Indian TCDC expert tackles Iranian rice problems

Centuries ago, scientists believe, aromatic rice varieties made their way from India to Iran, where today they are the Iranian staple. In June, an Indian rice breeder travelled the same route on an important mission to advise Iran how to increase the yield of those same rice varieties.

Dr N. Shobha Rani, a senior Indian scientist, recently spent three weeks in Iran sharing her expertise in rice breeding.
The crux of Iran's rice problem is the following: the country imports 600,000 tonnes of rice a year, a drain on foreign exchange. Yet while Iranian plant breeders have developed high-yielding rice varieties that produce double the traditional rice varieties, most of the rice does not have the delicious aroma (similar to that of the famous Basmati rice) beloved of Iranian consumers, nor the cooking qualities. Therefore, Iranian farmers are reluctant to grow them, fearing they will not be able to sell their crops.

Enter Dr Nallanthigal Shobha Rani, a senior scientist at the Directorate of Rice Research in Hyderabad, India, who at present works on a programme dedicated to breeding better quality into high-yielding rice varieties. Dr Rani went to Iran under the auspices of FAO's Programme on the Use of Experts for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries.

"Although Iran has been doing a lot of research into high-yielding varieties, in India we started growing such varieties in 1966. Now India has produced so many high-yielding varieties for different problems such as drought and soil problems, short duration and cold," said Dr Rani, adding that India has been self-sufficient in rice since 1985.

However, when Dr Rani studied Iranian conditions and recommended specific new high-quality high-yielding varieties from India, she found local scientists and officials hesitant.

"The Iranians were enthusiastic and happy to see me but they were a little doubtful because they themselves already have good varieties, which are resistant to blast and stem borer, which are major problems there. They were sceptical in a sense because they are not having success promoting their own (new) varieties," she said. "But if the variety is good they must take it up because it is for the good of their own country."

Dr Rani believes one solution might be new extension methodologies that could convince farmers to grow the high-yielding, if poorer quality, rice that Iranian scientists have already developed. Although farmers would sell the rice for less than what they would get for aromatic rice, their profits would still increase thanks to the increased quantity.

During three weeks in Iran's Gilan and Mazandaran provinces, Dr Rani not only offered advice but observed some new techniques.

"I also learned something since they are trying to control stem borer through biological control. They introduce a moth to the fields to eat the eggs of stem borer. It is being done very nicely in Iran on about 28 000 to 30 000 ha," she said.

FAO promotes the use of experts from the developing world in other developing countries with similar conditions because they are more familiar than Western experts with specific problems and possible solutions. Their use is also cost-effective (FAO's share of the costs are roughly one-third of the cost of an expert at standard UN rates).

Under the TCDC Experts programme, the Indian government paid Dr Rani's salary and the Iranian government provided her board and lodging. FAO paid all international and internal travel, medical and insurance coverage and US$50 a day to the expert as a subsidy towards local living expenses.

8 July 1997

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