LOS BAÑOS, Philippines - Enabling current and future rice systems to produce rice needed to feed the world by 2035 fuels the breeding agenda of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Innovations toward this overarching goal were discussed during the IRRI-Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Science Week held at IRRI on 26-30 January 2015.
To enable rice systems to produce more yield, IRRI and its global research partners under GRiSP set themselves up in an approach that not only makes for efficient development of rice varieties but also for an informed breeding agenda, by which breeders know what the farmers and the market need.
A key product to help increase rice yields is hybrid rice, research for which is done within the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium.
Research is also ongoing to improve what are considered 'mega-varieties,' or rice varieties that have been grown on at least 2 million hectares. Examples of these mega-varieties are Swarna, Samba Mahsuri, Ciherang, and IR64.
An important pipeline in the development of new rice varieties is trait development. Trait development research involves looking for genes that provide rice, e.g., resistance to pests and disease or tolerance for environmental stresses such as flooding, deep water, drought, salinity, high temperature, and low phosphorus intake.
Trait development is one of the major strengths of IRRI’s breeding program. IRRI's breeding programs itself have been steadily incorporating new genes, technologies and has been moving forward from conventional breeding to more accurate and predictive breeding.
IRRI has also started decentralizing its breeding operations by establishing two breeding hubs that represent the regional context of the areas in which they are located. These are breeding hubs located in Bujumpura, Burundi, and Hyderabad, India. Another one is being set-up in Myanmar. Myanmar is located at the junction of South Asia and Southeast Asia.
The hub approach is seen as an effective way to advise targeted breeding for a specific market segment. They also help in better execution of ecosystem based breeding with main variables being environmental features, which are variable from country to another.
In 2014, IRRI’s breeding division overhauled its operations to set up an improved mechanism to help increase the rate of genetic gain in rice yield. Experts say that this is an important premise to meeting the projected demand in 2035 of an additional 180 million metric tons over current global production.
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