Thursday, October 30, 2014

Science and policy snippets from IRC2014 (October 29)

by the IRRI communication team

Ebola disrupts distribution in the global rice market, experts say

The disruption caused by Ebola on the global rice market is mainly on logistics and distribution, increasing cost of inputs and the price of rice. This view was shared by experts during the Global Rice Market and Trade Summit (GRMTS).

The Ebola-affected countries—Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone—import 900,000 tons from Asia, mainly India, according to Sam Mohanty, IRRI senior economist. “The volume is only less than 7% of the African rice trade.” With higher shipping cost, the price of rice in these countries increased by US$30-40 per ton.

“Trade has not taken a serious view of Ebola except on the largest single problem of shipping,” said Rajeev Raina, senior vice-president and global head on farming of Olam International, Ltd. He added that that the numbers are not yet big enough to have an impact on consumption or harvests.

Mapping rice

Information gaps in research and policy can be addressed by accurate depictions of rice growing activities around the globe through maps using remote-sensing (RS) technology.

At GRMTS, Andy Nelson, head of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory at IRRI spoke about the potentials of the technology in providing accurate and real-time information on rice.

"Remote-sensing has a role to play in assessing the vulnerability of the crop,” said Nelson.  By providing more accurate information on rice-growing areas and expected yields, maps generated through the technology can help governments manage domestic rice production and distribution, both during the normal growing cycle as well as after disasters.

Rice fields are regularly monitored using data obtained by satellite-borne radar sensors, which can observe vegetation growth regardless of cloud coverage. The maps are products of the integration of RS technology and crop modeling software, Oryza.

Transforming IRRI’s breeding agenda

Targeting a 2% genetic gain in rice yield will help the world meet the world's future rice requirement. To do that, IRRI's breeding program is implementing Transforming Rice Breeding (TRB), a project that reexamines breeding objectives, methods, and operations, and realigns pipelines to be more efficient and targeted. Key implementers of the transformation talked about steps being taken to facilitate the transition.

Glenn Gregorio described the establishment of centralized, cross-cutting breeding processes and services at IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Division. The new system sees trait development teams supporting varietal development across all its programs. Bertrand Collard talked about transforming the IRRI irrigated breeding program, which includes establishing a revamped multi-location testing system, a precursor for multi-environmental trials and implementing modern designs and methods for data analysis, including mechanization for field nurseries and trials. Michael Thomson talked about upgrading and implementing high-throughput marker genotyping and supporting high volume information system needs of the breeders through Breeding4Rice, a new breeding information management system.

Grounded on the principles of demand-driven research, the new breeding structure is complemented by breeding hubs in South Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa.

Breaking new yield ceilings

In another session at IRC2014, scientists Pravat Mohapatra, Michael Dingkuhn, and Tanguy Lafarge, who was also the moderator for the session, discussed increasing the yield potential of rice. A constant focus of rice research, work in this area has moved from exploiting physiological processes to a technique called ideotyping. An ideotype is a model plant that denotes certain desired characteristics. During this session, scientists discussed the design of high-yielding ideotypes and how they might be evaluated.

Around 1,500 participants from 69 countries are attending the 4th International Rice Congress, or IRC2014, at the Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre (BITEC).

IRC2014 is being held under the patronage of the Royal Government of Thailand, specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and is touted as the “Olympics of rice science,” being the largest gathering of rice science and industry held every four years. 

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