Wednesday, December 21, 2016

IT-literacy skills for local out-of-school youth boosted by IRRI's computer donation

Mayor Perez of Los Banos (center) explains how the computers donated by IRRI will help PESO strengthen
its computer literacy and computer systems servicing courses for out-of-school youths in the municipalities of
Los Banos and Bay. Also in photo: IRRI communication chief Bruce Tolentino (left)
and Glescy Trinidad of PESO (right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The local community Public Employment Service Office (PESO) has received 10 computers from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to support its employment training programs in computer literacy and computer systems servicing.  The program serves out-of-school youth from Los Baños and Bay towns, IRRI's host communities.

Caesar Perez, mayor of Los Baños, is quite proud of PESO's work.  PESO provides employability skills and livelihood training to individuals from the disadvantaged sectors of the community. This helps them to increase their employment opportunities and contribute to the town’s economic growth.

"Our graduates learn plenty of skills," shares Ms. Glescy Trinidad of PESO. “They are all government-certified so they're very in demand. In fact, we have two graduates who are employed as electricians at IRRI. We also have a lot of graduates who are working overseas.”

In 2015, about 300 people graduated from the program.  The graduates come from Nagcarlan, Lumban, Sta. Rosa, Pila, Victoria, Calamba as well as from IRRI’s host communities of Los Baños and Bay.

PESO conducts the training with support from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). A National Certificate is given to those who have finished a course or pass the TESDA assessment after completing their skills training. The program is supported by the One Meralco Foundation, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative of the Meralco company.

“IRRI started working with the One Meralco Foundation, the municipalities of Bay and Los Baños, PESO, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as part of its CSR initiative in 2009,”  said Dr. Bruce Tolentino, head of communication and partnerships at IRRI.

"Before, we conducted community livelihood projects with the barangays ourselves, but it was unsustainable," recalled Mr. Lito Platon of IRRI's partnerships office. "Now, it's more sustainable because different partners are uniquely contributing to the project. For example, IRRI coordinates the activities, One Meralco Foundation provides the funds, while  PESO and TESDA train, certify the graduates, and make sure they find jobs. So this is really a partnership with a purpose."

Aside from computer literacy and computer systems servicing, PESO provides courses in massage and reflexology, massage therapy, beauty care, electrical wiring, bread and pastry, garments or dressmaking, and motorcycle repair. Next year, PESO aims to add an automotive course.    

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Strengthening the link between rice farmers and commercial buyers in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 24-26 November—A USAID-funded project to improve the rice value chain is helping 365 farmer organizations in southern Bangladesh to grow premium-quality crops to gain access to national buyers. This became evident during the recent 3rd Rice and Grains Tech Expo.

The project, Feed the Future Bangladesh Rice Value Chain (RVC), is developing the capacity of the farmer groups, composed of 10,500 farmer members, who grow the same high-value rice varieties, to produce their crops in bulk to attract millers and food companies to do business with them.

Joining RVC at the Expo was another project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), led by the International Rice Research Institute (photo). STRASA is speeding up dissemination of seeds of improved rice varieties to farmers in areas prone to drought, flooding, and other severe environmental conditions.

“South Bangladesh is one of the country's poorest areas and most vulnerable to cyclone-induced disasters,”  explained Tim Russell, RVC project leader. “It also has a much lower level of industrialization. So, all the national food processing companies have their bases, including mills and factories, in the northern and western parts of the country.”

Since RVC has spearheaded the creation of farmer groups with the capacity to grow crops and varieties in demand throughout the country, the processing companies are beginning to set up buying operations in southern Bangladesh.

At the Expo, the farmer organizations and their members had the opportunity to link with national companies that produce agriculture and forestry products, farm machinery, and new technologies for rice production and marketing. The buyers are primarily interested in purchasing Chinigura rice from the farmers who now have the capacity to grow this Bangladeshi aromatic variety in bulk, thanks to RVC's support.

Russell concluded that one of the country's biggest national processing companies is planning to establish a Krishi center in Jessore District. "It will act as a warehouse for storing products purchased from these farmer groups,” he added. “It will also serve as a training center for farmer-leaders and the company’s buying agents and staff members.” 

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Vietnam contract farming firm partners with IRRI to achieve sustainable rice production

An agreement between Loc Troi, IFC, and IRRI signed during the SRP Annual Plenary Meeting in Vietnam seeks to produce sustainably certified rice.

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—About 4,000 Vietnamese farmers are expected to be compliant with the global standard for sustainable and more efficient rice cultivation by the end of 2018. This is the goal of an agreement between the Loc Troi Group, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) signed on 7 December.

"Specializing in contract farming, Loc Troi wants to be among the first companies to produce sustainably certified rice," said Dr. Sarah Beebout, an IRRI scientist involved with the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

SRP is a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations convened by the United Nations Environment Programme and IRRI to develop innovative solutions to critical sustainability challenges facing the global rice sector. The SRP Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

"As Loc Troi ramps up its production for export, it sees the environmental issues as important," Beebout said. "We don't have a final answer yet on how high you have to score in each of the indicators to get certification—that's still in process—but the company is already getting in on the front to show it can make steady improvements in each of the benchmark areas."

Farmers can be encouraged to follow the SRP standards because one of its indicators is profitability. "We're coming from the assumption that farmers aren't going to do anything that decreases their profitability for the sake of anything else," explained Beebout. "So the question is can we increase the other indicators while keeping profitability high?"

From December 2015 to April 2016, 50 farmers each from Dong Thap, An Giang, and Kien Giang in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta initiated the first season’s pilot testing of SRP Standards. Technical support and training was provided by Mr. Joel Janiya, IRRI extension agronomist. The pilot test will run for another season to complete the validation but the farmers decided to continue implementing the SRP Standard to produce “safe” rice.  

For the next two years, Beebout and other IRRI scientists will visit project sites in the Mekong Delta to support Loc Troi’s technicians and participating farmers on the proper implementation of the Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation. Aside from the technical support, the institute will also help Loc Troi's extension system set up a training program for the 4,000 farmers through IRRI Education

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bringing climate-resilient technologies to rice farmers in the northern Philippines

LAOAG, northern Philippines—The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are collaborating to introduce new rice varieties and technologies to help local rice farmers cope with climate change.

The collaborative program, known as Tikag (drought), provides smallholder farmers access to climate-resilient rice varieties and technologies under the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environment (CURE) and the locally fabricated mechanized dry direct seed driller developed by the MP Seeder Project (see photo).

“Hopefully, these new technologies could reduce the risks in rice production in northern Luzon and help farmers suffering from unpredictable drought and typhoons every year,” said Dr. Yoichiro Kato, a rainfed lowland agronomist at IRRI and lead of the MP Seeder Project.

Tikag is a collaborative project of local government units in Ilocos Norte, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Dingras. CURE is funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development while the MP Seeder Project is funded by the DA.

Farmers’ Field Days held, respectively, in Currimao and Burgos on 7 and 8 December attracted more than 200 farmer leaders and local extension staff from 20 municipalities of Ilocos Norte. The participating farmers showed their willingness to adopt both the MP seed driller and the drought-tolerant varieties, particularly Sahod Ulan 12 which can be harvested from 93 to 99 days after planting.

The MP Seeder will significantly reduce the time and cost of establishing their rice crop, and the short duration and drought-tolerant will enable us to harvest more than before, according to  Mr.Candido Velasco and Mrs. Teresita Menor, participating farmers from Currimao.

Provincial Governor Imee Marcos, in her message to the field day participants, expressed her gratitude to IRRI’s continuous support. She encouraged the farmers to use new the drought-tolerant rice varieties and the mechanized dry direct seeding for the coming 2017 wet season. Rodolfo Garcia, mayor of Burgos, and Gladys Go-Cue, vice mayor of Currimao, attended the respective field days.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Odisha farmers switching to stress-tolerant rice varieties and mechanization

By N.C. Banik, P. Anand, and A. Kumar

ODISHA, India, 22 November—In the coastal region of this state, BINA dhan-11, a short duration and flood-tolerant rice variety, could be a good option for farmers resowing or transplanting late in the season in areas where floods have damaged crops planted earlier. This was a recommendation of Dr. Narayan Chandra Banik, an agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)-India.

Banik and other crop specialists and agriculture officials were interacting with around 65 farmers, village agriculture workers, NGO partners, and service providers in Puri District (photo). In the field demonstrations, the participants were able to observe the benefits of growing stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs) and using sustainable intensification technologies. 

In addition to BINA dhan-11, other varieties showcased were flood-tolerant CR 1009-Sub1 and Swarna-Sub1 and the drought-tolerant DRR-42 planted in farmers’ fields in Danogahir, Achhuasahi, and Srikanthapur during the 2016 kharif season using direct-seeding drills and mechanical transplanters. Also highlighted were best practices such as optimal seed rate and planting time, fertilizer scheduling, and integrated weed management.  

Across different sites, farmers were impressed with the STRVs because of the vigorous crop stands, resistance to lodging, and higher yields compared with the region's traditional varieties. Some farmers were initially apprehensive about using STRVs and direct seeding—these being totally new interventions in the area. However, they were eventually convinced to adopt the technologies for next year’s cropping season as they realized the added assurance of higher yields even with heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding. 

The participating farmers were also impressed with the direct-seeding drill and mechanical transplanters. The immediate benefits of these machines include significant savings in labor, energy, cost of cultivation, and reduced drudgery. 

New service providers created by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and farmers who opted to use mechanical transplanting said they could transplant rice seedlings in time at a reduced cost. They also obtained higher yields than from manual transplanting. 

The main concern of stakeholders about direct seeding is weed management and limited knowledge on the proper use of herbicides. “Integrated weed management with newly recommended pre- and post-emergence herbicides and manual and mechanical weeding could be an effective option for controlling weed in direct seeded rice,” explained Dr. Ashok Kumar, IRRI coordinator of the  CSISA Odisha hub. “Training of product dealers and service providers on herbicides could also be helpful.”

While the majority of participants opined that the large-scale adoption of the technology was limited by lack of awareness and availability of the equipment, agriculture officials emphasized nursery enterprise development could enable a wider dissemination of mechanical transplanters.  Service providers can avail of the government’s subsidy scheme for purchasing trays for rice mat nurseries and provide services for using nursery and paddy transplanting machines. Current trained service providers can also target selected villages to increase awareness of mechanical transplanters, which in turn will increase their enterprise.

The traveling seminars and interactive meetings were organized by CSISA in collaboration with the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project coordinated by IRRI and the state’s Department of Agriculture.  Similar efforts to demonstrate and out-scale these technologies are being conducted in Khurda, Cuttack, and Jagatsinghapur in Puri District.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Scientists helping Filipino farmers adapt to climate change

ALABANG, Muntinlupa City, 28-29 November—The current practices of Filipino rice farmers and the varieties they are using are continually being upgraded by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to help them adapt to the unpredictable effects of climate change.

This was an observation from Dr. Yoichiro Kato, a rainfed lowland agronomist at IRRI, during his presentation at the recent 10th Annual Scientific Forum and Meeting, organized by the Philippine Association of Career Scientists, Inc. (PACS). The event attracted Kato and other international and national scientists from different disciplines who shared insights from their research activities in improving farmers’ planting practices.

Kato, when discussing other adaptive measures for growing rice under the current Philippine weather and climate conditions, cited Central Thailand's rice farming model, which uses a number of the dynamic farming approaches recommended by IRRI.

He also shared his three-step research philosophy for agricultural science: (1) know your own target; (2) get robust evidence; and (3) understand reasons behind the results. “This is my personal strategy to effectively implement basic researches in rice agronomy,” Kato said.

Dr. Ricardo Orge, from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), presented his study on coping with climate change in the Philippines.  He gave an overview of Palayamanan, a PhilRice initiative on water-saving technology for diversified and integrated system of farming.  Orge’s presentation stimulated a discussion on budget limitations for rice-farming research.    

According to Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza, Scientific Career Council Executive Secretary Academician, research and development (R&D) in the Philippines are lagging behind in the number of R&D personnel per million persons in the population.  This lags far behind other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and needs to be remedied.

Other prominent scientists from leading rice research centers in the country discussed how they are providing far-reaching technological solutions in line with the Forum’s theme, Reinforcing science and technology capacities for sustainable community development,

The Philippine Scientific Career System and the National Academy of Science and Technology collaborated with PACS in sponsoring the forum.

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On-farm research trials ramped up in Cambodia to reduce pesticide use in rice farming

Participants discuss and chart the next steps in conducting adaptive research on integrated pest management in Cambodia.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A project led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Cambodia is set to conduct on-farm research to develop site-specific, environment-friendly integrated pest management (IPM) packages for the country’s rice farmers.

The project, EPIC (Development of ecologically-based, participatory IPM package for rice in Cambodia), has ramped up its plans to conduct adaptive and participatory research on IPM to help Cambodian rice farmers reduce their use of chemical pesticides. The plans, along with forming regional- and provincial-based learning alliances and target-specific communication initiatives, were announced during the annual meeting and workshop of the EPIC project on 1-2 December.

“Several pests and diseases in rice production have been causing significant yield losses,” said H.E. Hean Vanhan, director general of the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “Over the last decade, farmers mainly relied on chemical pesticides as a major method to control rice pests and diseases. The immediate goals of EPIC are to contribute to the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods, which is in line with the policy of the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

 “Adaptive research will take a prominent role in the work that EPIC project will do,” said Dr. Sang Lee, representative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Cambodia. “This is critical to be able to fine-tune, adjust, and perhaps even change course to address the complex ecological solution that the IPM program plans to address.” The EPIC project is supported by USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative.

Workshop participants shared and discussed the initial results of survey activities and field trials conducted in Prey Veng, Battambang, Takeo, and Kampong Thom Provinces. Sessions were conducted to map out future initiatives on forming learning alliances, conduct of adaptive research, and information dissemination and capacity enhancement.

“We are reviewing what has been done in the past year in partnership with GDA and the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) so we can chart the next direction of the project in Cambodia,” said Dr. Buyung Hadi, IRRI entomologist and EPIC project coordinator.

Dr. Seng Vang, Deputy Director General CARDI, also shared that these initial achievements would not have been possible without the all-out support and cooperation of other partners.

More than 50 participants attended the meeting including representatives from GDA, CARDI, the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Virginia Tech, Cornell University, and the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Battambang, Prey Veng, Takeo, and Kampong Thom.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Eastern India’s seed industry needs to be more aware of climate-smart rice varieties

by Mayank Sharma

WEST BENGAL, India—There are many stress-tolerant rice varieties that have been released in India. However, seed producers and companies in the country’s eastern region urgently need to be more aware of their availability and ways to promote them. So, a varietal exhibition and a workshop were held recently in Birbhum to do just that.

The events aimed to improve seed supply and accelerate the adoption of suitable varieties by small and marginal farmers living in the region’s stress-prone areas. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in India facilitated the activity through its project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA).

To support its objective, STRASA brought together around 140 representatives from seed dealers, seed producers, private seed companies, state seed corporations, nongovernmental organizations, progressive farmers, and others from Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Assam to enhance their knowledge of new stress-tolerant rice varieties.

The on-farm displays featured almost all the stress-tolerant rice varieties released in India along with some popular high-yielding varieties from eastern Indian states. The participants were able to observe the traits of these improved rice varieties.

“Engaging the private sector in the diffusion process is important and sustainable,” said Dr. Manzoor Dar, an IRRI-India development specialist who initiated the idea of bringing together these stakeholders in eastern India. “Delivering these services directly to seed dealers has a greater impact on the spread of new varieties since they have incentives to spread this information to their customers. Increases in the demand for these varieties translate directly to increased profits for dealers.”  

The IRRI-STRASA workshop covered various aspects of the seed supply chain to help the private sector develop better seed markets and strategies for scaling-up the varieties’ production and adoption. During the workshop, Dr. Gary Atlin, (third from right in photo) senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed the role of private seed companies and dealers in supplying quality products to the farmers and need to promote climate-resilient rice varieties.

The workshop provided key seed players with a platform to give their feedback.

“We encourage seed dealers and private seed companies to share their experiences and requirements on behalf of the farmers,” said Dr. George Kotch, head of IRRI’s Plant Breeding Division. “This way IRRI breeders can be more effective in meeting the need of the farmers and the market.”

IRRI, through STRASA, is currently working to build the capacity to scale out stress-tolerant rice varieties across South Asia.

“This includes partnerships with local NGOs and private seed companies to ensure adequate and sustainable seed supply and availability,” said Dar. “IRRI-STRASA is forming a platform for all stakeholders in the seed sector who can be part of enhancing the delivery of these varieties in the target areas.”

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

IRRI joins leading biotech centers to promote universal biotechnology stewardship

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been granted membership into a global agricultural technology stewardship program that promotes responsible management of plant biotechnology research. The program’s focus is to develop and encourage implementation of ethical practices and educating the public about those practices.

Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS) is a global nonprofit organization that promotes the universal adoption of stewardship programs and quality management systems for the full-life cycle of agricultural technology products. The organization assists its members in the implementation (or improvement) of stewardship programs and quality management systems and facilitates auditing by independent third parties to verify them.

IRRI recognizes the importance of ensuring responsible conduct of transgenic research with the highest ethical standards in its operations and activities. It also knows the potential risk of intentional and unintentional release of transgenic materials, which may result in reputational, financial, and/or operational damage. IRRI’s regular membership in ETS paves the way for it to successfully complete a third-party independent audit. ETS recognition will serve as a testament to IRRI’s standard of excellence in transgenic research.

IRRI’s application for regular membership was facilitated by the Transgenic Stewardship Office under the newly created Research Infrastructure and Operations Unit of the office of the Deputy Director General for Research. The application was evaluated by the ETS Board of Directors and membership acceptance was confirmed on 17 November.

ETS membership is open to technology companies, academic institutions, public and private research organizations, seed producers, licensees, and other service providers engaged in discovering, developing, handling, or commercializing biotechnology-derived plant products.

In addition to IRRI, the CGIAR-member institutes accepted by ETS are the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Other organizations holding ETS membership include BASF Plant Science, Bayer CropScience, Monsanto Company, and Syngenta Seeds Inc.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Abdel Ismail to lead IRRI’s Genetics and Biotechnology Division

Abdelbagi Ismail has been appointed as the head of the Genetics and Biotechnology (GB) Division of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) starting 1 January 2017. Dr. Ismail will succeed Dr. Hei Leung, the interim GB head, who will focus on guiding IRRI’s research initiatives in China and Japan.

Dr. Ismail, a Sudanese national and plant physiologist by training, brings 24 years of professional experience to lead the GB division. Currently serving as the coordinator of the project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), he has spent a significant part of his career developing rice varieties that can withstand harsh environmental conditions such as flooding, salinity, and soil problems.

“Indeed, it is an honor to serve as the GB head and to follow and build on the dynamic leadership of Hei Leung,” said Dr. Ismail. “I am delighted to take up this responsibility and to work vigorously with our colleagues towards a more productive, results- and impact-oriented research. We need to continue tackling current and future challenges and ensuring secured food and wellness of rice farmers and consumers.”

Aside from STRASA, Dr. Ismail has provided leadership to more than 20 projects at IRRI since 2005. He has been involved in the generation and management of major research grants totaling more than USD100 million. His research work aims to improve the lives of marginal farmers in different parts of the world who are most vulnerable to climate change adversities by sustainably increasing their rice productivity and income.

Some of his research has focused on refining screening methods, identifying tolerant donors, and establishing the genetic and physiological basis of tolerance. He has also assisted in developing tolerant breeding lines using standard and molecular methods and then evaluating and selecting them in farmers’ fields. He has developed and validated sets of best management practices for different abiotic stress conditions to maximize expression of genetic tolerance and mitigate stress effects.

His research leadership spans many countries in South and Southeast Asia and Africa as he works with national research and extension systems, nongovernment organizations, the private sector, donors, and other members of the international R4D community.

Dr. Ismail’s work has been recognized through awards from partners such as the Government of Vietnam's merit medal in 2010 for the cause of science and technology development of Vietnam. In 2007, he received a gold medal from the government for his “contribution to agriculture development in Vietnam."

Dr. Ismail graduated from the University of Khartoum in Sudan with both bachelor and masters degrees in agriculture. He earned a PhD in botany from the University of California, Riverside, majoring in environmental plant physiology, stress physiology, genetics, and breeding. He is married and a father of four.

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CIAT celebrates the 50th anniversary of IR8

The celebration of the 50th anniversary of rice variety IR8 is very timely for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and its partners in Latin America. The variety’s release impacted the evolution of rice breeding programs, the development of rice varieties that have been released since then, and agronomic crop management.

CIAT will mark the IR8 anniversary on 28 November at its headquarters in Cali, Colombia. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) initially introduced IR8 in the Philippines and India, but it was rapidly adopted by thousands of farmers around the world, including Latin America.  Short stature, early maturity, and high-capacity performance were the defining characteristics of IR8 that allowed the production of rice to quadruple.

In 1966, the same year that IR8 was released in the Philippines, IRRI breeder Peter Jennings sent 100 kilos of seed to Jorge Ruiz Quiroga, then manager of the National Federation of Rice Growers of Colombia (FEDEARROZ). He was responsible for expanding the use of IR8 by farmers affiliated with the Federation. IR8 had a great impact on rice production in Colombia and, subsequently, in other tropical countries of Central and South America as well as the temperate regions of the continent’s Southern Cone. This was the beginning of the first Green Revolution in Latin America.

By 1967, CIAT had been established in Colombia and an inter-institutional collaboration with the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) and FEDEARROZ was established. By the end of the 1980s, all irrigated and rainfed areas were sown to semidwarf varieties derived from IR8, such as Cica 4 and 8, Oryzica 1, Oryzica Llanos 4 and 5, Metica 1, and Oryzica Caribbean 8, among others.

CIAT’s  celebration, to be held in conjunction with Fondo Latinoamericano para Arroz de Riego (FLAR) and FEDEARROZ, will include presentations and discussions on the importance and impact of IR8 in Colombia and Latin America (click on the image above for more details).  Additionally, there will be a discussion on the future of rice research in Latin America and the opportunities offered by new biotechnological tools and conventional technologies that could lead to the continent’s second Green Revolution in rice.

To join the event beginning at 10 a.m. local time (3 p.m. GMT) on 28 November (Monday) via live streaming, follow these instructions:

To join the meeting from your computer or phone, go

  • Enter your name and click the button "Join as Guest"
  • Install the application. Follow the instructions.
  • Select "Computer Audio & Video"
  • Click the blue button "I'm Ready"

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Public–private sector partnerships seek to develop mechanization of Cambodia’s agriculture

As part of the ongoing capacity building for mechanization in Cambodia, a rice straw baler
is demonstrated to farmers during a rice straw management field day held earlier this year at Don Bosco, Battambang. 

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, 5 November—Rapid advances and innovations in agricultural mechanization are making it difficult to fully understand how Cambodian farmers might best use these new technologies. Many roles previously held by the public sector in developing and introducing such technologies are being taken over by players in the private sector. However, this development offers opportunities for effective public–private sector partnerships to solve complex problems related to mechanization and postharvest activities.

The Postharvest and Mechanization Group at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been monitoring mechanization trends in Cambodia. Recently, it organized a joint research platform meeting on mechanization, postharvest, and byproduct management at the General Department of Agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (MAFF).

Key stakeholders from the government, private sector, university, civil society groups, and projects with mechanization activities discussed their current initiatives. They also looked to find ways to move forward, especially with stronger involvement of potential new partnerships tied to IRRI through the RICE program that will start in 2017.

“Labor shortages and the move towards commercializing rice in Cambodia increase the need for mechanization,” said Dr. Meas Pyseth, director of MAFF, during his presentation on the country’s bottlenecks in rice production.

Dr. Bob Martin, director of private Agricultural Systems Research in Cambodia, and Gary Townsend, manager at Harvest Center (Cambodia) Co., Ltd., presented interesting initiatives through public-private partnerships. These include evaluating new machines such as seed drills; drones to assist in nitrogen applications and in surveying as part of land leveling; tractors steered through GPS; and improved disk plows, rotavators, and balers. They see these as part of the trend towards managing large land areas with less labor.

Civil society and universities are also pursuing initiatives on improving technologies that are directly used by smallholder farmers, such as small mechanized sprayers, mulch-based cropping systems, and fertilizer spreaders. One aspect the meeting was the joint interest in looking at new direct seeding options in the context of a systems approach. This involves varieties more suitable for mechanization, minimum tillage, and improved rice straw management.

The discussion showed there are various areas where IRRI’s research could add value to ongoing initiatives and interest of different stakeholders in Cambodia where “mechanization is still young.”

“The meeting provided some direction to stay engaged with technologies already introduced in the country by IRRI,” said Engr. Martin Gummert, leader of the postproduction activities and research of the project, Closing the rice yield gap and reducing ecological footprints. “However, it also touched on new areas of interest to stakeholders.”

The IRRI mechanization group will continue the dialog with ongoing capacity building for mechanization as it has been doing recently through support provided to various partners by Mr. Gerald Hitzler, IRRI-Centre for International Migration and Development expert based at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh.

The joint research platform meeting was led by Mr. Hitzler and Dr. Nguyen Van Hung, a scientist in IRRI’s postharvest and mechanization group.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Awesome program encourages young people to consider being farmers of the future

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—“When I grow-up, I want to be a farmer,” said one of the students of the German European School Manila who participated in a recent program at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to learn more about rice and how the crop is grown.

On 9 November, 70 students from the school had the time of their lives as they participated in the Rice Planting Activity for Youth at IRRI.  Other young people also attended the activity other days this month, including 150 students from St. Paul College of Parañaque and 25 students from Keys School Manila.

“The activity gives young people an overview of growing the world’s most important crop through a mini-lecture and hands-on field activities,” said Ms. Achu Arboleda, senior specialist at IRRI Education. “The highlight of the exercise is when the students take part in land preparation using both traditional (water buffalo) and modern (machines) methods.”

After plowing a field, the students transplant rice seedlings using their bare hands under the heat of the sun, which gives them an idea of what farmers do to ensure that their families and consumers will have rice on their tables at mealtime.

“Many students come out of the experience quite happy and satisfied with the hard work they did,” Arboleda said. She calls on all youth to come to IRRI to experience having their feet in the mud!

“This is an awesome activity,” she exclaimed enthusiastically!

Engaging youth in agriculture has been an important issue as fewer young people worldwide consider agriculture as a future career.  Every year, droves of young people migrate to the cities looking for work. While the agriculture sector faces numerous challenges, exciting technological innovations could help change perceptions and make farming more interesting for young people.

The Rice Planting Activity for Youth is jointly facilitated by the Events and Visitors Office, the Zeigler Experiment Station, and IRRI Education. Schools interested in participating in the program may contact Achu Arboleda at

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Afghanistan taps IRRI expertise to strengthen its rice sector

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines, 9 November—Rice is the second most widely consumed crop, next to wheat, in Afghanistan. Low national productivity, however, means that the country has had to import rice from Pakistan and Kazakhstan to meet local demand. 

Representatives from the Afghan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) have signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) that is expected to boost rice production in the landlocked country. The MOU involves the introduction of improved rice varieties, technical support, exchange of information on rice research-related concerns, and training and capacity building.

"We really want IRRI to be engaged in rice research work in Afghanistan," said Hamdullah Hamdard, MAIL General Director of Extension and Agriculture Development (right in photo).

Qudratullah Soofizada, MAIL Acting Director of Adaptive and Applied Research, emphasized the importance of developing rice varieties with better quality adapted to the country's different rice-growing zones. Currently, the ministry works with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to introduce new rice varieties in the country.

"Rice is very important to food security in Afghanistan," Mr. Soofizada explained. “Our rice farmers need seed of new varieties.”

Bruce Tolentino, IRRI Deputy Director General for Communication and Partnerships (left in photo), assured the Afghan partners of IRRI’s support for codeveloping a program with MAIL to enable the ministry to access more rice seed as needed.

Mr. Soofizada expressed interest in technical support from IRRI for characterizing traditional Afghan rice varieties. A MAIL survey has found that Afghanistan has more than 100 landraces of rice with potentially useful genetic traits for plant breeders.

Afghanistan is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

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Monday, November 7, 2016

IRRI honors former Vietnam agriculture minister

Former Vietnam Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat (right) was honored by IRRI,
represented by Director General Matthew Morell, for his support of the partnership between
Vietnam and the Philippines-based global center on rice research. (Photo courtesy of IRRI Vietnam Office)

HANOI, Vietnam – Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat was honored by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) with an award and a dinner reception on November 4, for his “ardent support” of the Vietnam-IRRI collaboration.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Odisha and IRRI start project to improve rice farmers’ productivity and income

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Of 200 joint rice research projects between India and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), 30 are being conducted in the state of Odisha. Recently, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Farmers Empowerment (DAFE) has approved the implementation of new 5-year effort that aims to improve the productivity of the state’s rice-based cropping systems and the incomes of its farmers. 

“This is an exciting development in the cooperative efforts between India and IRRI,” said Corinta Guerta, director for IRRI’s external relations. “India has been a very important long-time partner of IRRI since 1967.” 

The collaborative project between DAFE and IRRI was signed in September. In connection with the new project, Manoj Ahuja, principal secretary of DAFE, Vice Chancellor Surendranath Pasupalak of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, and Commissioner and Director Pramod Kumar Meherda of the Directorate of Agriculture and Food Production visited IRRI on 27-28 October. They met with IRRI scientists and toured the institute’s various facilities to observe ongoing research activities and technologies.

 “We are interested in everything you have to offer,” said Secretary Ahuja. 

During a briefing, they received an overview of some of IRRI’s projects in India. Among the projects discussed was the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), which focuses on accelerating the dissemination of improved rice varieties in the region. The Secretary and his associates were also updated on IRRI’s collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in developing new rice varieties for the region using the latest breeding technologies. 

“STRASA uses innovative approaches and regional cooperation for promoting stress-tolerant rice varieties not only in India but throughout South Asia,” said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, project leader of STRASA. “We have shortened the time for these varieties to reach farmers by almost half, a process that previously took 10-15 years.”

Dr. Kshirod Jena, IRRI principal scientist, presented results of the collaborative breeding activities between ICAR and the institute. He pointed out that they are upgrading popular Indian rice varieties by incorporating rice genes responsible for high yield, stronger resistances to pests and diseases, and tolerances of environmental stresses.

“Early reports have shown dramatic increases in the yields of varieties MUTU 1010, Samba Mahsuri, and Swarna into which new genes have been incorporated,” said Jena. “They also show better resistance to pests and diseases affecting rice production in Odisha.”

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Integrated polder development to improve food security in coastal Bangladesh

BANGKOK, Thailand, 18-19 October—Agricultural production is low in coastal Bangladesh, particularly in the country’s low-lying tracts of land enclosed by dikes that form an artificial hydrological system known as polders.

So, national institutes of Bangladesh, nongovernment organizations, scientists from international projects and organizations, and donors have come up with an integrated plan of action to help improve the food security in coastal Bangladesh. This was the result of the two-day workshop, Towards a better integration of R4D for improved food production systems in the coastal zone of Bangladesh, which was conducted in Bangkok.

“Since the Ganges coastal zone has lowlands between huge tidal rivers, polders were formed in the 1960s and 70s to protect the coasts from tidal flooding and saline water intrusion,“ said Sudhir Yadav, a water scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

“More than 1 million hectares of agricultural lands were enclosed in these polders and are now home to about 8 million people,” he added. “Yet, despite the enormous investment in embankments and associated infrastructure, most households in these communities live under the national poverty line. These polders are prone to flooding during the rainy season and experience drought and salinity during the dry season, let alone frequent occurrences of cyclones.”

Recognizing the needs and opportunities in these coastal areas, investment in the development of this region is now a priority of the Government of Bangladesh. Aside from the significant investment of the government in R4D in the coastal zone through its national research and extension system, international donors, especially USAID, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) are also investing considerably in R4D and outscaling projects in the region.

However, most of these national and international projects operate in isolation from each other with little awareness of what others are doing. Among them all, these projects and programs hold a great diversity of disciplinary expertise, experience, networks, and indigenous knowledge.

The workshop was an initial effort for greater information sharing and networking across the projects and programs. Twelve international R4D projects on the coastal zone in the country were discussed.

“This workshop, which is in line with CGIAR’s goal of increased coordination and collaboration among its centers, is expected to bring many benefits such as increased efficiency, higher level of impact, and sharing of resources, among other things,” said Bas Bouman, director of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP). “This will eventually lead to more rapid progress in improving productivity, livelihoods and nutrition in the coastal zone.”

The workshop was funded by GRiSP, with additional support from ACIAR and the CRPs on Grain Legumes; and Water, Land, and Ecosystems (WLE).

The workshop was well represented by national institutes such as the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Bangladesh Agriculture Rice Research Institute, Bangladesh Water Development Board, and the Department of Agricultural Extension of Bangladesh.

Representatives from donors included USAID’s Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab; ACIAR; and CRPs such as GRiSP, Grain Legumes, and WLE.  Other CGIAR centers also participated including the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, and the World Fish Center. BRAC, a nongovernment organization in Bangladesh, was also present as were universities and other international organizations and agencies.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

South Korea and IRRI partner up on rice science for development

SEOUL, South Korea—27 October. Science and technology have played important roles in South Korea’s successful economic development. Beginning in the 1960s, the country’s long collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) helped Korea achieve food security through high-yielding varieties and improved farm management.  Thus, the country secured domestic self-sufficiency in rice and, on a strong agriculture and rural base, propelled its economy into export-oriented growth.

Building on its success, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and IRRI signed a memorandum of understanding (see photo) to fight poverty and hunger in developing countries through rice science and modern agricultural technologies.

The 5-year agreement enables mutual support in the formulation, design, and implementation of rice systems-based food security and agricultural development activities in countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where IRRI and KOICA work. As an emerging donor and recently a member of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea is actively engaged in rural development efforts across the developing world to promote food security, better quality of life, and sustainable development that align with IRRI’s strategy.

For decades, South Korea’s cooperation with IRRI has been carried out through the National Institute of Crop Science (NICS) of the Rural Development Administration (RDA).  Early in the partnership, one of the most important results of the RDA/NICS—IRRI collaboration is the development and deployment of Tong-Il rice, a high-yielding modern variety that sparked the Green Revolution in Korea.

The development of Tong-Il rice was named as one of the most important scientific achievements in the 20th century.  More importantly, the variety ensured a stable supply of rice in South Korea in the years following the devastating Korean War.

Since then, the partnership has developed many other premium-quality rice varieties under the Large Scale Korean Seed Multiplication Project. For over 40 years, South Korea has also been an active participant in International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER). Through INGER, South Korean rice breeders acquired valuable germplasm for breeding better japonica rice varieties with economically important traits such as resistance to pest and diseases, tolerance for harsher environmental conditions, higher grain quality, productivity, and aroma.

The partnership between South Korea and IRRI continues to flourish and has increasingly evolved from a focus on domestic development to global development in recent years. The RDA and IRRI have signed a new rice research agreement to develop sturdier temperate rice varieties that can handle environmental stresses and disease. Future collaboration between NICS and IRRI will include improving rice grain quality, food science and nutrition, value chains, and profitability.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

China’s top hybrid rice expert at IRRI to discuss frontier research

Xie (third from left), wants to boost collaboration between FAAS and IRRI. He is shown here handing a souvenir to Dr. Hughes, They are joined by Chinese scientists from IRRI and China's rice research institutions. (More photos)

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines –26 October. A group of scientists from China led by world-renowned hybrid rice breeder Hua’an Xie, a professor at the Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences (FAAS), are at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) this week to explore areas of possible collaboration.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

JICA, PhilRice, and IRRI team up to develop Africa’s rice seed sector

MANILA, Philippines—Increases in rice consumption in Africa have outpaced the continent’s rice production, according to Jason Beebout, the leader of a capacity-building project for Africa being supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “This is why there is a need for training programs aimed at increasing rice production beginning with the seed sector,” he said.

JICA, PhilRice, and IRRI have joined forces to help several African countries develop their respective rice seed sector. The three organizations formalized this partnership during a brief ceremony for the signing of the agreement at the JICA Philippine Office on 18 October.

In the agreement, which is part of the Extension for Capacity Development for Rice Food Security in Africa, IRRI is partnering with PhilRice in training the next generation of seed production professionals from member countries of the Coalition for African Rice Development (CARD). In 2017, two 8-week training courses on rice seed production and extension will be conducted by PhilRice for selected participants from CARD countries. The overall extension capacity project started in March and will continue until 2019.

The agreement was signed by Corinta Guerta, IRRI director for External Relations, and Dr. Sailila Abdula, PhilRice executive director, in the presence of Susumu Ito, JICA’s chief representative at the Philippine Office. (See photo)

"This three-party cooperation among JICA, PhilRice, and IRRI is an important milestone for the IRRI-Japan partnership that dates back to 1960,” said Guerta. “It is first time we have a direct collaborative program with JICA, which made it possible for IRRI and PhilRice to hold the season-long training on rice production techniques for extension agronomists from 23 CARD countries.”

“The signing ceremony is symbolic of a strong partnership that is at the heart of JICA's activities,” said Ito. “JICA is very pleased that its support to PhilRice during the early years is now bearing fruit through its contributions to sharing knowledge with Africa. I hope that by working together, IRRI, JICA, and PhilRice may be able to improve food security for all.”

This is not the first time IRRI and PhilRice have worked together to train researchers, technicians, and extension workers from Africa. During the first phase of the IRRI-JICA collaboration, they trained 142 participants from various African countries.  Earlier this year, IRRI also conducted two 3-week training programs on quality breeder and foundation seed production that was attended by 34 African researchers and extension professionals.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Experts get lifetime achievement awards for unraveling rice blast’s mysteries

MANILA, Philippines, 12 October—Three renowned experts in rice blast research were presented with lifetime achievement awards during the 7th International Rice Blast Conference (IRBC07) for their contributions in helping understand and manage the complex and destructive disease.

The awardees were Dr. Shinzo Koizumi, technical adviser, Japan International Cooperation Agency Tsukuba International Center; Dr. Seong-Sook Han, director of the Korea Project on International Agricultural (KOPIA) Ethiopia Center; and Dr. Robert Zeigler, director general emeritus and former plant pathologist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Koizumi (photo left) spent around 40 years studying rice blast in several institutions across Japan, including the Tohoku Agricultural Research Center and the Central Region Agricultural Research Center (formerly the National Agricultural Research Center), among others. His foray into rice blast research started as an undergraduate student. After working as a researcher of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan, he became increasingly more involved in rice blast research, looking into the variations in the disease.

"I think research may be important to reduce application of chemicals to increase profit," Koizumi said. "The farmer does not have enough money to buy expensive chemicals. So, this is timely and very important.”

Han started her journey as a plant pathologist in the Rural Development Administration of Korea where she studied the disease for 33 years. She became the director of the KOPIA Ethiopia Center two years ago.

"My focus was solely on the blast fungus," she recalled. "And then I realized that it was a mistake because of how limited the available information was and I was only studying the fungus itself. So, now we look at the rice plant as well. We should know what kind of interactions there are between the fungus and the plant."
Dr. Leung (left) presented Dr. Han (right) with the lifetime achievement award. 

Her insight very much agreed with that of Zeigler’s, who spent nearly half a lifetime studying and understanding the shifty disease. "The trick is to work on the plant side so it's able to resist or identify the blast fungus and keep it at bay," he said.  “What makes rice blast so tricky is that, unlike other serious rice disease such as tungro, the progression of rice blast disease involves thousands of fungal genes." That means it has a range of mechanisms to generate variation.

"It's the variation that's critical to how it interacts with the rice plant," said Zeigler. "In fact, the genome of the rice blast fungus can be thought of as being infected with viruses and those viruses actually enable the fungus to change its genome. Those are called transposable elements—it's DNA that moves around the fungal genome. When they move, they cause mutations that can either cause genes to lose function or possibly even create a new function.”

Dr. Valent (left) conferred the award on Dr. Zeigler (right). 
As a scientist, Zeigler noted the importance of pursuing not only what is intellectually interesting, but also what is applicable. "I think we need to be able to turn questions around and ask in the opposite direction.” He said. “Like, a lot of people say, 'we want to understand how the pathogen works.' And I like to say, I'm not interested so much what the pathogen can do; I'm interested in what it can't do.”

The awards were conferred by Drs. Hei Leung and Bo Zhou, IRRI plant pathologists and cochairs of the local IRBC07 organizing committee, and Dr. Barbara Valent, chair of the event’s international organizing committee.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Indonesia targets rice self-sufficiency

JAKARTA, Indonesia, 11 October—“Indonesian law requires the country to maintain food self-sufficiency, but achieving this goal is becoming more and more challenging,” said Dr. Hasil Sembiring, director general for Food Crops with the Ministry of Agriculture for Indonesia. He was addressing a recent forum jointly hosted by the Indonesian Agency for Agriculture Research and Development and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

 “Despite these challenges, the Government of Indonesia is fully committed to achieving self-sufficiency and even export status,” he added. “Almost 56% of our farmers are small-scale subsistence farmers, working less than a half hectare of land. We cannot become food self-sufficient in this way.”

Added to these challenges are: an aging farmer population where 44% are more than 50 years old, limited education with only 25% graduating from elementary school, and a shortage of agriculture extension workers. Indonesia also faces significant agriculture security challenges.

This is the Indonesian agriculture landscape that was described to participants of the forum, Rice and Food Security Indonesia: The global market, scientific research, and action programs. It was an opportunity for individuals from the agriculture sector in Indonesia to gather and discuss current challenges, interventions, and future goals.

Sembiring went on to describe a number of key action programs the Ministry of Agriculture in Indonesia has spearheaded over the past 10 years. These included innovations such as the introduction of farm insurance, seed, and fertilizer subsidies for small-scale farmers; water infrastructure, including dams and improved irrigation channels; and introduction of new high-yielding, stress-tolerant rice varieties. As a result, rice production in the country increased 2.6% during the 2010-15 period. The government’s intention is to continue introducing new innovations and action plans to achieve food self-sufficiency by 2045.

Dr. David Johnson, head of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division, commented on the various elements of the action programs presented by Sembiring. He highlighted the ways in which collaboration between IRRI and Indonesia can help secure Indonesia’s sustainable food security.

Dr. Harry Priyono, secretary-general of the Ministry of Agriculture, represented the Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman.  In his keynote, Dr. Priyono stressed the commitment of the government to the far-reaching goals of the rice program.

In another session, Dr. Sam Mohanty, head of IRRI’s Social Sciences Division, shared his economic insights with the group. “Indonesia’s land rent and hired labor costs compared to other regional competitors are significantly higher,” he said. “This means that the cost of producing 1 ton of rice in Indonesia is almost 50 to 100% greater than the cost to produce rice in China, India, or other ASEAN countries.”

Mohanty went on to explain that the level of mechanization found on Indonesian farms is very low compared to other rice farms in the region. “When it costs more to produce the same amount of rice, it becomes very difficult for a country to remain competitive in the region or to even be able to feed its own population without importing rice,” said Mohanty. While he complimented the Indonesian government on its active engagement in supporting the rice sector, he also urged the government to consider an action program focused on increasing the country’s mechanization.

“Forums such as this allow us to directly engage with policy makers and leaders in agriculture in the countries in which we work,” said IRRI Director General Matthew Morell.

Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, IRRI’s deputy director general for research, added, “The forum is invaluable in increasing our ability to shape our research agenda to suit the needs of those who we serve.”

The forum was attended by more than 125 participants including key officials and staff from the Indonesia’s most influential agriculture agencies. Some officers of private sector corporations also participated.  Members of IRRI’s Board of Trustees, who were in Jakarta for the board meetings, also attended the forum.

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI’s deputy director general for Communication and Partnerships, moderated the forum.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bart Duff, former IRRI economist, passes away in Manila

Dr. Bart Duff, 76, an agricultural economist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for 20 years (1970-90), passed away in Manila, Philippines, of cardiac arrest on 13 October. At IRRI, he pioneered research on the role of women in rice production and also conducted studies on farm mechanization.

As early as 1979, he had gathered data on the role of women in rice production. At that time, he found the contribution of female labor in non-mechanized rice production systems in West Java, South Sulawesi, central Thailand, and the Philippines ranged from 43% to 56% of total labor. For a time in the 1980s, he coordinated the Women in Rice Farming Systems (WIRFS) Program. WIRFS was the framework for addressing women’s concerns in both research and extension programs on rice farming systems.

Duff was the economist assigned to IRRI’s then Agricultural Engineering Department to work specifically on the economics of farm mechanization. In that assignment, he was involved in IRRI’s long-time loop survey, a frequent survey of rice farms along the national highway in Central Luzon, Philippines, to observe farm practices, particularly in land preparation. He also researched energy requirements for alternative rice production systems in the tropics

In a 2009 IRRI Pioneer interview, he stated, “I believe the greatest challenge for IRRI will be to continuously revise and re-invent itself to more meaningfully anticipate and address contemporary issues while optimizing its limited resources. The need for rice research is no less now than it was three decades earlier. The complexity and sophistication of IRRIs research today are awesome, but in many instances simply addressing old problems with new tools. For example, IRRIs pioneering work in genome mapping and gene manipulation continues to focus on yield, disease, and environmental constraints, but is now able to overcome problems considered unsolvable 25 years ago.”

He went on to say, “I always admire IRRI for maintaining its position on the frontier of rice research using a combination of visionary leadership, superb science, a dedicated staff, and the foresight to forgo research better done in collaboration with national programs. I’ve been gone for nearly 20 years, but I feel very proud and gratified when I learn of IRRIs unique initiatives to incorporate better nutrition and grain quality into the rice grain and improve the inherent resistance of the rice plant to diseases and insects.”

“We are making progress,” he said. “But with a growing population and anemic economic development in many countries, IRRI is trying to hit a moving target. We haven’t won the race against hunger and poverty yet!  And, as a global issue, climate change and global warming present an immense challenge for IRRI to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions stemming from rice production. IRRI will not run out of challenges during its second 50 years.”

A native of Pendleton, Oregon, Duff had degrees from Washington State University (1962) and Stanford University (1970). He was also an American Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1960s. He was active in the local Puerto Princesa community (Palawan, Philippines), serving as president of the Palawan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He operated, with his wife Paz Aurora, an NGO, Poor No More, Inc., on Palawan.

In addition to Paz Aurora 'Baby', his wife of 33 years, he is survived by son Aaron, and daughter Shannon.

Condolence messages may be placed on Bart Duff’s Facebook page.

Watch a clip from his 2009 IRRI Pioneer Interview.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rice blast, a continued threat to global food security

MANILA, Philippines— "Rice blast plays a major reason for the loss of production of rice grain. That loss of rice production feeds into poverty and hunger issues," stated Director General Matthew Morell of the International Rice Research (IRRI). “The topic of rice blast fits with IRRI’s mission of securing rice supplies.” Morell made the comments in a pre-recorded welcome to participants of the 7th International Rice Blast Conference held in Manila, 9-13 October.

This sentiment was echoed in the keynote address of IRRI Director General Emeritus Robert Zeigler (right photo). “Anything that threatens rice production threatens the lives of the most fragile people in the world,” Zeigler said, before more than 200 scientists and researchers from 26 countries attending the conference. They came to learn of the latest developments in host-pathogen interactions, genomics, resistance breeding, and management practices to combat the insidious fungus.

“So, the work that we’re doing to assure stable and growing rice production is critical to the overall food security of the world,” said Zeigler. “That’s something we should never forget.”

He added that the situation is going to continue for the foreseeable future. “The demand for rice is going to increase in the coming decades—certainly during my lifetime as well as in the lifetimes of every person in this room,” Zeigler emphasized. “And that increase will further be threatened by rice blast unless we do something about it.”

Zeigler, one of the world’s leading plant pathologists, admitted that he once was captivated by this fungus pathogen early on as a graduate student. “It is very, very difficult to get our hands around rice blast despite the excellent efforts to completely manage the rice crop. This interesting and complex disease never ceases to surprise us.”

Zeigler urged the participants to pay attention to climate change. “We must work with our crop modelers to try to predict where climate might exacerbate future problems with the fungus. Changes in management practices will be critical in determining remedies for decades to come.”

The conference was an opportunity for experts from all
over the world to discuss scientific innovations in managing
one of the biggest threats to rice production and food security.
With the theme, New Insights into the Rice-Magnaporthe oryzae interactions for better management of rice blast, the 4-day conference also featured a keynote lecture by Dr. Jin-Long Qiu from the Institute of Microbiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He talked about Genome editing for crop improvement.

“It is amazing to see a community come together and reconnect right away because of a common passion,” said Dr. Hei Leung, head of IRRI’s Genetics and Biotechnology Division and conference chair. “This conference has been a great opportunity for each one of us to learn and respect each other’s achievements—I think that’s the driving force of the rice blast community. It’s functioning as a community of practice.”

The conference also featured the soft launch of the online resource, Rice diseases: their biology and selected management practices. Featured online, for now, are the Preface and Introduction (The Future Impact of Rice Diseases by Zeigler and Leung) and the full section on rice blast. The latest information on around 70 more rice diseases will be placed online as it becomes available from the technical editors.

Participants spent the last day of the conference visiting IRRI headquarters to meet with relevant rice scientists and learn about IRRI’s work on rice blast.

IRBC07 participants came from Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, China, Colombia, Egypt, France,
Guyana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Madagascar, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Singapore,
Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, and Vietnam.
IRRI's work on disease and pest-resistance rice


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