NATIONAL

Meet to commemorate International Year of Rice

CHENNAI, MARCH 3. A national colloquium on "Molecular Breeding and Shaping the Future of Rice" will be organised by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) on March 12 and 13. It is to commemorate the International Year of Rice as declared by the United Nations, according to M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, MSSRF.

"The General Assembly of the United Nations, at its 57th session, decided to declare the year 2004 as the International Year of Rice (IYR). Noting that rice is the staple food of more than half of the world's population, affirming the need to heighten awareness of the role of rice in alleviating poverty and malnutrition, and reaffirming the need to focus world attention on the role that rice can play in providing food security and eradicating poverty, the U.N. had decided on this, and its lead organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), will be implementing appropriate national, regional and international programmes during the IYR," said Prof. Swaminathan.

The colloquium will be organised in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, XV Genetic Congress Trust, MAHYCO Research Foundation and the FAO. The participants will be drawn from the national laboratories and research institutions, private sector research and development institutions, policymakers and donor agencies and invited international scientists.

It will provide a platform to review the progress made in molecular breeding in our country with specific reference to Genomics, Molecular Marker Technology, Stress Tolerance and Nutritional Enrichment.

"It will pave the way for identifying the prospects of biotechnology options in these two selected areas of national concern and shape the future of rice through developing strategies for improvement of productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability," said Ajay Parida, Programme Director-Biotechnology at the MSSRF.

The theme of the IYR — "Rice is life" — reflects the importance of rice as a primary food source, and is drawn from an understanding that rice-based farming systems are essential for food security, poverty alleviation and improved livelihoods.

In Asia alone, more than two billion people obtain 60 to 70 per cent of their energy intake from rice and its derivatives; it is the most rapidly growing food source in Africa and is of significant importance to food security in an increasing number of low-income food-deficit countries.

Constraints

Rice production is facing serious constraints, including declining growth rates, natural resource depletion, labour shortages, gender issues, institutional limitations and environmental pollution.

Enhancing the sustainability and productivity of rice-based production systems, while protecting and conserving the environment, will require the commitment of many parts of civil society, as well as government and inter-governmental action.

Scientific revolution in molecular biology over the last two decades has led to rapid progress in understanding the genetic basis of living organisms, and the ability to develop processes and products useful to food and nutrition security and human health.

In agriculture, there is increasing use of biotechnology for genetic mapping and marker-assisted selection (MAS) to aid more precise, timesaving and cost-effective development of new strains of improved crops, animal and aquatic species.

This development is encouraging particularly for developing countries since conventional breeding that contributed to the green revolution no longer provides further breakthrough in raising the ceiling to yield as well as in solving the complex problems of insect and disease pressure, and tolerance to climatic stresses such as drought, submergence, heat and cold.

A particularly appealing feature of biotechnology is the opportunity of addressing the human nutrition problems through improved crops and other agricultural products, through bio-fortification approaches, according to Dr. Parida.