In India, Farmers Pick Heartier Seeds Over Those With High Yields

BY Larisa Epatko  June 13, 2013 at 4:15 PM EDT


Farmers in the Ganges River delta in Eastern India. All photos by Sam Eaton of Homelands Productions.

When a cyclone hits India, the sea-drenched soil can remain salty for years. Farmers are finding new high-yield rice seeds are not withstanding the salty onslaught as well as seeds developed more than a century ago.

In the next “Food for 9 Billion” report, Sam Eaton travels to Eastern India to find out how the Ganges River delta, packed with more than 4 million people, is faring four years after Cyclone Aila hit the region.

Vegetables are difficult to grow now, farmers told him, and the only rice that can grow is the salt-tolerant variety developed for the area long ago.

Nonprofit organizations are working to reproduce more of these heartier, traditional seeds that can handle more extreme environments but were replaced with high-yielding varieties in the 1960s, Eaton reports.

“I have more than 200 varieties, some of which can withstand drought and can yield something on zero irrigation,” said scientist Debal Deb, who works in one of the seed development labs. “Some varieties which can withstand 12-feet-deep water for three months and the stem will elongate and still give some yield.”

Some scientists are concerned, however, that the traditional seeds won’t produce enough to feed a growing population. So the genetic engineering continues.

Watch Eaton’s full report on Thursday’s PBS NewsHour:


More in the Food for 9 Billion Series:

The “Food for 9 Billion” series is a PBS NewsHour collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Public Radio International’s The World, American Public Media’s Marketplace and Homelands Productions.