Friday, June 20, 2014

Vietnamese officials visit IRRI for a closer look at its activities in Vietnam

Thirty-two officials from Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Petrovietnam Fertilizer and Chemical Corporation visited IRRI on 11 June to learn more about the Institute’s research activities, particularly  the Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP). CORIGAP, a project under the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, aims to optimize productivity and sustainability of irrigated rice production systems in several Asian countries including Vietnam.

The delegates were briefed by Dr. Grant Singleton, CORIGAP coordinator, on the activities of both IRRC and CORIGAP in Vietnam. Dr. Bjoern Ole Sander, climate change specialist, presented his team’s research on climate change while Dr. Roland Buresh, soil scientist, discussed site-specific nutrient management. IRRC developed the principles for site-specific nutrient management which has evolved into the Rice Crop Manager decision-support tool.

The visit was arranged by Dr. Pham Van Du, deputy director general of the Department of Crop Production, Vietnam, in coordination with the project office of CORIGAP.

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Vietnam: IRRI heads workshop on the future of the rice industry in the Mekong Delta

Written by Trina Leah Mendoza, Pieter Rutsaert, and Matty Demont

Key stakeholders of the Vietnamese rice sector gathered to discuss strategies towards a sustainable rice value chain in the Mekong Delta on 5-6 June in Ho Chi Minh City.

The workshop aimed to engage participants in a multistakeholder discussion about the future of the Vietnamese rice industry. IRRI organized the event with support from Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP), a project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Agriculture Competitiveness Project funded by the World Bank.

Participants included representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, research institutes, and the private sector including exporters, farmer cooperatives, and the food industry. Indonesian and Thai partners from the CORIGAP project also attended the workshop as a learning experience to reproduce the exercise in their respective countries.

A SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats) combined with a strategic orientation round (SOR) was used to engage discussion among stakeholders. The theory and procedure was developed and instructed by Dr. Pieter Rutsaert, CORIGAP postdoctoral fellow, while Dr. Matty Demont, IRRI senior economist and market research and value chain specialist, framed the analysis around the concept of sustainable food value chain development. The framework covered the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Participants were guided through several collective tasks to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the Vietnamese rice sector to become more sustainable, and the opportunities and threats that the sector faces. Participants then individually quantified the relationships between internal and external drivers of the sector. These results will enable CORIGAP scientists to develop an overall strategy for sustainable development of Vietnamese rice value chains. 

The stakeholders perceive the sector’s capability to grasp opportunities (including growing export and domestic markets) to be higher than its resilience to potential threats (including more stringent food safety regulations and global warming). This finding is important for policymakers who are currently repositioning Vietnam on the international rice market.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

IRRI-Bangladesh gets the ball rolling on new project for reducing postharvest losses

Written by Alfred Schmidley 

IRRI-Bangladesh kicked off the Innovations Lab for Reduction of Postharvest Loss, a new project that aims to enhance food security in Bangladesh by reducing postharvest losses and recovering more rice from farmers’ harvests, at the BRAC Center in Dhaka on 3 June.  The 5-year project is funded by USAID, under the Feed the Future initiative, and will be implemented by IRRI–Bangladesh with support from Kansas State University and  the University of Illinois.

The event included learning activities in identifying postharvest needs for research and technologies. It also focused on improving the processing of both paddy and seed through multi-stakeholder partnerships, including farmers and women Self-Help Groups. Participating organizations included international NGOs, universities and government research institutions, community-based organizations, and other postharvest stakeholders. Dr. M.A. Sattar Mandal, former vice-chancellor and current professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Dr. Shahidur Rahman Bhuiyan, USAID senior agricultural and food policy advisor, and Dr. Paul Fox, IRRI representative for Bangladesh, were the featured speakers.

As part of its next step, Innovations Lab for Reduction of Postharvest Loss will engage local partner networks for assessing needs for training and piloting of awareness-raising of options that suit to local actors needs.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

IRRI celebrates the 116th Philippine independence

By Gina Zarsadias


IRRI’s sectoral organizations AIRESS, AISAS, IFSA, and SINOP led a flag raising ceremony on June 11 commemorating the 116th anniversary of Philippine Independence on June 12.

This year’s theme, set by the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, Kalayaan 2014: Pagsunod sa yapak ng mga dakilang Pilipino tungo sa malawakan at permanenteng pagbabago, was chosen to remind IRRI staff of the bravery of Filipino heroes that helped win the country’s independence as well as to inspire them to use their skills and talents to help alleviate poverty, and become instruments for economic growth.

Mr. Carlos Huelma gave the invocation, Mr. Tony Lambino, head of communication, led the Philippine National Anthem, Mr. Manuel Marcaida led the pledge of allegiance to the Filipino flag, and  Atty. Eugeniano  Perez III, IRRI's legal counsel and Dr. Glenn Gregorio, senior scientist, gave their respective messages. Ms. Jenny Jarlego rendered Bayan Ko as balloons were released to symbolize the unity of Filipino employees of IRRI.

Also in attendance were Philippine National Scientist Dr. Gelia Castillo, Mr. George Cinconiegue,  Mr. Glenn Enriquez,  Mr. Hiram Gomez,  and Ms. Flora de Guzman.

Ms. Iris Bugayong and Mr. Mico Dueñas served as the emcees during the event.

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IRRI joins rice-themed Asian book festival

By Leah B. Cruz

Tony Lambino, head of communication at IRRI, talks about the 'magic' that rice research has been for the work
to secure food for billions globally, before writers and illustrators during the AFCC 2014 in Singapore.

Asia’s food staple was the theme of the 5-day Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) held last week at the National Library of Singapore.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in support of the AFCC 2014 theme which is rice, launched two children’s books and an exhibit booth at the Library plaza. The two books are The Rice Books for Kids by Norma Chikiamco and Travels of Little Rice Grass by Anupa Roy.

Also launched during the AFCC was All About Rice, a bibliography of rice-themed books, published by the National Book Development Council of Singapore; the Rice Bowl Game, an interactive digital setup developed by VastPotato; and an “urban rice paddy,” an installation artwork by the Edible Art Movement.

A featured talk, Rice: Science, Art, and Magic, was given during the AFCC by Tony Lambino, head of communication at IRRI, who expounded on IRRI’s success stories to an audience composed primarily of producers or consumers of literature and other media formats for children. Analogies were drawn between magical moments in the research and creative process.

Through these activities, IRRI introduced its mission and work, particularly on research aimed at making rice a healthier part of the Asian diet and, for farmers, making rice more resilient against climate change.

Tony told the story of how some IRRI-developed rice varieties have saved whole countries from famine in the past, and how IRRI’s work evolves to address new challenges in securing the world’s food. IRRI continues to help regions overcome not only hunger and poverty but the onslaught of extreme climate events that leave poor rice farmers destitute and put them at severe risk of losing investments in any cropping season. Also, through its healthier rice portfolio, IRRI and its partners aim to address malnutrition or “hidden hunger,” which affects two billion people globally.

IRRI believes that exposing children very early to what it takes to produce rice, as well as to the crucial contributions of science to ensuring food security, is important not only for them to appreciate what it takes for a bowl of rice to get to the table but to hopefully make agriculture a future career option for the best and most creative minds.

Claire Chiang, chair of the board of advisors of the AFCC, said in the foreword for All About Rice: "Our thanks and appreciation to IRRI for enriching the project with an information booth full of interesting facts, stories and beautiful photos, a talk on Rice: Science, Art and Magic, introducing authors of rice-themed picture books, and inspiring the creation of a virtual reality rice-bowl challenge and an interactive art installation."

Though not a rice-growing country, Singapore is home to some of IRRI’s partners and supporters of its research. It is also a major market for special types of rice that are preferred by discriminating palates, common in cosmopolitan cultures. These special rice types are also more expensive, and represent an opportunity for some farmers to earn more per kilogram of produce. Part of IRRI’s work also seeks to help farmers earn more from rice farming and thus improve their livelihoods.

IRRI's participation at the AFCC was coordinated by Flaminia Lilli of IRRI Fund Singapore.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Reliance Foundation and CSISA use the power of television to inform and educate farmers in Tamil Nadu

by R. Ganeshamoorty and Dr. Frank Mussgnug

Reliance Foundation, the corporate social responsibility wing of Reliance Industries Limited—
one of India’s largest conglomerate holding companies—organized the Farmer-Experts Live Interaction Program, a 90-minute interactive TV program for farmers where they can phone in their questions about agriculture. To answer the questions, Reliance Foundation invited senior IRRI staff members, CSISA extension agronomist, and Mr. Needhibathi, a local farmer that has been collaborating with CSISA for several years.

The Farmer-Experts Live Interaction Program introduced the project, the role of the different participating implementation agencies, and its donors to viewers. To encourage viewers to participate in the live question and answer part of the program, water scarcity and labor shortage—the major constraints facing farmers in the Cauvery Delta—were highlighted. Viewers phoned in questions about conservation agriculture, crop establishment using minimal labor and water, laser land leveling, and dry seeded rice (DSR) using seed drills, and weed management.

Possible solutions through resource-conserving technologies, especially novel crop establishment methods, were outlined. The different methods were introduced by short video clips.  The panel of experts discussed the main advantages of adopting the DSR technology such as reduced seed rate, water saving, line sowing, applying seed and fertilizer at the same time, and the cost savings. Mr. Needhibathi shared his experience about DSR especially higher yields, higher profits and more flexibility for planting. Pre- and post-emergence herbicide application program developed by CSISA were also presented to the viewers.

Farmer-Experts Live Interaction Program also covered mechanically transplanted non-puddled rice and the service provider model.  In addition, CSISA experts outlined the employment prospects that mechanization and the introduction of conservation agriculture can bring to the rural youths by becoming service providers to farmers.

The Farmer-Experts Live Interaction Program is broadcasted once monthly on Zen TV, a local TV channel, to create mass awareness and disseminate the location-specific information on agriculture.  It is screened in 4 districts within the CSISA hub domain.

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Eastern India: CSISA holds summit to fast track delivery of high quality seeds to farmers

Written by Sampriti Baruah

Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, organized a Seed Summit for Enhancing the Seed Supply Chain in Eastern India on 14-15 May in Patna, Bihar.

The summit addressed the following problems in the seed supply channel in Eastern India: (1) a significant number of farmers have limited or no access to seed, (2) old varieties in the markets, (3) poor quality and limited availability of seeds, (4) a mismatch between breeding and farmers’ needs, (5) limited extension services, and, (6) existing seed policies that do not provide incentives for seed suppliers and farmers to overcome the listed problems.

“Some of the concerns that need to be addressed in this sector include why farmers are still buying old, but popular varieties from the markets, how to ensure that more farmers can access seed markets and how to bridge the gap between demand and supply,” said Dr. Takashi Yamano, senior scientist and agricultural economist at the International Rice Research Institute.

More than 60 seed experts from the government, research institutions, and the private sector participated in the summit and identified the challenges in the seed value chain.  They discussed actionable solutions that will improve the delivery of improved rice and wheat varieties to farmers in eastern India.

Seed scenario
In recent decades a large number of rice and wheat varieties have been released in India, which have the potential to significantly increase agricultural productivity and reduce rural poverty. However, most small-scale and poor farmers in eastern India do not have access to new generations of modern rice and wheat varieties that can tolerate flooding, resistant to pests and diseases, and produce higher yields.

Seed replacement rates in key crops like rice and wheat are also extremely low in eastern India and it can be attributed to many factors. Farmers are not aware of the potential of new varieties; there is a lack of proper seed storage infrastructure to maintain good quality; poor linkages among government, private sector and farmers to provide seeds in a timely manner and lack of a policy environment that will support faster adoption of new varieties.

The seed summit was divided into several plenary and group discussion sessions that focused on strengthening the financial capacity and marketing skills of rural seed dealers and input retailers, expanding the role of agricultural extension and advisory services, leveraging civil society—farmers’ associations, community groups and non-governmental organizations—to help promote new varieties and encouraging greater engagement from India’s vibrant private sector in the region’s seed markets.

“India is the fifth largest seed market in the world, growing at 12% annually,” said David Spielman, senior research fellow at International Food Policy Research Institute. He underscored the gaps in the policy environment of India’s seed market and how the public and private sectors need to work together for farmers’ benefits.

“There is a need for better decision-making tools—better data, information and analysis at a strategic level to improve seed systems and markets in Asia,” Dr. Spielman added. “Greater investments in the research systems and improved market surveillance to identify and prosecute fraudulent seed production are also required.”

Vilas Tonapi, principal scientist (Seed Science and Technology), Indian Agricultural Research Institute, promoted alternative seed system models—individual farmer as a seed bank, village-based seed banks and self-help group-based small scale seed enterprise—to provide local platforms that farmers can easily access to buy improved seeds. Dr. Tonapi also emphasized the importance of public-private collaborations to make appropriate variety available to the farmers at the right place and time, and in sufficient quantity and good quality.

Looking forward
The last session at the summit discussed the priorities for a future action plan in the Indian seed sector, especially in the eastern states. Participants highlighted the role of local seed dealers and the need for workable business models to expand the use of new varieties. Defining which varieties are old and which are not is equally important. Participants also explored strategies to prioritize breeding and enhance varietal turnover.

Four main priorities came up at the end of the deliberations and will be critical going forward. The extension system should be restructured and revived. Effective seed subsidy programs should be designed that are based on evidence, are cost-effective, and are better targeted to reach poor farmers. Mechanization of the seed sector should be promoted with introduction of mobile seed treatment units and seed weighing machines.  Demonstration of new varieties and new farm technologies should be promoted through both progressive as well as innovative farmers.

“Proper infrastructure, local production and sale to ensure timely availability, better extension services and more demonstrations to increase farmers’ awareness will help enhance the seed supply chain in eastern India,” said Sain Dass, president of Indian Maize Development Association.

To view the photos and other details of the summit, please visit

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Myanmar: IRRI heads workshop for improving farmer profitability

Written by Romeo Labios and Trina Leah Mendoza

Partners of  Diversification and intensification of rice-based cropping systems in lower Myanmar held a workshop on 18-19 May in Yezin. The 4-year project, which is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, conducts research on cropping options to increase and sustain productivity of both cropping systems in Maubin Township in Ayeyarwaddy, and in Daik Oo Township in Bago.

“The project aims to improve farmer profitability through developing best practices for rice production,” said IRRI principal scientist Grant Singleton who heads the undertaking. “It includes postharvest management, and innovative approaches to improve the productivity of rice-rice and rice-pulse cropping systems.”

Project partners who attended the activity included Dr. Ye Tin Htun, deputy director general of the Department of Agricultural Research, and Dr. Aye Min, project manager at the Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation The IRRI Myanmar office was represented by Dr. Romeo Labios, U Than Aye, Dr. Nyo Me Thwe, U Aung Myo Thant, Daw Aye Hnin Yu, Daw Su Su San, and Christopher Cabardo. Martin Gummert leads the post-harvest component of the project.

The participants discussed the work and financial plans, and protocols of the prioritized activities for the 2014 wet season and the 2014-15 dry season.. They also considered other researchable and capacity-building areas, including strategies to meet the project’s aims.

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Vietnam: CCAFS-SEA holds workshop on communicating with greater impact

Written by Bernadette Joven

The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Regional Program for Southeast Asia (CCAFS-SEA) recently concluded a collective engagement and communication program workshop at the Agricultural Genetics Institute in Hanoi, Vietnam on 29-30 May.

The workshop participants drew insights from best practices of CGIAR member-centers, developed a roadmap to actively engage partners, and draw an overall communication plan to support the implementation of CCAFS research agenda and priorities.

“Results of this communication workshop will feed into the overall CCAFS regional impact pathway, which will be finalized in a workshop to be held on October 2014,”said Dr. Leo Sebastian, CCAFS-SEA’s regional program leader. The workshop output will also serve as the platform for information sharing and communication engagement on climate change issues among the centers.

Participants included heads and senior communication staff from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Center for International Forestry Research, International Potato Center, World Agroforestry Centre, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, International Water Management Institute, International Rice Research Institute, CCAFS staff, and selected media partners in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Vietnam and the Philippines.

To come up with substantive inputs for the CCAFS impact pathway, experiences and learning in the current communication and knowledge sharing initiatives among participating CGIAR centers were harnessed. Highlighted in the brainstorming and workshop sessions were potential engagement strategies and identification of communication needs and complementary tools and platforms that could help catalyze behavior change among the ‘next-users’ (e.g. government, academe, civil society, development partners etc.) who directly work with ‘end-users’ (e.g. farmers, fishers etc.) in the climate change adaptation and mitigation continuum. Measures of collective performance were also outlined to gauge stakeholder impacts and outcomes.

CCAFS-SEA, the newest region of the CCAFS global network, provides a platform for credible and authoritative scientific information, and knowledge and tools on agriculture and food security in the context of climate change. The CCAFS communication network could help amplify CGIAR centers’ initiatives to help farmers adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

A huge part of IRRI’s research contributes toward making rice production sustainable and environment-friendly through the development of climate-smart rice varieties that can tolerate effects of climate change like flood, drought, and salinity.  IRRI also developed “alternate wetting and drying” (AWD) that not only lessens the amount of water used in producing rice but also reduces the emission of the greenhouse gas methane from rice paddies.

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IRRI researchers attend workshop on cutting-edge satellite technology vs. rice invaders

Written by Dr. Finbarr Horgan

Twenty IRRI researchers, mainly entomologists and plant pathologist, attended the workshop on Application of Geographic Information Systems for Sustainable Rice for accurate and timely information necessary to develop strategies for managing insect and pest infestation on 26-30 May.

Alex Stuart (CORIGAP-IRRI) and Norbert Hirneisen (Science4you, Germany) discussed Global Positioning System (GPS) and the recording, storing and visualizing of mapping information.

The workshop was an opportunity for many of the participants to gain first-hand experience with projects at geographic and landscape scales. The researchers studied the advantages, disadvantages and accuracy of different GPS devices. Using reference point in physical space from several entomology projects, the researchers honed their skills in downloading and storing information using BaseCamp, and visualizing information with OpenStreetMap, GPS Visualizer, Google Maps and Google Earth. They created distribution and change detection maps using QGIS with attribute data collected from Guayaquil, Ecuador and Laguna, Philippines. Information from Laguna was analyzed using high-resolution optical satellite imaging imagery provided by OLANIS for the Land-use intensity and Ecological Engineering: Assessment Tools for risks and Opportunities in irrigated rice-based production systems (LEGATO) project. Participants were also introduced to the LEGATO GeoServer—an essential resource for landscape-scale research at project sites in the Philippines and Vietnam.

The workshop was organized by the entomology unit of CESD and facilitated by Volker Grescho of OLANIS GmbH of Leipzig, Germany as part of LEGATO project, a German funded project that brings together several collaborating institutes from Germany, the Philippines and Vietnam. The project focuses on landscape approaches to enhancing rice ecosystem services in Asia.  

                 Participants of the workshop – Application of geographic information systems for sustainable rice production – are from left to right: Leo Ocampo, James Villegas, Christophe Dominik, Michael Noel, 
Ethel Banasihan (administrative support), Quynh Vu, Arriza Arida, 
Norbert Hirneisen (Science4you), Carmen Bernal, Maravic Perez, 
Volker Grescho (OLANIS GmbH), Fame Ramal, Alex Stuart, Liberty Almazan, 
Buyung Hadi, Jo Catindig, Amyleen Agbay, Finbarr Horgan, 
Nolan Manalo, Jedeliza Ferrater, Patrick Garcia

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