Thursday, October 19, 2017

IRRI, GrainPro introduce advanced hermetic rice storage tech in Vietnam

In Vietnam, it is crucial that rice producers and traders learn more about effective rice storage techniques to preserve rice quality and increase its market value. One significant challenge among Vietnam farmers is proper rice storage and management to maintain its prime condition. Mismanagement of storage can lead to rice loss due to birds, rodents, and other animals, as well as grain quality deterioration. On the other hand, storing rice properly helps preserve its high quality while reducing its negative effects in the environment. It also enables farmers to gain a bigger profit margin.

To build awareness on effective and sustainable rice storage techniques, GrainPro and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) introduced the Ultra Hermetic Storage technology in Vietnam through a workshop titled "The Ultra Hermetic Storage: A seminar-workshop for ensuring Vietnam's rice quality". It was attended by government agencies, NGOs, and private sector representatives from big rice producers in the country.

Hermetic storage is an IRRI-developed postharvest technology that is being used in many countries for the past 20 years. Because of the air-tight enclosure, it can reduce loss and preserve grain quality. It can also be operated without power, and does not require pesticides for fumigation.

“This workshop helped us understand best practices in storage management and gives us more options for our rice processing and business”, said Gentraco Corporation representative, Ho Chi Cong. Du Ngoc Bao Anh from the Loc Van Company added, “this new technology should be introduced to start-up business models supported by Vietnamese Government”.

Promoting this postharvest technology among Vietnam's rice farmers can allow them to store rice that are of export quality. But to make this possible, the Ultra Hermetic Storage technology must be disseminated broadly. To this end, the workshop provided an opportunity to identify potential collaborations for wide-scale distribution, as it gathered private companies and government staff in Vietnam.

The workshop was co-organized by Martin Gummert and Nguyen Van Hung of IRRI, Tom de Bruin of GrainPro, and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Nghi of Nong Lam University. It was held last 28 September at Nong Lam University, Ho Chi Minh.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Myanmar signs Seed Sharing Protocol Agreement

Myanmar has become the latest country to sign the Seed Sharing Protocol Agreement. The nation joined Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in this initiative that allows signatories to rapidly distribute modern rice varieties across their borders. This will enable new, climate-resilient seed varieties to reach the fields of the farmers in a shorter amount of time, which in turn will secure their food supply and increase their income.

Signed on 10 October during a meeting of IRRI’s Board of Trustees in Myanmar, the agreement will establish common parameters for varietal release. Modern, climate-resilient rice varieties that withstand drought or salinity help vulnerable farmers establish a secure food supply for their families as well as added income that they can invest in their own future.

Standard regulatory systems for new rice varieties require multi-season testing to ensure performance, pest and disease resistance and consumption quality. While these processes are important for quality assurance, it is typically conducted independently by each country. As such, a variety released in one country is still required to go through a similar vetting process in a neighboring country, increasing the time to market these new rice varieties.

The expansion of the regional seed-sharing agreement to include Myanmar builds on the success of the existing South Asia Regional Seed Policy Agreement, which was signed in 2014 by the governments of Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. In its first 3 years, this agreement has enabled eight rice varieties to be released and shared across three countries.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Myanmar Department of Agriculture Research hosts IRRI Board meetings

On 10 October, Dr. Aung Thu, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation in Myanmar, joined the Board of Trustees of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and senior leaders alongside members of the donor community to witness Myanmar becoming a signatory to the Seed Sharing Protocol Agreement.

The signing took place as part of a day-long set of activities co-hosted by the Myanmar Department of Agriculture Research (DAR) and IRRI in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

The Seed Sharing Protocol was first signed in Siem Reap in June, 2017 by the agriculture ministries of Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The protocol enables signatories to drastically speed up the distribution of modern rice varieties across their borders allowing new and better seeds to reach the hands and fields of farmers more rapidly. In just 3 years, eight rice varieties have already been released and shared across the three original member country signatories - Bangladesh, Nepal, and India.

The protocol signing ceremony was followed by a Donor Roundtable discussion. Attended by U Naing Kyi Win, Director General of Department of Agricultural Research as well as representatives from USAID, the Asian Development Bank, ACIAR, the Chinese Embassy, JICA and the World Bank, the session featured a series of presentations on donor strategies for agriculture in Myanmar.

U Kyaw Swe Linn, Deputy Director General of the Department of Agricultural Planning opened the session with a presentation on the goals and objectives for the agriculture sector of the Myanmar government.

“One of the key thrusts of the new IRRI Strategic Plan is a commitment to greater regionalization and actually embedding global expertise, locally so that researchers are able to work more closely with national partners and respond to local challenges,”  said Jim Godfrey, Chair of the IRRI Board of Trustees. He went on to say, “This session was very enlightening because it helped us to better understand the challenges and the opportunities that exist to support the Myanmar government closely as it strives to double its rice exports by 2020 and return to its preeminent position in the world’s rice trade.”

Earlier in the day, IRRI Trustees and senior leadership spent the morning at the Department of Agriculture Research where they were treated to a variety of traditional Myanmar rice-based delicacies. Information booths and a small demonstration of the sandalwood Thanaka were also available for those who wished to take advantage of the natural Myanmar sunscreen. The group then proceeded to view the DAR experimental rice fields where they were able to see several varieties selected and released by DAR including high zinc lines, IRRI variety trials, and the excellent farm management and support of IRRI’s field work.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IRRI Molecular biology staff receives award at 2017 functional genomics symposium

Mr. Dhananjay Gotarkar in front of the winning poster for
upstream category
Suwon, Korea -- During the International Symposium of Rice Functional Genomics, held last 25-28 September, staff members from the Plant Molecular Biology Laboratory of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), headed by Dr. Ajay Kohli, received an award for a poster presented in the upstream category.

Entitled “The Rice guanine deaminase negatively regulates a positive trait: evolutionary selection for root architecture,” the poster was presented by IRRI PhD scholar Dhananjay Gotarkar. He co-authored it with Dr. Kholi and their teammates Toshisangba Logkumer, Dhananjay Gotarkar, Kenneth Olsen, and Amrit Nanda.

The paper, from which the poster is based, covered the characterization of an amidohydrolase. It is a target gene of the NAM transcription factor, which is part of regulon-like QTL, DTY12.1-, which is a QTL for grain yield under drought. The amidohydrolase was found to be a guanine deaminase (GDA). This gene has not been characterized in plants until now and this discovery makes it the first reported Guanine deaminase in plants.

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IRRI presents climate-smart solutions for rice growers at Philippine-France Forum

Manila -- Climate change poses a risk to the agricultural sector, threatening food security and farmers well-being. Against this backdrop, the Philippine-France Forum on Agriculture on 26 September provided a venue for sharing of scientific and environmentally efficient strategies to address the effects of climate change.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) presented its projects that benefit rice farmers and consumers.  Matty Demont (photo), IRRI senior scientist and leader of the market research team, shared research being done on upgrading the rice value chain in the Philippines.

“Rice breeders need to tailor rice varieties to both market trends and the climate change. We also need to help rice farmers become more climate-resilient and competitive,” Demont said.

IRRI has developed and released climate-smart rice varieties that are drought-, flood-, and salt-tolerant to help farmers and communities cope with the adverse effects of climate change. Relevant and timely information on rice production is also important to boost productivity. IRRI works on widening farmers’ access to useful data through the Philippine Rice Information System (PRISM) project.

PRISM uses remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), crop modeling, smart phone-based surveys, and cloud computing to generate information on where, when, and how much rice is grown in the country and assess crop health and damages caused by flood and drought. IRRI’s scientist Alice Laborte and the project leader noted that involving the right partners is very crucial to this initiative’s success.

The Forum on Agriculture, held at the New World Manila Bay Hotel, was part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of France and Philippines diplomatic relations. IRRI’s used the occasion as part of its commitment to share expertise to achieve food and nutrition security, improve the quality of life in rice-related communities, and protect the rice-growing environment for future generations.

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Rice industry stakeholders in Thailand learn about better postharvest management

On September 26-29, IRRI postharvest experts held training sessions in Chainat and Uttaradit provinces in Thailand. This training sought to improve rice quality through better postharvest technologies and practices. Participants were contract growers, rice mill owners, and machine operators.

Engineers Caling Balingbing and Joseph Sandro, IRRI mechanization and postharvest experts, conducted a 4-day training course for key stakeholders of the Kellogg’s-funded postharvest loss reduction project. This initiative aims to ensure high-quality rice for use in the company’s products. Techniques in rice harvesting systems were relayed through lectures and hands-on exercises, including basic operation and setting up the combine harvester to get an efficient output. Factors that affect the drying process were also discussed.

Engr. Balingbing showed the participants how to operate combine harvesters and explained the importance of correct machine settings in achieving the desired output. He also taught them how to measure losses from combine harvesting by using grain loss collection pads in the field.

“We hope that this training will equip the participants with the necessary skills and knowledge about the important principles of postharvest management of rice, particularly on combine harvesting and dryer operation," he noted. "This knowledge will help avoid huge losses of rice along the value chain. It will also help maintain the quality of milled rice products that reach the market, especially Kellogg’s customers.

Engr. Sandro discussed drying principles and talked about technical and environmental factors that affect drying. He also conducted a simple experiment that illustrated how different drying conditions affect rice quality.

Noppadol Saenpo, managing director of Asia Seed and Grain Production Co. Ltd., expressed his appreciation for the knowledge they gained and emphasized its role in enabling his staff to apply techniques in harvesting rice and minimizing losses in the field. “This training complements what the Thai Rice Department conducts whenever we have new staff ," he said.

The owner of Korat Yongsanguan Rice Mill remarked, “I am very much delighted upon knowing the process and conditions as to temperature and humidity to dry paddy with mechanical dryer to attain best quality of paddy for milling and storage.” He added that the knowledge he gained will be cascaded to his staff that are involved in rice mill operations.

In November and December, IRRI’s Mechanization and Postharvest Team will conduct two more training courses on storage and milling.

For more information about this initiative, contact the Mechanization and Postharvest Team at

Authors: Reianne Quilloy and Caling Balingbing

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Odisha rice farmers begin seed production training

One of IRRI’s most significant initiatives is to develop and distribute high-quality, high-yield seeds that can thrive in vulnerable environmental conditions. Working toward this mission, IRRI launched a project called “Increasing Production of Rice Based Cropping Systems and Farmer’s Income" in Odisha, India. This project aims to make high-quality seeds accessible in the region in order to raise rice productivity and farmers' income.

As part of the project, a training program on quality rice seed production and storage was held last 6 September in Puri, Odisha, in collaboration with local NGO Lutheran World Relief Services.

The training program will test and demonstrate the training modules for seed production and proper storage practices. Test results will be used to revise the existing modules on seed production, which farmers and other stakeholders can then use as a guide. The updated module will be distributed across Odisha, with IRRI aiming to reach 2,700 farmers in all 30 districts of the state.

Thirty-five delegates attended the training. Among the topics discussed by Dr. Survesh Shukla, Training and Communication Specialist, and his team were:
  • seed/grain quality,
  • seed cleaning and treatment
  • nursery preparation,
  • rouging at different crop stages, and
  • observations and actions needed at different production stages (i.e., harvesting, threshing, drying, postharvest, and storage).
Recommended seed cleaning and storage practices were also demonstrated to the participants. In addition, training materials, such as flipbooks and manuals, were distributed among the farmers. The flipbook is specifically designed for women, as the program also aims to enhance women's capacity and increase their involvement in the seed sector. Participants also engaged in an open forum wherein they shared their experiences, asked questions, and voiced their insights.

Other stakeholders such as Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), seed certification units, seed producers, and agriculture officials are expected to join the next round of trainings.

Authors: Manzoor H. Dar and Deepti Saksena 

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Former IRRI Board chair passes away

Dr. Angeline Kamba, 81, IRRI Board of Trustees Member from 1998 to 2003, died on September 12, 2017. A family representative stated that she “has passed peacefully at home after being unwell for over a month”. She is survived by two children and two grandchildren.

Dr. Kamba served as chair of the IRRI Board from 2002 to 2003, the first woman and African to serve in the position. Prior to this, she was Zimbabwe’s representative to UNESCO Commission on Culture and Development, and held other positions in different local and international agencies such as Zimbabwe’s National Archives and CAB International.

She is a terrible loss to the development industry, and we express our deepest condolences to her family.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

IRRI solidifies partnership with PhilRice at the 30th National Rice R&D Conference

IRRI joined the 30th National Rice R&D Conference held at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) Central Experiment Station in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija on 5-6 September. Deputy Director for Communication and Partnerships Bruce Tolentino headed the IRRI delegation and presented the institute’s 2017-2025 strategic plan.

Monday, September 4, 2017

IRRI, ADB, stakeholders discuss climate-resilient agricultural practices in Bangladesh

There is a great need to quickly disseminate water-saving technologies to the farmers of Bangladesh, according to Md. Toufiqul Alam, additional secretary of the country's Ministry of Agriculture. 

With that goal, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) organized an inception meeting for the project, “Piloting of Climate-Resilient Agricultural Practices in Bangladesh” at Feni, 21-22 August. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss new knowledge from the launch of climate-resilient water-saving alternate wetting and drying agricultural practices. 

A work plan to solicit feedback from policymakers, experts, farmers, and other stakeholders associated with the implementation of the Muhuri Irrigation Project was recommended. Participants (photo) included the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), the Department of Agriculture and Extension (DAE), irrigation operators, and farmers. This project is part of ADB’s program on “Investment Assessment and Application of High-Level Technology for Food Security in Asia and the Pacific.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Putting rice straw waste to good use

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines―A two-day workshop focusing on research-based, sustainable rice straw management initiatives and viable market prospects for rice straw was held at the IRRI Headquarters, 8-9 August. The event, titled "Putting Waste to Good Use: Sustainable Rice Straw Management in the Philippines," brought together researchers from Philippine government agencies and state universities and private sector entrepreneurs.  

A rice byproduct, rice straw can potentially be useful in several ways. However, in the Philippines, it is deemed to have little to no commercial value. Thus, it is usually burned or incorporated into the soil. Finding optimal uses for rice straw and determining how to manage it in an environmentally friendly way can increase farmers' income.

Friday, August 11, 2017

India: Season-long training on rice cultivation under way in Odisha

To further disseminate information and technologies on rice production across Odisha, India, season-long training sessions on using a mat-type nursery and mechanical transplanting and other aspects of cultivation have been under way since 14 July. The first session focused on raising healthy rice seedlings and preparing a mat nursery. 

Organized by Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK)-Bhadrak of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology (Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India) in collaboration with Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia (CSISA), the program is composed of five training days for each session, which are covering each phase of rice cultivation. The other four sessions are tackling rice transplanting, weed management, pest and disease management, and harvesting.

Twenty village agricultural workers from the Department of Agriculture participated during the first training day. They were grouped into five, each of which was assigned a plot at the KVK experimental farm. This scenario allows them to conduct trials throughout the training period.

Dr. Aurovinda Das, senior scientist and program coordinator of KVK-Bhadrak, explained the objectives of the training program as well as its relevance in Bhadrak, Odisha. Scientists from CSISA and KVK discussed the technical aspects of the program and demonstrated the actual mat nursery preparation in the field.

Instructional leaflets containing guidelines on mat-type nursery management, manual transplanting, and best bet agronomy were distributed among trainees. All participants are expected to further train farmers, dealers, and members of NGOs in mat-type nursery management in Odisha, India. 

Establishing a modified mat nursery is the most popular training video that IRRI has ever produced with nearly 310,000 views.

Authors: Aurovinda Das, Debashis Nayak, Vivek Kumar, Panneerselvam Peramaiyan, and Ashok Kumar

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

IRRI bags Outstanding Research Award for biofortified indica rice study

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines ― IRRI's  Genetic Transformation Laboratory, headed by Dr. Inez Slamet-Loedin, was recognized at the Regional Science and Technology Week (RSTW) for its work on iron- and zinc-enriched indica rice. The study is regarded as a breakthrough in the battle against micronutrient deficiency.

IRRI's Genetic Transformation Laboratory Team receives an Outstanding Research Award from LBSCFI's PARRFI.

Titled "Biofortified Indica Rice Attains Iron and Zinc Nutrition Dietary Targets in the Field," the paper garnered the Outstanding Research and Development Award for the Research Category from the Los Baños Science Community Foundation, Inc.'s (LBSCFI) Philippine Agriculture and Resource Research Foundation, Inc. (PARRFI). LBSCFI's PARRFI grants this award to agricultural, forestry, and environmental projects that contribute to national development. The study was also recently published at Nature's Scientific Reports.

"The team is really excited to learn that we won the award. We feel honored that our continuous and persistent effort all these years was greatly appreciated. This recognition would certainly encourage the team to work with more spirit and more focus on developing healthier rice varieties for rice consumers," said Norman Oliva, one of the researchers.

The study successfully verified the proof of concept on attaining Fe/Zn nutritional targets under flooded field conditions. Genetically engineered rice has raised the levels of iron (up to 15 micrograms) and zinc (up to 45.7 micrograms). Generally, polished rice grains contain only around 2 micrograms of iron and 16 micrograms of zinc.

The RSTW, themed Science for the People: S&T in Harmony with Biodiversity, was organized by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Region IV and featured back-to-back activities with the LBSCFI.  Highlight of the celebration was the Syensaya's Wonderama, which showcased interactive urban-, marine-, agriculture-, and environment-related exhibits. Simultaneously, fora were also conducted, including the DOST CALABARZON Community Empowerment thru Science and Technology Forum and LBSCFI's Technology Forum on Water Security. The event was held on August 2-4.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Gelia T. Castillo (1928-2017): Helping science to serve a human purpose

                                                                                         Photos by Gene Hettel
By Gene Hettel

It is with deep sadness that the International Rice Research institute (IRRI) announces the passing of Dr. Gelia Tagumpay Castillo, 89, on Saturday, 5 August. Gelia, who was a Philippine National Scientist and long-time IRRI consultant, had been ill for some time.

Born on 3 March 1928 in Pagsanjan, Laguna, Philippines, she was an internationally respected rural sociologist. Her outstanding publications are major and definitive works on Philippine agricultural and rural development.

Her books include All in a Grain of Rice, known to be the first book written by a Filipino about the Filipino farmer's response to new technology, and Beyond Manila, cited as an in-depth and analytical study of the actual problems and needs of the rural areas in relation to countryside development. These works gave Filipinos insight on their own rural development efforts and their attempt to reach the farmer and the rural poor. Throughout her professional life, she was guided by the precept that “science must serve a human purpose.”

Gelia earned her AB (psychology), MS (rural sociology), and PhD (rural sociology) degrees, respectively, at the University of the Philippines (1948), Pennsylvania State University (1958), and Cornell University (1960).

She began her professional career as an instructor in psychology and sociology in the Department of Agricultural Education, College of Agriculture, University of the Philippines (UP, 1953-57). She went on to become an assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor of rural sociology at the UP College of Agriculture, respectively, 1960-66, 1966-72, and 1972-88). In 1988, she was appointed to the highest rank of university professor (one of the first six appointees to such a position at UP, which she held until her retirement in 1993). On 3 March 1993, she was appointed as professor emeritus.

In 1999, she was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist by the President of the Philippines. She also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the UP Alumni Association (1975), the Rizal Pro Patria Award (1976), and the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the UP College of Agriculture (1979).

Outside the Philippines, she was a teaching and research assistant and visiting professor in the Department of Rural Sociology, Cornell University, 1958-60 and 1966-67, respectively.

Gelia makes a point during IRRI's 2010 science review. 
At IRRI, she served as a visiting scientist in the Social Science Division during the mid-1980s and was a consultant to the Institute beginning in 1994 through to 2013. Recently made an IRRI scientist emeritus, she was truly the grande dame of the Institute community.

She was contributing her social science expertise to the early efforts of the Institute’s fledgling Agricultural Economics Department as far back as the 1960s. More than half a century later, she was still asking piercing questions at Thursday seminars and making pithy on-the-mark observations during IRRI’s annual scientific reviews, like this synopsis given at the conclusion of the 2010 review when she emphasized the importance of the Global Rice Science Partnership.

Her 2009 IRRI Pioneer Interview (depicted in the photo montage at the top) displayed her great enthusiasm, zest, and love for rice, rural sociology, and life itself.

IRRI Director General Matthew Morell noted: “Over recent years, Gelia continued to regularly attend events at IRRI and, despite her declining health, provided us with vibrant examples of intellectual vitality, lifelong curiosity, and passion for knowledge. She was a truly remarkable person.”

IRRI Director General Emeritus Robert Zeigler, who worked closely with Gelia during her final years at IRRI, recently stated, “She was a tireless champion for our relations with the national agricultural research systems. She always reminded me of how important training was and is for IRRI to remain relevant.”

Gelia is survived by three children, Evello (Bobby) Castillo, Gertrudes Castillo Holder, and Nina T. Castillo-Caradang; six grandchildren; and one great grandchild. She was preceded in death by her husband, Leopoldo S. Castillo, who was professor emeritus at the UP Institute of Animal Science.

In lieu of flowers, colleagues and friends may give a donation in honor of Gelia to the Philippine Sociological Society.

Listen to some of the speakers at a memorial service for Gelia attended by IRRI colleagues held on 9 August 2017 at the Resurrection Chapel of St. Therese on the UPLB campus in Los Baños, Laguna.

Other reports: GMA News | Philippine Sociological Society

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Enhancing nutrition through gastronomic research

New Delhi, INDIA—“To find effective interventions that can improve nutritional security for poor families in eastern India, researchers must first better understand what drives their food choices,” says Dr. Matty Demont, senior economist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and leader of the project, Drivers of Food Choice in eastern India (DFC).

Guidelines: Innovation Platforms in Ag Res for Dev

About this booklet

Innovation platforms (IPs) provide a space for farmers, agricultural service providers, researchers, the private sector, and other stakeholders to jointly identify, analyze, and overcome constraints to agricultural development. Recognizing the need to reflect critically on how IPs can meaningfully contribute to agricultural research for development, collaborators from a number of CGIAR centers and universities have published a booklet, Guidelines for Innovation Platforms in Agricultural Research for Development.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Cambodia: Increasing farmers’ income with rice straw

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Sustainable rice straw management practices in Cambodia can enhance using the byproduct to significantly increase farmers’ income. On 5-6 July, this was examined during a roundtable meeting and workshop on building potential business models for the rice straw supply chain in the country.

Asia & Africa: Improving skills on technology transfer systems

Participants during one of their field trips during the 2-week technology transfer workshop.

Jerome Cayton Barradas facilitates the discussion on the use of ICTs in communicating agricultural information.

It is important to develop the capacities of Asian and African countries for effective knowledge dissemination and technology transfer, according to Peter Brothers, head of IRRI Education. To help achieve this, IRRI Education, the Rural Development Administration (RDA) of the Republic of Korea, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) facilitated a training workshop on technology transfer systems in Asia, 26 June-7 July, at the International Technology Cooperation Center, RDA Headquarters, Jeonju, Republic of Korea.

Twenty-three participants from Cambodia, Côte D’Ivoire, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam joined the 2-week course, which focused on rice production technologies for breeding, pest management, post-production, and developing successful rice-extension linkages.

The workshop also involved developing an understanding of the skills needed by modern rural extension agents including an appreciation of the benefits of information and communication technologies. At the end of the workshop, the trainees created and  presented work plans that they intend to implement in their countries.
During the closing program, Chhourn Orn, a participant from Cambodia, thanked RDA and IRRI for organizing the workshop. “After being introduced to new technologies, we can now deal with problems and issues when we go back home”, he added. In addition, Ngozika Fanny Okorie, a trainee from Nigeria, said that the workshop has been very informative and helpful and that she looks forward to carrying and sharing these with others upon her return home.

“In 2017, the workshop accepted trainees from African countries for the first time as a means of expanding the program’s reach,” said Dr. Brothers. FAO supported the attendance of the participants from Africa. Since its initial offering in 2002, the training workshop has produced almost 300 graduates from 15 countries in Asia and now Africa as well.

This year’s workshop was designed and facilitated by Maria Socorro Arboleda (IRRI Education) with Dr. Brothers, Carlito Balingbing (Crop and Environmental Sciences Division), and Jerome Cayton Barradas (Integrative Impact Division).

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Odisha & IRRI review their collaborative research

BHUBANESWAR, Odisha - Seeds of climate-resilient rice varieties, cost-effective management technologies, and innovative extension approaches are among the advances that are making significant inroads to improve rice production in the Indian state of Odisha on the country’s eastern coast. This was revealed during the first annual review workshop of the collaborative program between Odisha and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), held 23 May.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

WateRice: New joint Philippine-IRRI water project kicks off

With the goal to achieve a rice-secure Philippines, the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) is working with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on various initiatives and interventions to improve the country’s rice productivity, the latest involving water use efficiency.

Experts chart future pathways for the rice straw market in Vietnam

Rice experts gathered to chart future pathways for the rice straw market. The IRRI -BMZ rice straw project is investigating
 ways to find new market outlets and developing value chains for rice straw.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Upgrading rice value chains to make them more sustainable involves identifying new markets for the byproducts that are generated along the way. Technological upgrading in rice farming, for example, can bring in new challenges. While mechanized rice harvesting eliminates the back-breaking work of traditional harvesting, accomplishing it in a shorter time leaves even more straw to dispose of. Instead of burning the straw, developing a value chain for the straw itself can be achieved by finding new market outlets for the byproduct.

Knowledge-sharing platform to be established in Bangladesh’s coastal zone

To improve the livelihoods of communities through improved food production systems in the Coastal Zone of Bangladesh, there is a need for establishing a knowledge-sharing platform (KSP). It would bring together the information coming out of various research-for-development (R4D) projects on agriculture, aquaculture, and water management.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bill Smith, former IRRI editor, passes away (updated 15 June 2017)

By Gene Hettel

William H. “Bill” Smith, 84, former science editor at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away on 4 June in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Bill attended Iowa State University on the GI Bill, and received a degree in Scientific Journalism.

The Oklahoma native began as an IRRI editor in the then Office of Information Services in 1979 (later to become Communication and Publications Services) and remained there until his retirement in 1991. He continued as a consultant for a brief time in 1992-93.

His 12-year tenure on the communication staff was during the heyday of scientific publishing at the Institute when there was production of numerous field guides for farmers and extensionists in local languages and cutting-edge scientific monographs. He was a member of the editorial team that produced Robert F. Chandler’s seminal work, An Adventure in Applied Science: A History of the International Rice Research Institute.

Bill has many good friends at IRRI who still remember him 28 years after his retirement. His compassion, council, wisdom, and humor are legendary. He affectionately earned the moniker “Coach” Smith for his intense and sometimes controversial coaching of IRRI’s international staff softball team during the 1980s.  

In his IRRI Pioneer Interview in June 2008, he pondered IRRI’s future challenges: “I think the biggest challenge is pretty much the lack of funding that all the institutes are feeling. Another thing that was true 12, 15, and 25 years ago is that population is still growing and, as it does, land comes out of production. Even though yields can go up to increase production, they don’t seem to be keeping up with population. Fertilizer and water, I think, are going to be the biggest challenges that IRRI, or for that matter any of the agricultural research institutes, will face and should be working on in the future.”

Also, during his interview, he stated, “I spent a year and a half working as a news reporter and photographer at a daily newspaper in northern Iowa [Fort Dodge Messenger]. Then, I spent 3 years working as an educational representative with a medical and biological publishing house [Saunders Publishing in St. Louis, Missouri]. Then, I worked as a physical science technical editor at the Ames Laboratory, affiliated with Iowa State University. However, working at IRRI was the best professional experience of my life. This weekend [8 June 2008], we are at Michigan State University attending, I think, the fourth reunion of former and present IRRI staff. I can’t think of any other institution that has its employees get together in a manner that generates such a feeling of camaraderie. So, IRRI does have to rank at the top.”

Bill was a long-time member of the Association for Communication Excellence (ACE). Upon his retirement, he was awarded life membership in the organization.

He liked a quote from Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, the ancient Roman rhetorician (c. 35-100 AD): “We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.”

Bill is survived by his wife of 62 years, Marlene, five children: Stephen of St. Ignatius, Montana; David and wife Shirley of Mingo, Iowa; Meric Shipman of Springfield, Illinois; Stacie and husband Gary of Des Moines, Iowa; and Lisa and husband Jeff Ruppel of Dubuque, Iowa. Other survivors include eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

On 13 June, a memorial mass was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine and Parish in Tortugas. The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Humane Society of Southern New Mexico, PO Box 13826, Las Cruces, NM 88013.

Those who would like to send condolences and memories to his wife, Marlene, can use Bill's email address:

Read more about Bill's life.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

In Indonesia: Laser leveling of farmland steps up agricultural production

Participants in the laser leveling demonstration learn the basic principles of the technology and how to operate the equipment. IRRI’s CORIGAP project supports capacity building of NARES partners and other rice-farming sectors, such as youth, to accelerate adoption of best management practices that will support Indonesia’s national goal to achieve rice self–sufficiency.

The swampy land areas of South Sumatera, Palembang are poised to become the next rice granary in Indonesia. Recently, to step up the region’s agricultural productivity, local extension professionals, farmers, and students were trained on the use of laser-assisted land leveling and tractor driving in Palembang.

Friday, May 26, 2017

At IRRI: IFPRI project holds policy writeshop for food and agriculture

With the challenges facing food security today, foresight and strategies are important to get a step ahead. This entails understanding the landscape, exploring trends and policy options, and making informed decisions for policies in food and agriculture. To this end, the Global Futures and Strategic Foresight (GFSF) project led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) hoped to contribute through a meeting and a writeshop held at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from May 15 to 19, 2017.

The meeting, led by Keith Wiebe of IFPRI and Steve Prager of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), gathered together 24 participants from the different institutes across the CGIAR to work on papers exploring alternative agricultural research and investment scenarios, focusing on a range of commodities, regions, and other topics. The week-long activity aimed to prepare these papers for publication in an upcoming special issue of the Global Food Security journal, and to help in making informed decisions for the CGIAR and its partners and other policy-making bodies.

GFSF is a CGIAR initiative that works to explore long-term trends, challenges, and policy options for food and agriculture through multidisciplinary foresight analysis. It is a project designed to improve agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability, especially in developing countries, and is focused on evaluating promising technologies, investments, and policy reforms. GFSF is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Restructured Biometrics courses to boost use of statistics in breeding trials

IRRI Biometrics has re-designed  its course on Design and Analysis of Breeding Trials (DABT). The new DABT includes a one-day stand-alone session on the use of statistical design and analysis under different environmental and technical challenges.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trimble donates laser leveling equipment for IRRI projects in Myanmar

A partnership with Trimble, a company that supplies farming solutions, has been helping the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) sustain the work to help farmers through promotion and adoption of the laser-assisted land-leveling technology.

Trimble has been a partner in the distribution of high-quality equipment as well as provision of equipment for demonstration and capacity building, and offers a reliable support service.

Just recently, Trimble donated brand-new laser equipment for use in IRRI projects in Myanmar. The donation was facilitated by IRRI’s Postharvest and Mechanization Unit as a result of discussions held during AGRITECHNICA Asia in Bangkok in March 2017. The equipment will be used for adaptive research in laser leveling and for field demonstrations under the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia (CORIGAP) and MyRice projects.

Mobile app Rice Doctor now available in Filipino

The Rice Doctor Filipino App features localized content for Filipino extension intermediaries and farmers

Rice Doctor, an offline mobile app for identification and management of rice crop problems in the Philippines, has just launched a version in Filipino and is now available for free at the Google Play Store for Android devices.

Poornima Shankar, knowledge management and outreach specialist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), describes Rice Doctor as an interactive questionnaire that helps extension workers, farmers, researchers, and students in the diagnosis of pests, disease, and other problems affecting rice. The current version of the app can help diagnose any of more than 80 of the most common of these conditions affecting rice. 

The app is also available online at

Although Filipinos remain among the most English-proficient in Asia, for many farmers as well as the agricultural extension workers assisting them, a mobile app such as Rice Doctor being available in Filipino presents an easier-to-understand and, thus, a more straightforward knowledge resource. Rice Doctor in Filipino is the first 'localized and translated version of the diagnostic app. Similar efforts are ongoing in India and Bangladesh.

To facilitate the ‘localization’ of Rice Doctor for the Philippines, workshops and consultations with farmers, extension workers, and specialists from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) were organized by the Impact Acceleration Unit of IRRI.

The development of Rice Doctor in Filipino was supported fully under the project ImprovingTechnology Promotion and Delivery through Capability Enhancement of Next-GenRice Extension Professionals and Other Intermediaries (IPaD), a collaboration among IRRI, DA-PhilRice, and DA-Agricultural Training Institute.

Last year, Project IPaD and the Impact Acceleration Unit also did a study in different parts of the country to assess and improve the usability of Rice Doctor.

IRRI with its partners have also developed other mobile-based tools for farming, one of which is RKB Lite, the offline version of the Rice Knowledge Bank, a web-based resource on the best practices in rice farming. It is also available as an app at the Google Play Store.

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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
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.