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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