Monday, February 29, 2016

More Asian rice farmers to benefit from CORIGAP technologies

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia—More farmers in Southeast Asia will benefit from integrated crop and natural resource management approaches in major rice-based systems.

Research efforts and strategies for large-scale dissemination and promotion of technologies and interventions on integrated crop and natural resource management to help rice farmers in irrigated conditions are the foci of the 3rd Annual Review and Planning Meeting of CORIGAP or Closing rice yields in Asia with reduced environmental footprint in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on 23-25 February.

“This meeting has clearly shown that CORIGAP is making a huge contribution towards maintaining regional food security,” stated Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, acting deputy director general for research at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “The project is showcasing better technologies and innovations to overcome the challenges of climatic extremes, increasing population size, and limited water resources.”

“The event is an excellent forum to highlight the collaboration of IRRI and national partners in the six countries where we work: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, and Myanmar,” said Dr. Grant Singleton, CORIGAP coordinator and IRRI principal scientist. Through this meeting, we were able to promote key outcomes from the project, and continue to align our plans for the future activities of CORIGAP with national priorities.”

 “CORIGAP is highly relevant in increasing productivity and obtaining higher profitability through targeting yield gaps of rice,” said Dr. Carmen Thoennissen, senior adviser at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Funded by SDC, CORIGAP is a regional consortium led by IRRI on developing and demonstrating best crop management approaches for improving irrigated rice farming in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The meeting brought together IRRI scientists and staff, as well as country partners from Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China, and Myanmar. The Yogyakarta Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technologies (AIAT) hosted the event.

High-level Indonesian government officials present at the meeting were Dr. Hasil Sembiring, director general of the Directorate of Food Crops; Dr. Muhammad Prama Yufdy, acting executive secretary of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development; Dr. Ali Jamil, director of the Indonesian Center for Rice Research and member of the CORIGAP advisory committee; Dr. Harmanto, director of South Sumatra AIAT; and, Dr. Sudarmaji, director of Yogyakarta AIAT.
The participants visited project sites at Prambanan subdistrict, where CORIGAP technologies such as the integrated crop management, alternate wetting and drying, and legowo drum seeder were demonstrated in farmers’ fields.

In relation to the event, a press conference held at AIAT generated a lot of interest from the media, especially on the issue of environmental sustainability. The panel of interviewees included Dr. Thoennissen; Dr. Yufdy; Dr. Ismail; Dr. Singleton; Dr. Sudarmaji; and, Dr. David Johnson, CESD division head. Throughout the meeting, scientists and partners of the CORIGAP project were interviewed by the media.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

UP Open University showcases artworks from Paete, Laguna

Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso (in red) and Ann Yom Steel, IRRI’s Strategic Planning head (in black) during the opening of Silip Paete. Also in photo are IRRI Communication’s Antoinette Caballero (right) and Priscilla Grace Cañas (left). Photo by: Christopher Gapuz, IRRI

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—An art exhibit that highlights the incredible abilities of artists from a town famous for its wood carvings is currently open for viewing at Galeria Sinag at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU) Community Hub.

Silip Paete: Sculpture and Painting Exhibition features 49 artworks by Angelito and Lell Baldemor, Joseph and Jayson Bañez, Danilo Cads, Bayani Rey Acala, Glenn Cagandahan, Phaern Afurong, Edgar Driodoco, Ernesto Cagayat, Oddette Monfero, Christine Aquilo, Melecio Baysauli, Ronnel Cainto, and Edward Dave.

The beautifully hand carved and painted Koi 
by Paete artist Jai Bañez. (Photo by Christopher Gapuz, IRRI)

Their creations—wood carvings, sculptures, and paintings—cover a wide array of subjects that appear random. These are united, however, by the extraordinary skills of the artists. The art pieces generate a melody of visual energy, both soothing and vibrant. One needs to be there to appreciate the santan or Ixora flowers, meticulously carved in wood and brought to life by bursts of colors; delicate koi ponds that exude the tranquility of the real thing; and the unbreakable bond between a mother and her child.  There are also the fantastical handiworks that seamlessly fit in Tolkien's imaginary world: majestic wild horses running like the wind, whimsical tree houses inhabited by fairies and elves, as well as a dragon in a fierce and hostile stance.

The event is organized by UPOU’s Cultural Committee, headed by Dr. Prime Garcia, and the Banhay Kulay Paete Artist Guild, led by Mr. Joseph Bañez. UPOU has been hosting competitions and exhibits, wood carving workshops and forums for local wood carvers since 2013.

“These events provide an avenue where everyone can appreciate the wood carvers’ art pieces depicting Filipino culture and the ways of life in local communities,” said Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso, chancellor of UPOU. “Through these artworks, may we realize that Filipino artists are truly gifted and are more than capable of producing obras, which are truly world-class.” UPOU also aims to help build and strengthen networks among artists and give them an opportunity to market their works, Alfonso added.

Banhay Kulay Paete Artist Guild has been a UPOU partner since 2015 and nurtures established and upcoming talents of Paete. Paete in Laguna is widely hailed as an artistic hotspot, particularly for its excellent woodcarvings. In fact, the town's name is derived from the Tagalog word for chisel.
"Some of our members left their high-paying jobs abroad,” said Jayson Bañez, who leads the guild. “They chose to return to Paete to practice their art."

Silip Paete: Sculpture and Painting Exhibition is open to the public until 21 March.

IRRI Communication intern Christopher Gapuz (left) and Paul Hilario, 
curator of the IRRI Riceworld Museum.
 (Photo by A. Santiaguel, IRRI)

Nestor Cagayat found his inspiration in a crowd of rowdy inebriated menfolk for this complex and 
intricately carved Mabo-boteng usapan.(Photo by Christopher Gapuz, IRRI)

Members of the Banhay Kulay Paete Artist Guild at the opening of Silip Paete exhibit. (Photo: UPOU)

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thailand and IRRI deepen collaborative research agenda

(Left to right, front row) Alongkorn Kormtong, Anan Suwannarat, Bruce 
Tolentino, and Suthad Setboonsarng discuss with other officials behind
them further collaboration 
between Thailand and IRRI.

BANGKOK, Thailand—During a meeting at the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives on 16 February, Thailand and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) agreed to expand their partnership through more collaborative research activities.

The research agenda was discussed with the Thai Rice Department (TRD). Present were TRD Director General Anan Suwannarat, Deputy Director General Alongkorn Kormtong, and other TRD officials. IRRI was represented by V. Bruce J. Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships, and Suthad Setboonsarng, member of the IRRI Board of Trustees.

“We have achieved great strides in strengthening the relationship between TRD and IRRI by working on more collaborative research projects,” said Tolentino.

Thailand and IRRI have been working together for many years through the institute’s partnership platforms such as the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP), the project on RemoteSensing-Based Information and Insurance for Crops in Emerging Economics (RIICE), the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER), and Rice Multi-Environment Varietal Testing (MET).

The research partnership was further forged with eight more research and development collaborations as a result of  the TRD–IRRI Work Plan Meeting held at Thailand Rice Research Institute in November 2014. These R&D projects and courses include:

1.  Dissecting the genetic architecture of rice yield components, grain quality, pest resistance, and root traits through genome-wide association studies.
2.  Evaluation of methane emissions from paddy fields using the denitrification-decomposition model and GIS tool.
3.  Enhancement of water-use efficiency for rice growth in irrigated areas.
4.  Utilization of PCR-based markers for detection of rice quality traits.
5.  Development of improved field diagnostic kits for multiple rice viruses.
6.  Training course on ecological management of rodents, weeds, insects, and birds in rice  agroecosystems.
7.  Training course on rice production technology.
8.  Training course on rice seed production, testing, and certification.

Moreover, TRD and IRRI are working together on two project proposals on developing learning and technology transfer in Thai rice through the Thai Rice Knowledge Bank and training and demonstration on laser land leveling.

“Additional good news is that the Royal Thai Government has provided initial funding for collaborative research,” said Tolentino, “Priorities are being decided on,and financing mechanisms are being ironed out.”

To establish IRRI’s long-term presence and research program in Thailand, discussions are now moving toward the signing of a Host Country Agreement between Thailand and IRRI. The collaboration between Thailand and IRRI started in 1960 when IRRI was established. Thailand has been a constant supporter of IRRI’s research agenda.

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SINoP starts the year with heartfelt activities

The Society of IRRI Non-research Professionals (SINoP) celebrated the traditional start of the Holy Week, a shared birthday party for its members, a fun day with orphans, and welcomed this year’s officers.

On 10 February, the organization sponsored the Ash Wednesday Mass at IRRI. Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular and important holy days in the liturgical calendar. The mass has become an annual offering of SINoP to the IRRI community.

On 11 February, SINoP held a 3-in-1 event which included the induction of its the new set of officers and members, a joint birthday get-together for members who celebrated their birthdays within January to March, and a day with the children of Pinagpala Orphanage House. The orphanage is one of the beneficiaries of SINoP’s fund-raising drive through the years. Other beneficiaries of the organization, including SINoP scholars, also joined the celebration.

Ms Jomi Cruz, HRS talent management and advisory services, helped welcomed SINoP's  new members.

The program started with a special number from the children of Pinagpala. Singing, food, and raffle draws also filled the joyful and heartfelt occasion.

SINoP’s officers for 2016-17 are:
President: Miriam Telosa
Vice Pres: Hiram Gomez
Secretary:  Lea Delos Reyes
Treasurer: Melba Aquino
Auditor: Fernan Artates
PIO:  Gina Zarsadias
Project Director: Betty Carreon

Other Members of the Board of Directors include Janet Lazarte, Gigi Caballero, Achu Arboleda, and Adonna Robles. Mark Gruner, finance comptroller, inducted the new set of board members.

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Heirloom Rice Project links farmers with local and export markets

TAGAYTAY CITY, Philippines—Soon to begin its second phase, the Heirloom Rice Project (HRP) will further help traditional farmers of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and North Cotabato work more closely with the local and export markets.

With strategies to improve farmers’ livelihoods and increase their incomes through heirloom rice production and marketing, the HRP team—led by Dr. Casiana Vera Cruz, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Dr. Digna Manzanilla, IRRI social scientist and coordinator of IRRI’s Consortium for Unfavorable Environments—looks forward to enhancing the value chain where farmers and producers can derive social and economic benefits.

Dr. Gelia Castillo (photo), national scientist and IRRI consultant, and Mr. Edmund Sana, consultant to the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA)’s Food Self-Sufficiency Program, provided guidance. The unique and complex nature of the project make it an interesting endeavor to undertake, according to Castillo. She challenged the HRP team to remain focused on the vision of seeing that rice farmers improve their lives through heirloom rice.

The HRP is a collaborative undertaking of the DA and IRRI to help smallholder rice farmers in Benguet, Ifugao, Mountain Province, and Kalinga and upland farmers growing traditional varieties in the Arakan Valley in North Cotabato. During phase 1, it has been aiming to characterize and understand the diversity of heirloom rice varieties as well as to help link the farmers who grow these rice varieties with both domestic and export markets.

In the annual review on 4-5 February, the project team, partners, and other stakeholders discussed accomplishments in 2015 and plans for phase two.

Achievements in 2015 highlighted during the discussion included characterizing varieties, mapping sites using geographic information system software, and strengthening the link between farmers and markets. Moreover, the project was able to determine the unique traits as well as the grain and nutritional qualities of heirloom rice varieties. Most of all, the HRP team developed a brand concept for marketing heirloom rice.

The review also provided opportunities for the collaborators to harmonize efforts to find solutions to problems confronting smallholder heirloom rice farmers. Representatives from the four CAR provinces and North Cotabato shared their plans of action for 2016.

Eighty participants from DA, DA-CAR, state universities and colleges, IRRI, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, the Industrial Technology Development Institute of the Department of Science and Technology, the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines of the Department of Trade and Industry, and the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples attended the annual review.

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Scientists to gather at international conferences in the Philippines to discuss diseases that threaten rice production

MANILA, Philippines—Scientists from around the world will share the latest advances in controlling two devastating rice diseases during back-to-back international conferences in Manila.

Rice blast, caused by Magnaporthe oryzae, and bacterial blight, caused by Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo), are two of the most serious diseases of rice. Breeders around the world are constantly seeking ways to effectively manage these scourges because they pose constant threats to sustainable production of rice that feeds more than half of the human population.

To promote this effort, two international conferences on rice blast and bacterial blight will be held in the Philippines in October 2016:

The theme of IRBC07 is New Insights into the Rice-Magnaporthe oryzae interactions for better management of rice blast. The conference will cover recent advances in pathogen biology, genomics, host-pathogen interactions, resistance breeding, and disease management.

The theme of ICBB05 is Rice bacterial blight: innovations for the second Green Revolution. It will cover the global assessment of bacterial blight problems, its epidemiology and population biology, host resistance, breeding and molecular biology, disease management, multi-omic analysis of rice and Xoo, molecular plant-microbe interactions, and genome editing.

 “These events will be fantastic fora to exchange recent scientific advancements and foster collaborations on basic and applied research on both blast and bacterial blight,” said Dr. Hei Leung, head of the Genetics and Biotechnology division of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and chair of IRBCO7. “The conferences can be important venues for IRRI to promote the international efforts to transform the advancements in understanding the interactions between rice and the diseases into sustainable diseases management," Leung added. "The strategy could help alleviate crop losses and curb environmental pollutions caused by pesticide misuse."

During each conference, a special one-day program at IRRI headquarters will be arranged to give the participants an opportunity to meet different rice scientists and learn more about IRRI beyond its work on these two diseases.

IRRI will also organize a bridging workshop on Rice Disease Management on 14-15 October for participants from national programs. “The workshop will focus on current status of rice diseases and their management because many of our national partners are working on these two diseases,” said Dr. Casiana Vera Cruz, IRRI plant pathologist and chair of ICBB05.

These two international conferences are held every 3 years. This year, IRRI is serving as the local organizer for both events.

To register, contact

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Smallholder farmers develop business models for postharvest services

MAUBIN TOWNSHIP, Myanmar –Farmers from rice-based villages have developed business plans for the sustainable use of postharvest equipment and generating income by providing postharvest services to other farmers.

Eleven farmers, representing three farmer groups from Maubin and Daik-U Townships, created practical business frameworks for threshing, drying, and storage technologies developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). The plans were formed with assistance from the Department of Agriculture and IRRI's postharvest group.

Through the Learning Alliance (LA), IRRI will lend threshers, solar dryers, and hermetic storage technologies to the farmer groups that will provide postproduction-related services to other rice farmers. The LA is a platform supported by the project, Diversification and intensification of rice-based cropping systems in lower Myanmar (MyRice), and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. The farmer groups will then use the earnings to pay for the equipment through MyRice.

 “If we can prove that the plans we developed are profitable for these farmers, we can use this model to help other smallholder farmers in other regions of Myanmar,” said Martin Gummert, IRRI’s postharvest expert. “MyRice has demonstrated effective postharvest technologies. This is an opportunity to sustain the use of technology that is already tested and found technically feasible. At the same time, this will help other farmers increase the value of their rice by providing access to the technologies.”

Using this approach, which is similar to leasing, IRRI can demonstrate the viability of the business model without the need for an upfront investment. Such an investment is an unrealistic requirement for farmers who have to take considerable risks when trying a new technology.

The farmer groups, which are also LA members, and Dr. Myo Aung Kyaw from the Pioneer Postharvest Development Group, discussed mechanisms to manage the equipment.This Group is one of IRRI’s key partners in Myanmar. They also formed groups to assign roles and responsibilities to ensure proper maintenance of the equipment as well as a practical business plan that provides services to potential clients.

The farmer groups will validate and fine tune the initial business model developed during the April 2016 harvesting season.

Through the LA, MyRice will provide the technical assistance and advice on managerial issues that might occur during the piloting.

“If we can fully develop a business model for at least for one technology, we can use the data as a benchmark to develop more business models for other postharvest technologies that will cater to other interested farmers or farmer groups in Myanmar,” Gummert said.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Heirloom and stress-tolerant rice varieties presented at IFAD review

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Heirloom rice farmers of the Cordillera Administrative Region are now better linked with both local and international markets that will provide them with higher income opportunities.

This is one of the major project achievements for 2015 reported by Dr. Digna Manzanilla, coordinator of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), and Annette Tobias, assistant scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), during the 8th Annual Country Programme Review by the International Fund for the Agricultural Development (IFAD). To support heirloom rice farmers within self-help groups, CURE through the Heirloom Rice Project (HRP), conducted a training on business planning .

Manzanilla (photo) highlighted other significant project accomplishments and activities such as testing and validating stress-tolerant rice varieties, local capacity enhancement, and knowledge management in partnership with the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice). The writeshops on upscaling innovations were also among CURE’s main accomplishments for 2015 that she presented.

With this year’s theme, Assessing the IFAD-PH Country Experience Towards Innovative Development Models, the event aimed at sharing the government’s expectations on the contribution of loans and projects towards realizing the Philippine Development Plan 2011-16. Present during the event, held on 26-28 January, were 47 representatives from 12 IFAD loan and project grants. Other participants came from government agencies such as the Department of Budget and Management, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Agrarian Reform.

Participants visited IFAD-funded project sites such as Cattubo and Abiang in Benguet under the Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project (CHARMP2). During this guided field visit, the participants were able to interact with the implementers, partners, and project beneficiaries.

They also visited the rehabilitated Calasipan-Apanberang-Mongoto farm-to-market road, the organic garden of the livelihood investment groups, the reforestation and agroforestry site, and the coffee processing center of the Abiang Community Multipurpose Cooperative.

CURE, one of the projects funded by IFAD, aims to help 100 million poor farm households in Asia who depend on rice. CURE is coordinated by IRRI in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and PhilRice.

CHARMP2 works to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life of rural communities in the highlands of the Cordillera Administrative Region through community mobilization, watershed conservation, agriculture and agribusiness development, promotion of income-generating activities, and the development of rural infrastructure. CHARMP2 forged a partnership with CURE to strengthen its development interventions and enable CURE to introduce and extend technological options over a wider area.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

India appoints new Agriculture Secretary

Mr. Shobhana K. Pattanayak has been appointed as the new Secretary of India’s Department of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers Welfare with the retirement of the incumbent Mr. Siraj Hussain.

“Pattanayak’s outstanding record and dynamic leadership bodes well for the continued growth and development of India’s agriculture sector and for the welfare of all farmers and consumers,” said Matthew Morell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

In his congratulatory letter to Pattanayak, Morell mentioned India and IRRI’s historical record in rice science for food security, which has been achieved in close collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, the Ministry of Agriculture, and numerous state agricultural departments and universities.

“These deep and long-running partnerships have fostered extraordinarily productive and successful collaborations that significantly enable India’s national developmental priorities and programs in research and rice-based food security and economic growth,” said Morell. “Indeed, our partnerships stand on a firm foundation for continued productivity toward mutually-held goals in national, regional, and global food security.”

Morell invited Pattanayak to visit IRRI headquarters in the Philippines. "Your visit will allow us to brief you on our current research accomplishments, our historical and current collaboration with India; and also solicit your input on how we can strengthen our working together for the benefit of farmers and consumers in India and South Asia," Morell concluded.

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Dutch ambassador lauds IRRI research

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – “I’ve always thought of the partnership between the Netherlands and IRRI as a long-term investment in rice research. But IRRI’s work is far broader than I anticipated,” said Marion Derckx, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to the Philippines, during her visit to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters on 3 February.

Derckx was impressed by the scope of IRRI's work, which includes not only breeding rice varieties but also running projects that align with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals on ending poverty and hunger and ensuring health for all. As such, Derckx commended IRRI for its accomplishments.

She also expressed the need for a stronger partnership between the Dutch government and IRRI, which started way back in 1971. Since then, the Netherlands has contributed more than USD 12 million in support of IRRI’s projects.

Derckx and party were received by Matthew Morell (at right in photo), IRRI director general, as well as Bas Bouman, director of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), and Marco van den Berg, chief information officer, both Dutch nationals in key leadership roles at the institute.

During their meeting, Morell gave the ambassador an overview of IRRI’s ongoing projects and showcased the Netherlands’ contribution to rice research. One project is Simulation and systems analysis for rice production (SARP). SARP established a network of national agricultural research centers and universities to build research capacity for systems analysis and simulation modeling in developing countries. It has been supported by IRRI, the Centre for Agrobiological Research, and the Wageningen Agricultural University.

During their visit, the Dutch delegation had a chance to tour the International Rice Genebank and interact with IRRI scientists.

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