Thursday, March 23, 2017

Role of mechanization in sustainable rice production highlighted during international exhibit

Martin Gummert, IRRI's postharvest and mechanization expert,
talks about the impact of mechanizing rice harvest. 

BANGKOK, Thailand— “There is a need to mechanize the rural areas to increase productivity as that is a key driver for change in the rice sector,” Dr. Bas Bouman, the director of a global partnership platform for making rice research more effective in meeting development challenges.

The leader of the CGIAR Research Program on Rice (RICE) made the statement at the AGRITECHNICA Asia, a trade fair for agricultural machinery and equipment held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center on 15-17 March.

Bouman, an expert on sustainable agricultural development and food security at IRRI, presented IRRI’s mission to combat poverty, food security, health and environmental issues, and promote sustainable rice production.

“Mechanization should benefit farmers to have a better life and income and make good quality rice available in the market,” he said. Bouman also rallied the audience to take part in the sustainable rice platform in order to help small farmers maintain productivity while minimizing the environmental and social footprint.

Bouman was joined by his colleagues who discussed other issues at the exhibit’s series of seminars on the role of mechanization in sustainable rice production. Engr. Martin Gummert, IRRI’s expert in postharvest technologies, presented the advantages and drawbacks in mechanizing rice harvest (in photo).

“The rice combine harvester is a game-changing technology that made wetter grains available in big volume at harvest seasons putting pressure on the traditional postharvest system, especially grain drying,” he said.  “Combine harvesters solve the problem of labor shortage and harvesting cost can be lowered by up to 60%.

“However, unlike manual harvesting, combines leave rice straw in the field causing new problems,” Gummert added.

For every 4 tons of rice grain, 6 tons of straw are produced. In Asia, this amounts to about 550 million tons of straw.  Farmers usually dispose of the rice straw by burning or by incorporating the byproduct into the soil.

“Both practices of burning and incorporating in the field have adverse impacts on human health and the environment through smoke and greenhouse gas emission, respectively,” said Dr. Bjoern Ole Sander, a climate change specialist at IRRI, as he discussed the effects of a changing climate on rice production and the environmental impacts of farmers’ practices in managing the rice straw after harvest. Sander proposed a combination of limited straw incorporation combined with the straw collection and off-field use as a climate-friendly alternative.

Dr. Nguyen Van Hung,  a research scientist working on rice postharvest and byproduct management at the institute, also provided workable options in managing the massive amounts of rice straw from the use of combine harvesting and how farmers can earn additional income while ensuring environmental sustainability and protecting the health of people in the community.

“We are using life cycle assessment of different rice straw management practices to help identify sustainable straw management practices and provide recommendations to policy makers,” he said.
Engr. Carlito Balingbing presented the numerous advantages of laser-assisted land leveling technology and the many benefits that small rice farms have gained since it was introduced by IRRI in Asia in 1996. Laser land leveling is a climate-smart agriculture practice that helps conserve resources while increasing yields and farmers’ incomes. The benefits from a laser level fields include efficient water use, better weed and nutrient management, uniform crop maturity, among others.

The current trends in contract farming and the different strategies for promoting sustainable rice in the market through appropriate packaging and labeling were covered by Dr. Matty Demont, the lead of IRRI’s market and value chain research team.

“Survey results from Vietnam on customers’ preferences show that there is a market for sustainably produced rice,” he concluded. “It is very encouraging to observe that urban Vietnamese consumers are willing to pay price premiums up to 30% for sustainably produced rice when the product is accompanied by information on its production standards and traceability.”

The seminars led to enthusiastic discussions between IRRI and other organizations.

“We will develop further projects related to sustainable rice production using the updated information on rice straw management,” said Dr. Juejan Tangtermthong, the regional advisor on monitoring & evaluation at Better Rice Initiative Asia.

Dr. Mayling Flores Rojas, an agricultural systems mechanization officer at the Food and Agricultural Organization, also expressed interest in developing collaborative activities with IRRI, particularly in mechanization and postharvest technologies.

The AGRITECHNICA seminar series on the role of mechanization in sustainable rice production was organized by the German Agricultural Society (DLG) in collaboration with IRRI’s Postharvest and Mechanization Unit and GIZ through the ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood System.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sustainable rice production is critical to environmental conservation

Dr. Grant Singleton, rodent ecologist and CORIGAP coordinator, gave a 
lecture on some of IRRI's contribution to environmental conservation. 

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—“As the rising global population demands for more food, there is also increasing pressure in producing rice sustainably,” said Grant Singleton during a lecture on environmental conservation at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. “People, especially students, should be aware and concerned about the need to improve rice production. Poor use of pesticides and other inputs can have an adverse effect on our environment and human health. We have a toolbox that will increase rice production in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Singleton, a principal scientist and rodent ecologist at the International Rice Research Institute, was one of the notable speakers from different fields of environmental research at Overshoot: The Earth is an apple I can consume for a day, a seminar series organized by the UP Ecology and Systematics Major Students Society.  The seminar, held on 13 March, featured the insights of experts on overconsumption and exploitation of natural resources practices and the potential solutions for sustainable growth and development.

Singleton discussed the research activities of the CORIGAP-PRO (Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint) project in alleviating poverty and improving food security and gender equity of small rice farmers in an environmentally sustainable manner.  The project conducts adaptive research with rice farmers in demonstrating, testing, and validating the best management practices for sustainable rice production in major granaries in Asia.  Some of these include One Must Do, Five Reductions in Vietnam, the Three Controls Technology in China, the cost reductions initiative in Thailand, and integrated crop management in Indonesia. CORIGAP-PRO aims to sustainably increase rice yield by 10% for 500,000 smallholder farmers in Asia by 2020.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Biometrics training to enhance researchers’ skills in crop research


LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Twenty-one researchers and graduate students from eight countries attended a training on biometrics to improve their skills in analyzing data in crop research. Their new knowledge is expected to guide them in making appropriate conclusions and recommendations to different stakeholders.

Basic Experimental Design and Data Analysis (BEDDA), developed by the Biometrics Group at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), aims to teach the participants in planning and managing their own research investigation. It covers the principles of experimental design, randomization and analysis of basic experimental designs for crop research, and simple correlation and regression analysis. The course uses a combination of lectures, group discussion, and hands-on exercises via the Statistical Tool for Agricultural Research (STAR), a user-friendly software developed by the group.

Held at IRRI headquarters on 6-10 March, BEDDA was headed by Ms. Alaine Gulles, senior specialist, and Ms. Rose Imee Zhella Morantte, specialist,

BEDDA is one of the courses offered by the Biometrics Group. Similar courses are also available such as the Design and Analysis of Breeding Trials (DABT) conducted with the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) for the Transforming Rice Breeding - BRRI project held in Gazipur early this year.

The next DABT using the Plant Breeding Tools (PBTools) software will be held in May. For more details please see http://bbi.irri.org/trainings/dabt.

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Rice-fish farming could help boost farmers’ income in Myanmar’s “rice bowl”

H.E. Senator Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells and party consult farmer beneficiaries, 
DoA and DoF partners. (Photo by Hnin Thiri Naing).

MAUBIN Township, Myanmar— Aquaculture production in rice-based cropping systems could potentially boost farmers' productivity, income and nutrition in the Ayeyarwaddy Region, the country’s main rice-producing area.

Funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the 12-month mini rice-fish project aims to assess the potential of integrated rice fish business models to increase income of farmers in the disadvantaged flood-prone areas of the Ayeyarwady Delta.

“I am happy to see that farmers are benefiting from the investment provided by the Australian government in improving food security in Myanmar,” said H.E. Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells, Minister of International Development and the Pacific. The Minister, along with Mr. Nicholas Coppel Australian ambassador to Myanmar; and other Australian officials visited the site in Tar Pat West Village on 14 March.

H.E. Senator Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells and other Australian officials 
visit the rice-fish trial project site in Tar Pet West Village. (photo by Hnin Thiri Naing).

The mini rice-fish project is led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in collaboration with WorldFish, the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Department of Fisheries (DoF).

“It promotes the use of new high-yielding stress-tolerant rice varieties, new techniques in rice farming, and best management practices while raising fish in the same area,” said Dr. Romeo Labios, an IRRI scientist and agronomist in Myanmar.

“The rice field may be deliberately stocked with fish as in our study or enter the fields from the surrounding water ways when flooding occurs or both,” explained Dr. Manjurul Karim, the program manager of WorldFish.

Fish yields can range widely from 350-1000 kg/ha/season depending on the type of rice fish systems, species present, and the management, according to KarimThe fish provides a source of protein and farm income.

During the visit, the Minister had the opportunity to interact with some of the target beneficiaries of the project, many of them were women farmers. She found that, while most male farmers’ are mainly interested in growing rice, all the women farmers showed great interest in the rice–fish system for nutritional value of the fish as dietary component, as well as the extra income from selling their fish harvest.

“I hope that the fish harvest from the project could help the nutrition requirement of the family,” H.E. Fierravanti-Wells said. She is also looking forward to outcomes from a larger rice-fish study funded by ACIAR that planned to begin in July.

U Aung Kyaw, a participating farmer in the rice-fish project, informed the Minister that he will invite other farmers to visit his farm before and during harvest and explain the benefits of the rice-fish systems. He plans to expand the system in his 6-hectare farm next season.

“The DoF also plans to apply the new techniques of rice-fish systems on a larger scale in areas where it is applicable,” said U Tin Mg Oo, DoF Maubin District Manager.

In addition to the rice-fish production, the Australian officials were also briefed about the Solar Tunnel Dryer for fish and the Solar Bubble Dryer for rice, two postharvest technologies developed by IRRI and the University of Hohenheim in Germany that prevent smallholder farmers from losing large portions of their  harvests.

Ms. Su Su San explaind the advantages of drying the harvested fish 
using the Solar Tunnel Dryer. (Photo by Hnin Thiri Naing)

Unlike traditional sun-drying, the Solar Tunnel Dryer protects the fish from dust, flies and insects,” said Ms. Su Su San, an IRRI assistant scientist in Myanmar. “Farmers do not need pesticides to control insects. It can use battery and solar panel as power source and can be used to dry other product like chili and fruits.”

Mr. Yan Linn Aung, a postharvest development specialist, explained the benefits and advantages of Solar Bubble Dryer for rice.  The dryer minimizes the effects of unpredictable weather during the drying of the grains.  It also traps solar radiation to heat the paddy while ventilators push the moisture out.

“This field visit provided me additional knowledge on the technologies IRRI and World Fish have developed on-farm,” said Ambassador Coppel.

The IRRI Team is led by Dr. Labios with Dr. Jongsoo Shin, Mr. Aung Myo Thant, Mr. Aung, Ms. San, and Ms.Tin Tin Myint. The WorldFish team is led by Dr. Karim with Dr. Nilar Shein.

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International food and agri conference focuses on innovative ways to ensure enough and safe food for all


Dr. Bruce Tolentino talks about IRRI's work and challenges faced in rice science at one of the plenary sessions of the International Conference on Food and Agriculture.

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—“We have reached the physical frontier for food production, so we must now stretch our imagination and use our knowledge in search of new frontiers that would help us find better, innovative ways to ensure that there is enough and safe food for all,” said Dr. Fortunato Dela Peña, secretary of the Philippine Department of Science and Technology, during the first International Conference on Food and Agriculture (ICFA).

ICFA, held at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture on 2-3 March, was convened to provide a platform for dialogue on issues, exploring options, and nurturing partnerships, especially on research collaboration. The conference was divided into these sub-themes: food security, poverty and development, climate change consequences on agricultural and food production systems, globalization and regional integration, human capital development, and innovation and technology. About 140 participants from different countries attended the conference, which centered on the theme Sharing Knowledge, Creating Solutions: Capacitating Stakeholders of Agriculture for Future Earth.

Dela Peña stressed the importance of research results being used to improve conditions for food and agriculture in developing countries with increasing population and the declining capacity of natural resources to sustain our basic industries.

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), explained the importance of research in making rice production sufficient, especially for the marginalized people. Tolentino cited IRRI’s research on improved rice varieties that can withstand drought, submergence, and salinity, among others.

“The poorest of the poor are benefiting the most from the newer discoveries,” he said. “Rice is the oldest food crop, which is eaten by 70% of the world’s poor. If you improve the crop, both in yield as well as in health, you’re helping a lot of poor people. If you look at the histories of countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, and China, you’ll see that as the rice sectors bloomed, so did their economies.”

In addition to food security, Dr. Howarth Bouis, founding director of HarvestPlus and visiting fellow at IRRI, advocated reducing mineral and vitamin deficiencies through biofortification research and dissemination. Presently, more than 100 varieties of eight biofortified crops have passed agronomic tests of varietal release committees in 30 developing countries.

 “We have proven that biofortification works,” Bouis said. “Now the big job is dissemination and mainstreaming.”

Dr. Mohd Nordin Bin Hasan, professor emeritus of the Institute for Environment and Development at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and chair of the Regional Advisory Committee for Future Earth Asia, was the other keynote speaker at ICFA. Bin Hasan described Future Earth as the new international platform for research on global sustainability. It aims to promote and enhance the conduct of integrated research on challenges in global change and transformations to sustainability.

Future Earth was designed to respond to the need for a more nimble innovation system for global sustainability in the face of increasing rates of change and depletion of global resources, according to Dr. Bin Hasan.

More than 80 research results were presented during the 2-day conference. Among them was that of IRRI senior scientists David Johnson and Reiner Wassmann who discussed raising productivity and reducing risks in fragile rice environments in the face of climate change. They presented the concept of climate-smart agriculture that merges adaptation and mitigation into a comprehensive approach to help rice farmers cope with the changing climate. This includes adopting more resilient rice varieties and using alternate wetting and drying technology, a simple but effective means for conserving water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30-70%.

ICFA was organized by the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics of the College of Economics and Management, University of the Philippines Los Baños.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Farmer welfare and consumer health are keys to rice sector development in the Asia-Pacific Region

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general on communication and partnerships, 
leads the discussion during the rice working group panel of the 2017 Responsible Business Forum.

JAKARTA, Indonesia—More than 600 decision makers from public, private, and developmental sectors participated in the 4th Responsible Business Forum (RBF) on Food and Agriculture to establish innovative and collaborative approaches to food and nutrition security in the Asia-Pacific Region. Held on 13-15 March, this year’s theme is Securing Asia’s Food and Nutrition Future: Enhancing Access to Finance, Technology, Knowledge, and Markets.

“These twin objectives need to be met simultaneously in order to help both farmers as well as consumers,” said Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and chair of the panel on rice at the RBF. “For its part, IRRI is working on the science solutions to not only tackle improved rice yields but to also enhance rice nutrition and quality.”

Representatives of business, governments, international developmental agencies, and farmers attended the event and will produce actionable recommendations for increasing productivity through agricultural sustainability, product innovation for food safety and nutrition, and collaboration along the entire food chain.

The guests of honor and speakers at the 4th RBF included Indonesian Minister for National Development and Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro, Indonesian Land and Spatial Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil, Permanent Secretary of Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Tin Htut, and Philippine Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Research institutions trained to bring web-based rice productivity app to Indonesian farmers


LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—A capacity-building program was held to help Indonesian research institutions disseminate the Weather-Rice-Nutrient Integrated Decision Support System (WeRise) to farmers faster and more effectively. WeRise is a web-based app developed to help farmers plan their cropping season by providing advisories on the best time to plant, suitable varieties to use, and timing of fertilizer application based on rainfall distribution and other weather factors.

The program was conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)-Japan Collaborative Research Project on Climate Change Adaptation through Development of a Decision-Support tool to guide Rainfed Rice production (CCADS-RR) for its research partners. The training focused on helping the participants learn the logical components of WeRise to enable them to disseminate the technology more effectively and improve farmer’s welfare and contribute to the rice self-sufficiency program of the Indonesian government.

An important output of the activity was an action plan drafted by the participants to disseminate WeRise. In the process, risk analysis and identification of contingency plans were also undertaken. On-site and on-farm experiments are being conducted in West Nusa Tenggara, West Java and South Sulawesi to validate WeRise in the context of Indonesia’s rainfed rice areas.

“I hope that the training not only built your capacity but also fostered a greater sense of ownership for WeRise,” said Dr. Keiichi Hayashi, CCADS-RR coordinator and IRRI soil scientist. He also encouraged the participants to focus on getting success stories as they implement the action plan as part of their institutional mandates.

 “Finding extensionists and farmer leaders who will be willing to participate in the dissemination activities for WeRise could be a challenge,” said  Lia Hadiawati, a participant from the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology—West Nusa Tenggara. “But a lot of things could be learned along the way.”

The training was held at the IRRI headquarters on 23 January to 24 February with funding support from the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries of Japan through the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace under the On-the-Job Research Capacity Building for Sustainable Agriculture in Developing Countries program.

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