Thursday, May 5, 2016

STRASA speeds up delivery of climate-smart rice to benefit farmers

By Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

BHUBANESWAR CITY, ODISHA, India—The project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), is the platform for coping with current food security challenges.

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is very grateful to the STRASA leadership and partners in this very large network encompassing dozens of scientists and dozens of research programs across the region to develop and deliver products to needy farmers,” said Gary Atlin, senior program officer, Agriculture Research and Development, Global Development for the Gates Foundation, in his remarks during STRASA's recent review and planning workshop.

He said that the average age of rice varieties in farmers' fields of eastern India is 28 years. So, these varieties need replacing fast to cope with the effects of climate change. “STRASA's dissemination team is using pioneering approaches to speed up the delivery of its products,” Dr. Atlin said. “We are very proud to be supporting this project.”

STRASA held its Phase 3 second annual review and planning workshop on 25-28 April at Odisha City's Mayfair Lagoon Hotel.

The first two days were dedicated to project evaluation and planning based on the major objectives—tolerance for drought, submergence, and salinity and seed delivery. There were also sessions on cross-cutting activities including biotic stresses, grain quality, and nutrition.

Other pertinent topics included monitoring and evaluation; gender; varietal tracking and adoption; targeting and monitoring through GIS; and communication, awareness, and information sharing. The latter part was held as a plenary session on the second day followed by a session on STRASA's products and advancement strategies.

The plenary session of the Annual Review and Planning Meeting was held on the third day. The inaugural program was highlighted with remarks from Mr. Manoj Ahuja, principal secretary (agriculture), Government of Odisha; Prof. Surendranath Pasupalak, vice chancellor, Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology; and Dr. J.S. Sandhu, deputy director general (crop science), Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

“Strong ownership and leadership from all of you make STRASA work,” said Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, STRASA's overall project leader and principal scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “How we move varieties from one country to be released in another without further testing has not happened in the world before. This variety sharing is now a reality in South Asia,” he added, thanking the group for this milestone work.

“The success of STRASA is built on decades of hard work starting from the 1970s until today,” said Ismail. “The challenge for us is to keep this work progressing to provide solutions for the bigger challenges facing agriculture today, with a clear need for nutritious rice and profitable rice-based systems, which can survive worsening climate and soil conditions. The varieties being developed through STRASA provide an excellent entry for these system-based solutions.”

In his inaugural address, Dr. Gurbachan Singh, chairman, Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board, underscored the many activities that IRRI and India’s national agricultural research systems have achieved and continue to work on, from varietal development to rice biofortification. “STRASA has contributed significantly to boosting rice production while providing opportunities for all its participants and stakeholders to make better choices,” Singh said. He is looking forward to more project successes in bringing stress-tolerant varieties to farmers and in helping solve complex climate change-related problems.

Discussed at the plenary session were outputs and updates that came out of discussions during the first two days as well as progress in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The work in South Asia was presented by Dr. Uma Shankar Singh, STRASA South Asia regional coordinator; Dr. Baboucarr Manneh, STRASA coordinator in Africa, gave the African updates.

Some key partners were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the successful implementation of STRASA in their regions. They were Dr. Dinesh K. Sharma, director of Central Soil Salinity Research Institute in Karnal; Dr. Tilathoo Ram, rice breeder, Indian Institute of Rice Research in Hyderabad; and Dr. Mohammad Abdul Bari, outgoing country and project manager in Bangladesh.

Dr. Sharma has provided leadership and support for the development, validation, and dissemination of rice varieties and pertinent technologies for salt-affected areas. Dr. Ram has had substantial involvement in the development and promotion of drought-tolerant rice. Dr. Bari was acclaimed for his notable leadership and dedication to STRASA and his exceptional strategic input into the project, leading to its remarkable success in Bangladesh. His initiative and aspiration to help needy farmers and his inspiration and support for staff and partners are much admired.

The last day of the event was capped with the planning meeting of a project associated with STRASA, the EC-IFAD-funded project, Improved Crop Management and Strengthened Seed Supply System for Drought-prone Rainfed Lowlands in South Asia. This was followed by the STRASA Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Workshop for South Asia. Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, IRRI senior scientist and rainfed lowland agronomist for South Asia, facilitated the EC-IFAD meeting. Dr. Hope Webber, M&E specialist and IRRI senior scientist, conducted the M&E workshop.

Wrapping up the event, Dr. Uma Singh thanked the 175 participants who attended the four-day event. He also acknowledged the hard work of the different STRASA teams and staff and the partners who contributed greatly to the project’s accomplishments to date.

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