Wednesday, December 18, 2013

SSD plans its strategy for the next 5 years

The Social Sciences Division (SSD) conducted back-to-back activities in late November and early December 2013, starting with a visioning exercise on 25–26 November 25-26. With all SSD internationally recruited staff (IRS) and collaborating research scientists (CRS) participating, the exercise aimed to review the mission and vision of the division, identifying gaps between recent and new activities and projects and planning for the next 5 years. The group also had ample time to discuss existing projects and activities, including cross-cutting issues on climate change, capacity building, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and gender. They also looked at manpower needs to support the planned activities in the coming years.

After lunch on 26 November, the IRS and CRS were joined by the nationally recruited staff (NRS) and the afternoon was spent on hearing presentations of ongoing activities of each group/project. This gave everyone the opportunity to know what each group is doing, a difficult thing to achieve on ordinary days as the teams focus on their respective tasks. During the evening, the whole staff had after-dinner fun activities, which included a singing contest and group dancing. On the third day (27 Nov), there were team-building exercises composed of physical and strategy group games.

On 2–3 Dec 2013, the workshop on GRiSP’s Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI) and M&E was held in Bangkok, participated in by 32 staff from AfricaRice, CIAT, CSISA-Bangladesh, CIRAD, ICRISAT, IRRI, and JIRCAS. The meeting was led by Bas Bouman (GRiSP director) and Samarendu Mohanty (Program 5 leader and SSD head). It was an excellent stock-taking exercise for GRiSP centers and partners who are using CAPI to conduct field surveys and employ various M&E systems for projects at the regional and hub levels. The key ideas presented involved ways to standardize, share, and link activities that could be used to achieve a common system of analyzing information and tracking progress through defined indicators.

This meeting also represented the first-ever comprehensive overview of all the M&E systems. A variety of conceptual frameworks and tools from these data-capturing tools were presented, in the hope of finding a systematic approach to collect and analyze the needed indicators.

Right after the CAPI event came the workshop on Food alue chain analysis: tools and applications, which was facilitated by SSD IRS Matty Demont and Valerien Pede. This workshop focused on tools and applications for food value chain analysis, such as demand, supply and trade analysis and simulation, surveys, experimental economics, spatial analysis, and other tools for qualitative and quantitative analysis. Apart from lectures, hands-on exercises and group presentations proved to be vital parts of the workshop. Twenty-seven collaborators/partners/scientists from India (12), Bangladesh (4 ), Sri Lanka (1), IRRI (9), and PhilRice (1) attended the workshop. The resource persons came from IRRI (11), FAO-Bangkok (1), ICAR (1), and ICRISAT-Malawi (1). This culminating workshop contributes to IRRI’s goal of developing existing and future partners/collaborators/young scientists in their own respective fields.

More photos:

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RMQA-RDM completes its last research data management course for 2013

The Risk Management and Quality Assurance (RMQA) training team finished its last Research Data Management (RDM) 101 course for 2013 on 10–12 December 2013 at the I.T. Learning Center. Ten participants completed the course: one from GQNC, one from HRS, six from PBGB (one from IRRI-India office), and two from GIS-SSD.

The course covered all areas of data management: data management planning; data collection, collection, and pre-analysis; data storage and backup; and, data archival and sharing (with emphasis on metadata and documentation). Ogie Alvarez, ITS senior manager, discussed how users can efficiently and securely back up their research data in the various ITS-managed storage on- and off-campus. The participants were also introduced to IRRI Dataverse, a cloud-based platform for archiving and sharing their research data.

The team, managed by Menchu Bernardo IRRI-RMQA head, includes Icoy Mercado, Dec Arreza, and Jean Sabado.

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IRRI welcomes government lawyers

A group of lawyers from the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC) of the Philippines visited IRRI on 13 December 2013 to learn more about the contributions of rice science and biotechnology to food security.

Led by Assistant Government Corporate Counsel Raul Ragandang, the lawyers of the OGCC’s agriculture and trade team gained a deeper understanding of IRRI’s legal status, objectives, and the Institute’s mission and vision.  The underlying theme in all the discussions was IRRI’s strict adherence to biosafety, environmental protection, and the quality of its research products. The visitors also received technical briefings from IRRI scientists and experts. Topics included rice breeding, genetic diversity, grain quality and nutrition, and biotechnology. Last on the agenda was a tour of IRRI’s RiceWorld Museum.

The OGCC is the principal and statutory law office of government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) and other corporate entities of the Philippine government.

Interactions with scientists provided the lawyers with expert perspectives on the public benefits and safety of biotechnology products, particularly of healthier and stress-tolerant rice varieties.

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India: Top researchers in bacterial blight gather in ICBB 2013

The 4th International Conference on Bacterial Blight (ICBB) was held in Hyderabad, India (2-4 December 2013) and jointly organized by the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Directorate of Rice Research, and the Society for the Advancement of Rice Research. Leading researchers from different parts of the world got together during the 3-day conference to discuss the latest developments in molecular breeding, plant-pathogen interactions, and epidemiology of this important rice disease.

The bacterial blight working group seeks to (1) develop and standardize a common genotyping and phenotyping system, (2) build a well-curated bacterial germplasm collection,(3) engage in high-throughput pathogen monitoring solutions, and (4) support a rice microbiome partnership.

Participants from IRRI were Kshirod Jena, Casiana Vera Cruz, and Ricardo Oliva of the Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Division. During the conference, Dr. Jena talked about Stacking and molecular characterization of major genes toward broad-spectrum resistance to virulent bacterial blight pathogen in rice, whereas Dr. Vera Cruz presented on Understanding the origin of Xanthomonas oryzae and its eco-evo relatives using high-throughput genomics.

Held every three years, the 5th ICBB conference will take place at the International Rice Research Institute in 2016.

More info is found at:

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Vietnam: Social networking to deliver technologies to poor farmers

Farmers in the mountainous region of northern Vietnam have limited access to new varieties and management options. Considered the poorest among the poor, these farmers are the target communities of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE).  CURE continuously develops and validates rice varieties and management options and mechanisms to be shared in the poor communities and, ultimately, to reduce poverty and raise productivity in these complex, diverse, and risky environments.

CURE coordinator Digna Manzanilla and assistant scientist Annette Tobias conducted focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews with tribal communities in the four rice-producing communes (Phu Nham, Tu Le, Nam Bung, and Suoi Giang) in the mountainous region of North Vietnam. CURE aims to get insights on their social capital and networks to help design technology delivery strategies for the target communities. Initial FGD results identified the critical role of the commune leader trained together with the village leader and the oldest man in the village (called gia lang). The leader and the oldest man in the village then share  the information to the households.

A team, led by Valerien Pede, an agricultural economist from the Social Sciences Division, will conduct a more in-depth study using spatial econometrics and qualitative research methods to analyze the nature and information flow of the social network. This will contribute to the design of technology delivery in hard-to-reach and resource-poor rice-farming communities in Vietnam and Laos.
Social network analysis aims to assess the actors, groups, nodes of information sharing, and the implications of neighborhood influence on direct and spillover benefits from adopting  new varieties and cropping practices. This activity is in line with the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) goal of contributing to raise productivity and ensure food security in upland communities, including women farmers.

IFAD is funding the CURE  project, Reducing risks and raising rice livelihoods in Southeast Asia through the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE 2). The project is in collaboration with the Northern Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry Science Institute in Vietnam and the Northern Agriculture and Forestry Research Center in Laos.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

151 Los Baños residents gain trade skills from livelihood training co-sponsored by IRRI

One hundred fifty-one residents from Los Baños completed a skills livelihood training program organized by IRRI with the Public Employment Services Office-Citizens’ Access for Employment and Skills Advancement Reinforcement, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). All graduates also passed the recent TESDA National Certification (NC) II test, which is recognized globally, giving them a competitive edge when applying for jobs abroad or in foreign companies.

Pascual Arriola, TESDA provincial director, said that while there are many job opportunities available not enough people have the necessary skills required—hence the importance of TESDA’s training programs to reduce unemployment. The livelihood program, which started in August, provided courses on massage therapy, electric arc welding, computer hardware servicing, electrical installation and maintenance, electronics, and refrigerator and airconditioning unit repair.

Los Baños Mayor Caesar Perez recognized the graduates’ capacity to become globally competitive and live up to society’s expectations.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Dr. V. Bruce J. Tolentiono, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships, emphasized the value that the skills training program brings to improve people’s lives.  The ceremony was held at the new Municipal Building of Los Baños on 6 December 2013.
IRRI also received a certificate of appreciation signed by Mayor Perez.

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Philippines: IRRI ends year giving to Haiyan survivors

Soon after Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) struck, Director General Robert Zeigler of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) sent a letter to Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III. In the letter, Zeigler conveyed support to the Philippine government in the recovery efforts, offering seeds of high-yielding rice varieties for farmers in the affected areas.

Gift of seeds
Leigh Vial, head of IRRI’s experiment station, loads the 
first haul of rice seeds for multiplication in Babatngon, Leyte and
eventual distribution in typhoon-affected areas in the Visayas.
The rice seeds—13 tons in total—have been committed for multiplication and eventual distribution in the hardest-hit central Visayas region through the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA).

The initial lot of 1.6 tons of rice seeds was formally handed over to the DA on 9 December 2013 and will be planted at Babatngon, Leyte, for seed multiplication. The produce will then be shared among the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Capiz, and Aklan, and others yet to be identified by the DA.

Santiago Obien, senior technical adviser of the National Rice Program, said that the seed growers, as well as associations and cooperatives, need help to produce their own seeds in community seed banks so that there will be enough high-quality seeds available to our farmers in the next planting season. “We will work together with IRRI in setting up a monitoring system to ensure that these valuable seeds are planted and cared for,” he added.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala thanked IRRI for the seeds. IRRI is continually consulting with the DA about other ways through which it can help.

The initial turnover of rice seeds to the DA was arranged by IRRI’s Partnerships Office, with the help of the Institute’s Experiment Station, which prepared the seeds.

One with typhoon survivors
On behalf of its staff, IRRI will donate the funds intended for its headquarters’ year-end party to Yolanda survivors through the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). As one of the organizations working on the ground, CRS currently serves 40,000 families in Leyte and Samar, providing emergency shelter, water, sanitation and relief items. In January 2014, CRS will start a shelter recovery program as well as an agricultural recovery program which will work primarily with rice and coconut farmers in the most affected areas.

The redirection of the Christmas celebration money to typhoon-affected families was the consensus from a survey made by the Institute among its staff. IRRI management fully supports staff members’ intention to help.

Staff initiatives
IRRI staff also successfully conducted fundraising activities during the past weeks—the Yolanda Fund Drive and Dance for a Cause. The donation includes personal contributions made by IRRI employees. ( These were earlier turned over to the Philippine National Red Cross.

“As the year closes, I thank all IRRI staff for their generous spirit, and for finding ways to give and put together donations of money and supplies for the people affected by Typhoon Yolanda,” said Dr. Zeigler. “We join the international community in sending a message of hope to millions of Filipinos who are trying to rebuild their lives after the terrible storm.”

Photo of turnover:

Related stories
IRRI offers rice seed aid for Leyte farmers
Yolanda survivors to get help from IRRI
Philippines: Yolanda fund drive continues
Staff survey resulted to cancellation of Institute year-end party
Dance for a cause held for typhoon Yolanda survivors

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IRRI entry places third in biotechnology fair

The IRRI High-CO2 Facility: A new APP for Climate Change Studies, an entry at the Biotechnology Fun Fair presentation contest on agricultural biotechnology innovations, won third place.

The small CO2 chamber that contained rice seedlings—a teen category entry—elicited students’ curiosity and received 80% of votes.

The event, held on 29 November 2013, was part of the Philippines’ 9th National Biotechnology Week, which aims to encourage advocacy of science and technology, presenting agricultural biotechnology to primary and secondary school students in an entertaining and interactive approach.

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Kenya: Training on rice seed production held for technicians

A deeper understanding of the rice plant, its production, and postharvest operations were the aim of a training course on rice seed production and purification held recently in Kenya.

Twenty-seven researchers and techniciansfrom public and private sector organizations in Kenya, including women, registered for the course.

The training course was organized by IRRI, in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI-Kibos) and was held on 4-7 December 2013 at the Ahero National Irrigation Board (NIB) in Kisumu.

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India: University of Illinois joins postharvest activities with CSISA in India

Alfred Schmidley, Aanand Kumar, and 
Steve Sonka at a farmers’ pilot site where villagers 
have been introduced to open-drum threshing.
The ADM Institute for Reduction of Postharvest Loss at the University of Illinois-Champaign has joined postharvest initiatives under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Project.

Steve Sonka, director of the institute, toured three districts under CSISA’s Bihar Hub and visited the Bihar Agricultural University, government offices, local NGOs, and other CSISA partners who are pilot-testing improved postharvest technologies among marginal smallholder farmers and women’s groups.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Philippines: Students awarded agriculture scholarships

Twenty-eight students from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB), Central Luzon State University (CLSU), Visayas State University (VSU), Central Mindanao University (CMU) and University of Southern Mindanao (USM) were awarded the Landbank Gawad PATNUBAY Scholarship on 3 December 2013 at the Landbank Plaza, Manila.
Officials of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Landbank of the Philippines were present during the official launching of the scholarship.
Landbank President and CEO Gilda Pico said, “We are grateful to have found a partner in IRRI which share our passion and commitment to both agriculture and education.”

“This is a significant partnership for IRRI with Landbank and the universities. The mission is strongly to reclaim dignity in farming,” said Noel Magor, Head of IRRI Training Center.

Landbank donates to Filipino agricultural students
The college scholarship program offers grants to fifty scholars – 28 for college degree scholarship in agriculture and 22 for technical-vocation education program (TESDA-certified). The scholars enjoy 100 percent tuition fee subsidy, including monthly stipend, book allowance, and uniform costs. Moreover, they will also receive employment assistance upon graduation.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Book-reading held for local grade school

A reading of the children’s book Gabby Ghas was held for 138 fourth- and fifth-grade students of the Tagumpay and San Antonio elementary schools at Bay, Laguna, on 26 November 2013.

Gabby Ghas is about a tiny grain of palay who wanted to find his place in the world. It was read by Oscar “Kuya Pong” Garcia, who made it lively and interactive.

Burundi: Progress of rice breeding assessed for ESA

A regional workshop was held to determine the progress of evaluating and selecting breeding lines for irrigated rice areas in East and Southern Africa (ESA).

The workshop was held for the seventh time and also aims to assess the progress of the reinforcement of regional breeding nurseries and exchange of promising breeding lines. It was opened by Joseph Nduwimana, permanent secretary within the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Burundi.