Conservation of Biodiversity

India's biological diversity continues to be rich, one of the 12 megacenters of plant diversity. This diversity needs to be preserved, and the immediate task will be to devise and enforce time bound plans for saving endangered plant and animal species as well as habitats of biological resources. This is considered most important, as with the advent of new tools and techniques there is no barrier to gene flow, and the living systems could be termed one gene pool with tremendous options and potentialities for new combinations.

Requirement of capital resources at every level for agrobiodiversity conservation and management is critical to its success. Thus, every effort for resource mobilization, from within the country as well as from international arrangements has to be made. Intemationally, the endeavor should be to develop effective, efficient and transparent mechanisms for fair and equitable benefit sharing among nations, including technology transfer and capacity building.

Consolidation of Yield Gains

High yielding dwarf varieties in wheat and rice, as well as heterotic hybrids in maize, sorghum and pearl millet brought about a major advance in food grain production. Yield gap analysis reveals that a sizable part of the potential of these crops is yet to be fully tapped. Differences between experimental and farmers' yields are quite wide. Equally, the gap is wide between potential and realizable yields. For instance, in rice about 40% of the potential available in the present day high yielding varieties is still to be exploited. In wheat, the national average yield is 2.6 tons/ha as against the realizable 4.0 t/ha and genetic potential of 8 t/ha. In the case of hybrids, average yield of maize is 1.8 t/ha as against realizable 5 t/ha and genetic potential of 7.5 t./ha. Equally, the prospects for stepping up the yield level to 5 and 2 t/ha in sorghum and pearl millet do exist. What is required to achieve such yield targets is diagnosis and correction of factors constraining the yield increase. Insulation of all future varieties with desired levels of resistance to key pests and diseases, and tolerance to major abiotic stresses like salinity, drought, temperature extremes etc., could be the priority research area to consolidate the genetic yield potential already achieved in the plant type based varieties and hybrids.

Maximization of Productivity of Rainfed Crops

Over 97 million hectares (72%) of the cropped area is rainfed. It accounts for 44% of food (55% rice and 91% pulses), 90% groundnut and 68% of cotton. Even if the ultimate irrigation potential of the country is realized, about 50% of the cultivable area may continue to be rainfed. Since vagaries of weather affect production from drylands and thereby the stability of the food production in the country, strategic research on rainfed agriculture may be a priority area, to insulate the farmer from the high risks of dryland farming. The thrust areas of research could be a detailed characterization to optimize land use for rainfed crops and development of other alternate land use systems, understanding of crop/ weather/soil relationships for providing better agro-met advisory services and and rain water conservation and integrated nutrient management. Watershed development for raising productivity of rainfed crops, improvement of agricultural credit; insurance cover for risk prone areas and crops, and marketing facilities are some of the areas which need more attention.

In spite of wide variation in the level of precipitation, rainfed areas are very low in productivity and predominantly monocropped. The productive potential of rainfed uplands, in particular, has deteriorated due to poor management rather than overexploitation. By developing land capacity based cropping and management strategies, productivity level could be further enhanced and sustained. Four decades of experience with hybrid crops suggests that hybrids in general, in preference to varieties, have higher resilience to critical environments. Development and use of short duration hybrids/composites/varieties of millets, cotton, sunflower, castor etc. in low rainfall areas is one of the crop planning strategies based on locational advantages. Plantation of horticultural crops in some of the arid and semi-arid environments is found to pay more than some of the annual food or oilseed crops.

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