Sunday, April 14, 2024

Agricultural breakthroughs

Khamin writes about the researches that have made positive differences to our agriculture sector
Being mainly an agrarian economy with agriculture being the largest producing sector, the increasing performance in the sector in Bangladesh, has been fuelled by various scientific researches conducted over the past three decades. The fruition of the researches has brought about a number of innovations during this time, aiding to the improvement in living standards of 62 per cent of people in the country involved in agriculture, according to the ministry of agriculture.
Besides the individual initiatives of Dr Monjur Hossain from the Department of Botany at Rajshahi University, aiding strawberry farming in the country last year and the government initiatives behind genome sequencing by Dr Maqsudul Alam this year, the credit for agricultural innovations should also go to the dedicated researchers of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur, Bangladesh Agriculture University (BAU) and Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), in Mymensingh, whose endeavours have helped in the emergence of new crops and fruits in the country.
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI)
BRRI has already produced around 49 good quality rice and four hybrid rice while other researches are still ongoing. The good quality rice includes BR-Mukta, BR-Asha, BRRI Dhan-29 and BRRI Dhan-28.
Besides this, around 19 BRRI-Dhan are currently being cultivated in 14 countries including India, China, Thailand, Indonesia and others. Last year, a variety of BRRI-Dhan was cultivated in 75 per cent of the fields in Bangladesh, with around 87 per cent of the total production, comprising BRRI-Dhan, according to the BRRI records.
BRRI Dhan-49, 51 and 52 are this year’s innovation for the country. These were released in the market in June, while the ministry of agriculture is focussing their efforts toward raising awareness about these types amongst farmers at different corners of the country.
Agriculture ministry sources inform that the BRRI Dhan-51 and 52 are special as these can survive even when submerged under water for at least 12 to 15 days. ‘It can also be cultivated in fields with saline water. Salinity and flood are the two most pressing concerns for rice production in Bangladesh and as these varieties can survive under such conditions, we are trying to promote and distribute these amongst farmers based in areas which are usually affected by flood or saline water,’ says an agricultural ministry source.
These two types are also more effective, producing more rice than the earlier BRRI Dhan-40, 41 and 47, which were also innovated for cultivation in flood-prone areas and not in saline water.
Dr Md Abdul Mannan, the director general of BRRI, tells Xtra that the Dhan-51 and 52 types were innovated especially for the coastal areas of Bangladesh and the Haor regions of Kishoreganj and Sylhet. ‘If more rice in these areas can be produced, it will eliminate food crises and also reduce unemployment in these areas,’ he says.
The BRRI has also produced the BRRI- Dhan-33 that can be cultivated in the Monga region of Rangpur and Dinajpur. ‘This rice can be cultivated within a short time and can be cultivated four times a year,’ says Mannan.
On the other hand, the BRRI Dhan-49 is locally called Bangla Mati. Due to the good quality of the rice, it can be substituted for Basmati, Jamai Ador, Najirshail and Chinigura.
But what is the process behind these revolutionary innovations? ‘We usually collect the best varieties of two to three different kinds of rice and bring these to the laboratory. After researching on the qualities and vices of each of the rice, we separate the qualities from the seeds,’ shares a researcher from one of the teams.
‘We incorporate the qualities in our local variety of rice in the laboratory and later, we cultivate this in our test fields to observe the quality. If we get favourable results, we then decide to release it in the market,’ he adds.
‘We can at least say that we are self-reliant in rice research through our success over the years,’ says Shahjahan Kabir, chief scientific officer of BRRI. ‘However, it is rather painful that the rice innovated by our organisation is called IRRI in the market instead of being rightfully called BRRI-Dhan. IRRI is a foreign research institute that did not come up with this rice,’ he informs Xtra.
Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA)
Researching in crops since 1962, BINA has already developed 42 improved mutant varieties of different crops through the radiation technique.
BINA produced rice, mustard or rapeseed, groundnut, sesame, mungbean, chickpea, blackgram, lentil, grasspea, jute and tomato. In jute products, BINA has produced the Binadeshipat-2 that was released in 1997.
The product’s fibre is better than all other existing local jute cultivars and is also suitable for making paper pulp.
BINA also produced Bahar, a high quality tomato, with lesser seeds and weighing around 110 grams. In this tomato series, BINA also produced the BINA-Tomato-2 and 3.
Furthermore, the BINA-Dhan-7 and BINA-sail of rice, BINA-moog-2 and BINA-moog-7 of mungbean, BINA-sarisha-3, BINA-sarisha-4 and BINA-sarisha-5 of rapeseed, BINA-chinabadam-2 and BINA-chinabadam-4 of groundnut have created significant economic impact.
The moogdaal beans were produced with Bangladesh’s soil condition in mind. BINA’s researchers opine that if the government focuses on promoting these beans to the field level in our country, then it will no longer be necessary to import moogdaal from India.
Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI)
Besides BARI Ranbutan-1 being its latest, cereals, flowers, fruits, oilseeds, pulses, spices, tuber and vegetables are among the eight different type of crop items from which 86 varieties have been produced by BARI from 1961 till date.
From cereals, Barley, Kaon, wheat, the BARI Barley-4 (Salt tolerant-hulled) and BARI Gom 24 (Pradeep) are the most cultivated lucrative crops in the country, released in 2002 and 2005 respectively.
BARI’s spices include chili, onion, garlic and ginger. In the fruit section, BARI has produced various banana, litchi, lemon, jackfruit and safeda varieties.
BARI has also made significant progress in the development of sugarcanes, which holds more juice and is thicker than the average sugarcane. ‘The innovated sugarcanes are around 10 to 15 feet in height. These can be pivotal in increasing sugar production at a national level,’ says a BARI official.
It also needs to be mentioned that BARI made a huge contribution to the bumper production of potatoes and sweet potatoes last year.
Bangladesh Agriculture University (BAU)
While being one of the top-most institutions in agriculture, BAU is also appreciated by thousands of farmers all across Bangladesh for their contributions in coming up with the most varieties of fruits like BAU-kul, BAU-mango, BAU-guava and others, which are bigger in size than the originals, since 1990.
The BAU Germ Plasm Centre (GPC) of fruit tree improvement programme (FTIP) is responsible for the innovation of over 500 fruit items out of which, only 48 has been released in the market. According to GPC sources, 50 types of BAU-guava, 200 types of BAU-mango, seven types of BAU-jamrul, 27 varieties of BAU-lemon, 23 BAU-litchi and various BAU-palms are amongst the 500 fruit item varieties.
‘We have produced fruits like the diabetic BAU-mango, dragon fruit, seedless BAU-mango, apple BAU-mango, BAU-orange and BAU-lemon,’ says Dr MA Rahim, centre chairman and the acting head of the horticulture department of BAU. Rahim has been coordinating the research works since 1990.
‘We are trying to produce fruit crops to meet the demand of fruits all year long. Although we only get certain fruits for two to three months of a year, if we are successful we will be able to have all kinds of fruits throughout the year,’ he says.
‘We are soon releasing mango plante that will bear fruits three times a year. Other than the panel test, all formal activities for the launch have already been completed,’ he adds.
BAU is also conducting research on Kachu (Black Arum). ‘We are conducting research on these plants as developments on this plant can actually do wonders for our export sector,’ says an agricultural expert. He explains that in the US and other developed countries, cereals are produced from this plant as this has a high nutritional value.
‘If BAU-Kachu is released, then hopefully local producers can make cereals from the plant and channel in foreign currency after exporting these,’ he says.
Strawberry farming
Dr Monjur Hossain applied the tissue culture method on his own nursery premises to produce strawberry initially. Once successful, he released this variety in the market which was also environment-friendly. The strawberry farming brought about unexpected revenues last year.
In a bid to develop more environment-friendly strawberry, Hossain with his research team, evolved three more varieties like the RB-1, RB-2 and RB-3.
Unfortunately, most of these innovations are not reaching the general public due to the lack of proper management from the government, according to the researchers of these institutions.
Dr Rahim is highly concerned that the country may lose out if we lose the intellectual property rights to these new varieties of crops. ‘The government should do all that is necessary to acquire patents by 2015,’ he says. ‘It is good news for us that we have already identified the molecular identity of all our new crops and also justified these through the Distinguished Uniformity and Stability (DUS) test,’ says Mannan.
‘We can protect our patent rights as we already own the fingerprints and molecular structure of certain crops,’ says Shaiful Alam, senior liaison officer of BRRI. ‘However, we need to solve the problem of channelling the seeds to the fields at a very low price for the betterment of farmers,’ he adds.
His concern is realised by this reporter when he was told that the price of a BAU-mango sapling is Tk 300 at a nursery in Agargaon. BAU mango sapplings cost only Tk 50 at the BAU GPC.
‘The price would not have varied much if the third parties involved, like the NGOs and nursery owners, would not have tried to make unnatural profits from the sale of these saplings, which were actually innovated with the sole purpose of making livelihood easier for the farmers. It’s high time the government has a proper agro- marketing policy in place,’ adds Alam.
The Agro researchers of BRRI, BARI and BAU, also suggest the annulment of the Bangladesh Agricultural Produce Market Regulation Act 1964 which was amended through ordnance in 1985. ‘The Act lacks a proper guideline on agro marketing and business management; there can be no agro-based development paving the way for more agro-product innovations in future without this integral aspect,’ concludes a researcher.

Courtesy of NewAge

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