NICHE AREA OF EXCELLENCE
Integrated Centre for Drought Research
Department of Crop Physiology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru 560 065

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Drought is most important abiotic constraints to realize the potential yields of our crops. In India as in many other parts of the semi arid regions of the world, nearly 78 per cent of the area under agriculture is rain-fed and is inevitably linked to the vagaries of the monsoon. The crop growing regions of India classified on the basis of rainfall pattern represent Arid zone (19.6%), which receives a mean annual precipitation (MAP) of 100-400 mm (water deficit through out the year); Semi-arid zone (37%) with MAP of 400-600 mm (water surplus in some months and deficit in other months); Dry sub-humid zone (21%) with  MAP of 600-900 mm; and Humid and per-humid regions, which rarely face drought.




The total area which receives inadequate rainfall is over one million sq. km. The regions with rainfall less than 400mm occupy 12% of the total geographical area, and the area below 750mm rainfall is 35% or a little over a third of the country. Out of the total gross cultivated area of the country, 56 million ha is subject to inadequate and highly variable rainfall. The National Commission on Agriculture (MOA 1976) based on detailed studies has identified 74 districts of the country as drought prone. The problem of drought is especially very acute in the state of Karnataka with 20 districts declared drought prone.


 

 

1 North Eastern Transition Zone 6 Southern Dry Zone
2 North Eastern Dry Zone 7 Southern Transition zone
3 Northern Dry Zone 8 Northern Transition Zone
4 Central Dry Zone 9 Hill Zone
5 Eastern Dry Zone 10 Coastal Zone

Moisture stress during the crop growth period, account for about 30 to 70 per cent losses in productivity. Any effort to mitigate the loss, could substantially contribute to enhancing the food production in the country.

Drought being most complex abiotic stress, the progress achieved on crop improvement for drought tolerance has been rather poor with no tangible gains. Clearly the task is a formidable one and would require a concerted approach to addressing it. The NAE program at this center is envisioned to take it to cognizance the various facets of plant response to stress and adapt modern biology and biotechnological approaches to improve adaptation and productivity our crops in drought prone environments.

The Niche Area Program (NAE) has multitude benefits to the stakeholder and contributes for technological know-how and solutions to drought stress of crops as below; 

For the state and region: Nearly 72 percent of the total cultivated area in the state is rainfed and crop yield depends on the vagaries of the monsoon. The Central dry zone and the Southern Dry zone in Karnataka, which come under the preview of the University experiences drought almost every year incurs huge losses to the farmers. Development of drought resistant varieties envisioned in NAE would benefit the state substantially.

For the University: The center will strengthen the initiatives taken by the University and accelerate the pace towards genetically improving crop plants for resistance to drought and advancement of knowledge base on strategic crop improvement program for drought.
 
Trained manpower: Improving drought related research is a priority and expertise in this area is essential for the country. Hence, trained human resource, at various capacities, which is one of the mandates of NAE, will contribute substantially to overall success of the drought research in institutions/organizations of the country. 

For farmers: One of the major aims of the center would be to provide resistant varieties that can provide higher yields under drought conditions. Besides, advisory information on drought management and mitigation will also be provided.

For Agri-businessman/industries: Superior cultivars/parents will be available to the seed based companies. The center shall also provide donor parental material for superior drought resistance traits that could be used in future breeding programs. Out sourcing of genes to biotech industry is another major output of the center.

Origin of NAE program and its mandate

Niche Area of Excellence (NAE) genesis has been through recognition of an active scientific group in agricultural university, which has excelled in their chosen area of research and human resource development. Overall, the mandate of the NAE is to identify groups with longstanding research knowledge on specific area and encourage taking up basic, applied and translational research through support for infrastructure and human resource development. Hence, research out put is of national importance with global impact. The research support is based on presentation of the proposal and subsequent review process by the education division of ICAR. The Niche area program was started during the year 2005-2006 at the Crop Physiology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru is in the area of drought research. 
 
NAE provides option to consolidate the on-going research progress of the group and facilitates to develop the center as front runner in the chosen area. 


Focal activities of NAE are

i)     Basic and strategic research; 
ii)    Translation research and technology development; 
iii)   Training and human resource development;
iv)   Dissemination of research knowledge through bulletins, presentations in seminars/conferences/symposia and publications in high impact journals; and
v)    Develop standard operational practices for drought research, which are adaptable by other researchers; and
vi)   Emerge as resource center for the country in the chosen area of research
 

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