Dr. Richharia’s contribution
(Le potentiel des riz indigènes en Inde d’après les travaux de R. H. Richharia)
09 / 1997
The Green Revolution was long heralded as a great step in the history of agriculture due to the spectacular increases in grain yields recorded in the 1960’s. However, after a few years of this regime, the social, economic and environmental costs of this revolution began to appear, cooling down the initial entusiasm. Yet the Green Revolution is by and large considered as a phenomena that had to happen, and the logic of higher grain yields as a means of increasing land productivity has remained largely unquestioned. During the 1960’s, rice research was oriented towards the development of new high yielding varieties, which were primarily derived from imported material. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines provided a significant part of the material used for breeding, subtely shaping the agenda and methods of rice research in India. Dr. Richharia, one of the world’s leading rice specialist, was one of the only scientists who opposed the dominant approach based on introduced rice germplasm. He spent most of his career collecting and studying indigenous varieties of rice. Starting in 1959, he headed of the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, Orissa. He developed a technique to exploit hybrid vigour in indigenous rice through clonal propagation, which was being tried out at eleven centers in India with success. The subsequent happenings are best explained in his words : "We had just reached the stage to revolutionise rice production, but all the centers were closed down and instead HYV programme of IRRI with dwarfing genes was launched suppressing the CRRI work" (1). Dr. Richharia opposed the free import of rice material from IRRI which he knew to be susceptible to pests and diseases. This owed him to be not only ostracized from the scientific community but also prematurely retired from his position in 1967. During his term as Director of the Madhya Pradesh Rice Research Institute in Raipur, from 1971 to 1977, he evolved a research programme aimed at increasing rice production based on indigenous germplasm. Over 17, 000 cultivars of rice were collected from the Chattisgarh region alone. High yielding local varieties maintained by farmers and with outputs comparable to those of elite (introduced)high yielding varieties were identified. In other words, certain local cultivars yielded 3705 kg of paddy grain and above, which is the cut off point for ’high yielding variety’ standard. In fact, 9% of the indigenous varieties were found to fall in this category in a survey carried out in Madhya Pradesh between 1971 and 1974. After he left MPRRI, Dr. Richharia continued his work from his home in Bhopal until the year 1992. Dr. Richharia’s work on indigenous rice germplasm also highlighted the immense variability in rice which India possesses. He points, in particular, to the "tremendous variation in respect of resistance and susceptibility to diseases and to insect pests" (2). This rice specialist believed in maintaining and utilising the existing genetic diversity in indigenous rice cultivars to improve rice productivity. Such traits as early maturation, drought resistance, response to heavy manuring, cooking quality, lodging resistance could be refined through breeding. Moreover, production increases could also be obtained thanks to clonal propagation as a means of raising pure seeds and to the extension of this technology to utilize hybrid vigor in hybrid rices. In his opinion, the exclusive dependence on high yielding varieties featuring exotic (non-Indian in origins)dwarfing genes brought about genetic uniformity as well as vulnerability to diseases and pests. In contrast to the dominant approach, Dr. Richharia wished to develop location-specific breeding programmes around local genebanks where the germplasm of local crop plants would be maintained. This decentralized approach had a significant advantage : it could be managed by the farmers themselves, who would work with their own rice varieties and receive training on the selection of superior types in individual cultivars.
This project constituted the backbone of the plan to increase rice productivity which the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi requested him to draw in 1983. It reflected his deep concern for the poor and marginal farmers and for their knowledge, a will to utilise low-cost, local resource-based technology, and an understanding of indigenous crops and their potential.
1. Dogra, Bharat, 1991, The Life and Work of Dr. R. H. Richharia, New Delhi. 2. Richharia, R. H. and Govindaswami, S. , 1990, Rices of India, Academy of Development Science, Kashele (Maharashtra).
Personal study on biodiversity in India. A book is on the point to be published in India. For further information, please contact the author (see address)or Fph.