Role of improved crop varieties for increased productivity is well recognized since the era of green revolution. Acceptance of these varieties along with better agro-techniques happened through advocacy of different extension and training programmes. However, the large-scale adoption and operative visibility remain an existing gap in many parts of India especially in Eastern part for Rice crop.
One factor of this slow adoption rate is that farmers do not directly visualize the significant advantages and benefits over existing one which corresponds to ‘seeing is believing, leading to secure livelihood and enhanced profitability. Apart from that, a variety needs a robust positioning in the seed chain, which to be driven by farmer’s acceptance as well as by other key influencers from market and policy domain. Since the farmer’s perception, preference remains diverse based on their ecosystem, gender, socio-economic background, therefore a participatory evaluation is necessary to capture varietal performance in an equitable and inclusive manner. Thus, for disseminating the significance of new technology as improved varieties with best bet crop management practices among the farming community a concept of ‘Rice Varietal Cafeteria’ (RVC) is idealized and implemented through International Rice Research Institute, South Asia Regional Centre (IRRI-SARC) based at Varanasi in 2021 in Eastern Indian States.
RVC is a market inclusive, client-oriented platform, which showcases improved rice varieties of diverse features and connects different stakeholders in the seed value chain and support large scale promotion and up-scaling of preferred varieties. This is a scientifically valid trial which encourages learning and extensive knowledge sharing and thus proves as an ‘Evidence Hub’ of multiple diverse varieties.
Under AGGRi Alliance (Accelerated Genetic Gain for Rice) project funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a total of 12 RVC have been established in key locations of Bihar, Odisha, Eastern UP, and Chhattisgarh. The RVC is placed within Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) of ICAR and with competent NGO in well-managed farm.
To accelerate the acceptance and adoption of the new improved rice varieties with Abiotic and biotic stress tolerance, Multi Stress Tolerance, Bio-Fortified (nutria-rich), Premium Quality Rice varieties.
To engage private and public seed sector players, and their market channels like distributors, dealers, millers, FPOs, extension agents in the participatory evaluation of different varieties.
To strengthen learning and adoption by systematic evaluation both with qualitative and quantitative data.
To create mass awareness and sensitization about new improved rice varieties
To promote the seed and varietal replacement for improved productivity of rice in the region
The trial is established in 3 replicated plots in one field. Generally, 30-35 rice varieties are included in a trial which are majorly clustered into 3 maturity groups eg. early (115-125 days), medium (125-135 days) and late (140 days & above). Staggered sowing pattern is followed to synchronize the flowering and maturity of the different varieties, where the late varieties are sown first followed by medium and last the early ones, keeping 15 days interval in between each group sowing. Optimum crop management practices are followed in the whole trial throughout the crop life cycle with close monitoring from IRRI scientific team. From IRRI-SARC, Dr. Kuntal Das: Senior Specialist Seed System and product Management; Sarvesh Shukla: Officer; Rabindra Moharana: Field technician and respective data enumerators are actively involved to implement RVC across geographies which are in few instances are labelled with geo-tags, specifying each plot, variety and the entire layout, so that any visitor can identify the variety easily and observe.
Once the trial reached to the harvesting stage, an EXPO is organized on a suitable date by inviting and ensuring participation of all key stakeholder engaging farmers (minimum 50) local distributors, dealers, millers, higher officials of Department of Agriculture (DoA), scientist from KVK, Universities, subject matter expert etc. The whole event is conducted in co-ordination with IRRI with the aim on farmer orientation training and participatory varietal evaluation.
Two types of evaluation models are employed, a) Participatory (Qualitative) evaluation and b) Trait data (Quantitative) evaluation. In participatory evaluation the score-card is used to record basic varietal traits/ features in a 1-5 scale (1 worst-5 best). The trait data score-card is used to record various varietal characteristics (eg, plant height, grain type, yield, disease/ pest tolerance and etc.). Based on these evaluations a matrix is prepared to conclude on best performing as well as preferred varieties. Meticulous analysis of the data also indicates the reason to choose a specific variety by gender group (male and female), socio economic (marginal, land-lord) and functional background (farmer, distributor, retailer, policymaker, scientist etc.).
Holding the evaluation scorecards, each participant closely observes each variety and mark the scores based on their observations. The score cards are later submitted the IRRI officials for further data analysis procedures. The consolidated results are shared with DoAs, Agriculture Universities and especially to state seed certification agencies for further endorsement and linkages in seed chain.
Rice Varietal Cafeteria provide an opportunity to farmers and wide stakeholders in selecting the variety based on their own judgment. The findings show that the client-based RVC is an effective method for disseminating high-yielding varieties with improved climate resilience technologies by creating awareness among rice farmers. It was found to be very persuasive in changing the attitude, skills, and knowledge of farming communities.
But the benefits go beyond that. The multidimensional approach of the RVC provide the opportunity for participatory learning and network building where various stakeholders interact, discuss, give feedback, and decide on their varietal preferences and choices. It also helps establish linkages between formal and informal seed systems as well as private and public seed sectors and stabilizes seed supply chain management by creating and managing varietal demand and supply. In addition, the evidence-based trait data from RVC provide very helpful information to breeders and researchers which further support in varietal development through improvement programs. The selected varieties are infused in seed chain to speed up the adoption among farmers. By adopting the most suitable varieties based on the ecological requirement, rice farmers also stand to gain higher yields and income. Findings from rice varietal cafeteria ensure insightful guidance for policymakers to advocate for seed and varietal replacement. Therefore, extension agencies and agriculture departments need to play a proactive role in providing technical support to rice varietal cafeterias and incorporate this method in their mainstream outreach programs for sustainable food production with increased productivity in the state.