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Breeding rice for India: Quality, quantity and regional tastes

By Kacey Culliney , 01-Sep-2011
Last updated on 01-Sep-2011 at 17:51 GMT2011-09-01T17:51:19Z

Improving rice yields is a major challenge in India today but a high quality grain needs to be a key focus of rice breeding efforts, according to a spokesperson at Bayer CropScience.

“To meet the demands of the burgeoning population of 1.2 billion, there is an urgent need to address productivity issues in rice,” Richard Breum, spokesperson at Bayer CropScience told FoodNavigator Asia. But he said not only do yields need to be focussed on, so too does quality.

Rice breeding was introduced to obtain higher yields and Bayer CropScience along with other companies, such as Advanta India, have been working to create ideal hybrids for India, by carefully targeting and crossing different parental lines.

However, whilst yield increase is essential, the quality in terms of taste and texture is also an important challenge that breeders are working to address.

Satyadev, rice breeder and researcher for Advanta India, a multinational seed company working with hybrid rice in India, said: Taste and texture are highly geography-specific and depending on the market size and business potential we work on those traits.”

Regional rice

Hybrid Rice India research also said that taste preference is regional and differs throughout India: “Acceptance of hybrids by consumers is primarily determined by cooking and eating quality characteristics. Rice quality means different things to different people and it is region specific. The best quality type of one region may not be liked at all by another region therefore breeding for better quality hybrids, depending upon local requirement, assumes added significance.”

The challenge is to adapt strains of hybrid rice to cater to the differing palates of each region of India.

Bayer CropScience is the leading hybrid rice company in India with a market share of 40%, currently marketing seven hybrids under the brand Arize, each adapted to specific local growing conditions and consumer preferences according to regions.

Breum said: “Taste and texture is a key focus in our hybrid rice breeding programs to ensure high rice grain quality. Arize grain cooking and taste characteristics meet all the standards of the markets.”

Bayer CropScience works to produce desirable seeds, not only in terms of yield and taste quality but also resilience.

He said: “We are developing agronomic traits for disease, insect resistance and stress tolerance including submergence and salinity tolerance. Hence, Bayer CropScience is a leader in the development of hybrid rice varieties that excel in yield, taste and cooking quality.”

Satyadev of Advdanta India said that hybrids are still being adapted and said that the conversation around hybrid rice is still evolving.

He said: "In India, the quality of the rice plays a major role in the conversation around hybrid rice. At the moment, traditional varieties remain more popular because of their quality but our focus it to continue to develop hybrids and promote hybrid rice.”

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