • Published at 09:58 pm November 19th, 2018
Photo: Bigstock

The experts said there are still many legal and policy challenges for the private sector to overcome if it is to become involved in research and development, even with the recent passing of a law allowing the private sector and government agencies to develop rice varieties

Scientific research to develop new and high yielding rice varieties in Bangladesh has fallen behind the rest of the world despite rice being the key food grain of the country, experts at a workshop said yesterday. 

The experts said there are still many legal and policy challenges for the private sector to overcome if it is to become involved in research and development, even with the recent passing of a law allowing the private sector and government agencies to develop rice varieties. 

“For so many years, only the public sector and public universities were allowed to conduct research and release the varieties,” Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ACI Agribusiness Ltd Dr FH Ansarey said. 

“However, the new Seed Act 2018 allows private sector to conduct research and development work. This is a great opportunity to give the country’s rice research activities a boost.” 

The two-day workshop that began at the ACI Centre in Dhaka on Sunday was titled “Transforming Rice Breeding: Current Status and Way Forward” and was held in partnership with USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). 

The workshop aimed to create awareness, disseminate the Transforming Rice Breeding (TRB) approaches and evaluate the current status of the ongoing TRB program at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and ACI.  

Govt support sought

Addressing the workshop, ACI Agribusiness CEO Ansarey warned about the current projections for the future demand of rice and restrictions on its cultivation. 

“In Bangladesh, rice occupies 71% of gross cropped area and contributes to 94% of the total food grain production along with one half of agricultural GDP,” he said.

“However, with the population growth in the country, farmland shrunk by 0.26% annually between 1976 and 2010 and is currently shrinking at an estimated 1% per year. By 2050, the country’s population will increase to 200.19 million while 44.6 million metric tons of clean rice will be required for these people.” 

Ansarey also sought government support in innovation, finance, policy, infrastructure, production costs, and promotion and communication.

Agriculture Ministry Secretary Md Nasiruzzaman graced the opening of the workshop as chief guest while BRRI acting Director General Dr Tamal Lata Aditya and ACI Group Chairman M Anis Ud Dowla were present as special guests. 

USAID Bangladesh’s Roy Fenn and BMGF’s Gary Atlin also spoke at the opening session as guests of honour with IRRI Representative for Bangladesh Dr Humnath Bhandari in the chair. 

Cost effective

The speakers said TRB enables rice breeders to develop a rice variety faster, within three to four years, compared to the traditional system, which takes around seven to eight years. 

They said the new approach to rice breeding is cost effective and based on market demand. The important aspect of the modern approach is the selection process, which is molecular based and unlike the visual selection system in the traditional approach, they said. 

According to experts, this molecular based selection ensures rice breeders develop varieties built in specific desired traits with high genetic gains mainly in terms of yield. 

“It is strongly believed that the rice varieties once developed through the TRB approaches will be highly acceptable by the farmers not only for high yield but also for the desirable traits such as resistance to diseases and pests, salinity tolerant, and attractive grain quality,” IRRI’s Bangladesh Representative Dr Humnath said. 

“It will overcome the constraints of varietal replacement: the farmers will not cultivate decades old varieties; instead they will cultivate the new ones. 

“This will provide a tremendous boost to rice production in Bangladesh.”

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