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IRRI-Government of Odisha partnership to strengthen state’s specialty rice segment

(Photo: A cafeteria featuring biofortified rice varieties in Odisha)

ODISHA, India (March 16, 2024) - The state of Odisha produced nearly 11 million tons of rice in 2021, considerably contributing to the national food reserve and meeting the staple requirement of around 45 million of its population. The focus of the government has now shifted to diversify the state’s food basket to include healthier choices for consumers by mainstreaming nutritious rice varieties with high zinc, iron, protein, and low glycemic index (GI) traits.

These high yielding nutritious rice varieties have great market potential and may be positioned as a premium product segment which could generate higher demand and economic value to producers. Varietal awareness, systematic seed access, a robust supply chain, and adoption in scale will be crucial for the sustenance and uptake of these rice varieties and create economies of scale. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Agriculture & Farmers’ Empowerment, Government of Odisha, recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to accelerate the production of these varieties and explore its potential to improve consumer health outcomes, strengthen the formal and local seed systems, and create new market linkages for the wide scale production and distribution of new specialty rice varieties in Odisha.

Signed by Shri Prem Chandra Chaudhary, Director of Agriculture and Food Production and IRRI Interim Director General Dr. Ajay Kohli, the three year collaboration will focus on the introduction and scaling of bio-fortified, low glycemic index, and premium quality rice varieties. The project will be implemented under the overall supervision of IRRI Scientist and Principal Investigator, Dr. Swati Nayak, South Asia Lead for Seed Systems.

Speaking on the rising importance of specialty rice in India, Dr. Kohli remarked: “Odisha’s revised agriculture agenda calls for a rice sector that is profitable and demand-driven. Rice is no longer just a simple staple. It needs to add more value to farmers and consumers and that can happen through value-added traits for improved nutrition and health benefits. The renewed interest and policy focus of the state government acts as an enabler in the right direction.”

In order to generate production at scale, the formal and semi-formal seed system will be strategically supported for institutional engagement and ownership for seed scaling of selected specialty varieties. With evidence generated through season-long on-farm testing of past and ongoing efforts, the key healthier varieties will be mainstreamed with the help of state seed corporations and community-owned seed networks for mass production. Leveraging regional cooperation policies like Seeds Without Borders and partnering with Indian National Breeding Network partners, new and more promising healthier rice varieties will be introduced and scaled through the project.

“Nutrition through popularization of  better germplasms and development of robust seed systems can now be achieved. We want to ensure decentralized and localized access to these products through systematic introduction, positioning, and scaling strategies for the best specialty rice varieties. This segment is immensely underexplored, both at producer and consumer levels, and we are grateful to the Government of Odisha for getting behind actionable research and programmatic interventions on this,” said Dr. Nayak.

The project will be implemented in the districts of Bhadrak, Mayurbhanj, Ganjam, and Bolangir, with an expected annual direct participation of some 5,000 farmer producers and coverage and production area of 2,000 hectares. At the end of the project cycle, the project will have covered a total of 15,000 farmers and 6,000 hectares and connected with several institutions, channels, and consumer markets.