Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tanzania: IRRI Dakawa Research Station honored by the national symbol of freedom and hope

The IRRI Dakawa Research Station in Tanzania was honored with The Uhuru Torch, the country’s symbol freedom and hope, on 18 July. First lit on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1961, the torch now inspires Tanzanians with an annual run across every district the country, inaugurating and honoring selected development projects. The guiding theme for Uhuru torch is to bring hope where there is despair, love in the midst of hatred, and respect where there is none.

The Uhuru Torch race group visited IRRI-Tanzania research center consisting of demonstration plots of elite and released rice varieties, regional rice breeding nurseries, and other field trials. Mrs. Rachel Stephen Kassanda, the race leader, commended the work by IRRI-Tanzania to reduce poverty. She stressed the importance of disseminating the new rice varieties to farmers so that they can reap the fruits of research.  The Officer-In- Charge of Dakawa research station, Mr. George Iranga cited the great job done by the staff of IRRI-Tanzania, in collaboration with A.R.I. Dakawa and other research institutions, for the benefit of farmers in the country.

This year’s Uhuru Torch was lit in Bukoba, Kagera Region on 2 May by Vice President Mohamed Gharib Bilal. The event was attended by the district commissioner and other national and regional dignitaries.

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Talking policy: What does ASEAN 2015 mean for a rice-rich region?

What will national and regional food security look like in an integrated ASEAN?

These concerns, among others, drove the discussion during the forum on Food Security in ASEAN 2015, a media event jointly organized by and IRRI.

According to Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships, “The nutrition status of all citizens—consumers and farmers—should be the principal yardstick of national and regional food security.” It is also the case, said Tolentino, that “food security is undeniably linked to income security. People need access to, and should be able to buy the food they need.”

Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Fortunato dela Peña said that a large majority of ASEAN countries listed agriculture and food security as a high priority in their research and development agendas. Dela Peña presented the Philippines’ priority outcomes as regards regional integration, with agricultural productivity at the top of the list.

"Some 90% of the world’s rice supply is produced in Asia—much of it in ASEAN countries," added Tolentino. He underscored that "two of the world’s largest producers and exporters of rice—Thailand and Vietnam—as well as two of the world’s largest consumers and importers of rice—Indonesia and the Philippines—are part of the ASEAN".

In an integrated ASEAN, where rice looms large in national agriculture sectors as well as family tables, food security requires the strengthening of regional agreements that will facilitate reliable rice reserves, especially during emergency situations (See Dr. Tolentino's "ASEAN cooperation: Crucial to global food security").

Present during the forum, held at Ascott Hotel in Makati, Philippines, on 30 July 2014, were members of the media, SciDevNet staff, and the IRRI Communication team.

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Rice researchers from East and Southern Africa attend regional breeding workshop in Tanzania

Twenty six delegates from Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Zanzibar attended the 8th regional breeding workshop held at Morogoro, Tanzania on 8-10 July.

During the workshop collaborators in East and Southern Africa (ESA) evaluated a wide range of improved breeding lines under irrigated and rainfed ecologies at the Dakawa Research Station and Chinese Demonstration Center, respectively, and selected the most suitable rice genotypes for their country-specific requirements

The workshop also provided participants with the opportunity to update the progress of the selected breeding lines from previous workshops, reinforce regional breeding nurseries, and share experiences and available germplasm in the region.

The workshop was organized by IRRI-ESA which is based in Bujumura, Burundi.

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Interns study effects of pesticides on amphibians at IRRI

Four students from Northern Arizona University (NAU), USA, concluded their 7 -week study on whether different forms of pesticide use affected amphibian populations in IRRI rice fields and whether amphibians act as indicators for health among people living in rice farming communities.

The scholars were supervised at IRRI by Dr. Grant Singleton, principal scientist and coordinator of the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) Project. Dr. Sarah Beebout, CORIGAP soil scientist, guided them in choosing field sites where environmental indicators are measured. The students conducted daily and nightly surveys for adult and breeding amphibians at sites that use both chemical and non-chemical pest control mechanisms.

“The experience at IRRI was refreshing as it allowed me to see how science is conducted and comes together, coming from a field of chemistry in the USA, to something here that has a strong natural history focus,” says Jonathan Credo (photo above). Mr. Credo studied tadpole diversity and development among different rice paddy pest control mechanisms.

Brittni Howard, an anthropologist, observed and interviewed farmers in nearby towns on which species they collected, how they are prepared for consumptions, who consumes them, and how often. “I learned not only about Filipino culture but about IRRI, which was a phenomenal experience, especially doing a project from the bottom-up with international scientists,” shares Ms. Howard.
Joseph Landavaso, who worked on adult frog population parameters and diversity, found the collaboration with IRRI staff remarkable, and was impressed by the resilience of the people after the destruction caused by Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun).

“It was a little different at first, adjusting to the work and talking with people,” describes Marsha Bitsui, who studied the effects of agricultural treatment mechanisms on the amphibians’ vocalization. “Now I really want to stay at IRRI.”

“The combined efforts of IRRI researchers and the students have provided us with a strong foundation for future work, and I look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration,” says Prof. Catherine Propper, adviser of the interns from NAU Department of Biological Sciences. The project was funded by the Minority Health International Research Training Project of NAU and the National Institutes of Health, USA.

Sampling tadpoles 

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Former IRRI scientist appointed as acting CEO of major cereal crop genomics facility in Australia

Sigrid Heuer, a former IRRI scientist and current associate professor at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG) has been appointed as acting CEO of ACPFG along with Michael Gilbert.

Dr. Heuer spent nearly ten years as researcher at IRRI in the Philippines where she made one of the most groundbreaking discoveries in rice science—a gene responsible for rice phosphorus uptake. She also conducted research focused on developing rice with abiotic stress tolerance. Her initial work, in the team of Dr. David Mackill, focused on the SUB1A submergence-tolerance gene and the development of molecular markers to enable molecular breeding of tolerant rice varieties.

Dr. Heuer joined the ACPFG as leader of the Nutrient Use Efficiency group in January 2013 which aims to develop wheat with stable yield under stress conditions and with improved nutrient-use efficiency. She was appointed deputy CEO shortly afterwards. Dr. Heuer and Mr. Gilbert will replace outgoing CEO Professor Peter Langridge who retired on 30 June 2014.

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IRRI and partners meet to conserve and promote heirloom rice of Northern Philippines

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) Regional Office conducted a two-day workshop for the Heirloom Rice project with its partners and stakeholders at Mountain Province, Philippines on 8-9 July.

The Heirloom Rice Project is an initiative under the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP) of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA). 

The workshop was a good avenue to learn and benefit from the rich experiences of the partners who have so much to offer – and stand to gain – from the project, according to Digna Manzanilla, coordinator of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments, and the Heirloom Rice Project. The activity, which was organized by Dr. Manzanilla and the DA, included monitoring and evaluation ; developing competitive value chains and linking farmer's products to the market; capacity building for partners who will train farmers; and characterizing heirloom rice seeds, some which may soon become if not promptly conserved. Participants discussed their concerns; identified gaps; set plans and activities; and propose timelines and budget.

Dr.  Nollie Vera Cruz, IRRI plant pathologist and leader of the Heirloom Rice project, also hopes that, heirloom rice might reach other potential markets to benefit farmers. In relation to this, the project will conduct a food tasting event for top restaurateurs sometime this year.

The partners of the Heirloom Rice project include the DA Regional office; provincial and municipal government units; Philippine Rice Research Institute; Revitalized Indigenous Cordilleran Enterprises, the Rice Terraces Farmers' Cooperative; and state colleges and universities from the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, and Kalinga.


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Friday, July 25, 2014

Temperate rice on the global stage

Photo by Russell Reinke. Seed increase of temperate rice near Yanco, NSW, Australia.

Calling all temperate rice researchers!

Temperate rice—or rice that grows in cold climates—will figure prominently at the 4th International Rice Congress (IRC2014) in two events—the 5th Temperate Rice Conference, or TRC5, and the annual meeting of the Temperate Rice Research Consortium (TRRC). IRC2014 will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, on 27 October 27-1 November 2014.

“This year’s conference will mark the 20th year since the series began, the first of which was held in Australia in 1994 with 200 attendees from around the world” said Russell Reinke, TRRC Coordinator and co-organizer of the TRC.

Temperate rice is grown in higher latitudes, where temperatures are generally lower. In these regions, the days are longer during the summer growing season, improving the chances of better crop growth and yield.

Because of more sunlight hours, temperate rice yields about 10 tons of paddy per hectare—almost double the tropical average. Thus, despite a far smaller total temperate rice area compared to its tropical counterpart—and the fact that only one crop a year is possible—temperate rice accounts for about 20% of global rice production.

Rice-growing in temperate regions comes with its own set of concerns. One of these is blast, a fungal disease that thrives better in the cold and, thus, causes more damage. Blast damage is compounded by the effect of extreme temperatures at critical points in the growth of the rice plant. In response to these specific problems, research on temperate rice has been growing and is expected to gain more traction during the Bangkok congress, bringing together scientists and research networks to focus the spotlight on temperate rice.

“Problems specific to temperate rice can be overcome more effectively with the free flow of information, seeds, and technology among researchers, and the annual consortium meetings and temperate rice conferences are ideal for aligning research initiatives” said Russell Ford, manager of Rice Research Australia and current Chairman of the TRRC Steering Committee.

Such networks include the Fund for Rice in Latin America, or FLAR, that links public- and private-sector stakeholders throughout South America; and the Rice Technical Working Group (RTWG), a forum that gathers rice researchers every two years in the United States. TRC5 and the annual meeting of the TRRC aim to place in sharp relief the most recent advances in rice research from various temperate locations all over the world.

Temperate rice is grown in geographically diverse areas, such as Australia, Chile, northwest China, Egypt, North Korea, Russia, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and some parts of the United States.

Register via to attend this year’s International Rice Congress in Bangkok.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Asia Rice Foundation USA announces 2014 Travel and Study Award Winners

During their15th annual meeting, held on 5 July at U.C. Davis, the trustees of the Asia Rice Foundation USA (ARFUSA) announced two 2014 winners of the organization’s Travel and Study Award Program. Ana Maria Bossa Castro and Haley Sater will each receive a $3,500 travel grant to visit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines in the coming months.

Ms. Bossa Castro, a native of Colombia, is a second-year PhD student at Colorado State University (CSU). Her research project, Defeating Bacterial Diseases of Rice: Novel Resistance Sources for Rice Crops in Africa and Latin America, is a collaborative project among CSU, IRRI, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia.

At IRRI, she will participate in the Institute’s 3-week international course, Rice: Research to Production in 2015. The course will provide her with a unique opportunity to learn from experts about the latest rice research, as well as the most efficient production techniques. She will also meet with IRRI scientists collaborating with her to update them about her bacterial disease research and to discuss future experiments.

Ms. Bossa Castro has also received funding for her PhD research from the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program.

Ms. Sater, a Minnesota native, is working on her master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. Her research involves obtaining better abiotic stress tolerance in rice. These stresses, especially drought and salinity, limit rice production all over the world.

Her time at IRRI will involve a 3-month research project with Glenn Gregorio and other breeders to help close the information gap regarding dual drought and salinity tolerance in rice. She will help develop a method for phenotypic evaluation of the two stresses. This preliminary study will provide a foundation for future research into the mechanism for dual stress resistance. It may also be used to help breeders determine which lines might be useful to incorporate into crosses to achieve hardier plant types for growing in drought- and salinity-afflicted areas.

ARFUSA is made up primarily of U.S.-based former IRRI staff members who have all worked and lived in countries where rice is vital for food and to earn a livelihood. They started the foundation to support activities that help contribute toward a world that can feed itself, treasure the rich heritage of rice cultures, and value rice- growing land as a precious resource to be shared with future generations. The foundation is particularly interested in cultivating the next generation of rice scientists through its Travel and Study Awards to young scholars.

Applications for 2015 Travel and Study Awards are now being accepted. The deadline is 1 June 2015. More details can be found at

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Gender workshop showcases efforts to mainstream women contribution in rice farming

The IRRI Gender Research Team organized the GRiSP Gender Research Network workshop to showcase a wide variety of GRiSP research and outreach activities in Asia and Africa. National and international scientists from IRRI headquarters, IRRI-India, IRRI-Bangladesh, and representatives from Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and Africa Rice Center attended the event held at IRRI Headquarters, Philippines on 25−27 June.

In his opening speech, Matthew Morell, IRRI deputy-director general for research, discussed how research on gender can influence the adoption and impact of rice knowledge and technologies, and help in developing policies and strategies for the implementation of programs.

“All our research must be directly targeted to making a significant measurable difference,” Dr. Morell said.
In her keynote speech Gelia Castillio, rural sociologist and IRRI consultant, emphasized the need to give women a face and an identity instead of being treated as data and statistics. She recommended undertaking research projects to follow-up the current status of the women who have benefitted from past GRiSP projects.

Dr. Hope Webber, IRRI monitoring and evaluation specialist, stressed the need for collecting sex-disaggregated data to facilitate project evaluation. Dr. Sonia Akter, IRRI gender specialist, discussed the CGIAR recommended minimum standard guidelines for sex-aggregated data collection.

The lessons learned from technology dissemination, status of women's empowerment, as well as the impact of climate change and male out-migration on women’s changing role in agriculture were among those highlighted and discussed.

Workshop participants made a commitment to continue high-quality, policy-relevant, action-oriented research activities to foster gender-equity and enhance women's empowerment across the globe.

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