Rice is crucial to ensure food and dietary energy security of Bangladesh. In terms of per capita rice consumption, Bangladesh is ranked as the top in the world, which is yearly per capita 268.5 kg. The share of rice in the daily dietary energy is now nearly 69 per cent and in the daily protein intake contribution of rice is 55 per cent. Thus, food and dietary energy security in Bangladesh is highly rice-dependent. Rice is also the most widely cultivated crop of Bangladesh and the source of livelihood of millions of resource poor farmers. Of a total of 8.6 million ha of cropland, 75 per cent (6.5 million ha) is completely under rice cultivation. Bangladesh's labour market has 60.8 million economically active workers, of which nearly 41 per cent (24.7 million) are directly engaged in the agriculture sector. As 75 per cent of agricultural land is under rice production, the employed agricultural labour force in Bangladesh is mainly engaged in rice cultivation.
At present, Bangladesh is almost self-sufficient in rice production, which is one of the major success of the country. In 2018, total rice consumption was nearly 42 million ton, of which only 1.5 million ton was imported. In 2019, with an average yield of 4.7 ton/ha total rice production was 54.6 million ton from 11.5 million ha of land. In terms of production, Bangladesh is the fourth largest rice producing country, after China, India and Indonesia. Until now, rapid scaling out of high-yielding rice varieties, expansion of private lead small-scale irrigation facilities, and liberal agricultural machinery import policy of the government substantially contributed to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production.
The demand for rice in Bangladesh is mostly population driven. It means with the increase in population, the demand for rice will increase in the future. From 163 million in 2019, it is projected that by 2050, Bangladesh's population will be between 173-213 million depending on fertility rates. Assuming no change in the current level of rice consumption per capita, which was 268 kg/capita in 2017, in 2050, Bangladesh will have to supply nearly 10-35 per cent more milled rice (46.4 - 57.0 million tonnes), than the current level of 42.2 million tonnes. How to produce more rice to meet demand in the future?
Increased demand for rice has to be met from dwindling resources. Due to enormous population pressure, the availability of arable land declined from 0.17 ha/person in 1961 to 0.05 ha/person in 2016. The farm size has reduced to 0.68 ha on average. Internally renewable freshwater fell from 2,069 m3 per capita in 1962, to 679 m3 in 2014. Thus, it is almost impossible to expand rice land area to produce more rice. In addition, the overuse and misuse of fertilizer and pesticides, and the extraction of groundwater for irrigation, have already degraded the ecological balance and soil fertility. Also, the yield gain achieved during the green revolution in the 1960s has started to decline. During 1962-2000, the annual average rice yield growth rate was 2.03 per cent , which declined to 1.74 per cent during 2001-2018. Rice production in Bangladesh therefore must increase from pure vertical productivity enhancement procedures.
Considering the issue, to ensure a sustainable supply of rice, the government of Bangladesh introduced hybrid rice in the 1998-99 boro rice season through four private seed companies and one NGO. Being a first-generation crop developed by crossing between two different rice lines, heterosis or hybrid vigour is the foundation for the yield advantage of hybrid rice over conventionally bred rice varieties. The most important aspect of hybrid rice is that the rice yield gain declines drastically after the first generation of seeds (F1). This compels farmers to purchase new seeds every season if they want to cultivate hybrid rice. As hybrid seed production process is complex and farmers need to purchase seeds in every season, hybrid seeds are more costly than inbred rice seeds. It is found that hybrid rice provides 15-20 per cent yield gain over elite inbred rice varieties in Bangladesh. Thus, it is expected that higher yield from hybrid rice will compensate farmers for the high cost of seeds.
In that first initiative in 1998-99, around 23,700 ha were planted with hybrid rice. In 2001, the Bangladesh government released the first hybrid rice BRRI hybrid dhan1, originally developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. In 2008, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), released its first domestically developed hybrid rice variety BRRI hybrid dhan2 (BRRI, 2020). By 2019, BRRI had released a total of six hybrid varieties, mainly targeting the dry boro and wet aman rice seasons (BRRI, 2020). To scale out hybrid rice in Bangladesh, the government has liberalised the seed import policy. For example, by 2020, a total of 190 hybrid rice seeds were released in Bangladesh, of which 36 (19 per cent) originated from India, 141 (74 per cent) were from China, 12 (6 per cent) were from Bangladesh and one variety was from the Philippines (Ministry of Agriculture, 2020a). Of 190 released hybrid varieties, 13 were released only for the aman season, five were released for the aus season, 169 were released for the boro season; three were for both boro and aman seasons, and one for the aus and boro seasons. In 2020-21, 38 private and one government statutory institute were permitted to import 5815 tonnes of F1 hybrid rice seeds, 180106 kg of male sterile line seeds (A line) and 52592 kg of pollen parent (R line) seeds. It was estimated that nearly one million ha of boro and aman rice area of Bangladesh is suitable for hybrid rice.
Despite visible yield gains of 15-20 per cent from hybrid rice over inbred varieties and efforts of the government hybrid rice adoption is still low in Bangladesh compared to India or China. In China, in 1991, hybrid rice was grown in 50 per cent of the total rice area and in India, hybrid rice currently covers 10 per cent of the total 43.8 million ha growing rice. In Bangladesh, in the 2009-10 season, around 686 thousand ha of boro rice area was growing hybrid rice, which was 6 per cent of the total rice area of 11.4 million ha (BBS, 2014). In 2016-17, hybrid rice area in Bangladesh increased to 691 thousand ha, which was 5.2 per cent of the total 13.2 million ha of the total rice area that year. Until now, hybrid rice adoption in Bangladesh is mostly limited to the boro rice season.
To examine why hybrid rice is not popular in Bangladesh, we have analysed data collected from 420 plots in two rice seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17) from the North-West part of Bangladesh. Our study confirms that the yield gain from hybrid rice in Bangladesh is not substantially higher than the elite inbred varieties such as BRRI dhan29. Our study also confirms that while hybrid seed prices are more than four times higher than popular inbred rice varieties, the price of hybrid rice is lower than inbred rice in general. This is because of the grain quality of hybrid rice is inferior to popular inbred rice varieties. Consequently, hybrid rice cultivation does not ensure higher profits in Bangladesh compared to the cultivation of inbred popular rice varieties. Last but not the least, our study confirms that the yield of hybrid rice varies across seasons. This wide variation generates higher risks of loss of income compared to the cultivation of inbred rice. Thus, poor yield performance, inferior grain quality and yield variation across seasons are the major constraints in wide acceptance of hybrid rice in Bangladesh.
To make hybrid rice popular in Bangladesh, it is thus suggested to enhance its yield performance compared to popular inbred rice varieties. Secondly, it is suggested to improve the grain quality of hybrid rice to match the demand of local consumers. At present, hybrid rice seeds in Bangladesh are mostly imported from China, which in general have a low amylose content and inferior gain quality, and it is not preferable to Bangladeshi consumers. As rice is mostly produced for domestic consumption, hybrid breeding techniques must take into consideration local preferences for texture and grain quality in the hybrid breeding process. The most popular BRRI dhan28 and BRRI dhan29 rice grain are slender and medium sized grains with high amylose content. Thus, to compete with popular inbred rice varieties, hybrid rice research also should consider the grain size and amylose content in the breeding process. International hybrid rice consortiums and donor agencies can play a significant role in strengthening research and development of customised hybrid rice breeding programs in Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). Strengthening hybrid rice research and development in Bangladesh can significantly contribute to ensure future food security of Bangladesh.
Dr Khondoker Abdul Mottaleb is an Agricultural Economist at the International
Maize and Wheat Improvement
Center (CIMMYT), Mexico.