Seeds with multiple tolerance will be a game-changer: Borlaug award winner Swati Nayak

Borlaug Field Award winner Swati Nayak explains how her research on healthier seed varieties could positively impact the lives of farmers

Updated - September 28, 2023 02:37 am IST

Published - September 27, 2023 09:22 pm IST - New Delhi

Scientist Swati Nayak, who has been named the 2023 recipient of the World Food Prize’s Norman E Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application.

Scientist Swati Nayak, who has been named the 2023 recipient of the World Food Prize’s Norman E Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. | Photo Credit: PTI

International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) scientist Swati Nayak, known for research works in climate-resilient and nutritious rice varieties, recently won Borlaug Field Award by the World Food Prize, named in honor of the renowned agricultural scientist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug. Dr. Nayak had organised more than 10,000 on-farm and comparative testing for more than 500 climate resilient, high-yielding, bio-fortified and healthier seed varieties.

Placing her research in the small holder farmers’ perspective, Dr. Nayak said developing high yielding inbreeds (non hybrids) from our old seed varieties and the focussing on climate resilient and climate responsive varieties rich in micro nutrients have been the innovations of this decade. The combined efforts of various national and international organisations resulted in developing such varieties, she told The Hindu.

She is also focused on preserving the landrace of seeds found in the country. “Life style diseases are certainly concern. We need more low glycemic index varieties of rice which are with micro nutrients. Next decade should be dedicated to such kind of researches,” Dr. Nayak said.

Giving out the example of the traditional Kala Namak seed variety of paddy found in eastern India, she said own varieties have to be conserved for both scientific and cultural purposes. “We need to empower the farming community to help them produce better quality of seeds and maintaining their germplasm. It will help them for better yield and better taste of the seeds. The yield may not be competitive, but market positioning shall help farmers to help better price for these seeds,” she said.

Swati Nayak with paddy farmers in Odisha.

Swati Nayak with paddy farmers in Odisha. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Researchers around the country are trying to evaluate different accessions of seed varieties, she said. “We collect multiple accessions and assess it. We validate it for yield and market aspects. For example, we have identified 2-3 best accessions for Kala Namak and we are now focusing on scaling and capacity building of these seeds. The seeds will be available for larger production purposes soon. There is demand. But we have to now work on how to consolidate on this demand,” she said.

The effort of the scientific community is to make seeds affordable for small holders without much cost, investment and infrastructure. “Average yield is a matter concern, especially for eastern States. There is still room for increasing and stabilising the productivity. Bringing high yielding seeds and fighting climatic, biotic and abiotic risks. Scientists are fighting along with farmers in this process. Resilient varieties replacing the regular varieties is like an insurance. We need to ensure that these varieties are accessible to farmers,” she said.

Maintaining that climate change is a reality and its induced damages on agriculture cannot be ignored, she said the country has a lot of climate resilient varieties now, which can face conditions of droughts and floods.

“The efforts are also to develop seeds with multiple tolerance-- floods, droughts and pests. It is a package so that farmers do not have to look for so many options. The system will also be focussed on what to produce and what to grow. These new generation varieties will be a game changer. They will be available as options for farmers in next two three years,” she said.

On fortified rice, she said her personal opinion is in favour of bio fortified foodgrains. “Looking at the perspectives of both farmers and consumers, I would suggest that bio fortified rice is the most low cost, intensive and affordable way to address the nutrition challenge. It will directly go into their consumption system. Bio fortified rice can be produced in bulk volume and it is not cost intensive. It could be the future and the way forward,” she said adding that the country needs good products to convince farmers for bulk production.

“A buy-back guarantee or incentives for farmers for cultivating these special varieties will give a boost to the production,” she said.

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