Thursday, February 27, 2014

India: IRRI joins “Consumer and Marketplace Literacy for Women Entrepreneurs”

The Marketplace Literacy Community Trust, an NGO in India that seeks to promote consumer literacy and entrepreneurship amongst the rural poor, conducted training activity for women’s Self Help Groups in Chennai using their innovative video-based marketplace literacy approach.

This approach to helping disadvantaged and marginalized groups was developed by Professor Madhu Viswanathan of the University of Illinois, with whom IRRI is a partner in understanding postharvest needs.

IRRI’s Alfred Schmidley, value chain specialist, and Aanand Kumar, postharvest specialist of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), joined the event to learn more about this approach firsthand.

The training, held on 19-21 February 2014, was organized by MLC founder and director R. Venkatasen and his staff, who arranged visits for farmers, millers, and other postharvest chain actors during the visit of Alfred and Aanand.

“This innovative learning approach can be extended to serve postharvest needs and opportunities for women and marginalized farmers as entrepreneurs,” said Alfred. “This could help foster the sustainable adoption of improved postharvest technologies and a better understanding of markets and linkages in the chain.”

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World Food Programme and IRRI team up for shared aims

An agreement was signed by Praveen Agrawal, World Food Programme representative and country director, and Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general, that will bring together complementary expertise to build community resilience and food security in the Philippines.

With the full support of the United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization, the five-year collaboration involves policy dialogue, capacity building, local transfer of research products, publications, and partnership building with other stakeholders.

The initial dialogue between the two organizations took place on 30 August 2013. The memorandum of understanding signed at the IRRI headquarters on 26 February 2014.


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IRRI welcomes new head of research

Matthew Morell is new deputy director general for research at IRRI. As head of research, Matthew will provide strategic leadership and oversight for IRRI’s research and outreach programs on genetic diversity and gene discovery, varietal improvement, genetics, and biotechnology, crop environment sciences, crop management, grain quality, postharvest and mechanization, targeting and policy, and training. He will hold office at F.F. Hill Building.

Matthew led research as theme leader for 16 years at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Before coming to IRRI, he led “Future Grains and Plant Oil Production,” a thematic research initiative that pulled together multiple scientific disciplines for the development of novel high-value grains and oil seeds. This enabled him to access and make use of complex collaborating capacities, overcoming geographical challenges across research sites.

Matthew has strong experience in identifying, protecting, and managing intellectual property, as well as establishing a means for strong compliance with the requirements of gene technology regulations, genetic modification stewardship, and occupational health and safety legislation. He brings to IRRI decades of experience driven by a passion for scientific excellence, an understanding of private-public partnerships, a sound capacity for stakeholder engagement, a tested understanding of identifiable patent outcomes and protection of intellectual property, and people engagement and leadership skills.

More about Matthew

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Local residents get free medical checkup and counseling

IRRI’s Partnerships Office conducted a community health education and medical mission at Barangay Dila in Bay, Laguna, on 20 February. The monthly activity seeks to lower the risk of low-income residents of Bay and Los Baños developing common ailments and to contribute to their overall wellness and wellbeing.

The Civic Action team of physicians from the Army General Hospital, led by Major Mary Agnes Motril, M.D., provided free checkups and health counseling.

Free medicines and vitamins were also given out, courtesy of the Philippine Desk of the PO and the IRRI spouses’ club, Suhay. Gardenia, a major supplier of baked products in the Philippines, supported the activity by providing loaves of bread for the families of those who came for the checkup and counseling.

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Vietnam: Project on closing yield gaps assesses progress in first year

Rice scientists, extension specialists, and other key partners from six countries gathered on 18-21 February to discuss the progress and plans of the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project.

CORIGAP is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

“This meeting is important, as the CORIGAP Project aims to increase productivity through new technologies while diversifying sources of income,” said Le Hung Dung, leader of the Can Tho People’s Committee, in his welcome remarks.

“CORIGAP builds on the results over the past 16 years of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), through which most countries involved increased their rice production,” said Carmen Thönnissen, donor representative and SDC senior advisor with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. “The component technologies developed through the IRRC are now integrated through CORIGAP.”

“CORIGAP’s objectives are aligned closely with the mission of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) of IRRI,” said Grant Singleton, CORIGAP coordinator. “We aim to reduce poverty, improve health, and reduce the environmental footprint of rice production through strong partnerships with national agricultural research and extension systems.”

Pham Van Du, deputy director general of the Department of Crop Production of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, gave a presentation on the VietGAP and Small Farmer-Large Field (SFLF) initiatives of Vietnam. Participants also visited farmers’ fields involved in SFLF and in the use of rice straw for mushroom production.

Key IRRI scientists and national partners from China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam presented about their activities and results for 2013, plans for 2014, and challenges and opportunities.

Presentations also covered research progress and plans on the development of a field calculator, communication, market chain issues, postharvest issues, environmental indicators, and learning alliances.

“As CORIGAP develops, we will see more country priorities come through,” said David Johnson, GRiSP Theme 3 leader and IRRI representative on the CORIGAP Advisory Committee, during the open discussion. “This is a great chance for a science-based approach to make better changes for the future.”

The meeting was hosted by the Can Tho People’s Committee and the Can Tho Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The international advisory committee of CORIGAP also attended the meeting.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

RIPPLE Magazine features cross-discipline partnership project

The 24th issue of RIPPLE features how an integrated, cross-discipline partnership, such as the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project, is essential in ensuring regional food security while promoting environmentally sustainable rice production. CORIGAP builds on the local country partnerships and technologies developed by the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium over the past 2 decades.

The cover story introduces CORIGAP’s activities, events, and their next steps in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The magazine also features CORIGAP scientists Dr. Sarah Beebout, an IRRI soil chemist, Dr. Takahiro Sato, a postdoctoral fellow working on the development of a field calculator, and an invite from project  coordinator Grant Singleton to all interested parties who would like to be part of the project’s exciting journey.

The new issue of RIPPLE can be accessed at

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

New project aims to speed up rice breeding

A new project has been launched at IRRI that aims to make breeding programs for irrigated rice much more efficient and thus enhance genetic gain.

The new Transforming Rice Breeding Efficiency (TRB) Project makes use of modern breeding tools and approaches and will focus on IRRI’s breeding ‘pipelines’ for irrigated rice. Its activities will cover South and Southeast Asia and East and Southern Africa to help secure the food and income of resource-poor farmers in these regions.

Members of the TRB Project core team, led by Eero Nissila, head of IRRI’s breeding division, launched the project in a meeting attended by several colleagues at the IRRI headquarters on 5 February 2014.

Bas Bouman, director of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), said that “the project has good funding and a very short time frame to make rapid advances.”
The 5-year TRB project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and has as its key partners the national agricultural research systems, especially in Asia; NARS.

The members of the Project core team are Alice Laborte, Glenn Gregorio, Mike Thomson, Bert Collard, and Ed Redoña.

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Abu Dhabi: IRRI takes part in global forum for agriculture

The latest innovations and solutions for sustainable agriculture were showcased at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) held last week in Abu Dhabi.

The forum had the theme, Driving innovation for an agricultural revolution, and was attended by around 1,000 scientists, innovators, investors, suppliers, and policymakers from all over the world, sharing ideas and planning ways to work with one another.

Featured during the event was research on stress-tolerant rice varieties, particularly on flood-tolerant rice, a presentation on which was prepared by Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI principal scientist and leader of the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. The presentation was delivered by Rona Niña Rojas-Azucena, IRRI communication specialist, on Dr. Ismail’s behalf.

IRRI also showcased its other key products and programs through an exhibit as part of the CGIAR Consortium.

Keynote speakers were Frank Rijsberman, CGIAR CEO; Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Mark Post, the scientist behind the Google-funded lab burger; and Andras Forgacs, pioneer in cultured meat and leather.

“History shows us that the most effective route to keeping global food prices low is to massively increase investment in agricultural innovations,” said Dr. Rijsbermann in his speech, adding that the Arabian Gulf countries should redirect their focus toward agricultural innovations to strengthen food security.

In his video address, Bill Gates, whose foundation supports the STRASA project, said that investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty in a world where most of the poorest are farmers. “In short, if you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture,” said Mr. Gates.

The conference was held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Zayed Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the UAE and minister of presidential affairs. Rashid bin Fahad, the minister of environment and water, announced on behalf of Sheikh Mansour the launch of the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Pioneering Innovation in Agriculture.

The forum was held on 3-5 February at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

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Book-reading sessions held for local schools

IRRI ‘s Partnerships Office held storytelling sessions for fourth-grade students of two elementary schools in Bay, Laguna, on 11 February 2014. The activity aims to increase awareness among young children of the important processes involved in rice production.

The children’s book Gabby Ghas was read during the storytelling sessions. The book tells the story of a tiny grain of palay who wanted to know his place in the world. He goes on a journey during which he encountered seedlings, weeds, predatory insects, and pesticide officers who were tasked to protect rice plants from harm. The interactive and lively storytelling was done by Oscar “Kuya Pong” Garcia.

The activity was held through a partnership among IRRI, the Department of Education, and AsiaRice Foundation. The IRRI spouses’ club (SUHAY) supports the storytelling sessions by providing free snacks for the children.

IRRI donated 10 copies each of Gabby Ghas to the libraries of the two schools.

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IRRI hosts local community leaders

IRRI hosted a get-together with the mayors and other local officials of the municipalities of Los Baños and Bay on 5-6 February 2014 to further strengthen the Institute’s relations with its local community leaders and partners.

Robert Ziegler, IRRI director general, welcomed the guests, noting the talent, dedication, work ethics, expertise, and unique contributions of IRRI’s Filipino staff to rice research and to the Institute’s mission of feeding the world and protecting the environment.

V. Bruce J. Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships, gave the briefing on IRRI's global research activities, opportunities, and programs that support agriculture. He declared that IRRI will continue keeping good relations with communities such as Los Baños and Bay through partnerships and emergency assistance.

Julian Lapitan, head of IRRI’s Partnerships Office, discussed the roles and importance of IRRI for the Philippines’ Food Staples Sufficiency Program and in rice production.

Mayor Caesar Perez of Los Baños acknowledged IRRI’s contributions to the livelihood and economic programs of both Los Baños and Bay.

The Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) of both municipalities shared during the meeting about their problems on and progress in agriculture.

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Tamil Nadu: Farmers learn about new planting method that saves them labor and water

A field day was held last week on machine-transplanted non-puddled rice (MTNPR), a technology that may soon provide an alternative for rice farmers who face labor and water scarcity.

MTNPR is a crop establishment method that can lower labor and energy needs as well as the amount of water needed for land preparation.

The director of the Tamil Nadu Rice Research Institute (TRRI) cited labor and water scarcity as major challenges for rice farmers in the Cauvery Delta and pointed to MTNPR as a probable alternative strategy to overcome these.

The head of the Soil and Water Management Research Institute in Thanjavur, where the field day was held, added that because MTNPR takes less time to do than conventional methods, it would thus make crop establishment possible within the recommended planting window. It also reduces input costs for labor, energy, and water in the range of US$120 per hectare.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project team in Tamil Nadu organized the event, which included a demonstration of the use of MTNPR, together with dry-seeded rice, on more than 50 hectares of farmers’ fields during the 2013-14 wet season. About 100 farmers from the Cauvery Delta witnessed yield comparisons between wet season rice crops established through MTNPR and by mechanical transplanting with conventional puddling.

Farmers who had adopted these methods in their fields and had moved into providing services for crop establishment also shared about their experience with other farmers.

The event was also attended by university scientists, agricultural extension officers, agricultural service providers, and representatives of NGOs and other organizations.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Members of Philippine justice academy visit IRRI

A group from the Philippine Judicial Academy (PHILJA) was at IRRI on 7 February to learn about the Institute's work and explore its facilities.

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler welcomed the twenty-one delegates led by Justice Adolfo Azcuna, PHILJA chancellor and former justice of the Supreme Court. The group was given an overview of IRRI's mission, research activities, and products as well as its strict adherence to national biosafety regulations. Members of the group also had the chance to speak with some scientists on the areas of biotechnology, genetic diversity, grain quality, and nutrition during their tours of the research laboratories.

Photos of the visit  

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Aquaporin scientist joins the Young Researchers' Lunch for February

IRRI's monthly meeting of young researchers hosted Dr. Doan Luu, molecular plant physiologist and senior scientist of the aquaporin group of Biochemistry and Molecular Plant Physiology in Montpellier, France.

Dr. Luu talked about His work on root hydraulic Conductance and aquaporin function, as well as about the research system in France and opportunities available for young scientists.

The February lunch meeting, held on 5 February 2014, was joined by Andrea Lazaro, Julius Ver Sagun, Hedia Tnani, Ronald Tapia, Camil Diaz, Mignon Natividad, and Alexandre Grondin.

The Young researchers Lunch is a monthly meeting of scientists and IRRI who are in the early stages of THEIR career. It provides an opportunity for discussions with senior scientists on a range of topics on science, including career paths.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bangladesh: IRRI to lead postharvest loss reduction plan

 The US Agency for International Development (USAID) recently announced Feed the Future’s Innovation Laboratory for the Reduction of Postharvest Loss, an initiative that seeks to promote postharvest solutions across various regions.

The ‘innovation lab’ seeks to help farmers of various crops find the best way to reduce postharvest losses, and specifically targets Ghana, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Bangladesh. IRRI is the lead implementing partner in Bangladesh for rice. It was launched at a meeting hosted by Kansas State University, one of seven US universities involved, on 27-28 January.

“Having IRRI lead the rice postharvest component in Bangladesh under this new multi-crop and multi-country initiative is exciting,” says Alfred Schmidley, IRRI’s business model and value chain specialist. “Using an integrative learning approach with postharvest stakeholders, we can address losses both at the farm and commercial chain levels and thus improve food security and incomes of households and other actors in the postproduction chain.”

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