Thursday, May 28, 2015

Philippines: "Birds of IRRI" takes flight

Photo exhibit tour continues until June 

Avian enthusiasts are in for a real treat as birds found in the rice fields of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are showcased  in a spectacular photo exhibit entitled Feathers in the Fields: The Birds of IRRI.  IRRI, together with the National Commission for Culture and Arts and the Filipino Heritage Festivals, launched the traveling exhibit at The Gallery, Greenbelt 5, in Makati City on May 6 in celebration of the National Heritage Month.

Feathers in the Fields: Birds of IRRI,  featuring stunning photos taken by renowned photographers Segfredo Serrano and Tirso Paris, was originally unveiled at the Riceworld Museum at the IRRI headquarters. The exhibit was meant to help people understand that not all birds found in rice fields are pests.

“Our research indicates that these birds contribute to maintaining a healthy rice crop by consuming large numbers of insects and snails thereby regulating pest population,” said Finbarr Horgan, an ecologist at IRRI.

But the presence of numerous birds species also indicates a healthy rice ecosystem that provides them with an ideal habitat.  “The ecologically-based management of rice fields at IRRI has been rewarded by a multitude of farmer-friendly birds,” said Dr. Horgan. “Recently, large numbers of rails and moorhens have successfully reproduced at IRRI, an indication perhaps of the success of IRRI’s focus on environment-friendly agriculture. This is just the start, and hopefully continuing efforts will invite even more birds to make IRRI’s rice fields their home.”

The exhibit is now on display at SM Calamba until 29 May. It will be available for viewing at the Makati City Hall starting 8 June.

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Myanmar: Positive results of technologies for unfavorable environments highlighted in CURE meeting

CURE participants during a field visit in Zay Yar Thiri Township, Myanmar.

Seventy participants from 10 countries in South and Southeast Asia, along with IRRI scientists and donor representatives, met to discuss and share their most significant accomplishments in developing, validating, and delivering technologies and information to millions of resource-poor rice farmers in Asia. This meeting is the 14th Annual Review and Steering Committee Meeting of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) and was held on 19–22 May in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. 

IRRI scientists and partners of the Consortium presented the progress of their research in different partner countries (i.e., Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh). These include knowledge sharing, building learning alliances, and exchanging science products. 

In his speech at the start of the meeting, IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler urged CURE to continue developing technologies that are useful for farmers in dealing with future problems and to make sure that these technologies reach them. 

Dr. Digna Manzanilla, IRRI scientist and CURE coordinator, said that “the cross-country partnerships formed by CURE have generated a lot of research and well-targeted technologies that benefit farmers from fragile ecosystems.” This was seconded by Dr. Fabrizio Bresciani, donor representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and added that “the Consortium should now tackle the systems that might slow down the adoption of stress-tolerant varieties or might be bottlenecks for dissemination of varieties produced under the CURE program.”

Participants also visited a rainfed lowland area in Zay Yar Thiri Township to interact with farmers, local leaders, local extension staff, and scientists from the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) and the Department of Agriculture (DoA) to discuss issues, coping mechanisms, and strategies of the local government in combating the impact of multiple stresses in rice production. 

Based on the scientific achievements of CURE, Dr. Ye Tint Tun, director general of DAR, asked the Consortium for continued technical assistance on biotechnology, germplasm access, extension support, and the development of the Rice Crop Manager for Myanmar. 

Myanmar poised to regain major role in global rice trade

IRRI Director General Robert Ziegler (2nd from left) presents the Myanmar Rice Sector Development Strategy with  former IRRI representative for Myanmar Madonna Casimero (left most), Myanmar President U Thein Sein (3rd from left), and MoAI Minister U Myint Hlaing.

NAY PYI TAW, Myanmar - The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is poised to not only transform its rice sector but to also recapture its prominence in the international rice market.

The Myanmar government made this commitment via the launch of the Myanmar Rice Sector Development Strategy (MRSDS) on 20 May 2015 at the Department of Agricultural Research in Nay Pyi Taw.

The MRSDS was drafted by the Myanmar government, led by its Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MoAI), with technical input from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and international partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank.

Myanmar President U Thein Sein said the MRSDS symbolizes the collaboration between his country and IRRI toward a food-secure future for Myanmar and the rest of the world. He cited the work of IRRI scientists in the development of pest- and disease-resistant and stress-tolerant rice varieties; improved cropping systems; postharvest technologies; and better soil, pest, and water management practices that have raised productivity of rice systems in Myanmar, greatly benefiting smallholder farmers.

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler said that “the wonderful scientific achievements of IRRI need to be combined with development strategies and coherent programs that governments are willing to implement over a long period of time” to ensure that farmers have access to and are able to use these.

Zeigler added that having a government demonstrably willing to transform and develop its rice sector, an environment conducive to rice production, and growing global demand for rice make Myanmar a good opportunity for investment.

U Myint Hlaing, Myanmar’s minister for agriculture and irrigation, said it is possible to break the cycle of poverty and hunger by “strengthening rural resilience, achieving social protection, and sustaining agricultural development,” all of which can be achieved through a clear road map for sustainable rice sector development such as that detailed in the MRSDS.

Also during the launch, Zeigler awarded a special rice memento to honor the Myanmar president for his visionary leadership of the rice sector and to commemorate the visit the president and his cabinet members made to the IRRI headquarters in Los Baños, Philippines, in December 2013.

A donors’ forum was held alongside the launch of the MRSDS, to provide international agencies the opportunity to discuss their respective efforts for the Myanmar rice sector. The forum, facilitated by Corinta Guerta, IRRI director for external relations, was attended by representatives from the FAO, Japan International Cooperation Agency, The World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund, Welthungerhilfe, Mercy Corps, Food Security Working Group, Action Aid, International Fertilizer Development Center, Proximity, Korean International Cooperation Agency, and the Rural Development Administration.

IRRI has been working with the government of Myanmar since the early 1960s.

RMQA-RDM conducts research data management course

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Risk Management and Quality Assurance-Research Data Management (RMQA-RDM) training team conducted its Research Data Management (RDM) 101 course on 26-28 May at IRRI headquarters.

Three participants from IRRI attended the three-day training course, namely Rafael Panerio and Mostafa Ahmadizadeh, researchers at  the Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Division, and Shiela Ann Franco, a molecular biologist at the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center. Bibek Sapkota, a scientist from Nepal Agricultural Research Council and Dhiraj Srivastava, head of Relief Operations at Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, also attended the course.

RDM 101 covered various areas of data management including research data planning; data collection, authentication and analysis; data storage, backup and security; and data archival and sharing. The training team also discussed and demonstrated file management tools and software including Beyond Compare, Cobian, WinDirStat, Mendeley, Google Drive, and the IRRI Dataverse, an online repository for data archiving and sharing.

The training team is headed by IRRI-RMQA Senior Manager Menchu Bernardo with Enrico Mercado, and Sheenah Tan. Rogelio Alvarez of Information Technology Services provided a lecture on data backup, security, and storage.

This is the second RDM 101 course for the year. The course is conducted quarterly.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

RMQA team meet on developing a more robust risk management strategy at IRRI

The Risk Management Quality Assurance (RMQA) team convened to discuss a comprehensive approach for preventing  the occurrence and reducing the impact of hazardous  events at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 

Spearheaded by RMQA Senior Manager Menchu Bernardo, the 33-member team formed the steering committee for the 1st Safety Awareness Summit at IRRI HQ to be held in August. The summit aims to promote safety in the workplace through lectures on ergonomics, emergency and disaster preparedness, biosafety compliance, general waste management, and best field and laboratory safety practices.  The RMQA team also discussed the documentation standard operating procedure for all units where all documents will be uploaded in a common repository as part of IRRI’s Quality Management System (QMS).

Jose Luis of the Safety and Security Services presented a plan for assessing and reviewing existing safety practices used at IRRI’s laboratories, greenhouse, screenhouse, and offices in compliance with the Board-approved Occupational Health and Safety Policy.  Reah Gonzales of the Grain Quality and Nutrition Services Laboratory (GQNSL ) also shared their experience in developing QMS and SOP documentation as part of the successful renewal of the laboratories ISO 17025 accreditation.

The new members of RMQA were also introduced during the worskshop and meeting on 19 May at the IRRI Guest House. They include Francis Rubianes from Crop and Environmental Sciences Division, Cindy Llorente from GQNSL, Janet Lazarte from Human Resource Services, Fernando Artates from Financial Planning and Reporting,  and Jun Correa from Experiment Station (ES). 

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Philippines: IRRI conducts laser leveling training to make rice farming more climate friendly

Twelve participants (10 male, 2 female) from India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines underwent a rigorous hands-on training course on  laser land leveling at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters.

Laser land leveling is a climate-smart agriculture practice helps save scarce resources while increasing yields and farmers’ incomes. “A number of benefits can be obtained from a laser level field,” says Joseph Rickman, IRRI senior scientist with specialization in mechanization and production systems. “These include efficient water use, better weed and nutrient management, increase in farm area due to consolidation of smaller fields, uniform crop maturity, and increase in grain and head rice yields.”

Ms. Lin Lin Ho from Trimble, the company that introduced commercial laser leveling technology in 1996, says, “Around 500,000 hectares of land have been made climate friendly through the use of laser leveling system.” Ralph Go of Go Traktora, a local distributor of Trimble equipment gave a presentation on local distribution and after sales service of laser leveling system.

The laser leveling module, second offering of the course, covered the following topics: 1) understanding the principles and benefits of laser leveling; 2) conducting topographic surveys; 3) making field plan for efficient laser leveling;  4) conduction of laser leveling in an IRRI field; and 5) learning the economics of laser leveling technology.

“This training unpacked the ease and practicality of using the laser leveler technology,” says Roger Barroga, a participant from the Philippine Rice Research Institute. “By proper land leveling, we can better manage water, weeds, and fertilizer, and increase the yield of our rice crop,”

The Postharvest Unit of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division in collaboration with the Training Center conducted the course that also included a module on tractor operation and maintenance. The module on tractor operation covered the principles of operation and maintenance of a 4W tractor and underwent actual driving lessons. The course was held on 18-21 May.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

GQNSL receives recommendation for renewal of its 2015-2020 ISO accreditation

The Grain Quality and Nutrition Services Laboratory (GQNSL) successfully passed the assessment by the Philippine Accreditation Bureau (PAB)  for the renewal of its PNS ISO/IEC accreditation for another 5 years.

The two-day audit of GQNSL and all its analytical and grain quality evaluation tests was conducted by Ms. Fe Consuelo Natarte from Supra Management System Consulting, and Mr. Christian John Rodly Navarro and Ms. Maria Soledad Distor from Systems Technology Institute. The evaluation was conducted on 11-12 May.

The new certificate for GQNSL’s PNS ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation for 2015-2020 will be issued by PAB by the 3rd quarter of 2015.

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Indonesia: Extensionists and researchers discuss strategy for promoting weather info app to farmers

Developers behind an innovative app for increasing rice production by providing farmers with accurate weather prediction met with researchers and extensionists in Ungaran, Pati, and Rembang to discuss the best way of disseminating the technology.

The Weather-Rice-Nutrient integrated Decision Support System (WeRise) is a seasonal weather forecast–based decision support system for intensifying rainfed rice production in Southeast Asia.  WeRise could help farmers in their crop production decisions by providing crucial weather information such as the start and end of the rainy season and distribution of rainfall during a cropping season. It also gives advisories on the best time to sow and transplant, what appropriate rice varieties to plant, and efficient application fertilizer and other inputs efficiently.

The meetings were also an opportunity to introduce the apps to new users and get feedback from pilot users for further improvements taking into account the local context. Local extensionists recognized sowing timing as one of the crucial information lacking in the current system. They found WeRise a promising tool because it can also predict rice yield based on sowing date and variety used. Aside from being easy to use and understand, extensionists found it easy to explain to local farmers.

The International Rice Research Institute-Japan Collaborative Research Project on Climate Change Adaptation in Rainfed Rice Areas (CCARA) in cooperation with the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology (AIAT) Central Java, Indonesia conducted the meetings on 21-23 April 2015.

Dr. Keiichi Hayashi, CCARA project coordinator presented an overview of the CCARA project and facilitated the discussions. Ms. Sri Rustini, Researcher at AIAT Central Java discussed the objectives of the meeting and mechanics of the discussions and demonstrated how to navigate WeRise.

A total of 45 extensionists and 6 researchers from AIAT Central Java, Agricultural and Livestock Agency of Pati, and Food Security Agency and Office of Implementing Extension for Agricultural, Fisheries, and Forestry of Rembang District participated in the meetings.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

University of Illinois plant geneticist joins the Young Researchers' Lunch

The Young Researchers' Lunch for May hosted Patrick Brown, assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, USA. Dr. Brown works in plant breeding and genetics and his research areas include genotyping-by-sequencing, genetic improvement of sorghum as a bioenergy crop, genetic architecture of complex traits in sorghum, and  phenotypic diversity in maize ears. Dr. Brown is visiting the Philippines as part of a delegation from the University of Illinois.

The group discussed different aspects of genotyping and phenotyping, especially the challenges of ozone research and how it might be applied to other stresses, and the differences in genotyping strategies between rice and other crops such as maize and sorghum.

Maricel Corpuz,  Anshuman Singh, Kimberly Ponce, Nitika Sandhu, Erwin Tandayu, and Christine Jade Dilla-Ermita participated in the event.

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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Philippines: Agriculture scholars honored for academic achievements

Seven scholars of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) earned their various agriculture-related degrees with honors.  The Gawad Patnubay College Scholarship Program provides underprivileged but deserving students and dependents of agrarian reform beneficiaries and LBP cooperative members who want to specialize in agriculture and fisheries.

The scholars awarded for academic excellence are Vergel Jungco (magna cum laude, BS AgricBusiness of the University of Southern Mindanao), Jess Bryan Alvariño (cum laude, BS Agriculture of the University of Southern Mindanao),  Royette Santos (cum laude, BS Agriculture of the Central Luzon State University), Francis Lutao Jr. (cum laude, BS AgriBusiness of the Visayas State University), Cesar Pabia Jr. (cum laude, BS AgriBusiness of the Visayas State University) , Jay Carl Cacerez (cum laude, BS Agricultural Chemistry of the Visayas State University), and Roda Capacao (cum laude, BS Agriculture of the Visayas State University) .

The other scholars who graduated this year are Samantha Alcantara (BS Agriculture of the Central Luzon State University), Christian Lacanilao (BS Agriculture of the Central State University), Kristine Joy Reyes (BS Agriculture of the Central Luzon State University), Excel Ariola (BS AgriBusiness of the Central Mindanao University),and Jovel Grand Marquez (BS AgriBusiness of the Central Mindanao University).

The scholarship grants 100% tuition fee subsidy, monthly stipend, and book and a uniform allowance. As part of the program, the scholars will undergo a two-month review for the Agriculturist Licensure Board Examinations in  July 15. They will also participate in an eight-month intensive internship employment program with LBP and its partner institutions.

The Gawad Patnubay College Scholarship Program was launched in 2013, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute, to address the decline in enrolment in agriculture. The program also aims to develop skills in modern agriculture, renew enthusiasm for the agricultural sector, promote sustainable development, and reduce poverty in the countryside. It is is a nationwide undertaking that will benefit college students who wish to pursue (or are pursuing) Bachelor of Science in Agriculture or agriculture-related courses. To date, 28 scholarships have been awarded to students from five universities.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

University of Illinois at IRRI for exchange on various research initiatives

A delegation from the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to share their various research projects.

The weeklong visit kicked off on 11 May with an overview of IRRI presented by Deputy Director General for Communication and Partnerships Bruce Tolentino. The professors also met with IRRI scientists and visited IRRI research facilities.

The highlight of the visit was a lecture series on 13 May where the professors presented their research projects. One of the guests, associate professor and director of the Agricultural Communications program Lulu Rodriguez, presented her work on connecting peoples and institutions while fostering dialogues through stories about science.

“Scientists should stick to their key message—the importance and potential impact of their scientific endeavors,” she said on how scientists should manage media queries. Dr. Rodriguez also expressed her pleasure at the opportunity to return to her roots. A graduate from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, she pursued her MS degree at Cornell University and PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

ACES pursues research, education, and outreach around the world to promote food and water security and to positively impact human lives, livelihoods, and the world’s environment. The college maintains a strong international presence by fostering activities among faculty through its Academy for Global Engagement to build capacity for international engagement.  ACES is presently hosting 6 IRRI scholars of the Lee Foundations Rice Scholarship Program.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Thailand: Agriculture staff learn laser leveling of rice fields

Twenty-three participants from the Thailand Rice Department, Agricultural Engineering Department, and CTA-Trimble attended training on using laser land leveling technology. Laser leveling precisely level fields and has been demonstrated to improve the use of water and allow farmers to reduce seeding by 50% in rain-fed rice fields and increase yield by 15-20%.

Participants learned how to survey fields, use laser-controlled leveling equipment and tractors as well as cost benefit analysis for land leveling. Fields were surveyed using standard laser equipment as well as the latest in vehicle mounted computer controlled GPS systems supplied by CTA-Trimble. The GPS equipment is already being used for sugar cane production in Thailand but not yet for rice, according to  Mr. Thanach Songmetahakrit from CTA-Trimble.

“This was the first skill-based training course on laser leveling given within the department,” Mr. Boondit from the Thai Rice Department said. Large-scale trials and demonstrations will now be conducted on research stations and farmers’ fields in the northeast  and central plains areas of Thailand later this year.

Joe Rickman, an expert on mechanization and production systems from the International Rice Research Institute, headed the training. The course was held at the Roi-Et Rice Research Center and Land Development Station in North East Thailand on 11 to 14 May.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Rice farmers in China use less fertilizer, increase yield

GDRRI's Xuhua Zhong shows guests around rice plots in Gaoyao county, Guangdong, in which the 'three controls technology' was used.

Guangdong Province, China - “Rice farmers can decrease their nitrogen fertilizer and pesticide use by up to 20% and increase their yield by 10% by using the ‘three controls technology (3CT),’” said Xuhua Zhong of the Rice Research Institute of the Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences (GDRRI).

Zhong shared these findings in Guangzhou during the May 2015 review and planning meeting of the CORIGAP (Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint) project led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 3CT involves controlling the amount of fertilizer, unproductive tillers, and diseases and insects. “This technology is now being used by around 40% of farmers in Guangdong,” said Zhong.

Zhong explained that, aside from reduction in nitrogen fertilizer use, the core change that comes with use of 3CT is that it postpones fertilizer application from the early growth stage to the middle and late growth stages.

“With less fertilizer, the rice plant is sturdy, does not lodge, and is less prone to diseases such as sheath blight, so pesticide use is also reduced,” added Zhong. “Farmers can thus save on fertilizer, pesticide, and labor costs.”

The 10% increase in yield from the use of 3CT is equivalent to an added 0.6 tons per hectare, on average.

3CT could help China increase rice production in the face of multiple challenges. Since the 1990s, China has experienced low and unstable yields, excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, environmental pollution, and low profits, according to Zongyong Jiang, president of the Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences. “These problems have become increasingly serious,” Jiang said.

In 2012, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) recommended 3CT for use in rice farming, in line with MOA's move to reduce chemical fertilizer and pesticide use.

3CT is now widely adopted by rice farmers, according to Jiang. “Because of what has been achieved through 3CT, the research team headed by Xuhua Zhong was awarded the first-class Science and Technology Prize by the Guangdong provincial government,” Jiang reported. “In recent years, GDRRI has been working with the International Rice Research Institute to develop a low-carbon and high-yielding technology, which aims to further reduce fertilizer use. The new technology, a set of crop management practices, is expected to lessen water use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The CORIGAP project has been an excellent platform for the collaboration between GDRRI and IRRI,” Jiang said further.

“The extension of 3CT through partnerships under CORIGAP has been instrumental in reducing the yield gap in rice production from 39% to 21%. Most importantly, this increase in rice production is not only more profitable for farmers, the reduction in fertilizer and pesticide use is also an important plus for the environment,” reported Grant Singleton, IRRI principal scientist and CORIGAP coordinator.

“It is good to see the progress that they have done in China,” said Carmen Thönnissen, senior advisor for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. “It is great to see more and more the integration of yield and sustainability, and finding ways of optimizing the whole production system in order to reduce the ecological footprint of rice as much as possible.”

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"Small farmers, large field” scheme gaining success in Vietnam

Guangzhou, China- “Vietnamese farmers in the provinces of Can Tho and Long An are benefiting from the ‘small farmers, large field’ (SFLF) scheme,” reported Dr. Pham Van Du, deputy director general, Department of Crop Production of Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

He reported this during the 2nd review and planning meeting of the project, Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia (CORIGAP) held in Guangzhou on 11-15 May 2015.

The “small farmers, large field” allows small landholding farmers to benefit from economies of scale by organizing themselves and integrating their small rice areas into one large field. This way, they can improve their bargaining power vis-à-vis input companies, such as fertilizer companies, as well as output companies such as traders and exporters. In Vietnam, farmers organize themselves into a “club” or a group and enter into a contract with rice exporters.

“It is a win-win strategy,” says Dr. Nguyen Ngoc De, associate professor at Can Tho University. “Aside from the bargaining power with input and output companies, farmers benefit largely from the use of technologies such as farm machineries like combines and dryers, storage, among other technologies.” With large rice areas, it is already possible for them to use combine harvesters, which would have not been possible with smaller rice fields.

“Fertilizer companies also benefit through reduced transaction costs because they are now dealing with one farmers’ group instead of hundreds of individual farmers,” explains De.

Likewise, exporters benefit from fewer transactions. “They are assured of a homogenous supply of high quality rice because a farmers’ group grows a rice variety based on market demand,” explains De. “Milling rice of the same variety or grains with uniform physical traits has a higher milling recovery rate and less broken grains.”

“Some exporter companies even provide the certified seed at the beginning of the production season in order to be assured of seed purity and quality, while others invest even more in the relationship by pre-financing other inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides,” says Dr. Matty Demont, market research and value chain specialist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “Contract farming is on the rise, thanks to a successful government program which brings farmers into contact with exporters through public-private partnerships.”

 “CORIGAP is now looking at how to reconcile contract farming with the triple bottom line of sustainability, which considers economic, social, and environmental aspects,” says Demont. He said that research should also look into increasing trust between companies and farmers in order to ensure success in the long run.

Du says that “38 smallholder farmers participated in SFLF, covering 186 hectares during the dry season of 2013-14.” The farmers entered into contract farming and were able to sell their paddy to traders at rates higher than the market price at the time. And, during the wet season, another 38 farmers joined SFLF, forming a 201-hectare rice area. They were also able to sell their paddy at a higher-than-market price.

This result can be attributed to VietGAP, a package of “good agricultural practices” developed by the government and inspired by previous recommendations by IRRI and its partners under the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium.

In Co Do district alone, big export companies, such as Trung An, Gentraco, Ngoc Tien, Trung Hung, Tan Thanh, entered into an agreement with farmers through SFLF schemes covering 11,430 hectares.
The SFLF scheme is now being considered by CORIGAP as a model for other countries in Asia, particularly rice exporting countries such as Thailand.

The CORIGAP team will continue to explore the best entry points for sustainability in rice value chains. Simultaneously targeting all entry points will increase the likelihood of success and make Vietnamese rice value chains more sustainable.

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Philippines: Governor seeks solutions to climate-related problems affecting rice production

Los Baños, Philippines – Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters to find viable interventions to climate-related challenges facing rice farmers in her province.

“In the last four years, extreme drought has hit the province causing significant production losses,” Gov. Marcos said during her visit.

Ilocos Norte, in the northern part of Luzon, has a total of 66,000 hectares of upland and irrigated rice areas contributing to the province’s high rice sufficiency index of 286 percent. In fact, the province is one of the top 12 rice achievers in the country. Last year, however, drought affected more than a thousand hectares of rice fields prompting the province’s agricultural office to extend a total of PHP 19 million to support the struggling sector.

“Region 1, which includes Ilocos Norte, has been getting shorter but more intense rains that come much later than expected,” Ricardo Orge of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) explained. “In terms of absolute volume, rainfall has decreased by 30%.”

To address this concern, Gov. Marcos has earmarked funds for science-based agricultural interventions and solutions.

IRRI scientists presented water management technologies like alternate wetting and drying (AWD), the aerobic system of rice production, farm mechanization tools for drought-prone rainfed lowlands, and varieties like Sahod-ulan, Salinas, and Super Green Rice (GSR) that can withstand environmental stresses, such as drought and salinity. Also discussed were Rice Crop Manager, a free, online advisory service for farmers and the Next-Generation project, focused on developing more climate change-ready rice varieties more resistant to pests and disease.

Yoichi Kato, an IRRI agronomist who specializes in rainfed lowland rice ecosystems, demonstrated a mechanized planting implement. Dr. Kato also recommended increasing the province’s weather forecast capability, providing more demonstration fields, and promoting seed production and dissemination. Enhancing the information network, which should include millers and traders, was also a recommended solution to help farmers cope with problems related to climate change.

“There’s always a package of things that can be done and budget has to be put where it will matter,” Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI’s deputy director general for communication and partnerships. “We hope to ensure that we’re able to put options on the table and you can make choices.”

In addition to these technologies, PhilRice submitted an El Niño action plan to the Department of Agriculture that provides information on suggested varieties, timing of planting, water management and diversified farming, according Dr. Orge. PhilRice has been a long-time partner of IRRI in most of its research activities in the country.

Moving forward, the organizations represented agreed to work together to enhance the ability of Ilocos Norte’s rice production system to better cope with drought stress. PhilRice will provide training on dry seeding and advice on setting up water harvesting stations; under the DA-IRRI rice research and development collaboration under the Food Staples Sufficiency Program, the province will be given seeds tolerant to environmental stresses, which the regional DA office will distribute to drought-prone areas; and IRRI will provide training opportunities in its short courses as well as the blueprint for production of a mechanized seed driller.

“Water is the problem”, said Gov. Marcos. “My visit here has been a real eye-opener. I’m glad to be back at IRRI after a very long time.”


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Heirloom rice and priceless art honored as national treasures

The marker declaring the IRRI Manansalas as National Cultural Treasures is unveiled by (L-R) Jeremy Barns, director of the National Museum; Ronna Manansala, artist and granddaughter of National Artist Vicente Manansala; Ramon del Rosario, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Museum; Emerlinda Roman, chair of the Board of Trustees of IRRI; and Robert Zeigler, director general of IRRI. 

MANILA, Philippines - In a special gathering on 14 May 2015 at the National Museum of the Philippines, two large paintings by National Artist Vicente Manansala were elevated from Important Cultural Properties to National Cultural Treasures—the first Manansalas to gain such status. Since 1962 and until recently, these paintings had been on proud display at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna.

In the evening event Treasures in Art and Rice, the IRRI Manansalas and a special selection of heirloom rice varieties from the mountainous Cordilleras of northern Philippines were featured alongside each other—the paintings unveiled in their new home, the museum's IRRI Hall; and heirloom rice as tasty dishes whipped up by five world-class chefs.

Heirloom rice farmers meet top chefs

MANILA, Philippines - An exchange of indigenous and culinary cultures took place at the Philippine National Museum yesterday during a “market encounter” organized by the Heirloom Rice Project, a joint initiative of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Farmers from the Cordilleras—from Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province—proudly showcased the special heirloom rice varieties and rice products produced in their communities.

"The lives of our heirloom farming communities revolve around rice culture, from planting to harvesting and everything in between," shared Cameron Odsey, DA technical director of the Cordillera Administrative Region.

For more than a decade, heirloom varieties have been regularly exported to niche markets. But heirloom rice varieties are low-yielding and take about seven months to mature—much longer than popular varieties that are widely cultivated.

A government effort to improve the livelihoods of heirloom rice farmers is underway, which makes use of science to improve production and value-chain analysis to link farming communities more efficiently and directly to local markets.

All these efforts are being made while making sure the traditions attached to producing heirloom rice are preserved.

"I have to keep growing rice in the land that my parents and grandparents tilled because I do not want our rice and traditions to fade," shared Evelyn Magastino, a farmer from Ifugao. "I want my son to take up farming as well, although I admit it is physically challenging."

To chef and restaurateur Amy Besa, who has been serving heirloom rice in her restaurants in New York for years, heirloom rice's authenticity is the key to promoting Filipino food. "There is integrity in heirlom rice. It was grown on our land by Filipino farmers", said Besa. "The presence of heirloom rice in the United States is a major turning point for promoting Filipino food."

This sentiment is shared by chefs, Robby Goco and Chele Gonzales. They agree that heirloom rice's unique characteristics are some of their best culinary qualities.

"Our rice can outshine any rice in the world. Ominio? You can make into a black sushi that is unbelievably creamy. Chor-chor-os is fibrous that is so good for salad," said Goco. "You cannot cook heirloom rice the way we cook white rice. We have to open our mind and cook according to their characteristics. This is our proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." Ominio and Chor-chor-os are some of the heirloom rice varieties from the Mountain Province.

IRRI deputy director general Bruce Tolentino thanked the DA for providing leadership to the effort to help heirloom rice farmers. Under the Food Staples Sufficiency Program of the Philippine government, DA and IRRI are working on several projects that aim to improve rice productivity in the country. The Heirloom Rice Project, led by Dr. Casiana Vera Cruz, is being implemented by the DA and IRRI, in partnership with the DA-CAR Regional Field Office and SUCs in the region.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

India: Uttar Pradesh farmers to get top government priority

by Sudhanshu Singh
Group photograph with UP Chief Minister Mr. Akhilesh Yadav (center) and IRRI's Sudhanshu Singh (behind, right of CM).

Emphasizing the importance of farmers, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav announced that farmers’ welfare would receive top government priority. Mr. Yadav also stressed the use of scientific methods in agriculture in his address to farmers through an interactive videoconference.

“The prosperity of a country lies in the happiness of farmers,” he said. “To assist farmers with fresh seeds and higher yield varieties of crops, apart from agriculture implements, the state government should commission scientists to ensure expert advices reached the farmers and to give them necessary inputs for better farming.”

Uttar Pradesh is celebrating 2015 as the year of farmers and the state government has pledge to provide solutions to the many problems plaguing its agriculture sector such as unpredictable weather. The Chief Minister advised farmers to use scientific methods in agriculture to safeguard against vagaries of nature. Citing examples of developed countries that have suffered from similar crop losses, Mr. Yadav said they have made alternative arrangements to protect farmers’ yields from calamities.

Agriculture Minister R.K. Singh, senior secretaries, district officials, and progressive farmers from the 70 districts of Uttar Pradesh also participated in the 5-hour interactive videoconferencing held on 6 May in Lucknow.

Dr. V.K. Mishra, head of the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute in Lucknow, Dr. V.N. Singh, retired rice scientist, and Sudhanshu Singh, a rainfed lowland agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, were also at the event. They interacted with the farmers and offered suggestions on various issues raised by progressive farmers from across the state.

Dr. Singh shared information on stress tolerant rice varieties (STRVs) and other technologies IRRI is promoting in eastern India through the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia project, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia, and the Improved Rice-based Rainfed Agricultural Systems project. He also briefed the minister and senior secretaries on the various activities conducted by IRRI in eastern Uttar Pradesh. District officials showed huge interest in promoting STRVs and proper management technologies to help ease the plight of many smallholder farmers.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Philippines: IRRI conducts medical mission at host community

The Partnerships Office of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) provided free medical service for the underprivileged residents of Barangay Trance in Bay.

About a thousand individuals received medical consultations and health care counseling from volunteer physicians and nurses, headed by Dr. Mary Agnes Motril from the Army General Hospital. Medical supplies were also distributed to some of the residents. Suhay, a charity group led by spouses of IRRI staff, sponsored the free medicines. Gardenia Bakeries (Philippines) also donated bread distributed to the residents during the mission. The event, held on 7 May, is one of IRRI's regular community engagement programs to help reduce the incidence of common medical problems in its host community.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

U.P. and IRRI seek stronger ties in research, student training

Officials from the University of the Philippines, led by Danny Concepcion, dean of the U.P. College of Law, hosted by Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships, at the International Rice Genebank during a tour of IRRI's research facilities and farms in Los Baños, Laguna (6-7 May 2014).
The Philippines’ top state university and the world’s premier research center on rice are working together to strengthen collaboration in research and academic exchange. 

Senior officials from the University of the Philippines (U.P.) System, research administrators of U.P. Los Baños (UPLB), and U.P. Open University visited IRRI on May 6-7 2015, and received in-depth briefings on rice science, met with scientists and top managers of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and visited key laboratories and experimental fields over a busy two-day agenda.

The visit focused on the U.P. system team learning as much as possible about the research agenda and operations of IRRI.  Such learning then enables joint exploration of options for collaborative research in the service of global food security, while mutually strengthening each other's capacities through enhanced partnership toward shared goals.  The visit included briefings and visits to IRRI's lowland and upland farm areas, the new dedicated transgenic research facility, submergence plots, drought facilities, and the International Rice Genebank that holds in trust about 127,000 rice types from around the world.

Neighboring UPLB, the country’s leading university in the agricultural sciences, is an abundant source of well-trained agriculture and biotechnology professionals and researchers for IRRI. About a quarter of IRRI staff are UPLB alumni.

IRRI’s laboratories are an excellent and accessible resource for joint research among UPLB faculty and the institute's scientists as well as training ground for UPLB students. Many of IRRI’s scientists and members of senior management also serve as adjunct UPLB faculty and are often requested to give special lectures. 

While instances of collaboration between UPLB and IRRI have been plentiful since the institute’s founding in 1960, both partners see significant value in forming a more strategic and institutional partnership, especially in the areas of faculty research and student training.  

The visiting team from the UP System was led by Danilo Concepcion, dean of the U.P. College of Law, and included: Dr. Marish Madlangbayan, UPLB vice-chancellor for development; Domingo Angeles, dean of the UPLB College of Agriculture; Dr. Calixto Protacio, UPLB director, crop science cluster; Dr. Jose Hernandez and Dr. Danny Lalican of the UPLB College of Agriculture; Joselito Florendo, U.P. vice president for planning and finance; Elvira Zamora, vice-president for development; Rhodora Azanza, U.P. assistant vice-president for academic affairs and director for international linkages;  Hannibal Bobis, representing Hector Danny Uy, vice-president for legal affairs; Atty. Carlo Vistan, U.P. College of Law; Atty. Ryan Oliva, U.P, College of Law; and Atty. Rowena Disini, counsel for UPOU and representative of UPOU chancellor Grace Alfonso.

They were welcomed and briefed by the IRRI team led by V. Bruce J. Tolentino, IRRI’s deputy director general for communication and partnerships (DDG-CP);  James Quilty, head of the IRRI experiment station;  Bert Collard, plant breeding; Atty. Gingin Perez, sr. counsel; Pola de Guzman, International Rice Genebank; Mr. Ramon Oliveros of the office of the DDG-CP; Adam Sparks, plant pathologist; Alice Laborte, GIS specialist; Jauhar Ali, head of the Green Super Rice Project; Amelia Henry, drought research; and Ben Pamatmat, partnerships office. 


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IRRI-GSR head gives talk at UPLB on breeding tolerant rice varieties

Jauhar Ali, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), made a presentation on Green Super Rice (GSR) at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) Crop Science Cluster Special Seminar.  GSR includes rice varieties and hybrids that are adapted to difficult growing conditions such as drought. These varieties can thrive even with no pesticide and less fertilizer and can out-compete weeds, thus reducing the need for herbicides.

“We developed and bred 195 GSR cultivars at IRRI for testing,” said Dr. Ali who is also the project leader of IRRI-GSR Project.”  “We have released 12 GSR varieties and nominated into national trials 42 promising multiple abiotic and biotic stress-tolerant materials across Asia and Africa.”

Dr. Ali also presented the success of systematically breeding for nutrient use efficiency of rice and weed competitive rice varieties with help of UPLB students. “Success of deriving high genetic gains may be attributed to combination of effective selection skills, reduced breeding time and innovative genomics-assisted breeding approach” he said.

The Special Seminar was held on 7 May at the Nemesio Mendiola Hall, College of Agriculture, UPLB.

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Rice researchers attend workshop on effective presentation

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Training Unit conducted a workshop on effective presentation for scholars, researchers, and scientists. The training provided participants with a step-by-step guide to making professional presentations that clearly get the message across and have the desired impact on the audience.

Attending the workshop were Juan Miguel Abriol-Santos (CESD), Prahalada Dasanna (PBGB), Mst. Sifate Rabbana Khanom (PBGB), Anthony Francis  Malabanan (CESD), Brechje Marechal (CESD), Anny Ruth  Pame (CESD), and Geisha Shaina Lyn Sanchez (PBGB). Myla Beatriz Gregorio, an IRRI spouse, also participated.

Maria Socorro Arboleda served as resource person for the workshop held on 28 April at IRRI Headquarters. IRRI Training will offer the presentation skills workshop on 28 July, 8 September, and 3 December. For more information, please email

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Philippines: OMF, PESO to provide free training for underprivileged residents in IRRI’s host communities

LOS BAÑOS, PHILIPPINES - One Meralco Foundation (OMF) signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Public Employment Service Office (PESO) to provide funds for skills development training of unemployed and low-income residents of Bay and Los Baños in Laguna. The training, which runs from April 2015 through October 2016, includes automotive servicing, electrical installation maintenance, refrigerator and airconditioning technology, and electronics. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) will conduct the training activities while PESO will provide livelihood programs.

“This is the start of the lasting relationship,” said OMF President and Chief Jeffrey Tarayao. “Our mission is to make this partnership successful so many more people from Laguna can benefit from a program like this. This is something OMF is committed to doing and supporting.” OMF, the corporate social responsibility arm of power provider Meralco, will also assist PESO in the preparation and dissemination of project campaign materials.

As part of its commitment to create positive impact in its host communities, IRRI's Philippine Desk of the Partnerships Office will work with PESO managers to monitor the training as well as provide additional training on writing application letters and resumes, and preparing for job interviews.

The MOA was signed by Mr. Tarayao on 30 April at the IRRI Headquarters. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships, signed as witness to the partnerships of OMF with IRRI's host communities of Bay and Los Baños. IRRI facilitated the OMF grant to the host communities.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Communication is key to reaching farmers, says India agri commissioner

Srinagar, India – “Communication holds the key” in effectively transferring knowledge generated by research, and it becomes more crucial when informing farmers of innovations that can help them.

This affirmation of the important role of communication in helping science solve real-world problems was given by Jeet Singh Sandhu, agriculture commissioner of India, to the 26 participants of a weeklong masterclass in communicating research to stakeholders held in Kashmir, India.

Dr. Sandhu is also deputy director general for crop sciences of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which partnered with the National Food Security Mission and IRRI’s Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) in organizing the project, seeking to equip project partners with capacity to communicate the work and progress being made under the project.

Uma Shankar Singh, STRASA coordinator for South Asia, added that “no technology or research innovation can reach the end user unless communicated in the right manner to right set of stakeholders.”

The masterclass was conducted by a team of instructors from Australia-based Crawford Fund and Econnect Communication.

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