Friday, October 31, 2014

Science and policy snippets from IRC2014 (October 30)

by the IRRI communication team

Public and private rice players promote sustainability standards

Partnerships among governments and the private sector are strengthening farmers’ skills in applying sustainable farming practices. These initiatives were shared by experts from around the world during the symposium, Mainstreaming Sustainable Rice – Rice Value Chain Global Transformation.

Topics included: (A) Sustainable rice: what is it and what is it worth?, by Sarah Beebout; (B) Voluntary standards and roundtables: what can we learn from other industries, by Hans Perk; (C) The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP): a global multi-stakeholder platform, by  Wyn Ellis; and (D) Sustainability and IRRI's ecological intensification platform, by James Quilty.

Private companies that work on rice also shared their programs aimed at helping farmers become good managers and environmental stewards by promoting sustainable farming practices.

Companies with sustainability campaigns include: (A) Mars food and sustainable rice sourcing, by Luc Beerens; (B) Bayer and a sustainable solution to strengthen rice production, by Mahesh Girdar; (C) The Kellogg's Origins Project: a real opportunity for rice farmers in Spain, by M. CatalĂ ; and (D) Lousiana State University: rice sustainability and rice grower program, by Steven Linscombe.

Sustainability of farming environments and resilience of rice value chains are assured by making farmers understand and accept, complex scientific concepts around achieving sustainability.  This was what experts at the International Rice Congress, now happening in Bangkok, Thailand, proposed as a way to achieve an environmentally-sensitive rice industry.

Impact studies on rice science show positive results

Various impact assessment studies on IRRI varietal contributions and natural resource management (NRM) technologies were highlighted during a science symposium titled Frontiers in ex post impact assessment of rice technologies: What lessons can rice research institutions learn? Results showed positive returns on rice yield, household income, livelihood, and food security.

Rod Rejesus, symposium convener and professor from North Carolina State University, stated the importance of collaboration and partnership between rice scientists and impact assessment specialists. He added that the “consortium approach” was a good model for NRM diffusion. “With donors’ continued emphasis on impact," he added, "it is also important to have in place at the beginning of a project a social scientist who will do impact assessment, rather than at the end.”

Healthier rice to address double burden of malnutrition

Asia faces a "double burden" of malnutrition. While Asians continue to deal with problems of undernutrition, they are experiencing a rapid increase in noncommunicable disease, such as obesity and diabetes, which are brought about by overnutrition.

During the scientific session on Healthier and Nutritious Rice at IRC2014, developments in rice varieties with low-glycemic index, high-iron, and high, -zinc were presented. Also discussed was the research on increasing the nutrition content of oil obtained from rice bran.

Rice is the primary staple of Asians, and to ensure that it helps address both forms of malnutrition, scientists are developing healthier rice varieties and products. According Dr. Nese Sreenivasulu, head of IRRI’s Grain Quality and Nutrition Center, “while we know that the consumption of rice is not the primary cause of overnutrition or undernutrition, rice can play a huge role in addressing these forms of malnutrition.”

Both undernutrition and overnutrition exact heavy economic and social burdens on countries at all income levels. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the economic costs of malnutrition due to lost productivity and direct health care costs total US$3.5 trillion, per year, globally.

Unlocking rice genes with cutting edge science

During an Innovations in Rice Science session, scientists from different organizations discussed new technologies that aid in better understanding rice genetics, and how these technologies help make rice breeding more efficient.

Trait and gene discovery are precursors to the development of new rice varieties that possess desirable traits, such as flood, drought, and salinity resistance, while maintaining high yields and other preferred grain qualities.

Topics presented included: 1) Genome reshuffling populations to improve yield potential by T. Yamamoyo; 2) A nested association mapping population by Mathia Lorieux; 3) Multi-parent advanced generation intercross (MAGIC) by Glenn Gregorio; and 4) Wheat magic, linking the genes that regulate flowering time to inflorescence architecture by Steve Swain. 

How do rice roots contribute to stress response and yield?

Advances in rice root biology research involve novel traits and genetic regions associated with root growth and stress response. Showcased in a symposium convened by IRRI physiologist Amelia Henry were new concepts, such as: (1) linking whole genome association mapping with functional genomics of rice root traits; (2) importance of plasticity in the rice root's response to drought; (3) hormone effects on root anatomy and biochemisty; and (4) the integration of root morphology and functionality in developing new rice root ideotypes.

These topics give light to how the roots of rice contribute to rice yield and the plant's stress response.

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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