Bangladesh: Spread of hybrid rice degrading land, increasing pesticide use say experts

by GRAIN | 13 Jan 2009
A January 5, 2009 article in Dhaka's Daily Star by Porimol Palma and M Rahman Liton says that the expanding cultivation of imported hybrid rice seeds in Bangladesh has increased the use of pesticides and degraded agricultural lands.

The article quotes from several national experts critical of the government's promotion of hybrid rice in the country and who worry that the "huge import of these sterile varieties will make farmers dependent on multinational seed companies."

According to an official of the agriculture ministry cited in the article, the government's target is for hybrid varieties to be cultivated on 1 million  hectares in the upcoming Boro season, which will require around 14,000 tonnes of seeds. The same official said that of the required seed, companies will import around 11,000 tonnes from China, India or Philippines.

Below is an extract from the article:
"Our country's photoperiodic [duration of daylight] pattern, climatic condition and quality of soil and other factors involved in hybrid cultivation are not the same as the countries in which the varieties were invented," said Prof SS Imamul Huq of the Department of Soil, Water and Environment at Dhaka University.

If temperature at night or day fluctuates frequently, hybrid paddy may suffer cold injuries and bacterial leaf blight (BLB) which cause drastic drop in yield, said an official at the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in Kishoreganj.

He said in 2006-07 over 2,000 hectares of hybrid paddy fields in haor areas were damaged in only two weeks due to insufficient sunlight during the day and heavy fog at night.

Cultivation of the varieties imported from China, Philippines or India requires excessive use of pesticide, irrigation and fertiliser, the agriculturist said.

Chief Scientific Officer Mainul Ahsan at Soil Resource Development Institute (SRDI) said continuous application of pesticides form heavy metal intensity in soil and it increases toxicity of soil.

Soil toxicity reduces the population of microbes and slows nutrition process of plants and ultimately decreases nutrients, he said, adding that shortage of nutrients finally results in production fall.

Heavy metal toxicity also enters the food chain and is likely to cause serious health hazards, Ahsan said.

"Our agriculture is going in the wrong direction ignoring the adverse impact of pesticides and using arsenic-contaminated underground water for irrigation. Thus, our cultivable land is becoming infertile," said Prof Imamul Huq.

As the population of microbes does not increase due to application of more chemical fertilisers and pesticides, soil loses water-storing capacity resulting in drought-like situation in many parts of the country, he said.

Khairul Bashar, chief scientific officer at Genetic Resources and Seed Division (GRSD) of BRRI said, "Most of our indigenous rice varieties contain 10 percent protein while hybrid rice contains only seven percent protein."

A scientist at SRDI said, "The yield of our high-yielding varieties, BR-29 or BR-11, is almost the same as those imported from China. So, why are we rushing to import Chinese hybrid?"

"We should increase our yield but at the same time we cannot be dependent on foreign varieties. Such dependency may bring dangers to our agriculture," said the scientist, preferring anonymity.

Author: GRAIN
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