Friday, February 17, 2017

Climate-smart rice key to farmer resilience, says IRRI head

Former World Food Prize awardee M.S. Swaminathan (left) founded the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation,
the Millenium Lecture for which was delivered by IRRI Director General Matthew Morell (right) this month.
They are joined by Uma Shankar Singh (center), regional coordinator of the STRASA project.

CHENNAI, India – Stress-tolerant rice varieties can help make farmers more resilient against the increasingly destructive effects of climate change, said Matthew Morell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Delivering the Millenium Lecture at the M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai on 10 February,  Morell described rice as “the engine of food security,” citing that more than half of the world’s population—or nearly four billion people—eat rice as their daily staple.

IRRI’s research activities, conducted in collaboration with national governments, have resulted in high-yielding improved varieties that saved Asia from famines in the 1960s and 70s.

More recently, with the onslaught of climate change, IRRI and its partners have developed high-yielding rice varieties tolerant of environmental stresses such as flooding, drought, and soil salinity. Morell called the "climate change-ready rice varieties," which have been deployed in stress-prone areas of India, as an important part of helping farmers become more resilient.

The MSSRF is a nonprofit trust founded by M.S. Swaminathan, World Food Prize awardee in 1987 and former IRRI director general. It serves as a research center on sustainable agriculture and rural development.


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Satellite-based monitoring system to assess impact of natural disasters on rice production in Andhra Pradesh



AMARAVATHI, India - A satellite-based rice monitoring system, capable of collecting detailed and accurate data on rice production, will soon be operational in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

The State Government on 9 February 2017 entered into an agreement for this purpose with the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which its Director General Matthew Morell said will provide technical support for the technology that drives the system (photo above).

The rice monitoring system was pioneered by IRRI and the Philippine Department of Agriculture for the collection of accurate and up-to-date information on the country’s rice production. It has made information on Philippine rice production readily accessible to decision makers and has helped government agencies respond better during and after natural disasters.

Andhra Pradesh officials want to achieve the same in the State, almost half of which are areas vulnerable to cyclones, storm surges, flooding, and drought.

“Use of this IRRI technology will ensure better results in estimating crop losses in case of natural calamities,” said Prathipati Pulla Rao, minister for Agriculture, Agri-Processing, Marketing, and Warehousing, Animal Husbandry, Dairy Development, and Fisheries.

Budithi Rajesekhar, secretary to the Government for the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, believes the system will be crucial for rolling out crop insurance products to rice farmers in Andhra Pradesh. “The farmers will benefit from timely insurance payouts in instances of crop loss,” he said.

The system will be institutionalized within the State Department of Agriculture (DA) and Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), the State’s agriculture university. A sustainability plan will be developed for the handover to DA and ANGRAU of the operation and maintenance of the system by end of 2019. IRRI will continue to provide support post-project operationalization.

(Contributed by IRRI India/Nafees Meah and Vijaya Kumar Marthi)

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New 6-year ICAR-IRRI work plan promotes “exciting and forward-looking” collaborative research between IRRI and India


(L-R) C. Roul, ICAR secretary and DARE additional secretary; T. Mohapatra, ICAR director general and DARE secretary; Matthew Morell, IRRI director general; and J.S. Sandhu, ICAR deputy director general for crop science.

NEW DELHI, India – A new work plan was signed this month between the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), outlining an “exciting and forward-looking” research and development partnership that will enhance India’s rice sector.

India remains a top producer and consumer of rice globally, and is now among the world’s top rice exporters. Its harvesting area is the largest in the world, but large swathes of it are increasingly affected by climate change.

The collaborative work plan for 2017-2022 includes new projects that seek solutions for better managing environmental resources, climate change, and sustainability of rice production to meet future demand. These will involve upstream research on crop genetic improvement and intensive rice-based systems.

There is also a new focus on nutrition, gender equality, and creating attractive opportunities in the rice sector for the youth.

The work plan includes four ongoing projects on sustainable farming, improving extension systems, mechanization, and the development of a future rice strategy for India.

ICAR and IRRI have been working together since 1967—a partnership that has seen numerous improved rice varieties for India and made a huge contribution to capacity building.  About 1,600 Indian nationals have done research and undergone training at IRRI. (Learn more about the India-IRRI partnership.)

The ICAR-IRRI collaborative work plan for 2017-2022 was signed by T. Mohapatra, director general of ICAR and secretary of India’s Department of Agricultural Research and Education; and IRRI Director General Matthew Morell.

(Contributed by IRRI India/Nafees Meah and Vijaya Kumar Marthi)

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nepal project explores technologies and training opportunities for highland rice farmers

(Representative photo. Photo: IRRI)

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Twenty-five senior agriculture officials and specialists from Nepal visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to learn about its impact-driven work and training opportunities. The delegation included members of the High Mountain Agribusiness and Livelihood Improvement (HIMALI), a project that aims to promote agribusiness development in the country’s high mountain districts.

Mr. Ram Mani Paudyal, a project team leader at HIMALI, is trying to help make farmers in the highlands become more entrepreneurial by providing agribusiness grant opportunities,  empower farmers to add value to their products, and strengthen market linkages.

 "We want them to sell some of their products in the market because they have been producing rice and other food crops in the mountains," Paudyal explained. "In the highlands, we have some rice varieties and these are good.”

But an erratic monsoon pattern due to climate change is affecting the country’s farmers. In particular, water for crop irrigation is becoming a major problem.

“Sometimes we have plenty of rainfall, other times we have little rainfall,” said Mr. Dala Ram Pradham, another HIMALI project team leader.  “Then there are times when we have no rainfall at all."

 “There are abundant rainfed lands below the highlands but these have no regular sources of water,” said Paudyal. “”Drought-proof rice varieties would be useful.”

Dr. Peter Brothers, head of IRRI Education, explained how IRRI is developing different kinds of rice varieties to help countries like Nepal adapt to the complexities of climate change.

"What you have cited is very common," he said. "There are several areas of work that IRRI is pursuing. One is developing varieties that are drought-tolerant, flood-tolerant, saline-tolerant, heat-tolerant, and even cold-tolerant.

"The other is water management,” Brothers explained. “We have scientists working on alternate wetting and drying system to help farmers cut water use without reducing yields,"

He also shared how he recently received a request from a seed grower's group in Nepal to design a course on quality seed production.

"We are negotiating with them to see if we can design a course that meets their needs," said Brothers. “In addition to technical courses on different aspects of rice production, IRRI Education also offers science and leadership courses for a wide range of partners.”

The visit by the Nepal delegation to IRRI on 7 February was organized by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Department of Agriculture launches first Philippine traditional rice seed catalog



MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), launched Philippine Traditional Rice Varieties, the country’s first seed catalog of indigenous rice varieties.

This catalog is the first publication of the Bureau for traditional rice varieties, according to Dr. Vivencio Mamaril, officer-in-charge of BPI and a project leader at the National Seed Council. Traditional farmers continue to grow these indigenous rice varieties because of their resistance to pests and diseases, low fertilizer requirements, and good eating quality said Mamaril. He added that plant breeders also use traditional rice varieties as sources of germplasms for developing new varieties because of their exceptional ability to withstand environmental and biological stresses as well as their excellent aroma and grains.    

Philippine Traditional Rice Varieties is a collaborative effort of BPI, which implements the DA’s programs on the plant industry sector, Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Agri-Pinoy Rice Programs, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).  It contains photos, physical descriptions of each variety at various growth stages, quantitative traits of its grains, place of origin, and other information collected by the participating research institutes. The catalog was launched during the 87th-anniversary celebration of BPI on 18-19 January.

During the event, the DA presented an award to the various projects that contributed to the seed catalog: DA-PhilRice project on Profiling Traditional Varieties, BPI-IRRI project on Characterization of Philippine Traditional Varieties, DA-IRRI Heirloom Rice Project, and the National Seed Council.

The award was given to Renato Reaño, the lead of the Characterization of Philippine Traditional Varieties project, and Dr. Casiana Vera Cruz, head of the Heirloom Rice Project, for their “significant contributions through their technical expertise in varietal characterization of Philippine traditional rice varieties.”  They shared the honor with Loida Perez of PhilRice and Mamaril.

The Philippine Traditional Rice Varieties Seed Catalog is a manifesto to the Philippines as a country blessed with the bounties of nature, according to the DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. He also described the catalog as an important part of the country’s effort to modernize the rice sector for the Filipino people.

Some members of the projects that contributed to the country's first seed catalog of indigenous Philippine rice varieties (from left to right): Ana Cope (IRRI), Renato Reaño (IRRI), Vivencio Mamaril (DA-BPI), Pauline Capistrano (IRRI), Joseph Sandro (IRRI), Marissa Romero (PhilRice), Magdalena Wanawan (DA-RFO CAR), and Virginia Tapat (DA-RFO CAR). 


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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thailand explores deeper collaboration with IRRI for stronger regional food security

H.E. Thanatip (left) gets an update on current rice research collaborative activities from 
IRRI communication and partnerships chief Bruce Tolentino (right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Thailand continues to explore ways of deepening its ongoing collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) through H.E. Mr. Thanatip Upatising, the Ambassador of Thailand to the Philippines.

The Thai ambassador visited IRRI on 17 January to know more about its current partnership with Thailand and explore areas of further cooperation to strengthen regional food security.

"Thank you so much for the kindness and hospitality you extended to me,” said H.E. Thanatip. “This is my first time to visit IRRI. In fact, IRRI is a renowned institute since I was young. I came here to exchange information and see what can be done for the benefit of IRRI and member countries."

IRRI Director General Matthew Morell emphasized the importance of Thai-IRRI collaboration in rice research.  He underlined the benefits that flow from rice research into the rest of the Thai economy, as well as the economies of several other Asian nations.  Morell also requested the Ambassador’s assistance in facilitating the Host Country Agreement between Thailand and IRRI, which will set the framework for IRRI’s research in Thailand.

The Ambassador was briefed by Bruce Tolentino, IRRI’s deputy director general for Communication and Partnerships, and several scientists and rice experts at the institute on past as well as current IRRI-Thailand cooperation in rice research. IRRI has at least 10 ongoing projects with partners in Thailand. The projects cover the whole rice value chain, from breeding to postharvest.  Training and capacity building are also part of the collaborative activities between IRRI and Thailand.

Although Thailand is the leading exporter of indica rice in the world today, the Thai ambassador related how many Thai farmers experienced problems and confusion when exporting rice in the 1960s because of import requirements.

"If the grain is 70% intact, we still classify it as ‘whole grain’ in Thailand,” he said. “But in Canada and Europe, they classify whole grain rice as at least 90% intact. So most of the shipment were rejected by the importer [as broken rice]. That created a lot of problems and confusion."

In response, IRRI scientist Sarah Beebout explained that the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) this addressing the issue. SRP is a multi-stakeholder platform that aims to harmonize the different quality standards and create tools for rice growers to use in order to meet the standards.

"Different countries are always going to have somewhat different import requirement,” Beebout said. “One of the parts of SRP is training people how to grow rice through the standard, which is also connected with their target market and specifically understanding the demand. If you know exactly what you're getting into then it's possible to package your product so that it does meet import standards.”

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Los Baños municipal government receives two vehicles from IRRI

Perez (left) receives the deed of donation and the keys to the two vehicles from IRRI communication and partnerships chief Bruce Tolentino (right) as Vice Mayor Copie Alipon (center) looks on.

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Los Baños, the host community of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), received two vehicles donated by the institute.

“One of the vehicles will be used by the local police force,” said Los Baños Municipal Mayor Caesar Perez, who accepted the units on 17 January. “Currently, our police officers use only four vehicles. This can help with their daily operations.”  The other unit will replace the official service vehicle of the Mayor's office.

Since 2002, IRRI has donated about 20 vehicles to the Los Baños municipal government as a way of giving back to its host community, according to Lito Platon of the IRRI Partnerships Office.

In addition to the vehicle donations, IRRI conducts several community projects in Los Baños and Bay that have benefited scores of poor families and dependents. These include  computer donations to public schools, training on emergency response to natural disasters, information seminars and awareness campaigns to improve the quality of life of community residents, and various livelihood projects.

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