Calls for modern plant breeding techniques to increase crop yield
Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates on Friday said modern plant breeding techniques, including DNA analysis, could double or even triple the annual increase in crop yield and lead to hardier varieties.
In his valedictory address at the AP AgTech Summit here, he said the International Rice Research Institute had developed a flood-tolerant version of the popular rice variety known as ‘Swarna’ that could survive full submergence for more than two weeks.
He said Swarna Sub-1 was now being used by millions of smallholders, mainly in eastern India. Mr. Gates, who was earlier received at the Visakhapatnam International Airport by Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and his Cabinet colleagues, said Andhra Pradesh was already a major seed producer for India and South Asia, and was well positioned to become a hub in this field. “It can leverage local expertise in GIS and its world-class IT sector along with low-cost commercial software and DNA testing services to develop better varieties more quickly,” he opined.
He said: “Imagine what could happen if every farmer of A.P. was growing the latest varieties bred for today’s environment and production system. A data feedback loop could help A.P. bridge the gap between innovation happening in its public breeding programmes and the products farmers need to boost productivity.”
Stating that nearly half of all households in A.P. rear livestock, everyone should think about productivity from that perspective.
“Diseases can wipe out flocks and herds, driving smallholders even further into poverty. For example, Newcastle disease can kill three-quarters of chickens in a flock during an outbreak. Through a partnership with Hester Biosciences, there is now a vaccine that costs just three cents a dose.” He admitted that India was also pioneering vaccines and medicines for other costly livestock diseases that spread to humans such as porcine cysticercosis.
“This disease is endemic to India’s swineherds and is the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy in developing countries. It also kills 50,000 people a year,” he informed.
Referring to the dairy sector, he said India was the world’s largest milk producer, but this success was owed to a very large number of animals producing fairly small amounts of milk. In A.P., many of the indigenous cattle breeds owned by smallholder farmers produce only a fraction of the milk that’s possible. But crossbred cows could yield more than double the milk than the typical indigenous breed. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he said, was supporting the National Dairy Plan to increase milk production across India by six million tonne annually.