Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dilbagh S. Athwal, IRRI’s first deputy director general, passes away

By Gene Hettel

Dilbagh S. Athwal, 88, a member of the early management team at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away on 14 May at his residence in Toms River, New Jersey. He was born in Lyallpur, India (now Pakistan) on 12 October 1928.

A renowned Indian plant breeder, Dr. Athwal joined IRRI in 1967 (photo from that time) as its assistant director. In 1972, he was promoted to associate director and then, in 1976, he was appointed as the Institute’s very first deputy director general.

At IRRI, he administered the fledgling training program, supervised the research studies of postdoctoral fellows, and shared various administrative duties with IRRI’s first director general, Robert F. Chandler. Of his colleague, Chandler later wrote: “Athwal had sound judgment, was an indefatigable worker, and was highly regarded by the IRRI staff.”

While still at IRRI in 1975, in recognition of his outstanding work as an agricultural scientist, Dr. Athwal won the Padma Bhushan Award. It is the third-highest civilian award presented by the Government of India. Also in 1975, he took a sabbatical from IRRI and completed an MBA at Harvard University.

In 1954, Dr. Athwal earned his PhD in genetics and plant breeding at the University of Sydney in Australia and then, back in India, he became the first head of the Department of Plant Breeding at Punjab Agricultural University and did pioneering work that led to the development of the hybrid pearl millet variety, Bajra, in 1963. He went on to produce the iconic wheat variety, Kalyan, in collaboration with his colleague and friend Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. His work in wheat was instrumental in bringing the Green Revolution to Punjab, India.

In 1977, Dr. Athwal left IRRI to become program officer for Asia at the Rockefeller Foundation's International Agricultural Development Service (IADS) in New York under Sterling Wortman, former IRRI associate director who was then IADS president. In this position, he traveled extensively in Asia where he helped design and implement programs to increase food production.

His career also took him to Washington, D.C., and Winrock International in Little Rock, Arkansas, from where he retired as a senior vice president in 1991.

Dr. Athwal is survived by his wife Gurdev, son Barinder (wife Susan), son Harjit (wife Amardeep), and five grandchildren, Lisa, Neal, Jagdeep, Nishan, and Hernoor. He is also survived by many family members, including his nephew, Raghbir.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., 17th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601.




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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sustainable Rice Platform plans integrated training strategy to support rollout of rice assurance program



LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – Experts gathered at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in early May to design a training strategy to support smallholder adoption of sustainable best practices.

The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), an alliance of 70 stakeholder institutions convened by IRRI and UN Environment, will launch an assurance scheme targeting smallholders, based on the SRP Standard and Performance Indicators for Sustainable Rice Cultivation—the world’s first sustainability standard for rice.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New book on success stories and lessons in unfavorable rice environments launched

CURE's newly launched book is also freely available at irri.org.
VIENTIANE, Laos—A new book that documents success stories as well as lessons learned from the work to help farmers in unfavorable rice environments of Asia was launched by the International Rice Research Institute during a review and planning meeting of the  Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) on 9-11 May 2017 in this Laotian capital.

The book, titled,  Climate-ready technologies: Combating poverty by raising productivity in rainfed rice environments, shares in detail the challenges, lessons learned, and cases of success in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Rainfed rice areas, largely considered unfavorable because of lack of irrigation, are also home to millions of farmers who live in poverty and rely on rice farming for their livelihood. These areas are unstable and have low productivity, ranging from an average across years of 1–2.5 tons per hectare because of the constraint presented by multiple environmental stresses, such as drought followed by flood. 

“The Consortium has worked to improve lives in resource-poor rice communities by building a network of networks and linking groups and individuals facing similar constraints,” said CURE Coordinator Digna Manzanilla.

The book also offers insights into drivers of change and enabling factors—social, cultural, economic, environmental, and institutional—that helped partner countries benefit from technologies and make an impact in unfavorable rice environments.

While farmers in several partner countries have limited access to seeds, for example, rice farmers in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal have faster access to newly-developed high-yielding, climate-ready varieties because of a regional seed cooperation agreement that expedites the release and dissemination of rice varieties to farmers in stress-affected areas.

Laos’ agri chiefs received first copies of CURE's latest book, Climate-ready technologies: Combating poverty by raising productivity in rainfed rice environments): (L-R) Digna Manzanilla, CURE coordinator; Bounthong Buoaham, director general of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI); David Johnson, head, IRRI-CESD, and former CURE coordinator; Xaypladeth Choulamany, director general of planning and cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Laos; Chay Bounphanousay, deputy director general of NAFRI and Laos representative to the CURE Steering Committee.
“Although one country’s experience may be unique from another in terms of specific contexts, we see this exchange of experiences as contributing to innovative ways of thinking about how we can overcome many of the constraints and challenges facing rainfed rice environments,” said David Johnson, who also formerly managed CURE and is currently head of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD).

“There is rarely a clear-cut path to overcoming any challenge and raising rice productivity in rainfed environments, but by looking at what worked and what did not work from the experiences shared by our country partners, we can find ways to make rainfed rice environments less challenging,” Dr. Johnson added.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Alternative seed systems help unfavorable rice areas combat poverty

Partners from nine member-countries of CURE convened in early May to share challenges and lessons in their work to help farmers in unfavorable rice environments.  

VIENTIANE, Laos—The formal rice seed production system in Laos can supply only 10% of the country’s seed requirement, but as researchers have found, availability of seed is just one part of the story. The delivery system is just as important, but not as simple when it comes to rainfed and similarly challenged rice areas. In the country, several non-government organizations (NGOs) were instrumental in helping some of the country’s food-insecure communities acquire rice seeds.

Community-based seed systems were reportedly instrumental in introducing stress-tolerant varieties in India, Nepal, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia, where formal seed sectors are yet to meet national seed requirements. These seed systems also supported the government’s move in these countries to fast-track seed dissemination, especially when the formal seed sector has not operated well, and where commercial seed growers are yet to be convinced that the production of seeds is investment-worthy.

“Although one country’s experience may be unique from another in terms of specific contexts, we see this exchange of experiences as contributing to innovative ways of thinking about how we can overcome many of the constraints and challenges facing rainfed rice environments,” said David Johnson, who also formerly managed CURE and is currently head of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD).
IRRI's CESD chief and former CURE coordinator David Johnson sought insights, experiences, and lessons from each member-country, recognizing that seemingly  unique experiences also offer an array of options that may apply to other countries as well. 



This and other interventions were discussed in a review and planning meeting of the steering committee of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) on 9-11 May, which this year focused on scaling out climate-smart technologies that help raise productivity and combat poverty in Asia’s fragile rice ecosystems.

More than the interventions and outcomes are so-called ‘enabling’ factors—social, cultural, environmental, financial, political, and institutional—that were just as important to achieve impact at a broader scale.

Through better varieties, improved management systems, community-based seed systems, and several other interventions, the abovementioned countries benefitted from enabling farmers in the most challenging environments to improve their livelihood. These experiences were reported in a newly published book by CURE, “Climate-ready technologies: Combating poverty by raising productivity in rainfed rice environments.”

“This year’s meeting brings member-countries together to discuss accomplishments, experiences, learning, and challenges during the past four years and as well as form plans for the coming year,” according to Digna Manzanilla, CURE coordinator.

“There is rarely a clear-cut path to overcoming any challenge and raising rice productivity in rainfed environments,” Dr. Johnson added. “But by looking at what worked and what did not work from the experiences shared by our country partners, we can find ways to make rainfed rice environments less challenging.”

The member-countries of CURE include Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos PDR, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Myanmar.

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IRRI participates in workshop on improving small farmers' postharvest practices


Field visit to Florenden Farms in NE Arkansas. UARPP workshop participants pose in front of storage silos for rice. (L-R): Kate Wilkes (University of Arkansas), Dr. Michele Reba (USDA-Agricultural Research Service), Zarini Tahir (Kellogg Company), Caling Balingbing (IRRI), Dr. Alicia Perdon (Kellogg Company), Martin Gummert (IRRI), Dr. Terry Siebenmorgen (University of Arkansas),  Sangeeta Mukhopadhyay (Univ. of Arkansas), Mike Sullivan (Florenden Farms), Dr. Bhagwati Prakash (Univ. of Arkansas), and Zeph Odek (Univ. of Arkansas). Photo by Miriam Gummert.

ARKANSAS, USA—To exchange knowledge on state-of-the-art quality research and identify potentials for cooperation on grain quality improvements, two IRRI staff from the Postharvest and Mechanization Unit (PMU) participated in the Rice Postharvest Processing and Management Workshop sponsored by Kellogg’s and hosted by the University of Arkansas Rice Processing Program (UARPP), USA, last 3-4 April 2017. This was followed by a field trip to rice farmers, food processors, and support service providers from 5-7 April.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mozambican farmers learn to choose the best rice varieties


Farmers get busy selecting best rice varieties during a field day held at the locality of Mucelo in Zambézia, Mozambique in April 2017.

ZAMBÉZIA, Mozambique - Farmers learned how to better select the best rice varieties during a field day in late April organized by the Mozambique Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

About 40 participants came for the event, during which the farmers among them were given an introduction to concepts and principles that guide the breeding scheme at IRRI and the goals of the rice sector in countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The event was organized by the IRRI-Mozambique rice breeding team involving various partners in the rice value chain. Millers and representatives of district services for economic activities (SDAE) and some NGOs also took part in the event, in addition to the rice farmers who themselves represented several farmer associations.

The event included a visit to a field that had been set up with breeding trials and demonstration plots of promising rice lines. Twelve lines, including checks from the participatory varietal selection (PVS), were presented for final selection. Some of the promising lines in the demo plots were the same ones that had previously been selected by the participants themselves. Lines HHZ5-SAL14-SAL2-Y1 and IR 10L 203 were finally selected as the best, having high yield, long panicles, medium and long grains, medium plant height, and disease tolerance.

During the event, participants were able to share their respective experiences and come to appreciate new and well-performing varieties.

At the end of the field day, a recommendation was made that more of the participatory varietal selection trials be conducted in more locations.

IRRI and its partners hold field days to help rice farmers stay up-to-date on varieties, technology, and equipment that could help them improve productivity, thus empowering them to make informed decisions to improve their income and livelihood.


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Agricultural extension seen as key to impact of science in India


NEW DELHI, India – Senior officials, scientists, and other representatives of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and partners convened for the ICAR-IRRI Collaborative workshop on 4-5 May 2017 to discuss the strengthening of research in agricultural extension.

Agricultural extension is seen as a crucial means to accelerate the impact of agricultural knowledge and technologies by informing policy and practice, as well as to promote innovation.