Friday, October 7, 2016

IRRI Director General enjoins ASEAN states to invest in science for global food security

IRRI file photo

SINGAPORE, 6 October—“It is imperative for the ASEAN nations to invest in scientific research to ensure the improved productivity, quality, health, and resilience of Asia’s rice sector, and strengthen global food security.” This was the call issued by Matthew Morell, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). 

Morell (photo above) addressed the preparatory meetings of the Senior Officials of the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF), as well as the AMAF+3, in meetings in Singapore, 3-7 October. Senior officials from the ASEAN 10 countries - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as the “Plus 3” countries - China, Japan, and South Korea, participated in the meeting.

Morell presented IRRI’s proposal to establish the ASEAN Genetics and Rice Breeding Platform, a regional program and mechanism that will allow the ASEAN+3 countries to conduct collaborative research. Through this platform, the countries could work together to develop and share improved rice germplasm that could help their respective rice sectors cope with rising demand for rice as well as demand for safe, high-quality production.

“Climate change is expected to significantly lower grain yields and raise the price of rice across the developing world,” Morell added. “That and the combined impact of rapid population growth, diminishing  natural resources, and increasing demand for land for non-farming uses make new technology innovation for agricultural production all the more urgent.” 

Advances in basic science require significant and stable investments by governments in research for public goods.  Traditionally, investments in rice research have been made by Western countries, even though the rice-growing countries of Asia, especially China and India, have largely benefited from the research. 

During his time there, Morell and Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general, also had a series of bilateral meetings with the ASEAN Secretariat and the delegations from Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, and South Korea.

The feedback from the meetings was highly positive, reconfirming the threat climate change poses to future food and nutritional security. It acknowledges the role of science in finding solutions as well as the importance of rice germplasm exchange and breeding programs to the region. In consultation with the ASEAN+3 countries, IRRI will be working on the development of a road map for the ASEAN Rice Germplasm and Genetics Platform.

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