Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bhutan and IRRI strengthen partnership in rice research and development

Nim Dorji, director general of Bhutan's Department of Agriculture, and Jackie Hughes, IRRI deputy director general for research.

THIMPHU, Bhutan—The Royal Government of Bhutan and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) recently agreed to revive and strengthen their partnership in rice research and development. Both parties reinforced the partnership as Bhutan’s rice industry faces mounting challenges and emerging needs.

This was the focus of the discussion between IRRI and Bhutan in a meeting on 11 July. The IRRI delegation was led by Jacqueline Hughes, deputy director general for research (at right in photo), and Uma Shankar Singh, IRRI representative for India and Nepal. Nim Dorji, director general of the Department of Agriculture (at left in photo), and his senior staff represented Bhutan.

Bhutan had a long association with IRRI, from 1984 to 2000, and the country immensely benefited in terms of rice technologies and human resource development.

IRRI and Bhutan agreed on some rice R&D programs and activities—from improving varieties to seed distribution—to advance the country’s rice sector, according to Hughes. “These planned activities will be in accordance with a memorandum of understanding that will be formally signed soon,” she said.

“Agreed action points include the development and promotion of varieties that are high yielding with good quality and stress tolerance," said Singh. "This can be done by facilitating access to appropriate germplasm, improved rice technologies, and expertise from IRRI’s regional activities in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.”

The institute will also help improve the country’s rice varieties by transferring desired traits, such as high yield, disease resistance, and drought tolerance without sacrificing grain quality. “IRRI will facilitate the selection of parents and crossing them using both conventional and the latest molecular breeding techniques,” Hughes added. “The field evaluation and progeny selection will be done in Bhutan."

“The collaboration is also geared to help in the problem of nutrient deficiency among rice farmers and consumers,” said Singh. “Biofortified rice and micronutrient-dense rice developed by IRRI and its partners will be tested in Bhutan. Moreover, IRRI will extend its support in analyzing local rice varieties for micronutrient content among other important traits. The analysis will be a basis for developing nutritionally superior rice varieties.”

Additionally, IRRI will support in enhancing Bhutan’s capacity to develop and breed better rice varieties by sharing new technologies such as marker assisted breeding and phenotyping. “This will help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the country’s unique traditional germplasm,” Hughes pointed out.

Mechanization and postharvest technologies are also part of the rice R&D agreement. IRRI will assist the country in solving its rural labor shortage and reduce postharvest losses from harvesting, threshing, grain drying, and storage.
To ensure that seed of improved rice varieties are available to farmers, IRRI and Bhutan will work together in seed multiplication and distribution. IRRI will assist in strengthening both the formal and informal seed sectors.

“A step closer in this direction is to help in the capacity development of extension workers and farmers in seed selection and breeder seed production for researchers,” said Singh.

Aside from offering training courses on various topics, IRRI will encourage Bhutanese scientists to participate in relevant meetings, workshops, and conferences organized by the institute.
Later this year, IRRI will invite Bhutan to participate in a regional meeting with countries who signed the regional seed cooperation agreement. That agreement between India, Bangladesh, and Nepal allows a rice variety that has been tested, approved, and released in one country to be released in other countries without undergoing further testing and evaluation, as long as they will be grown under similar agroclimatic conditions.

“We are hopeful that these activities will snowball into a more robust and productive collaboration between IRRI and Bhutan,” said Hughes. “We are excited to contribute--through research and development--to the realization of the country’s goals for its rice industry.”

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IBM and U.S. Peace Corps work with IRRI to strengthen its technical capacities

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—IBM and U.S. Peace Corps volunteers recently worked hand-in-hand with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to further strengthen the institute’s effectiveness in securing global food security. Their recommendations for achieving the improvements were presented at the closing rites of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program at IRRI headquarters on 21 July.

The 15 CSC volunteers from the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands, and India arrived in June to collaborate with their counterparts at IRRI in developing blueprints for four different sectors.  A parallel program was also conducted at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

The teams at IRRI presented strategic plans for transitioning the institute’s library resources into a virtual, fully digitized, and network-based facility; providing data storage and computing infrastructure to meet the institute's processing needs; developing a “one-stop shop” where IRRI staff members could update country dossiers using existing resources with minimal manual input; and transforming IRRI's Training Center into a world-class Rice Science Academy (IRRI RSA).

“As global scientists, we here at IRRI often think that we are the only ones who can solve the problems,” said Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships. “But that’s not the case. IRRI requires a lot of collaboration and a lot of potent, fresh minds to solve the problems. Working with them has been a valuable experience.”

Corinta Guerta, IRRI director for external relations, agreed. “IRRI and IBM have been interacting with each other since the late 1970’s,” she said. “But this is the first time we’ve worked with them under their CSC program. We’re very fortunate that we were selected.”

“At the beginning, we thought that this would be quite risky,” Dr. Tolentino said. “Why bring in a set of people who don’t know anything about rice research to solve our problems? But it turned out to be good.”

“The CSC teams approached some of our challenges using tools they had and provided potential solutions,” he added. ”If you try to value the amount of time the team spent at IRRI and translated it monetarily—it’s a huge amount and we need to see it for that value. We hope that it pays off for all of us here.”

CSC is IBM’s pro bono consulting program, which was created in 2008 to help solve some of the most challenging problems in communities around the world while providing top-performing IBM employees with unique leadership development. IBM’s CSC at IRRI and SEARCA was conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Peace Corps and PYXERA Global.

“I do want it to demonstrate how serious IBM’s commitment is to social responsibility,” said Richard Chang, one of the CSC members. “We were chosen from thousands of volunteers but we also chose this because we wanted to give back.”

(This news item was written by Dan Christian M. Marinay, IRRI intern.)


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The Los Baños Science Community celebrates 32 years of scientific innovation

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Twenty-two member-agencies of the Los Baños Science Community Foundation, Inc. (LBSCFI) are celebrating the 32nd anniversary of the organization this week at the headquarters of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD). The LBSCFI week-long celebration runs through 29 July.

 "I congratulate LBSCFI on 32 years of successfully building a community that is prosperous, environmentally conscious, humane, and united,” said Reynaldo Ebora, acting executive director PCAARRD, during the opening ceremony.

Dr. Carol Yorobe (photo), undersecretary of S&T Services at the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), congratulated the foundation on behalf of DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Peña. In his message, dela Peña emphasized the importance of an environment that is conducive for scientific discovery and investigation and in maintaining the process of innovation in our society.

"If we wish to become a progressive, knowledge-based society, then we must work toward creating an environment where science and technology provide the key drivers for economic development and material growth benefiting all Filipinos,” Yorobe read. “Equally important is our role in promoting a culture of science for Filipinos, so they can take greater charge of their lives.”

 LBSCFI is one of three science communities organized by the National Science and Technology Authority (now DOST) to promote and encourage the sharing of knowledge among various scientific institutions.

Yorobe noted that LBSCFI has grown from a membership of nine agencies when it started more than three decades ago, to today's 22 members, which includes the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 

Ms. Corinta Guerta, director for external relations at IRRI, joined other representatives of agencies in renewing their commitment to LBSCFI. 

LBSCFI is presenting exhibits, lecture series, a technoforum, and an open house that is showcasing innovations from various research institutes based within and outside the community. A special video, Looking back, was also presented during the opening ceremony.

The foundation’s official website and institutional video were also launched during the opening ceremony. Additionally,  the LBSCFI R&D Awards Committee selected the Philippine Rice Information System (PRISM) project of IRRI as this year's PARRFI Outstanding R&D Award in the Research Category. 

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Laguna agriculture officials receive seeds of tungro-resistant rice

During a visit to IRRI, Regional Crop Protection Center Chief  Cecille Marie Manzanilla (third from left)
receives tungro-resistant rice seeds from Chris Croombes (second from right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines, 14 July—Agriculture officials and technicians from the Southern Tagalog Region recently received seeds of tungro-resistant rice varieties (photo) developed at the world’s leading rice research center. The seeds were handed over during their visit to the the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The officials were from the Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC IV-A) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and field technicians represented Liliw and Magdalena municipalities in Laguna province.

"I'm glad we can help local farmers and we look forward to a continuing partnership," said Chris Croombes, director of IRRI's Human Resources, who assisted with the seed distribution to the visitors.

"One of the functions of the crop protection center is to diagnose problems affecting rice farmers," said Dr. Cecille Marie C. Manzanilla, RCPC chief. "During one of our visits to farmers, we saw that several of their fields were affected by what looked like rice tungro virus. So, we asked IRRI to confirm the virus's presence." Precy Esmejarada and Norberto Licong, agricultural technicians from Liliw and Magdalena, respectively, reported that the virus disease is a common problem in their towns.

Rice tungro, a serious disease caused by viruses transmitted by green leafhoppers, induces leaf discoloration, stunts growth, reduces tiller numbers, and sometimes causes sterile or partly filled grains. Licong observed that farmers frequently exchange tungro-susceptible seeds with other farmers, a practice that could spread the rice tungro virus. Another observation is that farmers don't plant at the same time. This asynchronous planting can result in a steady food supply for the leafhoppers.

"Asynchronous planting is a major factor because the leafhoppers prefer to eat younger plants," explained Dr. Gilda Jonson, a senior associate scientist at IRRI's Genetics and Biotechnology Division. "Leafhoppers tend to move to newer plants that are growing. But when the rice plants are uniformly planted in the field, this prevents leafhoppers from moving to neighboring fields.” Rice tungro disease is more common during the wet season because insect populations tend to increase when there is a continuous food source.

Although asynchronous planting contributes to the problem, farmers continue to practice it. "Farmers in Liliw and Magdalena always plant rice ahead of farmers in other towns because their areas are nearer to the irrigation source," Jonson explained.

“If our farmers plant late, the other farmers at the end of the irrigation line will be affected," added Licong.

“One helpful practice to fight the disease is to plant tungro-resistant rice varieties," says Jonson, "and there are several to choose from."

The seeds of tungro-resistant rice varieties that were distributed to the visitors by IRRI included Matatag 2 and 9; NSIC Rc 110, 112, 118, 140, 222, and 238; Japonica 2; and Maligaya special 11.

Several of these recommended varieties were developed by IRRI’s Plant Breeding Division and were disseminated through the NextGen project, one of the seven components of the Food Staples Sufficiency Program of the DA and IRRI.

Maligaya special 11 and Japonica 2 were developed through the Germplasm Utilization Value Added (GUVA) project of Korea's Rural Development Administration and IRRI.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cambodian officials to review impact of farmers' adoption of climate-smart rice

By Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—The initial impact of  farmer adoption of new climate-smart rice varieties (photo) and technologies will be reviewed by state officials and other stakeholders on 28-29 July.

Around 80 participants are expected to attend the first annual review and planning of the project, Accelerating the Adoption of Stress-tolerant Rice Varieties by Smallholder Farmers in Nepal and Cambodia (ASTV). 

The two-day review will take place after the commemoration of the 30-year partnership between Cambodia and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 27 July. That celebration, attracting both Cambodian and IRRI officials including Deputy Prime Minister Yim Chhay Ly and IRRI Director General Matthew Morell, will feature exhibits highlighting the milestones of the enduring partnership. During the celebration, a historic Host Country Agreement between Cambodia and IRRI will be signed followed by the Southeast Asia Regional Consultation Workshop on IRRI's 10-Year Strategic Plan.

Attending the ASTV project review on the following two days will be Secretary of State Ty Sokhun, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF); and So Khan Rithykun, director general, General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA). Top officials from MAFF, GDA, the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute, directors and representatives from the Provincial Department of Agriculture, seed companies, and development agencies will also take part in the review.

ASTV seeks to reduce poverty and hunger and increase food security and income of poor farm households in its target countries by introducing high-yielding, climate-resilient varieties and technologies and strengthening local research and delivery systems. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project is part of the Feed the Future Program, a Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative of the U.S. Government.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

SINoP mission goes up the mountain and down to the plain

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—The Society of Non-research Professionals (SINoP) at the international Rice Research Institute (IRRI) held two succeeding activities within a week to help respond to the needs of a community on the slopes of Mt. Makiling and provide its members with financial literacy training. Mt. Makiling is a dormant volcano near IRRI's headquarters in Laguna province on Luzon island in the Philippines.

On 2 July, SINoP members and alumni (photo), together with members of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (IRRI-UPLB Chapter) trekked to Bagong Silang Elementary School—the organization’s adopted school—at the foot of Mt. Makiling to donate books and school supplies.The items were purchased using proceeds from its Back-to-School fundraising sale held in May and donations from SINoP members and friends. The event was also the dedication of the Eva Corazon P. Reyes Library, in memory of SINoP’s former president.

While SINoP is proud to reach out to the people in IRRI’s host communities, it also recognizes the needs of its members and provides seminars at the institute’s headquarters. On 7 July, SINoP held Investment 101: Personal Finance, a seminar on the basics of investing and the available options that suit their respective investment personalities. The seminar was facilitated by Ms. Janine Kyra Rivera, an associate investment counselor from the BPI Asset Management and Trust Group. Investment 101: Personal Finance was the first in a series of seminars lined up for SINoP members for the year.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Experts finalize Filipino version of mobile app that identifies rice pests and diseases

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines, 8 July—Agriculture experts recently held a workshop at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to finalize the Filipino version of Rice Doctor, a mobile app that helps identify and manage rice crop problems.

It is an interactive mobile app that uses text and images to help extension workers, farmers, researchers, and students diagnose more than 80 pests, diseases, and other disorders affecting rice. Up to now, Rice Doctor has been only available in English.

Specialists from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and development communication students from the University of the Philippines joined the Rice Doctor Development Team (photo). They reviewed, edited, and finalized the Filipino translation of the brief descriptions of the signs, symptoms, and management options.

This activity is the second part of the Filipino translation workshop conducted through the project, Improving Technology Promotion and Delivery through Capability Enhancement of Next-Gen Rice Extension Professionals and Other Intermediaries, under the Food Staples Sufficiency Program. The first part, which was held last year, focused on the terms and the translation of the diagnostic questions.

The Filipino version of Rice Doctor, which will be available later this year, is the first effort to translate and localize the diagnostic tool for country-specific crop problems. Similar efforts are also being done in Bangladesh and India.

Rice Doctor was first developed by IRRI, PhilRice, the Indonesian Research Institute for Rice, and the Lucid team at the University of Queensland in Australia. The English version is available for download at the Google Play and App Store for free.

For more information, please email

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