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India’s Contribution to Rice Development in South and South East Asia

Aldas Janaiah ( is with the India Office of the International Rice Research Institute in New Delhi. Samarendu Mohanty ( is with the Asia centre of the International Potato Centre, Vietnam.

India supports and contributes to agricultural research and development in about 40 other countries through bilateral, multilateral, and international cooperation and agreements. In this context, India’s contribution to rice development—in terms of capacity building, rice varietal development, adoption rate of Indian-linked rice varieties, and their effects on rice production in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam—has been explored.

India’s National Agricultural Research and Extension System (NARES) is one of the largest public-sector agricultural research systems in the world. It comprises more than 100 national agricultural research institutes/centres/project directories under the direct control of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) at the central level, as well as about 70 state agricultural universities (SAUs). The ICAR is designated by the union government as the national nodal agency for the NARES. About 32,000 agricultural scientists work within the NARES: nearly 6,000 in ICAR institutions, and another 26,000 in SAUs.

Among the ICAR institutes, two premier institutions, the Indian Institute of Rice Research (IIRR; previously known as the Directorate of Rice Research), Hyderabad, and the National Rice Research Institute (previously known as the Central Rice Research Institute), Cuttack, are exclusively devoted to basic and strategic research in rice. Another two national institutions, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, and the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal, have major rice research programmes as part of their research agenda. At the state level, there are nearly 100 small- and medium-sized rice research stations under the SAUs, working on rice improvement in diverse production environments throughout the country. About 850 scientists from both the ICAR and the SAUs work exclusively on rice improvement under these diverse production environments (Janaiah and Hossain 2004).

The NARES has bilateral and multilateral international cooperation agreements with other countries in the field of agricultural research and education. India also has agreements with most of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centres, and has benefited considerably from these long-standing agreements (many of which were initiated in the 1960s), as well as from cooperation agreements with advanced countries such as the United States (US), Japan, etc (ICAR 2015).

From the mid-1970s onwards, India began supporting agricultural research and education in some of its most favoured nations (MFNs)1 through bilateral and multilateral agreements and cooperation, especially for some South and South East Asian and African countries. India has also been a key partner with the CGIAR centres since their inception, supporting these centres for the public good of strengthening agricultural research for food and nutritional security globally.

India supports and contributes to agricultural research and development (R&D) in other countries in three ways. First, bilateral cooperation and agreements between India and other countries are straightforward mechanisms for extending support and cooperation to MFNs. At present, India has bilateral agreements and cooperates with nearly 40 countries in South and South East Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The second channel through which India supports agricultural R&D in other nations is through its role as a key partner in the CGIAR system. Many countries access India’s research outputs such as improved germ plasm of crops through the CGIAR system. The third is through multilateral agreements such as those with the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Association of South East Asian Nations, etc. All of the bilateral/multilateral or international cooperation in the field of agricultural research and education is implemented and coordinated by ICAR, as an apex body for the NARES in India (ICAR–IIRR 2015; ICAR 2015).


The purpose of this study is to document India’s and, in particular, ICAR’s contribution to capacity building, varietal development, and the adoption rate of rice varieties developed in India, in the South Asian countries of Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as the South East Asian countries of Myanmar and Vietnam.

Data on the number of technical personnel of the selected countries who trained in India during 1970–2016 were obtained from published and unpublished reports. Expert consultations, and personal discussions and interactions with key officials of the respective apex organisations dealing with agricultural research provided insights into India’s role in agricultural R&D in the selected countries.

Data on the varietal development and adoption of those rice varieties developed wholly, or in part, in India, were obtained from published reports of the respective country’s apex organisations, and from expert consultations. The apex organisations from which the data were collected include the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Vietnam Academy of Agriculture Sciences, and Field Crops Research Institute in Vietnam. Various reports of the ministries of agriculture in the respective countries also provided required data on varietal development and pedigree details of modern varieties of rice released over the past 50 years.

India’s contribution to rice development in the selected South and South East Asian countries is documented in terms of three key indicators: capacity building, varietal development, and adoption rate of modern varieties and their impact on rice production.

Capacity Building

India has made major contributions to agricultural R&D in some MFNs through the development of skilled human capital. A large number of technical and scientific personnel in Nepal’s NARES were trained in various Indian SAUs over the past 50 years.

A total of 346 and 458 people from Nepal received undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, respectively, from various SAUs in India between 1970 and 2015 (Table 1). Until the end of the 1990s, nearly 50% of the NARC’s scientists had received Indian degrees (either undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD). Over the years, this number has declined, due to increasing admission of Nepalese students to
Australian, Japanese, European, American and other institutions (especially for postgraduate and PhD degrees). At present, nearly half of the NARC’s institutions are headed by scientists who have at least one Indian degree at the undergraduate, postgraduate or PhD levels.

In contrast to Nepal, only six senior agricultural scientists in Bangladesh received their master’s/PhD degrees from India in 1970–2015. Most of Bangladesh’s agricultural scientists were trained for master’s/PhD degrees in Europe and Australia under donor-funding agreements with those countries.

Nearly 120 agricultural scientists from Vietnam have graduated from Indian SAUs with postgraduate/PhD degrees (Table 1). Out of 17 directors general of various agricultural research institutions in Vietnam, at present, five obtained their postgraduate/PhD degrees from Indian SAUs. India supported Vietnam to strengthen its agricultural research system following the unification of North Vietnam and South Vietnam after the war ended in 1975. The ICAR played a key role in building the Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute in Vietnam during the late 1970s.

Apart from formal degree programmes, large numbers of agricultural scientists from South and South East Asia have been trained in various international training programmes conducted by the ICAR through the NARES (Table 1). About 250 agricultural scientists from the Bangladesh NARES have attended short-term training programmes/workshops in India conducted by the ICAR and SAUs. India has also contributed significantly to the capacity building of agricultural scientists in Nepal and Vietnam over the past 40–45 years. A sizeable number of Indian-trained agricultural scientists in these countries have made significant contributions to the growth of agricultural R&D as well as to overall agricultural development in these countries.

Varietal Development

India’s improved rice germ plasm of various crop plants have substantially contributed to varietal development in South and South East Asian countries. Further, some of the Indian-bred modern rice
varieties have reported wider adaptability across production environments due to the rigorous multilocation testing mechanism of rice breeding lines through the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project (AICRIP). Therefore, a few popular modern varieties, such as Swarna, Ranjit, BPT-5204, MTU-1010, etc, are widely adopted in the countries bordering India, through cross-border exchange of seeds (ICAR–IIRR 2015). Further, the Indian-origin system of multilocation testing of improved germ plasm through AICRIP, has also become a model for similar systems in many countries in Asia and Africa.

India, through the ICAR, has contributed to varietal development in other countries in three ways. First, some of the improved elite rice breeding lines introduced by India to these countries through the IIRR’s International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER)—previously known as the International Rice Testing Program (IRTP)—have been released as new varieties (direct releases) if found suitable and adaptable to the local production environments. Second, other countries have used India’s improved rice breeding material in their respective breeding programmes as parental lines, in order to develop locally suitable varieties. Third, most of these countries extensively used the IIRR’s elite breeding material (accessed through INGER/IRTP) as parents to develop locally suitable varieties. Further, some of the IIRR’s elite breeding lines were released directly as varieties after adaptation testing trials. Some of these IIRR elite breeding lines have Indian-origin breeding materials.

Nearly one-third of the total releases of modern varieties of rice in Nepal and Bangladesh during 1966–2015 have links to Indian-origin improved rice germ plasm (Table 2). Likewise, one-fourth of the total modern variety releases in Myanmar have the presence of India’s germ plasm either as a parent, grandparent, or in any stage in their pedigree. In Vietnam, 13% of the total modern varieties are Indian linked (Table 2).


Area coverage under Indian-linked modern varieties: The adoption rate of modern varieties of rice determines the overall productivity in any country. In South and South East Asian countries, 80%–96% of the total rice area was planted with modern varieties in 2015 (Table 3). In addition to the efforts of the NARES in rice-breeding programmes in the respective countries, the IIRR, as well as other bilaterally-linked projects have contributed to this impressive adoption rate of modern varieties in South and South East Asia.


The share of Indian-linked modern varieties of rice in the adoption rate is substantial in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Apart from the Indian-linked modern varieties directly released in these countries, large numbers of these varieties were adopted, covering considerable areas in these countries due to informal cross-border exchange of seeds. India has extensive borders with Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, and about 24% of Nepal’s rice area is covered with modern varieties of Indian rice, largely in the Terai region. Farmers in the north-western region of Nepal, which shares a border with India freely, obtain seeds of improved Indian rice varieties from their counterparts in the border areas of India, and cultivate these extensively. Another 25.6% of Nepal’s rice area is planted with modern varieties having Indian germ plasm in their pedigree (Table 3). Thus, nearly half of Nepal’s rice area is covered with Indian-linked modern varieties (Figure 2).


Bangladesh is the second-largest rice producer in South Asia, after India. Bangladesh has a large open border with India in the north, south, and west. Further, historically and culturally, both countries have close relations, especially among the people living along the Indo–Bangla border. Therefore, free exchange of modern variety rice seeds among farmers is common in this region. As a result, 15.6% of Bangladesh’s rice area is planted with Indian modern varieties, mainly through cross-border exchange of seeds (Table 3). The popular Indian modern varieties, such as Swarna, Ranjit, MTU-1010, etc, are widely grown in northern and western regions of Bangladesh (BRRI 2016). As per the BRRI’s varietal pattern survey, nearly 20 modern varieties of Indian origin are widely grown in these regions of Bangladesh.

Myanmar has southern regions which share a border with India, and has also benefited from India’s modern varieties of rice. Nearly 20% of the total rice area in Myanmar is covered with Indian modern varieties (Table 3), while nearly 20 modern varieties of Indian origin are now grown in Myanmar. One of these, locally known as Manawthukha, is widely grown (19.4%) (IPAM 2009). Another 18.4% of Myanmar’s rice area is planted with modern varieties developed with Indian germ plasm in their pedigree. It is estimated that about 41% of the total rice area in Myanmar is planted with modern varieties of Indian origin and its linked germplasm (Figure 2). Similarly, about 22% of Vietnam’s rice area is covered with modern varieties that have Indian germ plasm in their pedigree (Table 3 and Figure 2).

Share of Indian-linked modern varities in production: The average rice yields of Indian-linked modern varieties and the country’s average rice yields are depicted in Figure 1. This clearly shows the yield superiority of Indian-linked modern varieties vis-à-vis the national average. This could be one reason for the large-scale acceptance of Indian modern varieties, especially in the border regions of Nepal, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Therefore, the contribution of Indian-linked modern varieties to production is higher than their share in the overall modern variety adoption rate in these countries. Nearly two-thirds of rice production in Nepal is contributed to (directly and indirectly) by Indian-linked modern varieties (Table 4). Similarly, 42% in Bangladesh, 49% in Myanmar, and 22% in Vietnam is contributed by modern varieties of Indian origin and their germ plasm in the respective country’s rice production (Figure 3).



In financial terms, the value of rice production from the adoption of Indian-linked modern varieties of rice during 2015 at current prices is estimated at nearly $4 billion in Bangladesh and about $2 billion in Myanmar and Vietnam (Figure 4).


India’s contribution, through the ICAR, to the creation of skilled human capital in agricultural R&D has played a pivotal role in the development of modern technologies, and agricultural education,
in South and South East Asia. The multiplier effect of Indian-trained human capital in agricultural science on the overall productivity of R&D has been tremendous. Similarly, the Indian germ plasm that was made accessible to South and South East Asian countries through international, multilateral, and bilateral agreements, and also through cross-border exchange, has significantly contributed to the productivity and efficiency of rice-breeding programmes in these countries. The economic impact of incremental rice production due to Indian-linked modern varieties of rice in these countries has been extremely significant, especially for food security and poverty reduction.


1 These refer to nations that India shared favourable relations with in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, such as Nepal, Bangladesh (after seperation from Pakistan), Vietnam (following unification of North and South Vietnam in 1975).


BRRI (2016): “Annual Report 2015–16,” Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Gazipur, Bangladesh.

CGIAR (2016): “Promising Crop Varieties for Mountain Agriculture in Nepal (1955–2016),” Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Nepal,

CDD (2016): “Rice Varietiel Mapping in Nepal: Implication for Development and Adoption,” Crop Development Directorate, Department of Agricultural Development, Government of Nepal, Sharwan, Nepal.

FCRI (2015): “List of Improved Crop Varieties Released in Vietnam, 1960–2015,” Field Crops Research Institute, Hanoi, Vietnam.

ICAR (2015): “ICAR—Global Reach 2015,” Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.

ICAR–IIRR (2015): “50 Years of AICRIP: Way Forward,” Indian Council of Agricultural Research–Indian Institute of Rice Research, Hyderabad.

IPAM (2009): “Rice Country Profile for Myanmar,” International Peoples’ Agroecology Multiversity.

Janaiah Aldas and Mahabub Hossain (2004): “Partnership in the Public Sector Agricultural R&D: Evidence from India,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 39, No 50, pp 5327–34.

MoA (2016): “Annual Report 2015–16,” Ministry of Agriculture, Yangon, Myanmar.

NAGR (2005): “Rice Gene Pools Report, 1959–2002,” National Agriculture Genetic Resources, Kathmandu, Nepal.

SQCC (2015a): “National Seed Vision, 2013–2025,” Seed Quality Control Centre, National Seed Board, Ministry of Agricultural Development, Government of Nepal.

— (2015b): “Seed Industry Development 2015,” Seed Quality Control Centre, Ministry of Agriculture, Kathmandu, Nepal.

Updated On : 7th Sep, 2018


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