Monday, January 16, 2017

Namibia eyes building ties with IRRI to boost its rice production

Commissioner Mutelo (third from right) looks forward to a potential partnership between IRRI and the University of Namibia to train its MS and PhD agriculture students. Also in photo (from right): Consul William Co, consulate of the Republic of Namibia, Rector Mutelo; IRRI’s external relations head Corinta Guerta; IRRI partnerships office head Michelle Weldon; and Heritha Nankole Muyoba. 

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Although corn is Namibia's primary food staple, the government is keen on expanding rice production to improve its food security. Research has shown that the crop can be successfully grown in Namibia's seasonal wetlands. But frequent droughts that occur in the semi-arid country pose a threat to its rice production.

A delegation from Namibia, headed by High Commissioner Anne Namakau Mutelo, visited, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 12 January to learn about its high-impact research activities, particularly on drought.

"We've learned a lot," said Commissioner Mutelo. "We saw how different countries, nationalities have come together here to conserve rice, improve its production, and generally ensure global food security."

Rector Mutelo, chief executive officer of Namibia Biometric Systems, commended IRRI’s partnership-driven research. "This is the United Nations of rice," he noted.

Heritha Nankole Muyoba of RMZ Consulting, a private educational and business organization in Namibia that works with farmers, said what IRRI offers Namibian farmers are drought-tolerant and climate change-ready rice varieties.

Nakole also showed great interest in the International Rice Genebank. "We saw how all the rice varieties are being conserved and their database system,” she said. “If we plan to start a genebank in Namibia we don't have to start from nothing.”

The Namibian visit also served as an opportunity to explore possible areas of collaboration with IRRI.

"We are planning to start with a memorandum of agreement that links the University of Namibia with your institution so we can train our MS and PhD students as well as build the capacity of our agricultural personnel," said Commissioner Mutelo.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sustainable rice projects get financial boost from UK agency

Willis of BBSRC , which funds the Newton Fund Sustainable Rice Programme, encourages researchers to look at synergies between projects, 
identify any challenges, and find solutions together.

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Several research projects that ensure the long-term sustainable production of rice, one of the world's most important food crops, received financial support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).  The projects cover a wide range of important issues including rice quality; resource use and photosynthetic efficiency; resilience to pests, diseases, and environmental stresses; and novel research tool and technology development.

The 13 projects, led by top UK bioscience researchers and institutions in collaboration with research teams in China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, were announced at the grant-holders kick-off meeting at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 9-11 January.  These will be funded through the Newton Fund's Sustainable Rice Programme.

In a press statement, Professor Melanie Welham, chief executive of BBSRC emphasized the critical importance of regional cooperation in addressing food security in the face of a changing world climate. This initiative brought funders from all countries together and is priming partnerships across this region that could lead to similarly important future research collaborations, according to Welham.

"Congratulations to all the project participants. It was a very competitive call for proposals,” Tim Willis, associate director of BBSRC said to around 70 delegates from IRRI and various national research institutes at the meeting.

“The Newton Fund Sustainable Rice Programme is currently the biggest and the best regional program under the Newton Fund, where several countries will work together,” Willis added. “The regional and country approaches that you are bringing here is really going to help expand Newton and, I hope, help your research look at new ideas and challenges for global food security.”

Six of the new projects are in collaboration with the Philippine-based (IRRI) and will focus on:
  • Enhancing rice quality for health 
  • Identifying the nutritional components of Philippine heirloom rice germplasm
  • Developing real-time deployment of pathogen-resistance genes in rice
  • Developing rice with deeper roots and improved drought tolerance
  • Developing rice with higher salinity- and drought-tolerance
  • Optimising transpiration to protect rice yields under environmental stresses due to climate change
“In the context of meeting the global sustainable development goals, it is crucial to accelerate science and explore possible innovations from sharing of resources, data, and information,” Achim Dobermann, Rothamsted Research director and former deputy director general for research at IRRI, said through a video conference call.

BBSRC is one of seven research councils that work together as Research Councils UK and provides a range of funding opportunities to enable individuals and groups to pursue world-class bioscience research. In 2015-16, it invested £473M in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Philippines and IRRI to strengthen joint program to push rice productivity

Laciste (left) makes sure that the Philippine rice program gets a head start in 2017 as rice is a priority for the Duterte administration. Also in photo: IRRI communication chief Tolentino (center) and Quilang of PhilRice (right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The newly appointed deputy director of the Philippines' National Rice Program emphasized the importance of collaboration in developing a national strategy for rice farming and uplifting the lives of Filipino farmers.

As a pro-active start to 2017, Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste of the Department of Agriculture (DA) visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on 5 January. Laciste is also the deputy director of the DA’s National Rice Program that integrates government initiatives and interventions for the agriculture sector.

At IRRI, Laciste was briefed on the various collaborative research projects implemented jointly by IRRI and the Philippines Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) in support of the National Rice Program.

The projects include:
  1. Rice Crop Manager, a web-based decision support tool for precision farming;
  2. Philippine Rice Information System, a satellite-based rice forecasting and monitoring system 
  3. Green Super Rice, climate-smart varieties developed under the Next Generation project, and hybrid rice; 
  4. Heirloom Rice Project
  5. WateRice project, an irrigation management tool; 
  6. Mechanized seeding and improved postharvest storage systems such as the solar bubble dryer; 
  7. Project IPaD and IRRI Education that build a new base of community extension officers
"We have plenty of work to do pertaining to rice," Laciste said. "We would be very dependent on IRRI and PhilRice in terms of formulating our program."

To be more competitive farmers must produce at least 7 tons of rice per hectare at PHP 7.00 per kilogram, according to a fact sheet published from a benchmarking study of an ongoing DA and IRRI partnership project.

“This is already possible,” said Dr. Jimmy Quilang, deputy executive director of PhilRice. He explained that in their Palayabangan (“rice and pride”) challenge, one farmer produced 10 tons of rice in a hectare at only PHP 5.00 per kilogram.

"With the technologies that we have developed with IRRI, we already have ways to really make Filipino farmers more competitive,” Quilang said.

A retired police officer, Laciste studied at the University of the Philippines Los Baños in 1975.

"I took up agribusiness, so agriculture is very close to my heart,” he said. “I look forward to a continued and fruitful collaboration with IRRI and PhilRice to help our rice farmers meet their production targets and also address their production gaps.”

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

IT-literacy skills for local out-of-school youth boosted by IRRI's computer donation

Mayor Perez of Los Banos (center) explains how the computers donated by IRRI will help PESO strengthen
its computer literacy and computer systems servicing courses for out-of-school youths in the municipalities of
Los Banos and Bay. Also in photo: IRRI communication chief Bruce Tolentino (left)
and Glescy Trinidad of PESO (right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The local community Public Employment Service Office (PESO) has received 10 computers from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to support its employment training programs in computer literacy and computer systems servicing.  The program serves out-of-school youth from Los Baños and Bay towns, IRRI's host communities.

Caesar Perez, mayor of Los Baños, is quite proud of PESO's work.  PESO provides employability skills and livelihood training to individuals from the disadvantaged sectors of the community. This helps them to increase their employment opportunities and contribute to the town’s economic growth.

"Our graduates learn plenty of skills," shares Ms. Glescy Trinidad of PESO. “They are all government-certified so they're very in demand. In fact, we have two graduates who are employed as electricians at IRRI. We also have a lot of graduates who are working overseas.”

In 2015, about 300 people graduated from the program.  The graduates come from Nagcarlan, Lumban, Sta. Rosa, Pila, Victoria, Calamba as well as from IRRI’s host communities of Los Baños and Bay.

PESO conducts the training with support from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). A National Certificate is given to those who have finished a course or pass the TESDA assessment after completing their skills training. The program is supported by the One Meralco Foundation, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative of the Meralco company.

“IRRI started working with the One Meralco Foundation, the municipalities of Bay and Los Baños, PESO, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as part of its CSR initiative in 2009,”  said Dr. Bruce Tolentino, head of communication and partnerships at IRRI.

"Before, we conducted community livelihood projects with the barangays ourselves, but it was unsustainable," recalled Mr. Lito Platon of IRRI's partnerships office. "Now, it's more sustainable because different partners are uniquely contributing to the project. For example, IRRI coordinates the activities, One Meralco Foundation provides the funds, while  PESO and TESDA train, certify the graduates, and make sure they find jobs. So this is really a partnership with a purpose."

Aside from computer literacy and computer systems servicing, PESO provides courses in massage and reflexology, massage therapy, beauty care, electrical wiring, bread and pastry, garments or dressmaking, and motorcycle repair. Next year, PESO aims to add an automotive course.    

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Strengthening the link between rice farmers and commercial buyers in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 24-26 November—A USAID-funded project to improve the rice value chain is helping 365 farmer organizations in southern Bangladesh to grow premium-quality crops to gain access to national buyers. This became evident during the recent 3rd Rice and Grains Tech Expo.

The project, Feed the Future Bangladesh Rice Value Chain (RVC), is developing the capacity of the farmer groups, composed of 10,500 farmer members, who grow the same high-value rice varieties, to produce their crops in bulk to attract millers and food companies to do business with them.

Joining RVC at the Expo was another project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), led by the International Rice Research Institute (photo). STRASA is speeding up dissemination of seeds of improved rice varieties to farmers in areas prone to drought, flooding, and other severe environmental conditions.

“South Bangladesh is one of the country's poorest areas and most vulnerable to cyclone-induced disasters,”  explained Tim Russell, RVC project leader. “It also has a much lower level of industrialization. So, all the national food processing companies have their bases, including mills and factories, in the northern and western parts of the country.”

Since RVC has spearheaded the creation of farmer groups with the capacity to grow crops and varieties in demand throughout the country, the processing companies are beginning to set up buying operations in southern Bangladesh.

At the Expo, the farmer organizations and their members had the opportunity to link with national companies that produce agriculture and forestry products, farm machinery, and new technologies for rice production and marketing. The buyers are primarily interested in purchasing Chinigura rice from the farmers who now have the capacity to grow this Bangladeshi aromatic variety in bulk, thanks to RVC's support.

Russell concluded that one of the country's biggest national processing companies is planning to establish a Krishi center in Jessore District. "It will act as a warehouse for storing products purchased from these farmer groups,” he added. “It will also serve as a training center for farmer-leaders and the company’s buying agents and staff members.” 

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Vietnam contract farming firm partners with IRRI to achieve sustainable rice production

An agreement between Loc Troi, IFC, and IRRI signed during the SRP Annual Plenary Meeting in Vietnam seeks to produce sustainably certified rice.

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—About 4,000 Vietnamese farmers are expected to be compliant with the global standard for sustainable and more efficient rice cultivation by the end of 2018. This is the goal of an agreement between the Loc Troi Group, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) signed on 7 December.

"Specializing in contract farming, Loc Troi wants to be among the first companies to produce sustainably certified rice," said Dr. Sarah Beebout, an IRRI scientist involved with the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

SRP is a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations convened by the United Nations Environment Programme and IRRI to develop innovative solutions to critical sustainability challenges facing the global rice sector. The SRP Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

"As Loc Troi ramps up its production for export, it sees the environmental issues as important," Beebout said. "We don't have a final answer yet on how high you have to score in each of the indicators to get certification—that's still in process—but the company is already getting in on the front to show it can make steady improvements in each of the benchmark areas."

Farmers can be encouraged to follow the SRP standards because one of its indicators is profitability. "We're coming from the assumption that farmers aren't going to do anything that decreases their profitability for the sake of anything else," explained Beebout. "So the question is can we increase the other indicators while keeping profitability high?"

From December 2015 to April 2016, 50 farmers each from Dong Thap, An Giang, and Kien Giang in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta initiated the first season’s pilot testing of SRP Standards. Technical support and training was provided by Mr. Joel Janiya, IRRI extension agronomist. The pilot test will run for another season to complete the validation but the farmers decided to continue implementing the SRP Standard to produce “safe” rice.  

For the next two years, Beebout and other IRRI scientists will visit project sites in the Mekong Delta to support Loc Troi’s technicians and participating farmers on the proper implementation of the Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation. Aside from the technical support, the institute will also help Loc Troi's extension system set up a training program for the 4,000 farmers through IRRI Education

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bringing climate-resilient technologies to rice farmers in the northern Philippines

LAOAG, northern Philippines—The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are collaborating to introduce new rice varieties and technologies to help local rice farmers cope with climate change.

The collaborative program, known as Tikag (drought), provides smallholder farmers access to climate-resilient rice varieties and technologies under the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environment (CURE) and the locally fabricated mechanized dry direct seed driller developed by the MP Seeder Project (see photo).

“Hopefully, these new technologies could reduce the risks in rice production in northern Luzon and help farmers suffering from unpredictable drought and typhoons every year,” said Dr. Yoichiro Kato, a rainfed lowland agronomist at IRRI and lead of the MP Seeder Project.

Tikag is a collaborative project of local government units in Ilocos Norte, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Dingras. CURE is funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development while the MP Seeder Project is funded by the DA.

Farmers’ Field Days held, respectively, in Currimao and Burgos on 7 and 8 December attracted more than 200 farmer leaders and local extension staff from 20 municipalities of Ilocos Norte. The participating farmers showed their willingness to adopt both the MP seed driller and the drought-tolerant varieties, particularly Sahod Ulan 12 which can be harvested from 93 to 99 days after planting.

The MP Seeder will significantly reduce the time and cost of establishing their rice crop, and the short duration and drought-tolerant will enable us to harvest more than before, according to  Mr.Candido Velasco and Mrs. Teresita Menor, participating farmers from Currimao.

Provincial Governor Imee Marcos, in her message to the field day participants, expressed her gratitude to IRRI’s continuous support. She encouraged the farmers to use new the drought-tolerant rice varieties and the mechanized dry direct seeding for the coming 2017 wet season. Rodolfo Garcia, mayor of Burgos, and Gladys Go-Cue, vice mayor of Currimao, attended the respective field days.

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