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      Volume 12 |Issue 06| February 08, 2013 |


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Fields of Gold


It couldn't have been better timed.

The country's agro-scientists have developed shorter duration rice and oilseed varieties in tandem enabling farmers to go for a back-to-back rice and oilseed farming. This crop rotation has helped them maximize profit and get the best possible yields from dwindling farmlands.

In recent years as rice breeders have successfully developed shorter duration Aman varieties, their counterparts in oilseeds have come up with similar advancements with mustard. The results are obvious - acre after acre of fertile alluvial lands, particularly in central and central-north districts are dotted with eye soothing yellow mustard flowers and their green pods impregnated with rapeseeds.

Take poverty-stricken Jamalpur district where many farmers are now reaping the benefits of shorter duration rice and rapeseed varieties by consecutively planting and harvesting Aman, mustard and Boro. They no longer require to keep their precious farmlands fallow.

This has been made possible because rice breeders have developed, in recent years, varieties like BRRI Dhan-33 and BINA-7 which farmers can reap in 115-120 days time during the Aman season. Previously, the best performing Aman variety - BR11 - used to occupy lands for 150 days before farmers could harvest the grains. In a similar fashion, breeders engaged in oilseed development at Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) have developed short-duration high yielding varieties of rapeseeds like BARI Sarisha-14 and BARI Sarisha-15 giving farmers the opportunity to cultivate Aman, mustard and Boro one after another in quick succession without missing out any cropping season.

Yellow flowers and pods impregnated with seeds are seen at a mustard field in Jamalpur.
Research for developing high yielding rapeseed varieties
at BARI greenhouse in Jamalpur.

These varieties of rapeseeds grow in only 78 to 82 days time, which is significantly less than the time required to grow some other previously released BARI mustard varieties. Though the traditionally cultivated local varieties - Maghi Sarisha - also ripe early but they are no match for the newer varieties as cultivating BARI Sarisha-14 and BARI Sarisha-15 are more rewarding for farmers because of their higher yields.

During a recent visit to Jamalpur district this correspondent met with a number of oilseed farmers who were found to be very appreciative of the short-duration variety developments. They note that many of them have switched to short-duration Aman varieties so that they can reap the rice early and then go for short-duration mustard without missing out on the winter rice - Boro - at the end.

Mustak Hossain, a farmer from Joyrampur village in Jamalpur is a pioneer in introducing the Aman-mustard-Boro crop rotation cycle in his arable lands. After successfully carrying out a pilot project in an acre of his land in 2010, Mustak is replicating the same in over six acres in the current season.

"No longer do I go for - Maghi Sarisha rather, I am getting nearly double per unit output by replacing that with BARI Sarisha-14. As it has a better oil extraction percentage, we also get better price for the rape seeds in the market. Besides, after harvesting the oil seeds from the field, the residues we can use as very high quality firewood. The young leaves of BARI Sarisha-14 are also consumed as vegetable."

Thanks to Mustak's acquaintance with Dr Manjurul Kader, the mastermind behind developing high yielding short-duration rapeseed, he got the seeds from one of the biggest regional research station of BARI in Jamalpur. Now Mustak not only preserves seeds for his own use but also distributes them fellow oil seed farmers in the neighborhoods.

Dr Manjurul Kader, a principal scientific officer (PSO) at BARI regional centre in Jamalpur, takes pride in gradually revolutionising the oilseed landscapes in the country. According to Kader, over the last two-three years more than 25 percent of Jamalpur's over 20,000 hectares of oilseed lands have converted into BARI Sarisha-14 fields and farmers in other areas are following suit.

A field trip to Jamalpur, arranged to exhibit the success of BARI Sarisha-14 in late January, brought together the head of the government's agro-research federating body - Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) - Dr Wais Kabir and BARI Director General Dr Md Rafiqul Islam Mondal.

Dr Mondal, who is an authority in his own right specialising in oilseed research, tells The Daily Star that in the past his institution had developed many high yielding rapeseed varsities but never before had they been successful because after cutting the Aman paddy farmers could not harvest the mustard at the right time. He thinks mustard acreage would now increase in leaps and bounds as farmers have good options now of crop rotating. They can go for early-harvesting Aman and short-duration mustard followed by Boro, he adds.

Dr Wais Kabir notes that only the production of a staple - in this case, rice - would not bring much financial benefits to our farmers. Expansion of oilseed acreage would help farmers gain monetary dividends and at the same time help lessen the country's dependence on oil imports. Dr Kabir also reiterates the multi-usage of rapeseeds - oil for cooking, residues for cooking fire, leaves eaten as vegetable, oil cakes for animal and fish feeds and also extraction of the best quality honey from rapeseeds.

According to Dr Manjurul Kader and other scientists involved with oil seed developments at BARI, the high yielding varieties of rapeseeds are now gaining popularity among farmers not only in Jamalpur but also in districts of greater Mymensingh, Comilla, Brahmanbaria and other central and southern regions too. Rapeseed is the third leading source of vegetable oil in the world after soy and palm and in recent years it is used for producing oil for bio-diesel too. Rapeseed is the world's second leading source of animal feed after soy meal.

Considering the hefty import bill (Tk. 13,000 crore annually) the country pays for edible oil, it is a good proposition to invest more on oilseed research in the country and provide better extension services to the oilseed farmers.


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