LAHORE, Aug 29: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has agreed in principle to finance, what is said to be the first-ever directly-funded farm project, multidimensional research project for improving Basmati rice value chain, aiming at production enhancement as well as quality improvement for boosting rice exports.

The ADB will fund the $1 million agriculture research project at provincial level as it has expressed confidence over research activities being conducted under the Punjab Agriculture Research Board (PARB), sources in the Punjab Agriculture department told Dawn on Thursday.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will provide technical assistance to the PARB that will implement the project.

In this connection, PARB chief executive Dr Mubarak Ali hosted a meeting last week of all stakeholders of rice value chain, including ADB delegates from its Manila and Islamabad offices, a scientist from IRRI, researchers and scientists from various public-sector research institutes in Punjab, MKAY Seeds (Ltd) engaged in rice research, and representatives of farmers.

Sources said the participants agreed on the work plan that was tuned up during four hours long interactive discussion. The main three components of plan include: i) improvement of existing Basmati varieties for Bacterial Leaf Blight (BLB) resistance, and drought and flood tolerance, ii) transfer of new technologies through site testing such as rice harvesters, driers, etc. and transfer of knowledge by conducting case studies both granted through competitive processes of PARB and ADB, and iv) capacity building.The IRRI and ADB first reviewed the research activities and projects funded by PARB or any other agency to improve Basmati Rice Value Chain in Punjab and acknowledged the work initiated by PARB.

Sources said it was informed in the meeting that the PARB had already invested over Rs130 million on rice related research work. The project included developing BLB resistant varieties, extraction of bran oil, screening of varieties for par boil rice and standardization of par boil rice protocols, standardization of SOPs for direct seeding, and developing plant growth promoters for efficient utilization of water by rice and wheat plants. The ADB team ensured that the grant would strengthen the research already funded by PARB, and would not compete with it.

For example, with the help of PARB funding, the researchers have already made a survey of about 100 BLB strains in Punjab, and with the help of four identified genes, resistance against 85 per cent of the strains have already been developed. But still resistance against about 15 per cent of the strains needs to be developed as some of them are very virulent.

The IRRI, through ADB grant, would provide additional genes to researchers to develop robust resistance against BLB.

Similarly, for adaptation to climate change, some work on drought-tolerance in Basmati rice had already been started by the Nuclear Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), which would be further promoted through this grant.

Moreover, tolerance against adverse effects of floods, including submergence, will also be invigorated into Basmati plants through genetic improvements. This intervention will help farmers of Basmati rice zone a lot against negative impacts of flood, which is likely to occur more frequently due to climate change.

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