Thursday, February 26, 2015

Riceworld Museum celebrates National Arts Month with iconic symbol of bountiful harvest

In celebration of the National Arts Month in the Philippines, the Riceworld Museum is featuring a special exhibit called Kiping in touch by Filipino artist Erick Dator at Asia Room, Chandler Hall, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Headquarters.

Mr. Dator hails from Lucban Quezon, the home of the very popular and colorful Pahiyas Festival. Pahiyas is a traditional celebration of the townsfolk, held every May 15, in honor of San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. The visual centerpiece of Pahiyas is the kiping—a brilliantly colored, leaf-shaped wafer made out of rice flour used to adorn houses during the festival—that has become a cultural icon. Inspired by the iconic symbol of thanksgiving, the artist created delightful images over a tapestry of meticulously prepared kiping celebrating the folk flavor and spectacle of the Philippines.  Mr. Dator’s other notable achievements include solo art exhibits in New York and other US cities. The artist has also exhibited his works in Germany, UK, Netherlands, and Austria. After travelling for more than 10 years, he returned to Lucban to share his Pahiyas-inspired rice art with the public.

"Rice is art and, at IRRI, we celebrate the various contributions of rice to society. We are honored to host Erick Dator's art at IRRI's Riceworld Museum, and to give the IRRI and Los Baños communities an opportunity to appreciate his unique style that draws inspiration from the Pahiyas festival from his hometown of Lucban, Quezon. We invite everyone to come and see Kiping in touch," says IRRI's Director of External Relations Corinta Guerta. Ms. Guerta, Head of Communication Tony Lambino, and Riceworld Museum Curator Paul Hilario, and Erik Dator opened the exhibit on 24 February 2015. The exhibit will be open to all visitors of the Riceworld Museum until 13 March.


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Myanmar: IRRI provides expertise to extension training on postharvest management

The Central Agricultural Research and Training Center of the Department of Agriculture (DOA) conducted a Postharvest Management Training for extension workers in Hlegu, Yangon on 9-11 February. Daw Aye Aye Mar, deputy director and head of Postharvest and Weed Management of the Plant Protection Department, organized the event for 33 trainees from the Plant Protection Department, Extension Department of the DOA, local and international NGOs, and selected companies. Martin Gummert, a postharvest specialist at the International Rice Research Institute, provided the hands-on training and lectures.

Myanma farmers experience significant postharvest losses, especially in areas with rice-pulse cropping systems. The training was conducted to increase the participants’ awareness of new postharvest technologies and help them train farmers on good management practices and use of suitable technologies, reduce postharvest losses, and increase the quality of rice and profit.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Myanmar: Learning Alliance trains more farmers on rice quality and marketing

The Postharvest Learning Alliance (LA) conducted a second joint meeting to train on 31 farmer-participants rice quality and marketing in Yangon on 13-14 February.

The farmers visited the Wardan wholesale market to gain more awareness on the importance of rice quality and facilitate stronger linkages between farmers and traders at wholesale markets. They also visited the Hmawbi Seed Farm to observe seed production techniques.  The meeting also facilitated sharing of rice varieties and production practices for quality and marketing among farmers from Shwebo, Maubin, and Bogale. Shwebo is particularly known in Myanmar for its high-quality Paw San rice.

After the event, the participating farmers made plans to use the seed selection techniques they learned at the seed farm. They will also pool about 20 tons of rice and sell it to a new trader in Yangon they met through the meeting.

“The end goal of these efforts is for rice farmers to get high profits by meeting the quality standards required by the market,” said Martin Gummert, postharvest expert at IRRI. “In order to do this, farmers should choose varieties with traits that the market requires, and improve postharvest practices to prevent quality deterioration of their grains after harvest.”

Myo Aung Kyaw, IRRI consultant and a member of the millers and traders’ association , facilitated the educational visit and will continue linking farmers with traders who are willing to pay premium price for high-quality rice.

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Myanmar: Learning Alliance conducts participatory workshop on user-friendly communication materials

The Postharvest Learning Alliance (LA) conducted the Message Design Workshop for developing communication materials on the use of flat-bed dryers in Bogale Township on 11-12 February. The flat-bed dryer was introduced by IRRI in 2013, in partnership with the Professionals for Fair Development and Welthungerhilfe. The event was organized to reach and inform more stakeholders about the benefits of using a dryer and attended by key LA members including farmers, millers, and traders.

Participatory message design workshops have been used by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in developing information to create locally relevant and suitable materials for the target audience with the help of specialists, communicators, and artists. Through facilitated group exercises, the participants were able to 1) identify their target audiences, 2) define communication objectives, 3) develop key messages about the flat-bed dryer, and 4) develop materials for their targeted groups. The participants in Bogale developed 1 poster, 2 flyers, and 1 leaflet for farmers, millers, and traders. They also pre-tested the materials, and planned for extension activities.

The workshop was conducted through the Livelihood and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) and the Closing the Rice Yield Gap with Reduced Environmental Footprint projects (CORIGAP).

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Philippines: Deputy head of PBGB specializing in salt stress tolerance in rice joins the February Young Researchers Lunch

The Young Researchers' Lunch hosted Glenn Gregorio, the outgoing deputy head of IRRI's Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology Division. Dr. Gregorio is a plant breeder who has specialized in salinity stress tolerance in rice at IRRI. He is noted for his excellent knowledge of rice as well as his flair for witty rice breeding slogans.

Dr. Gregorio shared his perspective on career planning and how IRRI has changed over the years. He encouraged the young researchers to take advantage of all the training courses and other opportunities at the Institute, and develop their own identities as researchers. He left the group with his personal mantra "Know what you want and love what you want."

Participants were Renee Lorica, Marjorie de Ocampo, Myrish A. Pacleb, Terry Velasco,  Mark Jeffrey Morete, and Anny Ruth Pame. 

The Young Researchers Lunch is a monthly meeting for NRS and AFSTRI scientists who are in the early stages of their career. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for discussions with senior scientists on a range of topics including science and career paths.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Research on C4 rice makes MIT Breakthroughs list for 2015

The pioneering work being done at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to transform rice, a C3 plant, into a C4 plant (like maize and sorghum) that uses sunshine more efficiently has made it to the MIT Technology Review’s prestigious 10 Breakthrough Technologies list for 2015.

The Breakthroughs list identifies 10 milestones from the past year “that solve difficult problems or create powerful new ways of using technology” and that will matter for a long time to come.

The C4 Rice Project is a consortium of research institutions, led by IRRI, that implements ‘frontier’ research that seeks to find a new way to radically increase rice yields, anticipating continued rise in global food needs decades into the future.

From the same amount of sunlight, plants that use C4 photosynthesis produce more food mass in its grains overall compared to C3 plants. If this trait can be bred into the rice plant, it could mean up to 50% more grain yield from current global levels. This is the big vision of the project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“This is an important recognition of the work of the C4 Rice Consortium, and further inspires all the efforts being made to realize this vision,” said Paul Quick, IRRI scientist and leader of the C4 Rice Project.

The story on C4 rice research, titled “Supercharged Photosynthesis,” goes online and can be accessed here on February 18. The print version hits newsstands on March 3.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Sri Lankan envoy visits IRRI, discusses building capacity for research

H.E. Dr. Gamini Samaranayake, Ambassador of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the Philippines, visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Headquarters to learn more about IRRI's research program and training activities, and strengthen collaboration between Sri Lanka and IRRI.

Ambassador Samaranayaka and his party were welcomed on 12 February by IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler, IRRI Director of External Relations Corinta Guerta, IRRI Training Center Head Noel Magor, and Benedict Pamatmat of the Partnerships Unit. Sri Lankan scholars Buddhika Sampath Channara and Swarna Herath also joined in welcoming the delegation. Part of the visit  included a trip to the International Rice Genebank which holds about 2,027 types of rice from Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka and IRRI started collaboration in 1960 through exchange of rice varieties and training. In 1967, an agreement between Sri Lanka and the Ford Foundation led to a 2-year program between IRRI and the country’s Department of Agriculture (DOASL). Under the program, DOASL scientists underwent training at IRRI. It was renewed in 1969 and included technology transfer activities.

From 1964 to 2014, 135 scholars from Sri Lanka have completed their studies and 426 trainees attended short courses at the Institute.

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IRRI promotes healthier rice research to nutrition professionals

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) held an exhibit promoting its ongoing studies on healthier rice at the Diamond Convention of the Nutritionists-Dieticians Association of the Philippines (NDAP) on 17-19 February at the Manila Hotel. The convention was attended by approximately 1,000 nutritionists and dieticians.

IRRI’s exhibit featured research on Golden Rice, high-iron rice, and rice with low glycemic index. Healthier rice-based diet promoted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) was also featured at NDAP.

Hidden hunger, or micronutrient deficiency, is a major public health problem in many developing countries. The lack of essential vitamins and minerals (e.g. vitamin A, zinc, iron, iodine) in the diet may cause stunting, poor night vision, blindness, diarrhea or frequent illness in children. However, there is concurrent spike in cases of overnutrition, which results in obesity and type-2 diabetes. In the Philippines alone, 7.9% of the population suffers from undernourishment while 13% are afflicted with diabetes. Ending the double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition requires a number of targeted solutions from various sectors. The healthier rice research at IRRI can make rice more than a mere staple. They can be potential tools for helping solve public health and malnutrition problems.

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Thai agriculture minister visits IRRI to discuss joint work

H.E. Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya, Thailand's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MOAC), and party visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Headquarters to further strengthen its partnership with the Institute on 13 February. MOAC promotes agricultural research and development, and develops technology based on sustainable and environment-friendly use of agricultural resources.

The delegation received an overview of IRRI’s overall research projects from Director General Robert Zeigler. They also discussed on-going and proposed collaborative projects with IRRI scientists as well as capacity-building initiatives to improve rice research and extension in the country.

Thailand and IRRI began its collaboration in 1960 when Prince Chakrabandhu became a founding member of the IRRI Board of Trustees.  The Institute and the country have been working together to improve rice production and enhance capacities of Thai rice researchers. In October 2014, the 4th International Rice Congress (IRC2014) – the largest regular conference and exhibition of the global rice scientific research community and industry – was held in Bangkok under the patronage of the Royal Government of Thailand through MOAC . IRC, attended by around 1,500 participants from 69 countries, highlighted the latest in rice research from around the world.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

IRRI names winners of 3K Allele Mining competition

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) announced the winning teams of the 3K Allele Mining competition on 13 February. The top three teams are:
  • First place: Tom Ishimaru, Kazu Sasaki, and Yohei Koid (Heading date)
  • Second place: Hsiang Chun Lin, Frances Nikki Borja, and Samart Wanchana (SNP of 3K chloroplast genomes).  
  • Third place: Nikki Borja, Il Ryong Choi, and Jun Ulat (Tungro resistance to RTSV).   
IRRI launched the competition on 15 December 2014 to encourage young researchers to explore the 3000 Rice Genomes Project SNP-Seek database. Twenty participating teams, involving 45 mostly young researchers and students, were given two months to extract allele for the rice trait of their choice from the germplasm in the International Rice Genebank.

The panel of judges who reviewed and evaluated their presentation includes Rod Wing, AXA endowed chair scientist and computational bilologist; Ken McNally, senior scientist, (Bioinformatics); Nickolai Alexandrov, senior scientist (Bioinformatics); Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, senior scientist, evolutionary biologist and head of TTC GRC; Ramil Mauleon, scientist, bioinformatics specialist; and Chitra Raghavan, scientist, (Plant breeding).

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler, lauded the competition and encouraged young researchers to participate, present their ideas, step out of their comfort zone, and learn from different viewpoints.  “These are essential elements to engage in science and to develop a scientific career,” he said.

The photo of the winners includes: Tom Ishimaru (representing the first place team),  Samart Wanchana, Hsiang Chun Lin, and Frances Nikki Borja (the second place team), and Jun Ulat (representing the third place team). Ms. Borja was also a member of the third place team.

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Vietnam: IRRI and partners inaugurate center for climate-smart technologies

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Bac Lieu, and Can Tho University inaugurated the Climate Smart Village (CSV) in Tra Hat, Vinh Loi district in Bac Lieu province on 5 February 2015.

CSV is a participatory research project where scientists and farmers work together to identify climate-smart technologies and practices for high-risk areas that will likely suffer most from the impact of a changing climate. The CSV project is supported by the Program of Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security in South East Asia (CCAFS SEA) and aims to ensure food security and increase the resilience and stabilize the livelihood of farmers in the face of climate change.

IRRI is the leading CGIAR center on projects implemented at Tra Hat CSV in Bac Lieu, which will serve as the center for climate-smart knowledge for 13 Vietnam provinces in the Mekong Delta.

The event was headed by Dr. Ngo Dang Phong, IRRI’s facilitator of  the Climate change Affecting Land Use in the Mekong Delta: Adaptation of Rice-based Cropping systems (CLUES) project, Dr. Leocadio  Sebastian,  CCAFS' regional program leader for Southeast Asia and IRRI country representative for Vietnam, Dr. Reiner Wassmann, IRRI’s coordinator of Climate Change Research,  and Mr. Trinh Hoai Thanh, deputy director of Bac Lieu DARD.

The launching ceremony was attended by local stakeholders and representatives from WorldFish, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Can Tho University, Cuu Long Delta Rice Research Institute, Nong Lam University in Ho Chi Minh City.

The program was launched in 2011 with 15 CSV in West Africa, East Africa, and South Asia. More CSV will be established in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Philippines: PRiSM team building focuses on working together and moving forward in the same direction

The Philippine Rice Information System (PRiSM) project team members from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) held its team building activity in Tagaytay City on 4-5 February. The activity focused on achieving the project’s vision and mission through productive working relationships by  creating a team structure with clear roles, responsibilities, and linkages within the organization and ensuring that the team members move  towards the same direction. The activity was facilitated by Mr. Phil Merry, a renowned facilitator, coach, and author of Simply Happy: Search for Singapore’s Happiest People.

At the end of the activity, the PRiSM team achieved a better understanding of their direction, roles, and responsibilities; identified and resolved communication constraints and issues; and fostered a stronger relationship between PhilRice and IRRI.

PRiSM is an operational system for monitoring rice. It supports decision making and activity planning for increased rice production in the Philippines, and has nationwide coverage to help improve food security. It also serves as a platform to develop consistent and regular assessments of rice crop production, crop health, and crop losses due to natural calamities such as floods, droughts, and outbreaks of pests and diseases.

Below are some feedback of the participating PRiSM team members after their team building activity:

“For me the team building was successful. Each PRiSM team member from both PhilRice and IRRI learned a lot from the activities. Because of this team building the success rate of the project will increase. I am happy. Thank you to the organizers.”
- Lorena Villano, IRRI

“It was nice to know our roles, and our strengths and weaknesses. I appreciate how the facilitator gave suggestions on how to strengthen our weaknesses. It was also nice to bond as a group and strengthen our partnership.”
- Gerardo Estoy, PhilRice

“I am happy that I got to know myself more. It was a self-realization process. I am also happy to see all the people involved in the PRiSM project.”
- Jean Rochielle Mirandilla, PhilRice

“It was very unique. It was my first time to attend a team building like this one. I find it very helpful. I think all teams, not only in PRiSM, should have team buildings like this.”
- Miguel Abriol, IRRI

“It was engaging, fun, very informative, and what I liked the most is that the people just got so involved. Everyone was enthusiastic and we could see a good team. At the beginning of the event we were a little bit unsure where we are going but at the end of Day 2, everyone was so clear on work, knew what PRiSM meant, and what they should be doing. I feel just incredible optimism.”
- Andy Nelson, IRRI

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Philippines: IRRI conducts first training on laser leveling of rice fields

The Training Center Unit of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) conducted its first laser leveling course at IRRI Headquarters on 2 -5 February. The 4-day course is designed to train participants in 1) operating four-wheel tractors; 2) conducting field topographic surveys; 3) understanding the principles of laser leveling; 4) creating field plans for efficient laser leveling; 5) conducting laser leveling at a field; and 6) assembling and troubleshooting the equipment.

Eleven participants, including 1 female, from 5 countries in Southeast Asia attended the course. The participants appreciated the skills they acquired from the course. “I now know how to conduct laser leveling along with my father,” said Sengaloun Taimany, the lone female participant, from Lao PDR. “We can start a family business once we come back to Laos.”  Budi Raharjo, a researcher from BPTP-Indonesia said he learned much from the training and now knows “90% about laser leveling.”

Martin Gummert, key scientist at the Postharvest and Mechanization of the Closing the rice yield gaps with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP) project,said the training could help trigger the awareness and use of laser leveling technology in the farmers fields of participating project countries like Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand.

Laser-guided leveling, introduced by Spectra (now Trimble) in 1996, has changed land preparation operations.  Studies proved that properly leveled fields increases yield from 5-15%. Other benefits of laser leveling include efficient use of water and fertilizer, and reduced labor use for weeding.  The demand for laser leveling has increased due to national policies seeking to optimize rice production.

The training was conducted by Joseph Rickman, Martin Gummert, Carlito Balingbing, and Eugene Castro, Jr. A second course on laser leveling will be offered on 18-22 May 2015. For more details about the training, contact

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Taiwan signs agreement with IRRI to collaborate on rice research

A 10-member delegation from Taiwan led by James Chih-I Sha, deputy minister of the Council of Agriculture (COA) of the Republic of China, visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Headquarters on 26 January 2015 for the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) forming a strategic partnership in developing, evaluating, and disseminating new rice varieties.

COA is the authority on agriculture, forestry, fishery, animal husbandry and food affairs, research and development; and extension affairs in Taiwan. It works to help farmers prosper and build a sustainable agricultural environment that strikes a balance between quality of life, production and ecology.

“Taiwan will contribute its experience with best practice in rice cultivation to the IRRI’s pool of knowledge,” said COA Deputy Minister Sha. “This will advance development of production techniques to benefit rice-growing countries in East Asia.”

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Dr. Andrew Colin McClung, former IRRI associate director, passes away


Dr. Andrew Colin McClung (92), 2006 World Food Prize Laureate, passed away in Groton, New York, USA, on 2 February 2015. In the early days, he was IRRI's first assistant director (1964-66) and second associate director (1967-71). As associate director, he was responsible for IRRI's training and international outreach activities.

Dr. McClung (at left in this 1960s photo with IRRI’s first Director General Robert Chandler) arrived at IRRI in August 1964 with his family. With degrees in soil science from the University of West Virginia (BS 1947) and Cornell University (MS 1949, PhD 1950), Dr. McClung had extensive experience with tropical soils, especially in the Cerrado of Brazil. His work there would eventually land him a share of the 2006 World Food Prize.

His contributions to IRRI’s success during its first decade were substantial. He ran the Saturday seminars (yes, believe or not, all staff were expected to attend Saturday morning seminars in those days) and administered the training program until 1967. According to Dr. Chandler in his book, An Adventure in Applied Science, McClung’s capabilities in developing a sizable and effective outreach program were especially outstanding. For example, during the year it took to get the Indian program into operation, McClung traveled in India with a USAID representative working out the details with government authorities in that country. He also cooperated closely with the Ford Foundation in its rice programs in Asia.

At IRRI, Dr. McClung interviewed and recommended most of the people who would ultimately fill the posts in the Institute’s outreach programs during the 1960s. According to Chandler, McClung was articulate, warm, and quietly humorous, meeting people well and impressing them, not only with his pleasing personality and unmistakable trustworthiness but with his logical thinking. It was not surprising to Chandler that he left IRRI in 1971 to accept the position of deputy director-general of CIAT in Colombia and then later joining the New York office of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1973. When International Agricultural Development Service (IADS) was formed in 1975-76 with initial support from the Rockefeller Foundation, McClung was invited to become its executive officer, and in 1979 he was named president of that organization.

As pointed out by W. Shaw Reid, Cornell professor emeritus of crops and soil sciences, in a 2006 Cornell Chronicle article, “Dr. McClung won the World Food Prize because his research in Brazil permitted the opening of an area larger than the total cropland of the United States to intensive agricultural production—and it has stood the test of time."

We do not yet have any information about a memorial service or other arrangements. Should you wish to send messages of condolence to Dr. McClung's wife, Margo, she can be reached at the following address:

Margo McClung
Groton Community Healthcare Center
120 Sykes Street, Room 220
Groton, NY 13073

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Philippines: Young Researchers Lunch hosts three scientists from the University of Sheffield

The Young Researchers' Lunch hosted Julie Gray, Michael Siva-Jothy, and Pascal-Antoine Christin from the University of Sheffield, UK on January 29 at the International Rice Research Institute Headquarters.

Dr. Gray, a professor at the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, studies  how stomatal aperture and stomatal development are controlled by the plant, and how environmental change affects them.  Prof. Siva-Jothy, an entomologist and lecturer at the Department of Animal & Plant Sciences, focuses on research n understanding the causal mechanisms underpinning sexually selected and life history traits of insects. Dr. Pascal-Antoine Christin investigates the mechanisms that led to the functional diversity of plants and the evolution of C4 photosynthesis in grasses and other groups of plants. Each scientist joined a separate table of young researchers for their discussions.

Participants were Ronald Tapia, HsiangChun Lin, Shanta Karki, Jean Louise Damo, Maricel Corpuz, Hedia Tnani, Gela Myan Bueno, Rina Rachmawati, Mahardika Gamma, James Villegas, Iza Arida, Fame Ramal, Suja Srinivasan, Vo Thi Tra My, Charle Patrick Garcia, Christian Cantos, Kristel Mae D. Perdigon, Efren Bagunu, Christian Paolo Balahadia, Walter Israel, Tahir Hussain Awan, and Felichi Mae Arines.

The Young Researchers Lunch is a monthly meeting for NRS and AFSTRI scientists who are in the early stages of their career. The purpose is to provide them the opportunity to discuss a range of topics, including science and career paths, with senior scientists.

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