Wednesday, December 21, 2016

IT-literacy skills for local out-of-school youth boosted by IRRI's computer donation

Mayor Perez of Los Banos (center) explains how the computers donated by IRRI will help PESO strengthen
its computer literacy and computer systems servicing courses for out-of-school youths in the municipalities of
Los Banos and Bay. Also in photo: IRRI communication chief Bruce Tolentino (left)
and Glescy Trinidad of PESO (right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The local community Public Employment Service Office (PESO) has received 10 computers from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to support its employment training programs in computer literacy and computer systems servicing.  The program serves out-of-school youth from Los Baños and Bay towns, IRRI's host communities.

Caesar Perez, mayor of Los Baños, is quite proud of PESO's work.  PESO provides employability skills and livelihood training to individuals from the disadvantaged sectors of the community. This helps them to increase their employment opportunities and contribute to the town’s economic growth.

"Our graduates learn plenty of skills," shares Ms. Glescy Trinidad of PESO. “They are all government-certified so they're very in demand. In fact, we have two graduates who are employed as electricians at IRRI. We also have a lot of graduates who are working overseas.”

In 2015, about 300 people graduated from the program.  The graduates come from Nagcarlan, Lumban, Sta. Rosa, Pila, Victoria, Calamba as well as from IRRI’s host communities of Los Baños and Bay.

PESO conducts the training with support from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). A National Certificate is given to those who have finished a course or pass the TESDA assessment after completing their skills training. The program is supported by the One Meralco Foundation, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative of the Meralco company.

“IRRI started working with the One Meralco Foundation, the municipalities of Bay and Los Baños, PESO, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as part of its CSR initiative in 2009,”  said Dr. Bruce Tolentino, head of communication and partnerships at IRRI.

"Before, we conducted community livelihood projects with the barangays ourselves, but it was unsustainable," recalled Mr. Lito Platon of IRRI's partnerships office. "Now, it's more sustainable because different partners are uniquely contributing to the project. For example, IRRI coordinates the activities, One Meralco Foundation provides the funds, while  PESO and TESDA train, certify the graduates, and make sure they find jobs. So this is really a partnership with a purpose."

Aside from computer literacy and computer systems servicing, PESO provides courses in massage and reflexology, massage therapy, beauty care, electrical wiring, bread and pastry, garments or dressmaking, and motorcycle repair. Next year, PESO aims to add an automotive course.    

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Strengthening the link between rice farmers and commercial buyers in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 24-26 November—A USAID-funded project to improve the rice value chain is helping 365 farmer organizations in southern Bangladesh to grow premium-quality crops to gain access to national buyers. This became evident during the recent 3rd Rice and Grains Tech Expo.

The project, Feed the Future Bangladesh Rice Value Chain (RVC), is developing the capacity of the farmer groups, composed of 10,500 farmer members, who grow the same high-value rice varieties, to produce their crops in bulk to attract millers and food companies to do business with them.

Joining RVC at the Expo was another project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA), led by the International Rice Research Institute (photo). STRASA is speeding up dissemination of seeds of improved rice varieties to farmers in areas prone to drought, flooding, and other severe environmental conditions.

“South Bangladesh is one of the country's poorest areas and most vulnerable to cyclone-induced disasters,”  explained Tim Russell, RVC project leader. “It also has a much lower level of industrialization. So, all the national food processing companies have their bases, including mills and factories, in the northern and western parts of the country.”

Since RVC has spearheaded the creation of farmer groups with the capacity to grow crops and varieties in demand throughout the country, the processing companies are beginning to set up buying operations in southern Bangladesh.

At the Expo, the farmer organizations and their members had the opportunity to link with national companies that produce agriculture and forestry products, farm machinery, and new technologies for rice production and marketing. The buyers are primarily interested in purchasing Chinigura rice from the farmers who now have the capacity to grow this Bangladeshi aromatic variety in bulk, thanks to RVC's support.

Russell concluded that one of the country's biggest national processing companies is planning to establish a Krishi center in Jessore District. "It will act as a warehouse for storing products purchased from these farmer groups,” he added. “It will also serve as a training center for farmer-leaders and the company’s buying agents and staff members.” 

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Vietnam contract farming firm partners with IRRI to achieve sustainable rice production

An agreement between Loc Troi, IFC, and IRRI signed during the SRP Annual Plenary Meeting in Vietnam seeks to produce sustainably certified rice.

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—About 4,000 Vietnamese farmers are expected to be compliant with the global standard for sustainable and more efficient rice cultivation by the end of 2018. This is the goal of an agreement between the Loc Troi Group, the International Finance Corporation, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) signed on 7 December.

"Specializing in contract farming, Loc Troi wants to be among the first companies to produce sustainably certified rice," said Dr. Sarah Beebout, an IRRI scientist involved with the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

SRP is a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations convened by the United Nations Environment Programme and IRRI to develop innovative solutions to critical sustainability challenges facing the global rice sector. The SRP Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

"As Loc Troi ramps up its production for export, it sees the environmental issues as important," Beebout said. "We don't have a final answer yet on how high you have to score in each of the indicators to get certification—that's still in process—but the company is already getting in on the front to show it can make steady improvements in each of the benchmark areas."

Farmers can be encouraged to follow the SRP standards because one of its indicators is profitability. "We're coming from the assumption that farmers aren't going to do anything that decreases their profitability for the sake of anything else," explained Beebout. "So the question is can we increase the other indicators while keeping profitability high?"

From December 2015 to April 2016, 50 farmers each from Dong Thap, An Giang, and Kien Giang in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta initiated the first season’s pilot testing of SRP Standards. Technical support and training was provided by Mr. Joel Janiya, IRRI extension agronomist. The pilot test will run for another season to complete the validation but the farmers decided to continue implementing the SRP Standard to produce “safe” rice.  

For the next two years, Beebout and other IRRI scientists will visit project sites in the Mekong Delta to support Loc Troi’s technicians and participating farmers on the proper implementation of the Standard for Sustainable Rice Cultivation. Aside from the technical support, the institute will also help Loc Troi's extension system set up a training program for the 4,000 farmers through IRRI Education

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bringing climate-resilient technologies to rice farmers in the northern Philippines

LAOAG, northern Philippines—The Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are collaborating to introduce new rice varieties and technologies to help local rice farmers cope with climate change.

The collaborative program, known as Tikag (drought), provides smallholder farmers access to climate-resilient rice varieties and technologies under the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environment (CURE) and the locally fabricated mechanized dry direct seed driller developed by the MP Seeder Project (see photo).

“Hopefully, these new technologies could reduce the risks in rice production in northern Luzon and help farmers suffering from unpredictable drought and typhoons every year,” said Dr. Yoichiro Kato, a rainfed lowland agronomist at IRRI and lead of the MP Seeder Project.

Tikag is a collaborative project of local government units in Ilocos Norte, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and the Department of Agriculture (DA)-Dingras. CURE is funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development while the MP Seeder Project is funded by the DA.

Farmers’ Field Days held, respectively, in Currimao and Burgos on 7 and 8 December attracted more than 200 farmer leaders and local extension staff from 20 municipalities of Ilocos Norte. The participating farmers showed their willingness to adopt both the MP seed driller and the drought-tolerant varieties, particularly Sahod Ulan 12 which can be harvested from 93 to 99 days after planting.

The MP Seeder will significantly reduce the time and cost of establishing their rice crop, and the short duration and drought-tolerant will enable us to harvest more than before, according to  Mr.Candido Velasco and Mrs. Teresita Menor, participating farmers from Currimao.

Provincial Governor Imee Marcos, in her message to the field day participants, expressed her gratitude to IRRI’s continuous support. She encouraged the farmers to use new the drought-tolerant rice varieties and the mechanized dry direct seeding for the coming 2017 wet season. Rodolfo Garcia, mayor of Burgos, and Gladys Go-Cue, vice mayor of Currimao, attended the respective field days.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Odisha farmers switching to stress-tolerant rice varieties and mechanization

By N.C. Banik, P. Anand, and A. Kumar

ODISHA, India, 22 November—In the coastal region of this state, BINA dhan-11, a short duration and flood-tolerant rice variety, could be a good option for farmers resowing or transplanting late in the season in areas where floods have damaged crops planted earlier. This was a recommendation of Dr. Narayan Chandra Banik, an agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)-India.

Banik and other crop specialists and agriculture officials were interacting with around 65 farmers, village agriculture workers, NGO partners, and service providers in Puri District (photo). In the field demonstrations, the participants were able to observe the benefits of growing stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs) and using sustainable intensification technologies. 

In addition to BINA dhan-11, other varieties showcased were flood-tolerant CR 1009-Sub1 and Swarna-Sub1 and the drought-tolerant DRR-42 planted in farmers’ fields in Danogahir, Achhuasahi, and Srikanthapur during the 2016 kharif season using direct-seeding drills and mechanical transplanters. Also highlighted were best practices such as optimal seed rate and planting time, fertilizer scheduling, and integrated weed management.  

Across different sites, farmers were impressed with the STRVs because of the vigorous crop stands, resistance to lodging, and higher yields compared with the region's traditional varieties. Some farmers were initially apprehensive about using STRVs and direct seeding—these being totally new interventions in the area. However, they were eventually convinced to adopt the technologies for next year’s cropping season as they realized the added assurance of higher yields even with heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding. 

The participating farmers were also impressed with the direct-seeding drill and mechanical transplanters. The immediate benefits of these machines include significant savings in labor, energy, cost of cultivation, and reduced drudgery. 

New service providers created by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and farmers who opted to use mechanical transplanting said they could transplant rice seedlings in time at a reduced cost. They also obtained higher yields than from manual transplanting. 

The main concern of stakeholders about direct seeding is weed management and limited knowledge on the proper use of herbicides. “Integrated weed management with newly recommended pre- and post-emergence herbicides and manual and mechanical weeding could be an effective option for controlling weed in direct seeded rice,” explained Dr. Ashok Kumar, IRRI coordinator of the  CSISA Odisha hub. “Training of product dealers and service providers on herbicides could also be helpful.”

While the majority of participants opined that the large-scale adoption of the technology was limited by lack of awareness and availability of the equipment, agriculture officials emphasized nursery enterprise development could enable a wider dissemination of mechanical transplanters.  Service providers can avail of the government’s subsidy scheme for purchasing trays for rice mat nurseries and provide services for using nursery and paddy transplanting machines. Current trained service providers can also target selected villages to increase awareness of mechanical transplanters, which in turn will increase their enterprise.

The traveling seminars and interactive meetings were organized by CSISA in collaboration with the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project coordinated by IRRI and the state’s Department of Agriculture.  Similar efforts to demonstrate and out-scale these technologies are being conducted in Khurda, Cuttack, and Jagatsinghapur in Puri District.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Scientists helping Filipino farmers adapt to climate change

ALABANG, Muntinlupa City, 28-29 November—The current practices of Filipino rice farmers and the varieties they are using are continually being upgraded by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to help them adapt to the unpredictable effects of climate change.

This was an observation from Dr. Yoichiro Kato, a rainfed lowland agronomist at IRRI, during his presentation at the recent 10th Annual Scientific Forum and Meeting, organized by the Philippine Association of Career Scientists, Inc. (PACS). The event attracted Kato and other international and national scientists from different disciplines who shared insights from their research activities in improving farmers’ planting practices.

Kato, when discussing other adaptive measures for growing rice under the current Philippine weather and climate conditions, cited Central Thailand's rice farming model, which uses a number of the dynamic farming approaches recommended by IRRI.

He also shared his three-step research philosophy for agricultural science: (1) know your own target; (2) get robust evidence; and (3) understand reasons behind the results. “This is my personal strategy to effectively implement basic researches in rice agronomy,” Kato said.

Dr. Ricardo Orge, from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), presented his study on coping with climate change in the Philippines.  He gave an overview of Palayamanan, a PhilRice initiative on water-saving technology for diversified and integrated system of farming.  Orge’s presentation stimulated a discussion on budget limitations for rice-farming research.    

According to Evelyn Mae Tecson-Mendoza, Scientific Career Council Executive Secretary Academician, research and development (R&D) in the Philippines are lagging behind in the number of R&D personnel per million persons in the population.  This lags far behind other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and needs to be remedied.

Other prominent scientists from leading rice research centers in the country discussed how they are providing far-reaching technological solutions in line with the Forum’s theme, Reinforcing science and technology capacities for sustainable community development,

The Philippine Scientific Career System and the National Academy of Science and Technology collaborated with PACS in sponsoring the forum.

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On-farm research trials ramped up in Cambodia to reduce pesticide use in rice farming

Participants discuss and chart the next steps in conducting adaptive research on integrated pest management in Cambodia.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A project led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Cambodia is set to conduct on-farm research to develop site-specific, environment-friendly integrated pest management (IPM) packages for the country’s rice farmers.

The project, EPIC (Development of ecologically-based, participatory IPM package for rice in Cambodia), has ramped up its plans to conduct adaptive and participatory research on IPM to help Cambodian rice farmers reduce their use of chemical pesticides. The plans, along with forming regional- and provincial-based learning alliances and target-specific communication initiatives, were announced during the annual meeting and workshop of the EPIC project on 1-2 December.

“Several pests and diseases in rice production have been causing significant yield losses,” said H.E. Hean Vanhan, director general of the General Directorate of Agriculture (GDA) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. “Over the last decade, farmers mainly relied on chemical pesticides as a major method to control rice pests and diseases. The immediate goals of EPIC are to contribute to the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods, which is in line with the policy of the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

 “Adaptive research will take a prominent role in the work that EPIC project will do,” said Dr. Sang Lee, representative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) mission in Cambodia. “This is critical to be able to fine-tune, adjust, and perhaps even change course to address the complex ecological solution that the IPM program plans to address.” The EPIC project is supported by USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative.

Workshop participants shared and discussed the initial results of survey activities and field trials conducted in Prey Veng, Battambang, Takeo, and Kampong Thom Provinces. Sessions were conducted to map out future initiatives on forming learning alliances, conduct of adaptive research, and information dissemination and capacity enhancement.

“We are reviewing what has been done in the past year in partnership with GDA and the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI) so we can chart the next direction of the project in Cambodia,” said Dr. Buyung Hadi, IRRI entomologist and EPIC project coordinator.

Dr. Seng Vang, Deputy Director General CARDI, also shared that these initial achievements would not have been possible without the all-out support and cooperation of other partners.

More than 50 participants attended the meeting including representatives from GDA, CARDI, the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Virginia Tech, Cornell University, and the Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Battambang, Prey Veng, Takeo, and Kampong Thom.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Eastern India’s seed industry needs to be more aware of climate-smart rice varieties

by Mayank Sharma

WEST BENGAL, India—There are many stress-tolerant rice varieties that have been released in India. However, seed producers and companies in the country’s eastern region urgently need to be more aware of their availability and ways to promote them. So, a varietal exhibition and a workshop were held recently in Birbhum to do just that.

The events aimed to improve seed supply and accelerate the adoption of suitable varieties by small and marginal farmers living in the region’s stress-prone areas. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in India facilitated the activity through its project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA).

To support its objective, STRASA brought together around 140 representatives from seed dealers, seed producers, private seed companies, state seed corporations, nongovernmental organizations, progressive farmers, and others from Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Assam to enhance their knowledge of new stress-tolerant rice varieties.

The on-farm displays featured almost all the stress-tolerant rice varieties released in India along with some popular high-yielding varieties from eastern Indian states. The participants were able to observe the traits of these improved rice varieties.

“Engaging the private sector in the diffusion process is important and sustainable,” said Dr. Manzoor Dar, an IRRI-India development specialist who initiated the idea of bringing together these stakeholders in eastern India. “Delivering these services directly to seed dealers has a greater impact on the spread of new varieties since they have incentives to spread this information to their customers. Increases in the demand for these varieties translate directly to increased profits for dealers.”  

The IRRI-STRASA workshop covered various aspects of the seed supply chain to help the private sector develop better seed markets and strategies for scaling-up the varieties’ production and adoption. During the workshop, Dr. Gary Atlin, (third from right in photo) senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, stressed the role of private seed companies and dealers in supplying quality products to the farmers and need to promote climate-resilient rice varieties.

The workshop provided key seed players with a platform to give their feedback.

“We encourage seed dealers and private seed companies to share their experiences and requirements on behalf of the farmers,” said Dr. George Kotch, head of IRRI’s Plant Breeding Division. “This way IRRI breeders can be more effective in meeting the need of the farmers and the market.”

IRRI, through STRASA, is currently working to build the capacity to scale out stress-tolerant rice varieties across South Asia.

“This includes partnerships with local NGOs and private seed companies to ensure adequate and sustainable seed supply and availability,” said Dar. “IRRI-STRASA is forming a platform for all stakeholders in the seed sector who can be part of enhancing the delivery of these varieties in the target areas.”

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

IRRI joins leading biotech centers to promote universal biotechnology stewardship

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been granted membership into a global agricultural technology stewardship program that promotes responsible management of plant biotechnology research. The program’s focus is to develop and encourage implementation of ethical practices and educating the public about those practices.

Excellence Through Stewardship (ETS) is a global nonprofit organization that promotes the universal adoption of stewardship programs and quality management systems for the full-life cycle of agricultural technology products. The organization assists its members in the implementation (or improvement) of stewardship programs and quality management systems and facilitates auditing by independent third parties to verify them.

IRRI recognizes the importance of ensuring responsible conduct of transgenic research with the highest ethical standards in its operations and activities. It also knows the potential risk of intentional and unintentional release of transgenic materials, which may result in reputational, financial, and/or operational damage. IRRI’s regular membership in ETS paves the way for it to successfully complete a third-party independent audit. ETS recognition will serve as a testament to IRRI’s standard of excellence in transgenic research.

IRRI’s application for regular membership was facilitated by the Transgenic Stewardship Office under the newly created Research Infrastructure and Operations Unit of the office of the Deputy Director General for Research. The application was evaluated by the ETS Board of Directors and membership acceptance was confirmed on 17 November.

ETS membership is open to technology companies, academic institutions, public and private research organizations, seed producers, licensees, and other service providers engaged in discovering, developing, handling, or commercializing biotechnology-derived plant products.

In addition to IRRI, the CGIAR-member institutes accepted by ETS are the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. Other organizations holding ETS membership include BASF Plant Science, Bayer CropScience, Monsanto Company, and Syngenta Seeds Inc.

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