Why farmers should not grow a wheat variety, Sonalika

Sonalika wheat varity
Sonalika wheat varity

Sonalika was developed in a north Mexico state called Sonora (from where its name originated) in 1960s by International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). After the introduction, the variety became so popular and widely adapted in South Asia due to its short stauterness and responsive to fertilizer that boosted the wheat production, and prevented millions of people from hunger. Due to its contribution, it is considered as one of the green revolution varieties. In India, it was released in 1971.

Wheat has always been an important crop in the Bhutanese farming system. To increase the production and diversify the genetic base, research system has introduced a number of improved varieties including Sonalika from India in 1980s. In Bhutanese conditions too, the variety performed so excellently that it was released in 1988 in the same name as Sonalika.

Sonalika has been in the field to date, either from the farmers own saved seed or through government’s promotional program which was met from the seed import from North East India. However, with its break down to rusts diseases, neighbouring countries have replaced Sonalika with a number of high yielding and disease resistant cultivars. It is reported that India has released about 326 varieties, followed by Pakistan (63), Nepal (25) and Bangladesh (23)as an alternative to Sonalika or after its commercialisation.

In Bhutan, the rusts (with exception to stem rust) have been a recurrent threat to wheat production. A yellow rust epidemic in 1985 and 1986 is said to have caused loss of more than 50% of wheat production in Punakha valley. Similar percentage or even more of the damage could have been caused in successive years but unfortunately get un-reported due to its secondary status.

The annual rusts surveillance since 2012 has repeatedly spotted yellow and brown rusts as the most common diseases in areas where Sonalika is cultivated. As in previous years, 2014 season recorded high susceptibility of Sonalika to these rusts with severity showing even up to 70S (70% Severity of Susceptible Infection).

Considering the urgency and importance of replacing Sonalika, research system has introduced a number of rust resistant and high yielding cultivars/nurseries both from regional and international centers. The evaluation has been a rewarding and promising with majority of the lines demonstrating huge potential under our local management, and agro-ecological conditions.

Baj and Agreem, with CIMMYT origin have been classical varieties that could replace Sonalika in the ensuing season. These varieties have exceptionally performed well even under farmers’ management conditions as indicated by diseases resistance and preliminary crop yield data. Higher genetic gains could have been realized from these two new varieties had our farmers applied the recommended dose of inorganic fertilizer (minimum of 150 kgs of urea for one hectare). Recognizing their potential, the National Seed Center is multiplying seed of these varieties in their respective on-stations, and in farms of Register Seed Growers with estimated production of 160 tonnes. This seed quantity can easily meet the requirement of existing spring areas for 2014-2015 without needing to import Sonalika from India. At the same time, the results from on farm evaluation of these two new varieties are also encouraging and convincing for the research and extension professionals to notify, and widely promote in 2014-2015 season.

Report by: Sangay Tshewang (sangay128@gmail.com), Wheat Researcher/Coordinator, RNRRDSC Tsirang (On behalf of wheat team)

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