Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Youth group advocates biotechnology

Members of the University of the Philippines League of Agricultural Biotechnology Students (UPLABS), call their group the “emerging bastion of excellence” in advocating science-based knowledge. 

UPLABS, based at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, is a three-year-old academic organization especially for BS Agricultural Biotechnology students and has come forward as an advocate of biotechnology to advance Philippine agriculture.

In the aftermath of the Golden Rice field trial at Camarines Sur getting vandalized a few months ago, UPLABS issued a statement condemning “the uncivilized act done by a militant group in an experimental station.” Their statement acknowledged the freedom of each individual and organization to express opinions and views on certain issues that affect them, but that “despite the difference in views regarding genetically modified (GM) crops, respect for each other must be upheld at all times.” 

UPLABS also stated that once Golden Rice is approved by government regulators, they believe that it will help get rice enriched with beta carotene within reach of people and thus help address vitamin A deficiency in the country.

UPLABS had also expressed support for the Bt Talong (eggplant) project and other biotechnology research projects conducting multilocation field trials. In a statement following the court ruling on the Bt Talong case, UPLABS expressed its disapproval, saying that the completed field trials in various parts of the country “were responsibly undertaken by the researchers involved in the project, and were meticulously policed by the Institutional Biosafety Committee and representatives from the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry.”  

UPLABS is grateful for the support of professors, advisers, university officials, and researchers for the group to continue disseminating factual information to the Filipino people, especially to the youth, who deserve to know how GM and other forms of biotechnology can benefit them.

In line with National Biotechnology Week (NBW), which is celebrated on25-29 November 2013, UPLABS prepared a series of activities seeking to share knowledge on advances in modern biotechnology and to promote agricultural biotechnology products. This year, the activities have the theme, “Toward the Enhancement of Food and Feed Quality through Agricultural Biotechnology.”

The week-long celebration started with the opening of the UPLABS exhibit at the Crop Science Cluster lobby at UP Los Baños. V. Bruce J. Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships, and Antonio Laurena, UPLABS senior adviser, were on hand to give inspiration and pledge support. 

Dr. Tolentino bid some 160 students from the Los Baños National High School to keep their minds open about biotechnology and to share what they learn from their NBW experience to their peers and families back home. 

Jayvee Rosal, UPLABS president, said that their organization considers sharing knowledge about agricultural biotechnology to young people very important, as it is a good chance to educate and influence the country’s future leaders. He also encouraged the members to join the advocacy “Para sa bioteknolohiya, para sa bayan” (for biotechnology, for country).

Other activities lined up by UPLABS for the NBW include a career orientation, a quiz contest, and a symposium titled Enhancement of food nutritional value through agricultural biotechnology with the speaker being Gerard Barry, Golden Rice Network Coordinator at IRRI. 

More information about UPLABS and their activities for NBW can be found on Facebook

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Climate experts meet with Philippine partners

Members of the Philippine Climate Change Adaptation Project (PhilCCAP), led by  Wilbur Dee from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, visited IRRI on 18 November 2013.

"The main crops covered by the project are rice and corn, and we learn a lot about rice technologies during the discussions we had here," said Norman Cajucom, acting senior vice president of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation and a member of the PhilCCAP team.

Roland Buresh, IRRI soil scientist and a member of PhilCCAP, and his team are developing decision-support system tools that aim to enhance the Rice Crop Manager, an IRRI-developed tool, by providing rice as well as corn farmers information on crop management practices adapted to a changing climate. The tools are developed and tested at PhilCCAP pilot sites in Cagayan and Iloilo provinces in the Philippines.

"IRRI is important to us because there is a lot of research that we can benefit from. IRRI is looking at, for example, the water requirements of rice and how this specifically affects the crop," Dr. Cajucom explained.

Dr. Cajucom said that PhilCCAP and the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) are currently working on a way to determine the water requirement of a rice variety at a specific stage of growth. "In the future, we can link with IRRI for that kind of information," he said.

IRRI experts Julian Lapitan, head of partnerships; Reiner Wassmann, climate change coordinator; Joel Janiya, senior associate scientist; and Dr. Buresh gave presentations to brief the PhilCCAP group.

The visit included stops at o the Ecological Intensification Platform, the Long-Term Continuous Cropping Experiment, and the International Rice Genebank.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

IRRI congratulates World Robot Olympiad second-placers

IRRI wishes to congratulate the members of the Philippine Robotics Olympiad—King Olgadao, Anne Jazpher Raz, and Rey Allen Infante—that represented the country in the 2013 World Robotics Olympiad (WRO) held in November 2013 at Jakarta, Indonesia. The Philippine team won the silver medal.

The winning group, together with some of their schoolmates from Dr. Yangas Colleges, Inc. (DYCI) in Bocaue, Bulacan, visited IRRI on 12 November, inspired by how IRRI has been developing and using tools for precision rice farming. They were accompanied by their coaches and supervising officer.

The students did a demonstration of their robots, request staff of IRRI’s External Relations office and some IRRI scientists to review and feedback on their creations.

Roger Carlo Pineda, DYCI supervising officer, said that the students have used many of IRRI’s online information for their project and were thrilled to finally get to visit the Institute.

“It is very encouraging to see high school students interested in technologies that would help rice farmers,” said Corinta Guerta, IRRI’s director of external relations.

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Indian agriculture officials come to IRRI for discovery visit

Senior officials from India’s Ministry of Agriculture are at IRRI for a two-day (25-26 November 2013) series of awareness and consultation meetings on the Institute’s work and its collaborative projects with the country.

The agriculture officials, who represent various Indian states, learned particularly about the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) Project that is coordinated by IRRI in South Asia.

Myanmar: IRRI represented in rural development strategy setting

“Poverty reduction in Myanmar is dependent on the development of the agriculture and livestock sectors,” said Myanmar President U Thein Sein in his opening speech during the national workshop on the Rural Development Strategic Framework, held on 18-19 November 2013 at the nation’s capital of Nay Pyi Taw.

President U Thein Sein’s message centered on the political, social, and economic reforms that must take place to bring political stability and lasting peace, and less incidence of poverty. He said that food security, rural development, poverty reduction, and a sustainable economy must develop parallel with the economic, social, health, and education sectors after peace and stability are restored.

The president also cited the important role of the international scientific community in providing technologies that will help ensure sustainable food production and preserve the country’s natural resources at the same time. “Myanmar has to exert utmost effort in the task of reducing the poverty rate from 26% to 16% by 2015.”

The IRRI Myanmar office put up an exhibit alongside the workshop that featured samples of new stress-tolerant high-yielding rice varieties selected during participatory varietal selection activities held in the Delta; and publications, videos, and posters depicting IRRI’s activities in Myanmar.

Madonna  Casimero, IRRI representative for Myanmar, and May Nwe Soe, assistant scientist, were participants in the workshop, which was organized by the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries, and Rural Development and the Livelihood and Food Security Trust.

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Thailand: Preparations under way for rice congress in 2014

The International Rice Congress (IRC2014) is where the world’s rice scientists will gather to share their recent findings in all research areas that have to do with rice. The congress will be held in October 2014 at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (BITEC).

The schedule has been set for the conference and arrangements are being made for plenary and special symposia speakers. Mike Jackson, chair of the science program for IRC2014, is at IRRI for two weeks to meet with the science committee for the conference and with coordinators of the symposia. He is also already deep in planning program details with conference organizers in Bangkok.

Details and updates will be posted on the conference website as well as on Facebook and the IRC2014 blog.


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Philippines: Yolanda fund drive continues

Sylvia Avance of the IRRI Partnerships Office
turned over donations from staff to
the Philippine Red Cross on 21 Nov. 2013
IRRI initial collection of donations from its staff (Yolanda fund drive) for those affected by Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) were turned over by the Philippine Desk of the Partnerships Office to the Philippine National Red Cross on 21 November 2013.

The Partnerships Office will continue to accept donations from staff until Friday, 29 November 2013.

As part of its response to the disaster, IRRI is working closely with the Philippine Department of Agriculture to determine the extent of typhoon damage on rice production and to provide seeds of flood-tolerant rice to farmers for free.

Related stories | IRRI offers rice seed aid for Leyte farmers
Post-typhoon rice damage assessed in the Philippines
Yolanda survivors to get help from IRRI

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rice Mix Day (22 Nov.) and NYR Run (24 Nov.)

As part of the National Year of Rice 2013 campaign, the IRRI Main Cafeteria and the ECDC food center will be serving rice-mix recipes on Friday, 22 November 2013.

It is a practice in many Filipino homes and food centers to serve steamed white rice. Last week, IRRI participated in the first-ever Brown Rice Day, where the cafeteria and the food center served only brown rice to all customers. This week, on Rice Mix Day (22 Nov.), everyone is urged to try the rice mix and to get more nutrients from rice by mixing it with other staples such as corn, banana, sweet potato, and cassava.

On Sunday, 24 November, the NYR Run will start 5 A.M. at Baker Hall in the UPLB campus. More than 40 IRRI staff have registered for the run. Those who want to join the race can still register at the NYR booth, which has moved from Harrar Breezeway to Baker Hall. It is open from 1–4 P.M. until Friday, 22 November.

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AFIRE Alumni Homecoming

Many say that once you become a part of IRRI, you never really leave. This becomes especially true this week for former IRRI staff who shall return to headquarters for the first reunion of the Association of Former IRRI Employees (AFIRE). The event will be hosted by the Institute through the Partnerships Office and will be held on Friday, 22 November 2013.

AISAS members attend annual conference

Members of the Association of IRRI Secretaries and Administrative Staff (AISAS) attended the annual Administrative Professionals Conference-Workshop sponsored by the Philippine Administrative Association (PAS) held on 14-16 November 2013 at Davao City.

The workshop is a business gathering for secretaries, executive secretaries or assistants, administrative coordinators or assistants, office managers, and office support personnel during which they discuss their responsibilities and their vital roles in business, industry, education, environment, and others areas. It was also an opportunity for the IRRI delegates to learn or share something new and return energized.

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IRRI’s breeding program promoted to students

Twenty-nine college students from two universities in Southern Luzon attended a lecture at IRRI on the Institute’s breeding programs, including GM-assisted research, on 14 November 2013.

The students, accompanied by faculty members, represented Southern Luzon State University in Lucban, Quezon, and the four campuses of the Laguna State Polytechnic University.

Gerard Barry, IRRI’s Golden Rice project leader, presented an overview of the Institute’s breeding programs and discussed why GM technology is crucial to rice research.

Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships, gave an introduction to IRRI and its mission that includes developing healthier rice varieties.

A presentation was also made about the C4 Rice project.

The lecture is one of the activities lined up for National Biotechnology Week (25-29 November 2013) and was held in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD.  


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Former IRRI crop physiologist is guest at researchers’ lunch

The Young Researchers Lunch for November hosted Tanguy Lafarge, senior scientist and leader of the Crop Physiology Group at the Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) in Montpellier, France.

Dr. Lafarge introduced CIRAD to the group composed of young research staff at IRRI and shared his views on the role of plant physiologists in international agricultural research. He emphasized the importance of plant physiologists to research that seeks solutions to real problems in the field, but adding that research does not have to have direct impact on farmers to be useful.

Participants of the November lunch were Changrong Ye, Ainara Penalver Cruz, Nurul Hidayatun, Wanju Shi, and Robert Coe.

The Young Researchers Lunch is a monthly meeting for IRRI research staff and scholars who are at the early stages of their careers. It aims to provide an opportunity for discussion with senior scientists on a range of topics related to rice science and career path.

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Bangladesh: Women entrepreneurs seek to strengthen local agribusiness

Women entrepreneurs from southwest Bangladesh discussed agribusiness and markets with successful business owners as a critical pathway to women’s economic empowerment during a two-day workshop organized by IRRI and UN Women.

The workshop was held to assist women entrepreneurs who own small- to medium-scale agroenterprises grow their businesses by linking them with established women-led ventures.

Forty-eight new and veteran entrepreneurs from Bagerhat, Barguna, Jessore Khulna, Sathkhira, and Patuakhali participated in discussions and exchange of ideas on running agriculture-based businesses, linking these with national-level agribusiness and retail trade, and identifying constraints to these and solutions.

The workshop is especially significant as it provides knowledge that may help safeguard small businesses in southwest Bangladesh, a region prone to climatic disasters.

Represented among the participants were business associations such as the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) and the Women Entrepreneurship Association banks (Bangladesh Bank and Krishi Bank).

The workshop, held at the CSS Ava Center in Khulna, was conducted under the USAID-funded Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia project in Bangladesh (CSISA-BD).

For more information, please contact Bushra Rahman, manager for communication and documentation of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia in Bangladesh (CSISA-BD) at 

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IRRI offers rice seed aid for Leyte farmers

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has offered the Philippine government flood-tolerant rice seeds for distribution to rice farmers in Leyte who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda).

Donating flood-proof rice seeds is but one part of IRRI’s long-term assistance to farmers in Leyte Province and other areas affected by the supertyphoon, and starts with assessment of the damage in rice-growing areas, which IRRI will carry out jointly with the Department of Agriculture (DA). IRRI is continually consulting with the DA about other ways through which it can help.

Fundraising for typhoon survivors

In the immediate period, IRRI has set up the Yolanda Fund Drive that puts together donations of cash and goods from IRRI staff and friends.Collection through the fund drive plus cash has so far amounted to Php 379,130.00. Donations of sacks of rice, canned food, and medicines have also been pouring in.

A representative of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) is coming on 20 November to fetch the funds and supplies from V. Bruce J. Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships.

IRRI’s collection of donations will be channeled through the PNRC, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Using science to cope with climate change

In a letter to President Benigno S. Aquino III, IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler expressed sympathy for the plight of thousands of Filipinos in the Visayas region affected by the huge devastation from the supertyphoon and conveyed support to the Philippine government for the rehabilitation of Leyte province, especially in agriculture.

Flood-tolerant rice, also called ‘scuba rice’ and known as ‘Submarino’ in the Philippines, is a product of research being done at IRRI that aims to breed rice varieties that can withstand flooding, drought, and salty soil—environmental stresses that are predicted to intensify with climate change.

In a recent international symposium on rice genetics held in Makati City—just as Typhoon Haiyan started making its way into the central part of the archipelago—President Aquino cited in his message to participants (read on his behalf by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala) the “urgency of scientific research helping countries cope with the challenges posed by climate change.”

The Haiyan aftermath remains a stern reminder of just how urgent the need has become, with food production being just one of several fronts that bear the brunt of extreme weather events—and with which science can help.

“Rice production in the affected regions accounts for less than 10% of the Philippines’ annual rice production,” said Sam Mohanty, IRRI economist and head of the Institute’s social science and policy arm, in his blog . Luckily, most of the rice crop in these regions had already been harvested when the typhoon hit.

Dr. Mohanty added, though, that it will take a little more time to see the full extent of the damage, as flooding from the typhoon and storm surge will likely have ruined the harvested grains stored on-farm or in warehouses.

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Rockefeller scion refreshes historical ties with IRRI

David Rockefeller, Jr., American sailor, philanthropist, and an active advocate in environmental issues; and spouse Susan Cohn Rockefeller, writer and filmmaker, visited the IRRI headquarters on Friday (15 November) for an overview of the Institute’s research and to, in turn, discuss the Rockefeller Foundation(RF)’s development agenda. Mr. Rockefeller is a leading fourth-generation member of the prominent Rockefeller family. In 2006, he was appointed to the RF board of trustees, thus becoming the sixth member of the family to have served on the board since its founding by John D. Rockefeller in 1913.

Meeting with DG Robert Zeigler and other members of IRRI management, Mr. Rockefeller remarked, “This visit to IRRI is hugely important and personal to me since so much of the Rockefeller family and the history of the Foundation is linked to the success of IRRI and the Green Revolution that was started here.”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Medical and counseling mission held for PWDs

IRRI's Partnerships Office conducted another medical mission and counseling on 6 November 2013, this time for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and their families at the Batong Malake covered court in Los Baños.

Emergency services training for local community held

Another batch of the Neighborhood Emergency Services Team (NEST) training was held for residents of barangays Calo, Maitim, and Puypuy of Bay, Laguna, on 4-8 November 2013.

South Korea honors IRRI plant breeder

The Rural Development Administration (RDA) of the Republic of Korea, a long-time partner of IRRI, has named Kshirod K. Jena, senior scientist and plant breeder at IRRI, honorary scientist and advisor for RDA’s Agricultural Green Technology effective October 2013.

Dr. Jena’s designation, awarded by DA Administrator Lee Yang-Ho, is a recognition of his contribution to the development of the rice sector in Korea.

Postproduction-to-market course on rice starts at IRRI

For decades, millions of rice farmers lose up to 30% of the crop between harvesting and getting the rice to the market—a significant loss that affects their income and livelihood. On 28 October-8 November 2013, 23 representatives from the research, extension, NGOs, and private sector across eight countries came to IRRI for the Rice: Postproduction to Market training course that seeks to tackle postharvest losses.

Temperate rice group meets at IRRI for the first time

The Temperate Rice Research Consortium (TRRC) held its annual review and planning meeting on 8-9 November 2013, at IRRI headquarters for the first time.

The consortium meets yearly to review research progress on key issues affecting temperate rice and to plan the most effective use of their resources. Holding this year’s meeting at IRRI provided a good opportunity for members to hear from IRRI scientists on issues affecting temperate rice areas, such as phenotyping, GIS mapping, hybrids, germplasm exchange, and marketing.

The meeting was attended by more than 50 participants from 18 countries.

Training on ecological control of pests ongoing at IRRI

Management of rice pests (rodents, weeds, insects, birds, and golden apple snails) needs both a strong ecological and social dimension, such as that offered by a training course on ecological management of pests in rice agroecosystems that is ongoing (4-15 November) at IRRI headquarters.

The course was jointly convened by IRRI senior scientists Grant Singleton (rodent management) and David Johnson (weed management). Charles Krebs, a world-renowned ecologist and professor, joins IRRI scientists as resource speaker.

Myanmar seeks to intensify rice production sustainably

A symposium on sustainable management of pests through ecological engineering was held recently in Myanmar, an emerging global leader in rice production.

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler, in his opening message, said that the country can play a key role in ensuring global food security in the future. “Myanmar can really show the way forward to a responsible growth and development of a rice industry,” said Dr. Zeigler, who added that if Myanmar chooses the path of sustainable productivity, it can emerge as a true global leader that produces rice intensively and on a large scale but sustainably.

Earlier, in September, in a meeting in which Myanmar’s rice sector strategy was mapped out, Dr. Zeigler discussed an important area of innovation and policy: plant protection, particularly the use of pesticides.

"Experiences across Asia now show that, in general, pesticides were often used much too intensively and were easily subject to abuse. Overly intensive use of pesticides harms the health of farmers as well as the long-term productivity of farms," cautioned the head of the leading global research organization on rice.

Dr. Zeigler said that IRRI strongly advises Myanmar to promote sustainable management of pests through policy, regulations, the right messages, and careful management of the entry, promotion, and use of pesticides in Myanmar.

George Rothschild, former IRRI DG and now professor emeritus at  the University of Greenwich, gave the keynote  speech.

 “The symposium aimed to consolidate reports on the threat of planthoppers to the sustainability of rice production, and the ecological factors involved,” said Madonna Casimero, IRRI senior scientist and head of the IRRI-Myanmar Office.

Partners also shared ecological engineering approaches. A set of videos was also launched as an information resource to support sustainable pest control.

Messages were also given by guests Sir Gordon Conway, professor at the Imperial College in London, and U Myint Hlaing, Myanmar’s union minister of agriculture and irrigation (read by Thein Lwin, director general of the Myanma Department of Agricultural Research).

The symposium, held on 11 November 2013 at the Sedona Hotel in Yangon, was a joint undertaking of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

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IRRI joins NYR activities

No other rice, except unpolished rice, will be
available at IRRI cafeteria and food centers on Friday, 15 Nov.  
In celebration of the Philippines’ National Year of Rice 2013 and National Rice Awareness Month, everyone is invited to join activities and promotions in the next few days, starting with the country's very first Brown Rice Day at the IRRI cafeteria and food centers on 15 November (Friday), Rice Mix Day on 22 November (Friday), and the NYR Run on 24 November (Sunday).  The run will be held at the UP Los Baños and UP Diliman campuses.

Yolanda survivors to get help from IRRI

Typhoon Haiyan, also known by its local name Yolanda and cited as the worst typhoon to hit the Philippines, battered the central islands of the country on Friday, 8 November 2013.

Yesterday, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has declared a state of national calamity as this will enable the government to respond more effectively to the devastation in the Eastern Visayas, which bore the full brunt of Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever recorded to make landfall. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) joins the international community in supporting the Philippines, its host country, during these difficult times.

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler, on behalf of the Institute’s staff, has this message for the Filipino people: “ In my many years in the Philippines since 1992 I have never seen devastation of this scale. Like many of you, I am deeply saddened by the great loss of life and massive destruction caused by this typhoon. We thank everyone for sending their support to the Philippines during these dark times. We’ve had many staff asking how to help so we have set up a “Yolanda Drive” that IRRI will forward to those in need.”