Thursday, June 30, 2016

Crop Manager app for rice-based systems released for farmers of Bihar, India

BIHAR, India—Crop Manager for Rice-based Systems (CMRS), a web app for better crop and nutrient management, has been released to Bihar farmers.

The CMRS app (simply known as Crop Manager) was officially launched by Radha Mohan Singh (photo at right), India’s Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, in a ceremony organized at the Research Complex for the Eastern Region of the Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR-RCER) in Patna on 28 June.

Singh congratulated the scientists from different institutes who have been involved in the app's development. The app could be linked with the Soil Health Card scheme of the Govt of India, which will carry personalized  recommendations for nutrient and crop management to help farmers improve productivity through efficient input use. Once linked with Soil Health Scheme, it integrates well into Digital India, a campaign launched by Shri Narender Modi, India's prime minister, to ensure that government services are made available to citizens electronically by making the country digitally empowered.

Singh was pleased to know that the app can provide recommendations for rice farming in irrigated and rainfed environments. It can also be used for stress-tolerant rice varieties developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and researchers in India. He said that he plans to visit IRRI headquarters soon to learn more about stress-tolerant varieties and the Crop Manager.

During the launching ceremony, Shri Vijoy Prakash, Bihar’s Agriculture Production Commissioner, officially released the Crop Manager brochure (photo above). 

The app, which can be used with a computer, mobile phone, or tablet, aims to increase farmers' net income and sustain the productivity of rice-based cropping systems. It also provides irrigated and rainfed rice farmers with crop and nutrient management guidelines that are customized to the needs of individual farmers. CMRS uses farmers' answers to questions on practices to automatically generate management guidelines for rice, wheat, or rabi maize. 

CMRS is designed to help extension workers, crop advisers, input providers, and service providers to interview farmers. They can use a personal computer, smartphone, or tablet. 

The app was adapted, evaluated, and verified in Bihar through IRRI’s collaboration with ICAR; Bihar Agricultural University; Rajendra Agricultural University (RAU); international donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Catholic Relief Services; and other CGIAR centers including the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center.

Also attending the launch were R.C. Shrivastav, RAU vice chancellor; K.K. Singh, director, Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering in Bhopal, B.P. Bhatt, ICAR-RCER director; Sudhanshu Singh, IRRI senior scientist;  Sheetal Sharma, IRRI soil scientist; and team members of Improved Rice-based Rainfed Agricultural Systems.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

IRRI administrator recognized for promoting crop science technologies

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines— Dr. V. Bruce J. Tolentino (4th from left in photo), deputy director general for communication and partnerships at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has received the 2016 Honorary Fellow Award from the Crop Science Society of the Philippines (CSSP).

He was recognized for his outstanding contribution in advancing crop science technologies, particularly in rice. The award is the CSSP's highest recognition for outstanding contribution in the advancement of crop science in the Philippines through research, teaching, extension, and administration in the various crop science disciplines.

Tolentino has been involved in international development, governance, management, analysis, and planning of socioeconomic development and reform initiatives and projects in Asia, Africa, and Central America for over 35 years. Most recently, he was significantly involved in the development of the Philippines' Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP) in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture.  

Under the FSSP, IRRI works closely with Philippine partners to reduce poverty and hunger, improve farmer and consumer health, and ensure environmental sustainability. Tolentino leads the formulation and implementation of the program providing guidance and direction to ensure sustainability of food for all Filipinos, many of whom still go hungry every day.

The CSSP promotes human welfare through the discovery and dissemination of knowledge concerning the nature, utilization, improvement, and interrelationships of plants and their environment and people. The awarding was held at the Phela Grande Convention Center on 16 June during the 46th CSSP scientific conference. 

Other CSSP achievement awardees included Dr. Artemio Salazar, University of the Philippines (technology development); Dr. Villaluz Acedo, Visayas State University (teaching); Dr. Chito Sace, Central Luzon State University (research); Dr. Othello Capuno, Visayas State University  (William Dar Award for Research and Management); and Dr. John de Leon, Syngenta (Sant Virmani Hybrid Rice Award). 

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

RICE proposal receives positive reviews

MONTPELLIER, France—The new RICE proposal has received positive reviews from the CGIAR Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) during a CGIAR science leaders meeting here on 16 June.

According to the ISPC review, RICE is a conceptually sound, compelling, and articulate proposal that addresses the issue of improving rice production across the developing world. It is founded on clear comparative advantage for CGIAR. Historically, investment in rice research has a proven track record of contributing to CGIAR goals.

The RICE proposal builds on the successful Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP); it maintains a large emphasis on genetic improvement while making the case, through its foresighted studies, of a broadening of this CGIAR Research Program (CRP) to an agri-food system. RICE has a very strong partner base and looks at further strengthening the CRP, in particular by seeking additional agricultural research institutes (ARI) as partners.

The proposal offers a scientifically rigorous case to deliver measurable impacts on the system level outcomes (SLOs). The research activities of RICE range from upstream and basic research to plant-level research (variety selection), through to the delivery of new varieties and management practices to the end users, including farmers and rice processors. The change and impact pathways are logical and plausible.

“There is, of course, always room for improvement,” said Bas Bouman, GRiSP director. “The ISPC has requested us to develop an addendum with some further clarifications to our proposal, following four main recommendations they provided.

“But we are not being asked to make any changes in the proposal itself, although one of the four recommendations suggests we critically review the feasibility of our proposed targets or outcomes,” he said.  “Most of the observations actually commended us on a job well done! With the Program Planning and Management team and the leaders of RICE flagship projects, we will develop a response to the ISPC review and submit addenda to the RICE proposal by 1 July.”

After the resubmission of the proposal, along with any addenda, the ISPC and the donors on the System Council will again review and rate the proposal in the coming months. It is hoped that RICE will be approved by December 2016.

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India agriculture officials look to IRRI technologies for improving food security

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – “IRRI has an important role in food security and in ensuring that rice production is sufficient in India,” said  Ashok Dalwai, additional secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers' Welfare.

“We are interested in raising our productivity to meet the increasing demand of food and nutrition security of the population,” Dalwai said when he and a team of senior agriculture officials (photo) visited IRRI headquarters on 22 June. “We are here to study the latest research and technologies in terms of varietal development, production strategies, as well as postproduction and storage technologies. 

We are keen on understanding these technologies and adopt them in India. The country produces 21% of the world’s rice, according to Dalwai. But the official said rice production must be increased in eastern India where some of the areas are low-lying rainfed areas. Currently, rice yields in these areas are low--about 1.8 to 2.2 tons per hectare. If the country could increase yield in eastern India to 4 tons per hectare, these areas can help secure the food requirements of  a hundred million people in India.

“Climate change is a reality,” said  Dalwai. He mentioned that growing seasons are already unpredictable and farmers are the ones most affected by climate change. Climate change makes agriculture a risky business. "With 49% of the population (14 million farm households) depending on agriculture, the government is doing its best to support the people through welfare, such as subsidizing crop insurance for farmers," he said

With the increasing purchasing power of the Indian population, consumer demand for high-value crops, such as fruits, vegetables, and pulses, is also rising. Farmers in Punjab, an important area for rice, production, are responding to this demand.

“There is a need to grow rice in ‘lesser areas’ such as Assam, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh,” said Dalwai. Thus, the government has been promoting Bringing the Green Revolution in Eastern India (BGREI) program over the past few years. BGREI includes introducing a rice-based cropping system to increase production through planting resilient and stress-tolerant varieties in rainfed areas in eastern India.

In relation to this, R.K. Singh, IRRI plant breeder, discussed climate-smart rice varieties that can withstand drought, salinity, and flooding—problems exacerbated by climate change. These varieties are now distributed under the projectm Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA).  Singh reported on how these varieties were able to save the livelihoods of millions of farmers in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

“These stress-tolerant varieties are like crop insurance,” said Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director for communication and partnerships. “Now these varieties are already reaching 12 million farmers in South and Southeast Asia.” He also presented the latest developments in the C4 Rice project, a 15- to 20-year research effort that aims to increase the efficiency of photosynthesis in rice by 30–50%, and recent developments in high-zinc and high-iron rice as the institute’s response to creating a healthier staple.

Aside from developing improved varieties, Tolentino mentioned some of IRRI’s best bets when it comes to improved practices such as the alternate wetting and drying technology that can help farmers save water by as much as 30%. The Rice Crop Manager (RCM) was also featured during his presentation. RCM is an communication tool that helps farmers decide how to manage their rice crops better.

The senior officials also met with Martin Gummert (at right in photo), IRRI’s postharvest expert. Gummert showed the senior officials postharvest technologies such as the Super Bag, the solar bubble dryers, among other others and storage technologies that reduce losses. 

“The losses on account of poor storage, poor processing, and poor transportation are very substantive,” said Dalwai. "About 10% of the country's cereal production is lost because of this. It equals about 10.5 million tons of milled rice, which could feed more than 100 million people in India annually.

In general, the senior officials were impressed with the presentation of technologies. They acknowledged IRRI as a premier rice research center for the last 50 years. They are looking forward to further collaboration with IRRI. “There can be further collaboration between IRRI and research institutes in India, which has a good agricultural research infrastructure,” Dalwai added.

Aside from Secretary Dalwai, the Indian delegation included Subashish Panda, joint secretary, Ministry of Food; Deepak Kumar, joint secretary, Department of Food and Public Distribution;  Dr. S.K. Malhotra, agriculture commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare; and A.P. Singh, additional commissioner on agricultural production.

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Odisha Agriculture Secretary lauds CSISA's efforts to fast-track farm mechanization

by Preeti Bharti and Priyanka Anand

BHUBANESWAR, India—Manoj Ahuja (3rd from right in photo), principal secretary in Odisha’s Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment (DoA), recognized the efforts of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) in reaching out to farmers during a Round Table Discussion on Mechanization here on 1 June.

"The government is committed to the development of agriculture and is hopeful that much can happen through farm mechanization," Ahuja said. "Let's work collaboratively to benefit Odisha’s farmers and to help in the state's progress.” 

As agricultural mechanization starts to gain momentum in the state, Dr. P.K. Mehedra, commissioner and director, Agriculture and Food Production, Government of Odisha, said that agroservice centers could play a vital role in promoting and fast-tracking the technology in the state. He expected CSISA to locate and map all agroservice centers in the state and then link them with service providers and farmers. 

Dr. R.K. Malik, senior agronomist, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, discussed CSISA’s initiatives for quality zero-tillage machines fitted with inverted-T type tynes and laser land leveling, which the project has introduced over the past three years. Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and rainfed lowland agronomist for South Asia, presented CSISA’s plans for the next five years.

Dr. P.K. Paikray, joint director for agriculture (engineering), DoA, and Dr. Ashok Kumar, IRRI coordinator of the CSISA Odisha hub, were among the 50 participants, which included manufacturers of farm machinery and implements, senior agriculture officials, and service providers from around the state.

CSISA organized the event in conjunction with the Government of Odisha and machine manufacturers in Bhubaneswar.

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Indonesian ambassador commends crucial role of rice research in helping farmers

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—During his visit to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), H.E. Johny Lumintang (at right in photo), Indonesian ambassador to the Philippines, commended the impact of rice research on improving the productivity and livelihood of Indonesian farmers.

“I believe that IRRI is the best institute to help Indonesian farmers increase their rice yields,” he said. He added that, as a young boy, he grew up helping out on his family’s farm and is greatly concerned about the current situation of Indonesian rice farmers.

H.E. Lumintang was welcomed by Dr. Bruce Tolentino (at left in photo), IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships. He was briefed on collaborative projects with the Indonesian government.

Dr. Grant Singleton, coordinator of the project, Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP), presented an overview of the adaptive research work in Yogyakarta and South Sumatra. CORIGAP aims to increase rice production through sustainable environment-friendly approaches. The project is working closely with the Indonesian Center for Food Crops Research and Development, the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technologies, the Indonesian Center for Rice Research, and the Directorate General of Food Crops.

During his visit, the ambassador observed a demonstration of the Indonesian Rice Crop Manager (RCM).  RCM is a computer- and  mobile phone-based tool that provides farmers with personalized crop and nutrient management guidelines and general recommendations. The technology was developed by IRRI and its Indonesian partners. He also toured the Long-term Continuous Cropping Experiment, the world's longest-running rice research project that provides a firsthand glimpse of how rice production can be sustained in a changing climate without adversely affecting the soil and the productivity of a rice ecosystem. He also met with Indonesian scholars who are studying at IRRI.

Indonesia and IRRI have nurtured an ever-evolving partnership for 44 years. This collaboration has resulted in increased rice productivity, improved livelihood for Indonesian rice farmers, and increased capacity through a new generation of IRRI-trained scientists.

(This article was written by Rona Mae Azucena, IRRI).

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

IRRI's rice recipes calendar wins international publishing gold award

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, USAThe 2016 Heirloom Rice Recipes Calendar, produced by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has won a Gold Award (1st place) in publishing from the U.S.-based Association for Communication Excellence (ACE) in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences. The award—in the promotional publications class—was presented during ACE’s annual international meeting, this year in Memphis, 13-16 June.

The judges commented that, “the writing really captured the chefs' passion for rice without seeming hokey. The best dishes and recipes are, after all, the ones that have stories behind them as depicted in this calendar. The mix of history with modern issues around rice production gave the calendar real authenticity. The chef and farmer stories were compelling and sophisticated.”

To produce this very special calendar, the Heirloom Rice Project, a joint effort of the Philippine Department of Agriculture and IRRI, provided funding and teamed up with top celebrity chefs in Manila. The goals were to help raise awareness of rice farming in the Cordillera Region in the northern part of the country and contribute to preserving the local cultural heritage there.

The calendar features a different recipe each month contributed by chefs Robby Goco, Chele Gonzales, Gaita Forés, Anthony Raymond, Jessie Sincioco, and Sharwin Tee. The chefs, who created the culinary dishes especially to bring out the excellent culinary traits of heirloom rice, provided the recipes free-of-charge. Proceeds from sales of this calendar will be donated to the rice-farming communities in the Cordilleras.

The IRRI Communication team responsible for producing this masterpiece included Tony Lambino and Gene Hettel (concept); Gigi Evangelista-Caballero (coordination); Grant Leceta (design and layout); Alaric Francis Santiaguel and Leah Baroña-Cruz (text); Isagani Serrano, Jec Narciso, and Chris Quintana (photography); and Cynthia Quintos and Isabella Jhocson (additional research).Members of IRRI’s scientific staff and the Heirloom Rice Project who contributed to the calendar’s technical accuracy included Casiana Vera Cruz, Digna Manzanilla, Ana Cope, Aileen Lapitan, and Jonas Victor.

In addition to being a handsome desk calemdar, this publication is distinctive because of its tasty recipes and its mix of historic information and great photography. So, although 2016 is half over, the calendar is still available as a unique collector’s item, which can be later filed with your favorite recipe books and keeping in mind that all proceeds above costs will be going to the Cordillera’s farming communities that produce the heirloom rice. Contact IRRI at regarding discount prices for single and multiple purchases.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

IRRI commemorates 118th Philippine Independence Day

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—In commemoration of the 118th Anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) held a flag-raising ceremony and hosted a breakfast reception for its staff on 10 June. This year’s theme was Kalayaan 2016: Pagkakaisa, Pag-aambagan, Pagsulong (Unite, Participate, Progress). The Philippines declared independence from Spain on 12 June 1898.

The flag-raising ceremony (photo) was led by the Security and Safety Services group and research staff members Rolly Torres, Olivyn Angeles, Menard dela Rosa, and Sheila Ann Edith France.

Noting that elections in the Philippines were held recently, Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships, said, “It is time to focus on our work and contribute to the continued improvement of the welfare of all peoples.  If we do our jobs well, then families can get the nutrition that they need to have a happy and healthy life.” He added that there is a direct connection between our good performance and the health of the Filipino family, the welfare of all farmers, and the strength of the nation. Let us keep that in mind to inspire us as we go forward."

Highlights of the celebration were a Filipiniana musical number performed by the Paciano Elementary School Dance troupe (photo at right) and a colorful parade of national costumes in which representatives from IRRI's organizational units vied for prizes for their attires. The top prize was awarded to Joanne Jerenice Anonuevo and Conrado Duenas (photo at left) of the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center and Crop and Environmental Sciences Division respectively. Roscel Dimapilis and Peter Belen of the Finance Unit bagged second prize. Joyce Maningas, Christian Guerta, Reycean Ballesteros, and Melirene Nora from the Supply Chain Services won the third prize.

Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, deputy director general for research, Dr. Bas Bouman, director of Global Rice Science Partnership, and Ms. Corinta Guerta, director for external relations also graced the event. The celebration ended with a Filipino breakfast at Kari’s Garden.

The Independence Day celebration was organized by the IRRI Filipino Scientists Association,
Association of IRRI Research Support Services, Society of IRRI Non-Research Professionals, and the Association of IRRI Secretaries and Administrative Staff.

(This article was written by Lem Rosellon, IRRI). 

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

IRRI ensures wise management and sharing of its research data through staff training

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines— The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Risk Management and Quality Assurance Research Data Management (RMQA-RDM) training team conducted RDM 101 course on 14-16 June at the institute’s headquarters.

The course, the second for the year, covered good practices and hands-on exercises on the four areas of data management: (1) research data planning; (2) data collection, authentication, and analysis; (3) data storage, backup, and security; and (4) data archiving and sharing.

IRRI recognizes that research data resulting from its research and development activities are international public goods and is committed to their widespread dissemination and use to achieve greater impact. Under the  institute's new policy on research data management, all research data should be managed to the highest standards throughout the research data life cycle as part of IRRI’s commitment to research excellence. 

“Our research data and results are critically important so we are doing our best to reduce the risk of losing them,” said Rogelio Alvarez, IT specialist at IRRI.

“Part of the risk mitigating strategy is training key staff members and securing the pertinent data by providing tools and policies,” said Alvarez who served as a lecturer during the training. The training also provided discussions and demonstrations of file management tools and software that include Mendeley and the IRRI Dataverse, an online repository for data archiving and sharing. The team also familiarized participants with the institute's new Research Data Management Policy.

The participants (photo) included Marydee Arceta and Naireen Aiza Vispo of the Plant Breeding Division; and Christopher Cabardo, Richard Dean Nepomuceno, Estela Pasuquin, Setia Sari Girsang, and Joshi Tanay of the Crop and Environmental Sciences Division.

The training team was composed of Menchu Bernardo, RMQA senior manager; Enrico Mercado; Alvarez who provided a lecture on data backup, security, and storage; and Lea de los Reyes who covered library services and open access publications.

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Visit of Nepal's agriculture secretary strengthens partnership with IRRI

by Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

Secretary Bhattarai | Photos: I. Serrano/IRRI
LOS BAÑOS, Philippines, 6-9 June 2016—The four-day visit to the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) of Shri Uttam Kumar Bhattarai (photo at right), secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD), has paved the way for stronger collaboration, particularly in helping the country attain rice self-sufficiency.

IRRI and Nepal currently have several major activities, the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Accelerating the Adoption of Stress-Tolerant Varieties by smallholder farmers in Nepal (USAID-ASTV), funded by the United States Agency for International Development; and the Improved crop management and strengthened seed system for drought-prone rainfed lowlands in South Asia, funded by the European Commission-International Fund for Agricultural Development (EC-IFAD).

The interactions (bottom two photos) between Secretary Bhattarai, senior Nepalese government officials from various agencies, and IRRI officials resulted in the strengthening of the country host agreement to further boost work on rice production and capacity building of national partners. It also highlighted the dissemination of the stress-tolerant rice varieties in various districts of Nepal through the STRASA and USAID-ASTV projects. In addition, a joint IRRI-Nepal meeting held at the Asian Development Bank explored sources of funding to expand research and development activities to improve Nepal’s rice sector. 

The Secretary and his party toured IRRI's Zeigler Experiment Station, International Rice Genebank, Grain Quality and Nutrition Center, and rice breeding and postharvest facilities. The tours showcased areas where IRRI can help Nepal in its efforts to sustainably increase rice production and reduce rice importation.

Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships, and Jacqueline Hughes, deputy director general for research (3rd and 4th from right, respectively, in above photo), welcomed the party. Also present were Corinta Guerta (2nd from right, 2nd row), director for external relations, and IRRI scientists Abdel Ismail (extreme left), David Johnson, and Umesh Singh (center of 2nd row). The four-day visit was facilitated by the STRASA and USAID-ASTV projects as part of the efforts to enhance collaboration and awareness of national program leaders in South Asia.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

U.S. Peace Corps and IBM collaborate to benefit Los Baños science community

MANILA, Philippines—Three Peace Corps Response (PCR) volunteers were sworn in recently by U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg at the Peace Corps Office in Manila.

Ambassador Philip Goldberg (6th from left) joined by IBM-PCR volunteer Melody Balcet (6th from the right), Peace Corps Country Director Jean Seigle (5th from the right), IRRI Director for External Relations Corinta Guerta (5th from the left), IBM President and Country General Manager Luis Pineda (4th from right) and the rest of the IBM and IRRI executives.
One of the volunteers, Melody L. Balcet, an  IBM employee, will work for three months with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s premier international research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger, improving the health and welfare of rice farmers and consumers, and protecting the rice-growing environment for future generations through rice science.

The volunteer will serve as an institutional strengthening specialist to help build the capacity of IRRI’s voluminous research information assets through digitization, big data analytics, and cloud computing, among other IT transformation strategies.

She will also be working as part of a team that is serving the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), a nonprofit research and training center mandated to strengthen institutional capacities in agricultural and rural development in Southeast Asia. IRRI and SEARCA have been active member agencies of the Los Baños Science Community for many years.  

Launched in December 2015, the Peace Corps Response program is part of the innovative public-private partnership between Peace Corps and IBM. The partnership allows highly skilled IBM corporate professionals to serve overseas in short-term, high-impact pro bono consulting assignments.

The volunteer will serve alongside a 14-member IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) team of IBM employees from the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands, and India that will arrive in July 2016 to serve the country for one month. The CSC is IBM’s pro bono consulting program, which was created in 2008, to help solve some of the most challenging problems in communities around the world while providing IBM employees with unique leadership development.

IBM employees spend four weeks in groups of 10 to 15 working collaboratively with their host government and community counterparts to develop blueprints that address issues such as economic development, energy and transportation, education, and healthcare.

PYXERA Global, an international NGO, which specializes in pro bono programs and one of IBM’s global implementing partners of the Corporate Service Corps, is part of the coordination team that is carrying out the program in Los Baños, Philippines.

The Peace Corps and IBM partnership, one of its kind, is working with three countries in 2016. The Philippines is the second to host the project. The first was recently completed in Ghana, Africa supporting girls’ empowerment and education through the Let Girls Learn initiative in March. The third engagement will be in Mexico this August supporting an environmental project.

In 2015, the PCR program fielded 332 volunteers globally, the highest number in its 20-year history. PCR was originally founded as Crisis Corps in 1996 and has fielded more than 2,900 volunteers serving more than 80 countries. The Philippines has the largest PCR program, which started in 2007. This year more than 20 response volunteers are scheduled to serve.

(This article is a Peace Corps press release). 

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Farmers, scientists test performance of stress-tolerant rice varieties in Odisha, India

By Ashok Kumar and Narayan Banik

ODISHA, India, 25 May—Around 200 hundred rice farmers, scientists, and other stakeholders evaluated the performance of  two new rice varieties that can better withstand flooding and drought during a recent field day in Puri District (photos above and below).

The field day showcased the performance of flood-tolerant BINA Dhan 11 and the drought-tolerant DRR 42 rice varieties using mechanical transplanting compared with Lalat, a popular traditional variety. Also exhibited and demonstrated were improved farm practices using technologies such as the zero-till seed-cum-fertilizer drill, paddy transplanter, laser-guided land leveler, paddy power weeder, seed cum-fertilizer spreader, and the grain moisture meter.

Dr. Ashok Kumar, hub coordinator for the Cereal Systems Initiative for SouthAsia (CSISA), reported that, besides being flood-tolerant and highly lodging-resistant, BINA Dhan 11 yields from 5 to nearly 7 tons per hectare at 14% moisture content. It outperformed Lalat's yield by 0.8 to 1.4 tons per hectare across Puri, Bhadrak, and Balasore districts. The grain quality of BINA Dhan 11 is also good. Drought-tolerant DRR 42 yielded an average of 5.0–5.5 tons per hectare during the 2016 dry season. Both varieties mature in 120–125 days.

“For farmers in the region, the most impressive traits of the two stress-tolerant varieties are their comparatively high yield, stress tolerance, lodging resistance, and suitability for planting even during the wet season,” said Dr. Narayan Banik, a scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and CSISA.

Prof. Surendranath Pasupalak, vice-chancellor at the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, visiting the BINA Dhan 11 rice fields and interacting with farmers and scientists, was satisfied with the farmers’ feedback regarding the lodging resistance of BINA Dhan 11. However, he expressed concern about the higher water requirement and weed problems that can arise under nonpuddled conditions.

Kumar clarified that both mechanical transplanted rice (MTR) and direct seeded rice (DSR) under nonpuddled situation are planted only during the wet season. “Additionally, weed problems can be effectively managed using integrated weed management, which uses suitable herbicides supplemented with manual or mechanical weeding,” Kumar further explained. “Mechanical weeding, through power, cono, or the Mandwa weeder, can be facilitated by adjusting row-to-row spacing of 25–30 cm.”

Pasupalak also noted the presence of bacterial leaf blight and sheath blight. The farmers reported that the symptoms of these diseases were seen in most of the rice fields including those planted with Lalat indicating that all the varieties have the same level of resistance.

Pasupalak emphasized the importance of full mechanization, from sowing to harvesting, for timely operations and lower production, energy, and labor costs. He also stressed the value of crop diversification. “Crop diversification with mungbean, black gram, mustard, maize, groundnut, vegetables, and sunflower in place of rice, particularly during the rice fallow period, along with mechanization, is needed to improve farm productivity, profitability, sustainability and nutritional security.”

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STRASA News Jan-April special issue

The latest issue of STRASA News, Vol. 9, No. 1, is now available online. This is a special issue that includes highlights of STRASA's phase 3 annual review and planning meeting held in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India, in April.

Other stories include updates on STRASA-related activities in Africa and South Asia, as well as news on partners' activities. Also starting in this issue is the first in a series of farmers' testimonies on their use of stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs), beginning with farmers from Uttar Pradesh, India, adopting the drought-tolerant rice, Sahbhagi Dhan.

STRASA is the project on Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Rex Bernardo, visiting plant breeder from Minnesota, conducts training; joins Young Researchers' Lunch

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—This month's Young Researchers' Lunch hosted Rex Bernardo (3rd from left in photo), professor of plant breeding and corn genetics at the University of Minnesota, USA. Dr. Bernardo was visiting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as the resource person for a one-day course on Best Practices in Marker-Assisted Plant Breeding for local scientists at IRRI, the University of the Philippines Los Baños, and partners from public and private sector organizations. He also presented Bandwagons I, too, have known at IRRI's weekly Thursday Seminar. 

During the lunch, Dr. Bernardo shared highlights of his career as a graduate student in the U.S., working in the private sector, and as a university professor. He challenged IRRI scholars to think about where they see themselves five years from now .

He advised the young researchers to take some time to enjoy and engage in fun activities outside their fields, such as a dance class, because they might not have that chance again once they start their busy careers. 

The participants were Vanica Apostol, Su Latt Phyu, Hein Zaw, Lenie Quiatchon-Baeza, and Vishnu Varthini.

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

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Philippine agriculture professionals learn to use laser-guided land leveling for improving rice production

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—Agricultural technicians and engineers from selected regional field units of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) participated in a course on laser-guided land leveling (photo). It is a climate-smart farming technology that can reduce water use and boost rice productivity.

The training consisted of lectures, intensive hands-on activities, and field exercises on conducting topographic field surveys and operating a laser-guided land leveling system. A separate module on tractor driving and operation was also provided to ensure that participants will be able to drive and operate a four-wheel tractor, one of the most important components in the laser-leveling system.

In unleveled rice fields, farmers spend three times more water than needed. There is also a 5-10% yield reduction due to uneven maturing of plants and an increased weed population. A flat surface ensures water reaches every part of the field and reduces waste from water-logging and run-off. Laser leveling is much more effective and faster at ensuring a flat, even surface than traditional land leveling.

“In Davao, farmers level their fields manually using a board," said Shynettee Clide Peralta, an agriculturist from Region 11 and focal person of the farm mechanization initiatives of the office. "I thought the practice was good enough. However, in 2013, the DA purchased several laser-leveling units, which I was not very confident to use. This training has helped me become confident in using the technology. We can now transfer the proper use of this technology in the five provinces of our region.”

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been using laser-guided land leveling since the 1990s, according to Martin Gummert, senior scientist at IRRI’s Postharvest Development Unit. “I am quite happy that the Philippines is now interested in laser leveling technology,” Gummert said. “In India, many poor farmers are benefiting from the technology. Laser leveling is a cost-saving technology, which offers a lot of benefits compared with traditional land leveling.”

According to a recent study on the impact of laser-guided land leveling in rice-wheat systems in Haryana and Punjab states of northern India, an additional annual production of 699 million kg of rice and 987 million kg of wheat, valued at an extra USD385 million per year, can be achieved if half of the area planted to the rice-wheat rotation were laser-leveled. The study concluded that farmers can earn around an additional USD145 per hectare annually from water and energy savings. The study was conducted by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the Borlaug Institute for South Asia, and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security.

However, Gummert emphasized that acquiring the laser-leveling technology is just the first step. “If you have any influence in purchasing, buy the right equipment from a good supplier with adequate after-sale service,” he advised. “We have seen many cases where laser-leveling equipment was not used because no after sales services or training were provided.”

The laser-leveling training course was conducted on 31 May to 3 June by the IRRI Postharvest and Mechanization Unit in cooperation with the Rice Science Academy and with support from the project, Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint. The course, offered twice annually, was facilitated by Carlito Balingbing, senior associate scientist; Eugene Castro, senior manager; and Joseph Sandro, assistant scientist.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Plant breeder Wayne Freeman passes away at age 100

Dr. Wayne Henry Freeman, 100, passed away recently (7 April) in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, USA. A world-renown plant breeder, he joined the Rockefeller Foundation's agricultural program in India in 1961. He was to spend the next 30 years on that side of the globe working on seed production for rice and corn.

He assisted the seed industry in taking advantage of the new crop varieties being developed by the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). He was a Rockefeller-appointed joint coordinator (with S.V.S. Shastry) of the then newly established All-India Rice Improvement Program from 1966 to 1976. In 1976, he moved to Kathmandu, Nepal, as team leader for Rockefeller's International Agricultural Development Service.

Wayne worked closely with IRRI in India during the early days of the Green Revolution. In a clip from his IRRI Pioneer Interview on 21 June 2008 at Michigan State University, he talked about the importance of using best agronomic practices to take advantage of the quantum jump in rice's yield potential gained during the Green Revolution.

He co-authored (with B.R. Barwale) a book, Seeds of change: growth of the Indian seed industry, 1961 and beyond, which documents the growth of the country's seed industry to about 200 seed companies with a gross turnover of about $1 billion per year.

Read his full obituary

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Flood-tolerant BINA Dhan 11 impresses rice farmers in Odisha

by Vivek Kumar, Priyanka Anand, and Ashok Kumar

ODISHA, India—Rice farmers were impressed by the performance of BINA Dhan 11, a flood-tolerant variety, during their visit to a demonstration field in the Bhadrak District.

The more than 200 farmers from different blocks in Bhadrak participated in an event, Performance of BINA Dhan 11 under mechanical transplanting in Neulia Village, to observe the growth and characteristics of the variety that can survive prolonged flooding.

For the performance evaluation, BINA Dhan 11 and Lalat, a widely grown traditional variety, were grown in demonstration fields using mechanical transplanting. Samples were taken from two randomly selected places. In spite of frequent storms and rainfall, BINA Dhan 11 did not lodge while Lalat exhibited 90–100% lodging. The farmers noticed this big difference between the two varieties. In addition, the average yield of BINA Dhan 11 was 6.94 tons per hectare while Lalat was 6.15 tons per hectare.

“BINA Dhan 11 is a wonderful variety,” said Sanjay (in photo below), a young farmer from Sampoi Village in Bhadrak. He compared the variety to Bangur cement because it did not lodge at all. Farmers in Bhadrak and Balasore Districts have also similar reactions.

Held on 13 May, the event was organized by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), Odisha for the farmers, and different stakeholders with support from the state’s Department of Agriculture (DoA) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)-Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia project. Dr. Ashok Kumar and Vivek Kumar, IRRI scientists based in India, and the CSISA-Bhadrak team led the program, which included a mass crop harvesting, field visits, interaction with farmers, knowledge backstopping, and farm machine exhibit. The participants were briefed on the future scope of stress-tolerant rice varieties, direct-seeded rice, mechanical transplanting, laser land levelling, alternate wetting and drying technology, Rice Crop Manager, weed management, among other technologies.

Also at the performance trial for BINA Dhan 11 were Mr. M.P. Ratho, Dhamnagar District agriculture officer; Mr. Ganesh Majhi, assistant agriculture officer in Bhandaripokhari block; Mr. Manash Kumar, block training manager, Agricultural Training Management Agency; and other DoA extension workers and village agricultural workers. Staff from the Reliance Foundation, NGO partners, and service providers also participated in the event.

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