Friday, January 30, 2015

The International Rice Genebank: a galaxy of rice traits awaits full exploration

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines - The International Rice Genebank housed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is a virtual universe that contains most traits rice breeders need, according to Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, an evolutionary biologist who provides scientific leadership in the genetic conservation of rice.

“The diversity in the Genebank is massive,” Dr. Sackville Hamilton said during his presentation at the recently concluded IRRI-Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Science Week, held here from 26 to 30 January. “There is diversity for almost every conceivable trait, almost every conceivable development objective,” he added.

Case in point: early-flowering rice.

Increasing average daytime temperatures is one way climate change is affecting rice production. Rice scientists at IRRI have determined that extremely higher temperatures, particularly during the flowering stage, are associated with lower yields. In most rice varieties, the peak of flowering takes place between 09:30 and 11:30 in the morning when the temperature is well on its way up. Even an hour’s exposure to heat stress at this time can be sufficient to induce sterility— and temperatures above 36°C can cause inadequate pollination resulting in empty panicles.

One proposed solution for this problem was developing rice varieties that flower earlier in the day when temperatures are cooler. “Everyone said there was no early-flowering trait in rice,” Dr. Sackville Hamilton said. “But Greg Howell, former IRRI plant physiologist, and his team found it.”

Ironically, the Genebank’s strength—the genetic diversity it holds—also presents some challenges. “The problem we face is the huge amount of diversity that we have in the Genebank,” he said. “We don’t know which accessions contain the genes breeders need, and finding them is often difficult.”

Screening this vast collection for particular traits is very labor intensive. Finding the desired trait isn’t as straightforward as looking for a needle in a haystack. That would be easy. It’s really more like looking for a needle that may not even be in a haystack. Or looking for a needle in a haystack of objects that look pretty much like needles. Dr. Howell and his team painstakingly combed through 4,200 domesticated and wild rice types at the Genebank, spending numerous hours observing the samples, and found the early-flowering trait in 590 accessions.

Currently, the Genebank provides breeders with many accessions to evaluate. But usually they can only afford what Dr. Sackville Hamilton calls a “quick and dirty” phenotypic screening. “It is not surprising that very few accessions get past the breeders’ initial screen,” Dr. Sackville Hamilton said. “We have been distributing 30,000 to 40,000 samples a year for evaluation since 1985. About 85% of the accessions (types of rice) have been evaluated at least once, but only about 5% have actually been incorporated into breeding programs."

“In the future we need to work on building the system to estimate breeding value from genotype, and then we will be able to feed more detailed knowledge to the breeders,” he said.

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Regional agreement results in faster release of rice varieties

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines - An unprecedented regional seed cooperation agreement, involving India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, is speeding up the release and dissemination of rice varieties to benefit farmers in the region. The agreement is a result of discussions among officials of the three countries, convened by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) through the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project.

“The regional cooperation system is the most suitable platform for India, Bangladesh, and Nepal because they share similar agroecologies and borders,” Abdelbagi Ismail said during his presentation at the recently concluded IRRI-Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Asia Science Week, held here from 26 to 30 January.

“With this seed cooperation system, a rice variety that is tested, approved, and released in one country can also be released simultaneously in another, provided that they have the same agroclimatic conditions,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, principal scientist at IRRI and leader of the STRASA project.

The regional seed cooperation saves a lot of resources and shortens the time required for a variety to be released in one country. If a country released the same variety released in another country, it will save a significant amount of time required in the breeding process. Varieties developed through marker-assisted breeding takes 2 years while it takes 7 years or more for varieties developed through conventional breeding.

 “In fact, several varieties released in one country are already popular in another. For example, BR11, BRRI dhan 28, and BRRI dhan 29, modern high-yielding rice varieties released in Bangladesh, are now widely grown in eastern India,” he reported.

Indian varieties are currently estimated to be planted in more than 21% of the rice area in Bangladesh. Some Indian rice varieties such as Swarna, Sarju 52, and Samba Mahsuri are now popular in Nepal.

According to Dr. Ismail, agreement on regional seed cooperation was reached because these three countries have well-established research and rice varietal development programs. Moreover, they share similar guidelines for varietal evaluation and release.

The Indian government is taking the initiative to implement the regional cooperation agreement. Several varieties released in Bangladesh such as BINA dhan 8, BINA dhan 10, BINA dhan 11, and  BINA dhan 12 are in the queue to be released in the states of West Bengal, Assam, and Odisha in India. These varieties will be evaluated for release in other states also, but only for a year.

Sukha dhan5 and Sukha dhan6, drought-tolerant varieties released in Nepal, are being considered for release in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The good news is that, the Department of Agriculture of India allotted 30% of its funds to programs such as National Food Security Mission NFSM) and Bringing the Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI) to further promote climate-smart rice developed by STRASA starting this year.

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Gender research aims to mainstream women in agriculture

LOS BANOS, Philippines - The gender research team of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is extensively working to mainstream women as the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) implements its gender components.

Projects under GRiSP are aiming to reduce gender inequality and gaps through the use of gender-responsive technology and tools, outreach, training, and gender-disaggregated (separately collected from men and women) data. While doing this, the gender research team gathered a few success stories to tell from farm mechanization efforts in India.

Women introduced mechanized farming in Bihar in Eastern India with the help of gender specialists at IRRI. Encouraged and assisted by the IRRI gender team, the women members of a self-help group put their savings and a generous government subsidy together and became proud owners of a mechanical rice transplanter.

The initiative was carried out through a pilot project under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) in Bihar, one of the least-developed states in India, with the lowest agricultural productivity and the highest incidence of poverty.

Also in Eastern India, women have come to the heart of technology delivery in the remote tribal villages of Odisha. In 2013, as part of its commitment to mainstreaming gender, IRRI started engaging local partners, such as Pradan and the Dhan Foundation and other such organizations, to help women in Mayurbhanj District, also under CSISA. Their cumulative efforts have changed the technology delivery model for the district.

IRRI’s gender team was also responsible for women empowerment through access to seeds and seed management training in Eastern India and Bangladesh.

These efforts have been successful in, for instance, identifying a standard and comprehensive set of domains to measure women empowerment in agriculture. However, gender mainstreaming also faces challenges, which mainly have to do with household structure and gender norms; difficulty in collecting sex-disaggregated information about assets, income, and expenditure; prolonged survey and difficulties in involving or even interviewing women due to time constraints, information gaps, and religious and cultural constraints.

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Philippines: IRRI donates scientific publications for PhilRice “one-stop” information project

The International Rice Research Institute donated scientific publications, which will be distributed to selected universities in Region II through the One-Stop information Shop project of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

This PhilRice project aims to make information conveniently accessible to students and researchers who are interested in the field of agriculture. The universities that will receive the materials are Nueva Vizcaya State University, Quirino State University, Isabela State University, Ifugao State University and Cagayan State University. The publications donated by IRRI include the Rice Almanac, magazines, books, and CDs about agriculture and biotechnology.

PhilRice is a prominent partner in technology delivery and it is often the first recipient of IRRI research. Over the years, IRRI and PhilRice have collaborated on more than 50 research projects to help improve rice production in the country.

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Sub-Saharan rice farming countries benefit from season-long training

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines-The Season-Long Rice Farming Program for extension agronomists in Sub-Saharan countries has been a success, reported Lea Abaoag, head of the Technology Management and Services Division of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) on 29 January 2015 during the IRRI-GRiSP Asia Science Week.

Felix Oteng, one of the five training graduates from Ghana in 2012, is a living testimony of this success. He has used his knowledge in training his co-extension workers in his country. In December 2014, he was awarded as the Northern Regional Best Agricultural Extension Officer during the National Farmer’s Day celebration.

“I have really seen the impact of the course and I can say that more good things are yet to happen, ” he said.

Not popularly known as a rice region, Africa is in fact an important rice producer and consumer. Rice is the fastest growing food staple in the region. For instance, Ghana’s rice consumption continues to increase with the country’s population growth, urbanization, and changing consumer preferences. From 22.8 kg per year in 2005, the country's per capita consumption jumped to 34.2 kg per year in 2011. However, the country’s rice self-sufficiency ratio is only about 30%, leaving a 70% shortfall. Currently, Ghana spends about US$450 million each year on rice imports to meet its local demand.

"Improving rice production in Africa is critical in meeting the region’s future demand for rice,” said Dr. Noel Magor, head of IRRI’s Training Center. “Training young Africans in all aspects of rice production, for them to be updated of the latest and most useful information and to build their professional networks, will empower them to play an active role in developing environmentally sustainable rice production in their countries,” he added.

The Program is a collaboration among the Japan International Cooperation Agency, International Rice Research Institute, and PhilRice under the Coalition for Africa Rice Development (CARD). The project aims for greater, sustainable harvest of quality rice for Africa by demonstrating that the using up-to-date rice farming practices will result in increased food security and improved livelihoods for rice farmers, their families, and their communities.

The training targeted extension officers, junior researchers, and research technicians in rice research and development. Ms. Abaoag, who is also the overall coordinator of the season-long rice farming training program, said that the African extension agronomists were trained on PalayCheck and Palayamanan systems at the PhilRice Central Experiment Station in Nueva Ecija. PalayCheck is an integrated crop management system for rice while Palayamanan is a diversified rice-based farming system.

The Program started in 2011 and completed in 2013 with a total of 63 extension agronomists who learned the benefits of an effective extension service in the delivery of up-to-date technologies to farmers. It was a 17-week course at PhilRice and a two-week course at IRRI.

This training program is an important milestone in the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) and is part of the joint effort by the Africa Rice Center and IRRI to support rice sector development in Africa.

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IRRI expert talks about moving seed systems forward

Last January 29 at the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) science week, Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, principal scientist and coordinator of the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, explained how important it was to facilitate seed systems, especially when it comes to multiplying and disseminating seeds—considered a prime product of the Institute—more widely for impact.

He said IRRI needs to engage in the seed business because it strengthens trust with partners and can be an entry point for influencing policies across the seed chain or value chain. It can also generate additional resources from national programs or donors, can engage public-private partnerships, and ensure fast delivery or impact, among others.

To facilitate the development of these seed systems, he explained that proper seed partners in the value chain must be aligned in order to facilitate multiplication and dissemination of the seeds. The capacity of the public and private sector partners should also be strengthened and strategic dialogues must be made to ensure enabling policies. Programs on awareness should also be launched to speed up seed uptake, and additional financial resources must be mobilized.

He emphasized in the latter that to ensure ownership of national programs, project objectives must be aligned with a country's priorities and that linkages must be made with national schemes or initiatives for similar goals. The same case can also apply to international initiatives. Networking with diverse partners along the seed chain from production to farmers is also another option. STRASA currently has 570 partners in this regard.

Since much interest has also come from the private sector in the production and marketing of seeds of inbred stress-tolerant rice varieties, this is also another option that can be considered. Currently, STRASA has involved about 350 small and medium private seed producers and over 15 large public and private seed companies and corporations.

In terms of regional collaboration, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and IRRI signed two separate agreements on 2013 and 2014, respectively, where they agreed to jointly share evaluation and release of new rice varieties. Such policy breakthroughs are important, explained Dr. Ismail, since they not only help to fast-track the dissemination of seeds, but also allow IRRI to share costs or resources.
Dr. Joel Janiya, an expert in the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), explained on the one hand that the primary driving force behind the development of seed systems or the uptake of seeds at the community level are women. In fact, women have been playing an increasingly important role in almost all facets of rice farming.

According to him, the way forward for community seeds and women are to continually identify gender-sensitive technologies and to develop a system for assessing farm-level effects on the use of technologies, risk reduction, productivity gains, and value addition. Up-scaling and out-scaling strategies should also be linked with local, regional, or national programs in the same way that technical information services can be linked with non-government organizations, the private sector, and other delivery mechanisms that benefit both men and women.

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South Asian challenges and opportunities identified in GRiSP session

Jagdish K. Ladha, IRRI representative for India, presented last January 29 at the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Science Week, the phase 3 of India's work plan—which runs from 2013-16—and has a total of 24 projects. Seven of these are implemented at the IRRI HQ, while 10 are operating in India. He stressed that the ideal engagement would be a model in which partners are working together for the same objective when collaborating. Matthew Morrell, deputy director general for research, underscored that creating or finding the right collaboration model is important as it is relevant for other countries so finding or creating the right model is crucial.

Dr. Ladha also presented their future strategy based on a meeting with IRRI Indian scientists last January 19. This included their priority in terms of rice ecology, crop establishment, variety, and agronomic practices. Under rice ecology, they would focus on rainfed and irrigated areas as well as those that provide opportunities for rice-fallow or aerobic systems. On crop establishment, the focus is on direct seeding and mechanized transplanting, which is becoming highly popular in south India because of increasing labor costs and shortages. In terms of variety, there have been areas experiencing lower amount of sunlight so rice varieties that are specially adapted to low-light conditions need to be developed. Also, shorter-duration varieties, which can easily fit into many cropping systems, are needed. When it comes to agronomy, Dr. Ladha explained that the focus should be on systems agronomy; on intensification and diversification; on identifying best management practices for key ecologies; and maximizing the yield potential from a best mix of agronomic practices and varieties.

Priority regions in India include its eastern, southern, and southwestern parts. Although there are many challenges such as competing demands, bureaucratic delays, high expectations, and reluctance to sign outside the existing work plan, there are also opportunities to co-lead certain research areas based on comparative advantage; to co-invest by aligning own R&D priorities and activities with GRiSP for greater synergy; and to mobilize additional national resources for upstream research areas.

Bangladesh is also similar to India which presents several challenges and opportunities. According to Dr. Paul Fox, IRRI representative for Bangladesh, farm sizes have been increasingly getting smaller, but surprisingly there's been a reverse trend in land tenancy, which has gone up in much recent years. Other challenges which can also be seen as opportunities include managing crops in saline rice-based systems on monsoonal deltas; increasing water-use efficiency in northwest Bangladesh during the aman and boro rice cropping seasons; coastal community water management; and mechanization and weed problems; among others.

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IRRI breeding steps up for future of rice

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines - Enabling current and future rice systems to produce rice needed to feed the world by 2035 fuels the breeding agenda of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Innovations toward this overarching goal were discussed during the IRRI-Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) Science Week held at IRRI on 26-30 January 2015.

To enable rice systems to produce more yield, IRRI and its global research partners under GRiSP set themselves up in an approach that not only makes for efficient development of rice varieties but also for an informed breeding agenda, by which breeders know what the farmers and the market need.

A key product to help increase rice yields is hybrid rice, research for which is done within the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium.

Research is also ongoing to improve what are considered 'mega-varieties,' or rice varieties that have been grown on at least 2 million hectares. Examples of these mega-varieties are Swarna, Samba Mahsuri, Ciherang, and IR64.

An important pipeline in the development of new rice varieties is trait development. Trait development research involves looking for genes that provide rice, e.g., resistance to pests and disease or tolerance for environmental stresses such as flooding, deep water, drought, salinity, high temperature, and low phosphorus intake.

Trait development is one of the major strengths of IRRI’s breeding program. IRRI's breeding programs itself have been steadily incorporating new genes, technologies and has been moving forward from conventional breeding to more accurate and predictive breeding.

IRRI has also started decentralizing its breeding operations by establishing two breeding hubs that represent the regional context of the areas in which they are located. These are breeding hubs located in Bujumpura, Burundi, and Hyderabad, India. Another one is being set-up in Myanmar. Myanmar is located at the junction of South Asia and Southeast Asia.

The hub approach is seen as an effective way to advise targeted breeding for a specific market segment. They also help in better execution of ecosystem based breeding with main variables being environmental features, which are variable from country to another.

In 2014, IRRI’s breeding division overhauled its operations to set up an improved mechanism to help increase the rate of genetic gain in rice yield. Experts say that this is an important premise to meeting the projected demand in 2035 of an additional 180 million metric tons over current global production.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Young scientists' work featured in Asian rice research meet

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA  - The recently concluded Asia Science Week at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) featured the work of 18 promising scientists in the early stages of their careers. The young rice scientists (YRS), 17 post-doctoral fellows and 1 PhD candidate, presented their research covering a range of topics including crop improvement, reducing post-harvest grain loss, environment and sustainability, genetics and genomics; innovations and novel approaches; and plant breeding. 

Philippine diplomats briefed on IRRI’s climate-smart efforts

Officials from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) visited IRRI on 24 January 2015 to find out more about the Institute’s work, particularly about its climate-smart initiatives.

The group was briefed on how IRRI supports the country’s Food Staples Sufficiency Program. They were also given a glimpse of IRRI’s work in various countries in Asia and other regions of the world in which rice is grown, with emphasis on partnerships with national governments.

The 22 foreign service officers, led by Bernadette Fernandez, executive director of the DFA’s United Nations and International Organization (UNIO), were welcomed by Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general.

Dr. Zeigler also showed Ms. Fernandez a scale model of the Lloyd T. Evans Plant Growth Facility that will soon rise at the Institute’s research complex. A groundbreaking ceremony for the facility was held yesterday, with Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the food and agriculture committee of the Philippine Senate, and a representative of the Australian government, which funded construction of the structure through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Ms. Fernandez said that exposure to IRRI’s work, and to agriculture in general, would help round out foreign service officers’ experiences toward familiarizing themselves with the contexts of many of the groups of people they work with, and IRRI’s basic rice production courses might be a good start.

Mr. Val Roque, director of the DFA-UNIO, intimated that the DFA has a special interest on climate change because of negotiations for a universal agreement that is slated to happen in Paris later this year. The Philippines is going to take part in the said agreement and will have to come up with its own plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by June. "The goal is to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius" to protect  the global food supply against the effects of climate change, said Mr. Roque.

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Myanmar: IRRI conducts training on climate and weather data analysis to understand crop response and suitability to different environments

The International Rice Research Institute in Myanmar (IRRI-Myanmar) conducted four-day hands-on training on weather data management, analysis, and interpretation at the IRRI Myanmar office, Yangon on 19-22 January.

Twenty seven participants from IRRI-Myanmar office, the  Department of Agricultural Research (DAR), Yezin Agricultural University, Groupe de Recherches et d'Echanges (GRET), Welthungerhilfe (WHH), Mercy Corps, and International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC). The course offered state-of-the-art data analysis in modern climate sciences using different software, randomization and trial layouts, data interpretation, routine maintenance of the IRRI-installed weather station at DAR-Yezin, downloading weather data, and creating graphs from weather data. The participants used their own research data in the exercises and were asked to give a short demonstration on their output using the PB tools software and Excel statistical packages.

The training was conducted by resource persons from IRRI namely Dr. R K Singh, senior scientist, Ms. Justine Bonifacio, data manager, Dr. Romeo Labios, scientist, and Dr. Madonna Casimero, senior scientist.

The training was funded by the Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund, a multi-donor fund established to help eradicate poverty and hunger in Myanmar by increasing food availability and incomes.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Philippines: Scholars celebrate unity in diversity of cultures at IRRI

The Association of Fellows, Scholars, Trainees and Resident Committee (AFSTRI) presented the beauty of the different cultural backgrounds of its members during the AFSTRI Cultural Night at Chandler Hall, IRRI Headquarters on 16 January.

One Night, One World, One AFSTRI, the event’s theme , featured cultural performances from the United States of America, Bangladesh, China, Ukraine, Vietnam, Tunisia, the Philippines, India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

In addition to the cultural performances, AFSTRI also held an auction to raise funds for the new IRRI AFSTRI Alumni scholarship (IAAS). Six board members put themselves up for auction and listed a variety of four to five tasks, skills, or items they were willing to do share or teach to be put up for auction. The winning bidder being able to select the one activity or item they were most interested in.  By the end of the program, they were able to raise a total of P29,300 – an amount almost enough for one undergraduate scholarship.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Philippines: IRRI Training Center conducts workshop on effective scientific presentation

The Training Center at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) conducted an Effective Presentation Skills workshop designed to develop the skills of researchers, scholars, and scientists to become effective presenters of information on 22 January at IRRI Headquarters.

The workshop was attended by Xiaojia Yin and Melannie Manguiat from the C4 Rice Center; Lauro Atienza from the Training Center; Maria Krishna De Guzman from the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center; Abigail Domingo and Mark Jeffrey Morete from the Crop and Environmental Sciences Division; and Geraldine Ann Malitic and Erwin Tandayu from the Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Division.

A major part of the activity was the evaluation of the participants’ presentations by Maria Socorro Arboleda, who coordinated and facilitated the workshop.

The Training Center offers the Effective Presentation Skills workshop several times every year. Future workshop dates for 2015 are 28 April, 18 July, 8 September, and 3 December.

Interested applicants may visit

For other training opportunities, please visit:

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Departing IRRI Experiment Station head leaves behind outstanding accomplishments and a roaring memento

Leigh Vial, outgoing head of the Experiment Station (ES) at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), delivered his exit seminar on ES achievements and challenges on 15 January at the Havener Auditorium, IRRI Headquarters.

Dr. Vial joined IRRI in 2011 to lead a team of ES staff. He oversaw field operations (machinery), field maintenance (agronomy), irrigation, bioenvironment and administrative groups. This includes the day-to-day operations, but also a number of projects to improve both the infrastructure and the processes at the Experiment Station to match 21st century requirements. He also spearheaded IRRI Agronomy Challenge, a unique activity where scientists and researcher experience firsthand how to grow rice crop from seed to harvest.

“Leigh has brought energy and creativity to ES,” said IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler. “It was all about how can we make things more efficient, how can we improve the processes, how can we make the quality of life of our workers better.”

Following his exit seminar, Dr. Vial donated a 1962 Honda Super Cub as the family’s gift to IRRI.  “This motorcycle will stay at IRRI,” he said. “Sue, I and the boys will always have an attachment to IRRI as a result. The bike was featured in the article The Next Green Revolution in October 2014's edition of the National Geographic magazine.

The Honda Super Cub was widely used by Vietnamese farmers when the IR8 rice variety-a milestone of the Green Revolution-was released in 1966. With their higher income from IR8 Vietnamese farmers were able to purchase Honda (which means “bountiful rice fields”) bikes. Honda’s  advertising campaign for its motorcycles was "You meet the nicest people on a Honda” and it was certainly true of Dr. Vial and his family. Read more about Honda Rice in Rice Today magazine.

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Philippines: DA-IRRI Heirloom Rice Project holds training on preserving the heirloom rice varieties of North Cotabato

The Heirloom Rice Project held a training activity on the systematic collection, inventory, and cataloguing of existing heirloom rice varieties in North Cotabato at the office of the Department of Agriculture-Central Mindanao Integrated Agricultural Research Center (DA-CEMIARC) in Kidapawan, North Cotabato on 14-15 January. This is part of the project’s effort to enhance the skills of trainees and farmer-beneficiaries in identifying useful traits that will help them better understand the characteristics of heirloom rice cultivated in the municipalities of Alamada and Banisilan such as Dinorado, Kasagpi, Azucena, Hinumay, and Awot.

Mr. Renato Reaño, and Ms. Pauline Capistrano, senior associate scientist and researcher,respectively, at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), trained 25 participants from Alamada, Banisilan, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, and DA-CEMIARC. The training course aimed to improve the participants’ skills in variety characterization and purification to add value to on-farm genetic resources that are actively used. The participants also received a lecture on the production, maintenance, and use of good-quality seeds. These skills could help maintain the purity of heirloom rice varieties on-farm, especially those intended for the local and international market, ensuring uniformity and consistency of plants and seeds.  In addition, they were taught to prepare and manage worksheets to standardize characteristic traits needed for a community registry, which is submitted to the Plant Variety Protection Office under the Bureau of Plant Industry, giving farmers control over and access to seeds and propagating materials in accordance with the Plant Variety Protection Act. The genetically purified varieties can also be analyzed for breeding, grain-quality, and market-preference studies.

Dr. Amalia J. Datukan, regional executive director of the DA-Regional Field Office in Region XII, encouraged the participants to apply the skills they would glean from the training. Dr. Neil Doton, an offical from DA-Region XII also encouraged the participants and trainers alike and commended the project’s efforts in the region. Dr. Nollie Vera Cruz, project leader of the DA-IRRI Heirloom Rice Project, also stressed the importance of the identification and characterization of heirloom rice varieties, which is one of the project’s major components.

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Philippines: IRRI and partners launch Heirloom Rice Project in North Cotabato

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) launched the Heirloom Rice Project in North Cotabato at a two-day workshop in Davao City on 13-14 January. The project was formally opened with the ceremonial signing of a memorandum of agreement with representatives from the North Cotabato provincial government and the municipalities of Alamada and Banisilan. Located in the southern part of the Philippines, the province is home to several heirloom rice varieties including Dinorado, Kasagpi, Azucena, Hinumay, and Awot.

The MOA signing was graced by Dr. Zaldy Boloran, regional technical director for operations of the Department of Agriculture-Regional Field Office in Region XII; Hon. Virginia Concepcion, municipal mayor of Alamada; Hon. Betty Allado, municipal mayor of Banisilan; Engr. Eliseo Mangliwan, provincial agriculturist of North Cotabato; Dr. Francisco Garcia, president of the University of Southern Mindanao; and Nollie Vera Cruz and Digna Manzanilla, co-project leaders of the Heirloom Rice Project.

The Heirloom Rice Project, initially started in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) in Northern Luzon in March 2014, aims to enhance the productivity and enrich the legacy of heirloom or traditional rice through empowered communities in unfavorable rice-based ecosystems through varietal development to market linkages.

Around 50 participants from the four project sites in CAR—Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mt. Province —the DA-Regional Field Office–CAR, IRRI, PhilRice, and USM attended the workshop. Vicky Garcia, executive director of RICE, Inc., the project’s NGO partner, also joined the activity.

The workshop was mainly a review of the project’s accomplishments to date and the initial identification of interventions needed as the project progresses to its second year.

Team members from each of the four sites in CAR and in Alamada and Banisilan presented the results from the baseline and participatory needs and opportunities assessment surveys conducted among heirloom rice farmers in the first year. They also presented the results from the rapid value-chain assessments conducted in September 2014.

The information collected from the surveys revealed issues and challenges for the project team, the farmers and producers, and other stakeholders, especially in the production and marketing of heirloom rice varieties. Despite the challenges, the team remains positive and is moving forward with all the project plans.

“I think we were able to level off in terms of expectation and in terms of the role of each and every member of the team. We have been able to manage and be on track in terms of our schedule,” says Dr. Manzanilla. “But we also recognize the gaps and the difficulties along the way. However, we are all positive enough and we all have the proper attitude to be able to address the challenges even with the way we implement the project.”

At the end of the workshop, Dr. Vera Cruz commended the participants for the success and productivity achieved by the group. She reminded everyone to remember the vision of the project which is to contribute to the inclusive growth of the marginalized areas in the uplands that will benefit farmers in the long term.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Philippines: IRRI donates breathing apparatus to host community’s fire fighters

The Safety and Security Services of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)  donated four MSA Ultralite II Air Mask SCBA to the Bureau of Fire Protection of Los Banos on 19 January. The breathing apparatus will improve the capability of the bureau’s personnel to respond to fire break outs in IRRI’s host community as well as reduce the risks from significant hazards emergency responders face.

Municipal Fire Marshal Eric Tioco accepted the equipment from Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships at the Security Office.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Philippines: Next-Gen Project maps its strategy to fast track delivery of improved rice varieties in 2015

The Philippine agriculture department's project on accelerated improvement and delivery of  rice varieties reviewed its 2014 milestones and planned for 2015 strategy at the Ramada Manila Central Hotel, Manila, on 13-14 January. The Next-Gen Project (Accelerating the Development and Adoption of Next-Generation Rice Varieties for the Major Ecosystems in the Philippines) is under the Food Staples Sufficiency Program supported by the Department of Agriculture (DA), where the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine government collaborate to help the country’s farmers adapt to the effects of climate change and increase rice productivity.

Present during the review were representatives from IRRI, DA regional field offices, and the Philippine Rice Research Institute.

“The Next-Gen project is an important project for the department as it is one of crucial responses of the government to the challenges of effect of climate change,” said Edilberto de Luna, assistant secretary for Field Operations and national coordinator for Rice and Corn Programs. The project aims to accelerate the introduction and adoption of higher-yielding rice varieties and hybrids with resistance to/tolerance of biotic and abiotic stresses to raise current yields in rice production.

“It is important that the research community produce and deliver the seeds that farmers need,” said IRRI Deputy Director General for Communication and Partnerships Bruce Tolentino. He cited the impact of the Institute’s new and improved rice varieties in the Philippines that, according to an independent study, increased Filipino farmers' returns by an average of US$52 annually, over a span of 25 years.

Project leader and deputy head of IRRI's breeding division, Glenn Gregorio also said that learning what consumers want is an important factor in the breeding process.

Edmund Sana, special technical assistant to the National Rice Program under the DA, expressed his appreciation for the participants because the national government relies on the regional offices to implement projects like Next-Gen.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Philippines: Nepal ambassador to Philippines visits IRRI

A delegation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal Embassy , headed by H.E. Dr. Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat, Nepal’s ambassador to the Philippines, visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Headquarters in Los Banos, Laguna to learn about the Institute’s research activities and facilities on 8 January 2015.

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler welcomed the five delegates who received an overview of IRRI’s research projects in Nepal. They also had an opportunity to interact with IRRI scientists and discuss stress-tolerant rice varieties released in the Nepal and the need to enhance capacity building initiatives to improve rice research and extension in the country.

Nepal and IRRI began its collaboration in 1985 with the forging of a scientific and technical cooperation covering improvement of rainfed lowland and irrigated rice varieties, plant pathology, entomology, soil science, agronomy, and farming systems. It also includes education and training of Nepalese scientists and technology transfer. In 2005, the IRRI-Nepal office was established to facilitate collaboration on different rice researches and rice-based system activities.


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Monday, January 5, 2015

India: CSISA finalizes new rice breeding strategies for 2015

By Dr. Arvind Kumar, Dr. M.S. Ramesha, Ms Shaivya Singh & Mr. Rohit Katara

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA-II) project held a Review and Planning Workshop to evaluate the program’s progress, and plan and finalize new breeding strategies for 2015. The workshop was held at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) South Asia Hub, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics campus in Patancheru, India on 16–17 December 2014.

The event was attended by 25 participants from NAREs partners from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and IRRI. Dr. K. K. Jena, Dr. Michael Thomson, Dr. Guoyou Ye and Dr. Rebecca Laza from IRRI Headquarters participated in the deliberations.

CSISA-II, which entered its third year in September 2012, is building more strategic approaches with its network of partners in India, Bangladesh and Nepal to focus on the eastern and central Indo-Gangetic Plains dominated by small farms, low incomes, and low levels of agricultural mechanization, irrigation, and productivity.

Rice breeding activity under CSISA’s Objective 3 continues to be the program for IRRI. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and U.S. Agency for International Development, the activity promotes labor- and water-saving rice technologies in rice-based cropping systems in South Asian countries. The rice breeding activity targets traits such as higher yield,  variety development, adaptation to direct-seeded rice under water-saving crop establishment methods, heat tolerance, grain quality and straw fodder value.

Dr. Arvind Kumar, Senior Scientist, plant breeder at IRRI South Asia Hub, Hyderabad, and Dr. M. S. Ramesha, leader of Objective 3, facilitated the proceedings of the workshop.

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