“Research Priorities for Indian Seed Sector”
A webinar on “ Research Priorities for Indian Seed Sector” was jointly hosted by Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), Delhi and Gubba Cold Storage, Hyderabad on 23rd Jan. The programme consisted of a panel discussion in which some of the best brains from the seed sector and research fraternity participated. The discussion was moderated by Ram Kaundinya, the Director General of FSII. The focus of the discussion was on the possible scenarios of seed research in this new decade.
Kiran Gubba welcomed the participants and the panel members and detailed the activities of Gubba Cold Storage which has set up modern technology based storage infrastructure for the seed industry. He also talked about the modern facilities created by Gubba for storage of COVID vaccine.
Opening the panel discussion, Dr DK Yadava, ADG (Seeds) of ICAR explained in details the stupendous work being carried out by ICAR in crop improvement encompassing a wide range of crops. Looking at the future of seed research he identified certain priority areas. Breeding for biofortified crops, climate resilience, environmental friendliness, improvement in grain quality of hybrid rice, oilseed development and yield improvement (crops like sunflower, mustard and sesame) and hybrid development in pigeon pea was specially marked by him for attention. He was of the view that all technological tools like GM, Gene editing, Marker Assisted Selection and other technology platforms must be exploited by the scientists to meet the challenges of this decade and beyond. He specifically pointed out the opportunity to apply GM technology in Soybean and other oilseed crops to improve yields and the possibility of support from different quarters for such a move. He called upon the private sector to enhance their research investments especially in OP crops like pulses.
Dr Ramasami, the Chairman of Rasi Seeds and also the Chairman of FSII, urged the seed industry to increase research investments. He read out a long list of priority areas where the seed industry should focus. Most importantly abiotic and biotic stress resistance should get the maximum attention, especially in crops like Paddy (gall midge, submergence tolerance, plant architecture to increase the number of plants per acre, synchronized tillering, earliness, fertilizer use efficiency, Water Use Efficiency, varieties suitable for mechanical operations, etc), cotton (sucking pests and CLCV, HDPS needs of earliness, dwarf size and suitable for mechanical picking) and others. He particularly highlighted the need to focus on pre breeding efforts with an idea of building research capacity beyond this decade. Yield barriers have to be broken and there is a need to exploit the potential available in wild species and land races. This will bring greater variability into the genetic base of the industry. Canadian land races of Mustard have genes to fight stem rot and white rust and we must utilize them. He argued that biotechnological tools offered us many options to address these issues in research apart from helping in quality control and seed production systems (like GMS in cotton and CGMS in rice). We should exploit the new tool like Gene editing to develop new varieties. He also said that seed industry should partner with food industry through contracts for customized breeding programmes which develop varieties specifically suited to their needs.
Dr Paresh Varma, the Research Director of Shriram Bioseed stressed upon the need to develop technologies and varieties to handle abiotic stresses (apart from drought and floods, he mentioned nutrient stress in soil), biotic stresses (specifically disease resistance in crops), traits to mitigate labour costs (like Herbicide Tolerance), increased mechanization in crops like Corn, Rice and Cotton, to optimize agronomy and growth in cotton, corn and rice, traits for improving the quality and scale of seed production and traits required by downstream end users (like nutrition and health in food crops, lint quality in cotton and traits for industrial applications). He particularly mentioned the need to build PPP projects on some of the above and in pre-breeding projects. Especially in oilseeds and pulses while the public systems have built enormous genetic base over the years the technology platforms set up by the private industry may be utilized to develop new varieties by the public institutions through PPP projects.
Shri Uday Singh, Chairman of Namdhari Seeds spoke about the Vegetables sector. He emphasized on the need to breed for yield, adoptability and disease resistance. He brought home the point that neglected crops like Indian greens ( Coriander, Palak and Methi) needed special attention for improvement of shelf life and to improve tolerance to high temperatures. He also mentioned the need to develop shape, size and resistance to Alternaria in Onions which could help in growing the crop throughout the year and bring greater price stability. As pathogens are evolving it is necessary to breed for resistance to CMV, CLCV, Anthracnose in Chilli and Gummy Stem blight, DM and PM in Cucurbits. He also listed tolerance to climate changes, salinity and high heat as desired characters in cucurbits. Markers for qualitative traits to be taken up. Metabolomics and Proteomics to be targeted along with mutation breeding and DH for fast turn around. He urged for research collaborations between Public and Private institutions and also among private companies. He recommended pathogen profiling to be taken up in each location. Shri Uday Singh mentioned the urgent need to strengthen the implementation of PPV&FR Act in order to increase research investments, especially in OPs of Indian crops.
Dr Suren Tiku, founder director of Tierra Seedscience listed some of the priority areas. Hybrid adoption is slow in some of the crops and large scale extension education is required. We should use more of wild relatives to bring desired characters that are not available in the current germplasm.He mentioned WUE, NUE and Herbicide Tolerance as some of the targets. He laid emphasis on value addition breeding. For example Tomato (Lycopene, TSS, Flavours, Shelf life), Water Melon (Seedless, Lycopene and Dry Matter), Okra & Sweet Corn (high flavonoids), Brinjal (Flavinoids, Ascorbic Acid, TSS, Shelf Life), etc. He urged for widening our work on Indigenous vegetables. He emphasized the need to promote Minimum tillage concept to save soils. He advocated setting up of High throughput Service Centres for molecular breeding which will be very useful for medium sized and small sized seed companies. Speed breeding infrastructure is required. To avoid duplication of work he advocated allocating different virus strains to different organizations for research and PPP projects. While finished germplasm can be shared through licensing, he said that cataloguing basic germplasm could be made available more freely. He also suggested laying emphasis on seed production research especially in Okra and French beans with reduced fertilizer use.
There was good discussion after the above presentations. Dr KC Bansal suggested two projects. The first was to promote the use of germplasm of major crops in widening genetic base and developing widely adapted varieties. The second was setting up a national network on developing Genome Edited crops in a mission mode approach with participation of both public and private sector with research and regulatory support coming more from the public sector. There was a discussion on Gene Editing and it was felt that the regulations in India needed to be notified quickly by the government so that investment decisions could be taken by companies. Mechanical picking of Cotton can pick up as machines and varieties are ready but lack of good defoliant is causing delays, according to Dr Ramasami.
Ram Kaundinya concluded the session by identifying the above listed high priority research areas of focus for the seed researchers in this decade and beyond based on the presentations and discussions. Vote of thanks was proposed by Dr Ratna Kumria of FSII.