Tuesday, December 19, 2017

John Schiller, former IRRI agronomist in Laos, passes away

By Gene Hettel

Dr. John M. Schiller, 72, passed away in Brisbane, Australia, on Monday (18 December) of suspected heart failure. For the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), he was the team leader and research programmer of the Lao-IRRI Project for 11 years (1990-2001). He had spent 30 years of his life working in Southeast Asia, primarily in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Rice value chain stakeholders from India develop change pathways to improve mechanization and postharvest

A two-day workshop on educating stakeholders about ways to reduce losses in harvesting and postharvest operations was held at Bhubaneswar, Odisha. The workshop presented an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about ways to improve the quality of paddy, milled rice, and seeds, which in turn can increase incomes of farmers, particularly women, and other chain actors through exploring business opportunities.

Boosting rice production in the face of climate change

The International Food Policy Research Institute forecasts that by 2050, rice prices will increase between 32 and 37% while yield losses could reach between 10 and 15% as a result of climate change.

IRRI Bangladesh joined South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in celebrating its 33rd charter day

Last 10 December 2017, IRRI Bangladesh joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in celebrating the 33rd SAARC Charter Day. It was held at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and was attended by NARES institutions, international, and private organizations.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Thailand rice industry stakeholders receive training on improved postharvest management

A training on post production rice processing was held in Nakhon Ratchasima and Chai Nat, Thailand, where participants learned about rice milling, best storage practices, and techniques to improve rice quality.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Eastern India Rainfed Lowland Shuttle Breeding Network (EIRLSBN) celebrated 25 Years of research accomplishments

Eastern India Rainfed Lowland Shuttle Breeding Network (EIRLSBN) celebrated 25 years of its establishment and research accomplishment during the recently held annual breeder workshop and shuttle breeding selection activities at National Rice Research Institute (NRRI), Cuttack on 13-15 November 2017.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Virgilio Carangal, former IRRI agronomist, passes away

Dr. Virgilio R. “Pexy” Carangal, 84, former agronomist (1974-94) at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away due to congestive heart failure on 26 November.
He had been a Filipino plant breeder with an impressive track record in the administration of Philippine public-sector agricultural research when he joined IRRI’s Multiple Cropping Program in 1974. He was tasked with launching and then coordinating the Asian Cropping Systems Network (ACSN).
The concept of networking was new in 1974. The ACSN, under Dr. Carangal’s leadership, broke new ground institutionally since it was the first organization of its kind in international agricultural research. The ACSN, later to become the Asian Rice Farming Systems Network (ARFSN), put a farming systems approach to research into practice. The network’s evolution was a microcosm of the development of conceptual thinking about agricultural research worldwide. This networking model that Dr. Carangal pioneered was widely imitated by other research organizations.
        During his more than 20 years at IRRI, he was a dedicated agronomist who was well loved and respected by research collaborators in more than 30 countries in South and Southeast Asia. He raised substantial funds for cropping systems research under the ACSN/ARFSN umbrella and traveled extensively to monitor collaborative projects. He advocated the integration of crop-livestock farming systems and technology development for different ecosystems.
        He authored/co-authored numerous scientific papers on cropping and farming systems during the 1976-96 period. His 1996 book, with Simon Chater, On Farmers' Fields: Portrait of  a Network, encapsulates his seminal networking projects at IRRI. As pointed out in the book, "with emphasis on training and on fostering collaboration between different countries, the ACSN/ARFSN played a key part in building a stronger regional research capacity—one that was equipped to meet the challenges of feeding a hungry world in the 21st century."
        Dr. Carangal was preceded in death by his wife, Connie. He is survived by daughters Aileen Carney and Aimee Dhakhwa and son Eugene Carangal. His wake will be held at the Zimmerman & Sandeman Memorial Chapel in Oak Lawn, Illinois on Sunday, 10 December. A funeral mass will be held on 11 December at St. Terrence Parish, in Alsip, Illinois.
Colleagues and friends may send their messages of condolence to: pexycarangal@gmail.com.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Celebrating biotechnology and its benefits to humanity

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) joins its host country, the Philippines, in celebrating the 13th National Biotechnology Week from 20-24 November 2017.

Back-to-back exhibits at the Department of Agriculture and at the Fisher Mall  in Quezon City kicked off the week-long celebrations that highlight the role of biotechnology in improving the lives of Filipino farmers and consumers. IRRI’s exhibit booth at the Fisher Mall is one of the crowd’s favorites with its live plant displays featuring climate-smart rice varieties.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cambodian farmers participate in cross-site visits to learn about Integrated Pest Management practices

                Farmers check the trichoderma x variety trial in
Por Lors Station, Prey Veng

Farmers adapt new technologies by integrating new knowledge to existing practices based on their present conditions. The Ecologically-based Participatory Integrated Pest Management for rice in Cambodia (EPIC) Project, through its Learning Alliance platform, facilitated cross-site visits among farmers that enabled them to share their knowledge and experiences on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technologies. The farmers from Prey Veng and Takeo Provinces had been involved in adaptive research trials for two seasons and this activity will enhance learning that will lead to its local adaptation in Cambodian provinces.

On October 24, 25 farmers and extension staff from Prey Veng visited the villages of Ro Vieng and Kandaul in Takeo to observe rodent management trials and interact with ‘host farmers’ who implemented them.

In Ro Vieng, the participants learned from farmers who tried the Community Trap Barrier System (CTBS) with various types of traps, and community rat hunting. In Kandaul, they met with farmers who have tried the Linear Trap Barrier System, which they say is useful for trapping rats but would prefer to have a longer barrier. The farmers also learned about community action and limited but well-timed use of Bromadiolone in controlling rodents. They found out that even if the LTBS was not as long as they would want, there was reduction in rodent damage. Researchers shared the findings from data collected from farmers. Damage caused by rats is 28% lower, and yield increased by 23% with LTBS vs. control plots (farmer’s practice). 

In exchange, 27 farmers and extension staff from Takeo visited the adaptive research trials in Sdao and Thom villages, and the Por Lors station in Prey Veng, on October 25.  Topics such as entomopathogenic fungi (biological control agent that eats pest insects), differences in herbicide programs for integrated weed management, Trichoderma (biological control against diseases such as rice blast) and pest-resistant varieties like CAR14, were covered during the field visit and discussions.

At the end of the visits, farmers in their village groups reflected on and shared what they have observed. The ‘host farmers’ shared their experiences in coordination, sourcing of materials, and implementation of IPM considering local conditions. They remarked on the effectiveness of the technologies and discussed future plans for the 2018 rice-crop season. 

This project is funded by the USAID through the IPM Innovation Lab. 

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IRRI scientist wins 2017 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers

IRRI scientist Dr. Sheetal Sharma was chosen as one of the three winners of the 2017 Japan International Award for Young Agricultural Researchers. Every year, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Research Council (AFFRC) selects three young researchers who show outstanding research achievements that will lead to future technological innovation as awardees.

“The goal of my research program is to provide the farmers of India with information and tools that will enable them to become better stewards of healthy and sustainable ecosystems. Solutions to real-world natural resource problems typically require an understanding of basic scientific knowledge and processes. Thus, my research strives to combine studies of basic scientific principles with applied research,” Dr. Sharma said.

The research focused on the development of innovative approaches to enable smallholder farmers of South Asia to achieve gains in productivity and profitability through use of cutting edge Information & Communication Technologies (ICT) to guide application of site-specific nutrient and crop management options.

Dr. Sharma has led initiatives in India to transform the provision of information to farmers and, for the first time, make site-specific recommendations available to smallholder farmers. Her major achievements have been to combine detailed information on crop performance with innovative knowledge transfer approaches and the development of ICT-based decision-support tools suited to extension workers and farmers using mobile applications or computers. These tools have been endorsed and adopted by the government. The applications are enabling farmers to improve the profitability of rice through more timely and accurate crop management.

The award aims to increase motivation among young researchers contributing to research and development in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and related industries in developing countries. The commendation ceremony was held on November 2, 2017 at the U Thant International Conference Hall, United Nations University, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.

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IRRI partners with JAAS to establish a joint innovation laboratory

Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines - 14 November 2017  --  The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of a joint innovation laboratory at the JAAS headquarters in Nanjing, China.

China has an average yield of more than 6.5 tons per hectare, making it one of the major rice-producing countries in the world. Continuous research, innovation, and knowledge transfer are needed to make the production of this food crop sustainable.

Under the new MoU, JAAS and IRRI commit to work together on gene and trait discovery, plant protection, parent building, and capacity development, and training for the next generation of rice scientists and farmers.

The success of the research done in the joint innovation laboratory would ultimately benefit farmers in rural areas and consumers. It would also help ensure the economic growth of China and other Asian and African countries.

“Through our new MoU and strengthened partnership, the two Institutions will be able to harness our mutual strengths and common interests to contribute to achieving sustainable rural development and food security in China and other Asian and Sub-Saharan African countries,” said JAAS President Yi Zhongyi.

The delegation headed by Prof. Yi Zhongyi also visited the International Rice Genebank, Molecular Biology Laboratory, and Grain Quality Laboratory at the IRRI HQ.

JAAS is one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in China and was founded in 1932.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Making rice production easier and more profitable through plant science

Los Baños, Philippines - Nov 15, 2017 -- The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) welcomed delegates from Croplife Asia today to its campus to discuss the vital role that pest management plays in securing food supply for the future. The visit was part of CropLife Asia’s Plant Science Primer event, an effort to bring together key journalists and other food stakeholders from across Southeast Asia to share information and experiences regarding the role plant science plays in enabling farmers. 

As a leading global research institution, IRRI works closely with partners from around the world in exploring rice germplasm for new traits, improving the productivity of farming systems so that they are resource-efficient, profitable, and environmentally sustainable.

One such partner is Croplife Asia, whose focus is around ensuring that crop protection products such as pesticides are utilized responsibly and handled in the safest and most effective way to help farmers improve agricultural productivity and contribute to food security. 

Biotechnology provides farmers with tools that can make production cheaper and more manageable and provides consumers with foods that are nutritionally-enriched. Biotechnology has helped to make both insect pest control and weed management safer and easier while safeguarding crops against disease. The application of biotechnology in agriculture has  resulted in benefits to farmers, producers, and consumers.

“IRRI’s work will enable innovations that will empower governments and private sector players  to overcome the inter-related challenges of continuing population growth, malnutrition, poverty, climate change, and deteriorating natural resources,” said V. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI Deputy Director General for Communication and Partnerships. 

IRRI’s scientists and researchers have been developing new approaches and products that fit farmer practices, production environments, and are resilient to climate change. Moreover, IRRI’s rice breeding work encompasses the multiple disciplines of conventional and modern biotechnology to improve rice for better grain quality and higher yield, resistance to pests and diseases, tolerance of environmental stresses, less farm input requirements, and higher nutrient content. Crop protection solutions have addressed problems caused by pests such as weeds, diseases and insects which have led to higher and quality yields.

“The challenge of growing more food with fewer natural resources and less impact on the environment is one that requires solutions that are game-changing and sustainable - the innovations plant science technology provides are just that. At the same time, the responsibility of supporting our region’s farmers to ensure they have access to the technology and tools they need is a shared endeavor, and we proudly stand with IRRI in continuing this important work,” added Dr. Siang Hee Tan, CropLife Asia Executive Director.

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

ISARC hosts first international hands-on training on quality seed production

29 October 2017. IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) informally opened its offices at the National Seed Research and Training Center (NSRTC) Campus in Varanasi, India.

ISARC will serve as IRRI’s center for capacity building in agriculture, particularly on rice-based systems in the South Asian and African regions.

A robust seed system is the backbone of agricultural developments and to start its operations, ISARC hosted its first international training on quality seed production. The training aimed to strengthen the agriculture and seed sector of the country. It also provided a hands-on training for technical knowledge on quality rice seed production, and addressed problems that farmers, researchers, and seed production agencies commonly encounter.

Through the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, India’s government sponsored 10 participants from their country, and 15 from Cambodia. The participants represent government research and development institutions, as well as public-private organizations.

During the sessions, experts from different organizations gave presentations about India's seed system, seed and rice morphology, the growth stages of rice, management of seeds, best practices in its production, and pointers on certification and quality control. 

Participants were also exposed to a rigorous hands-on training that enabled them to better understand the process of quality seed production. During the exercise, they learned how to select representative panicles to sow directly in raised beds, row transplanting, roguing during all the growth stages for nucleus seed production, select high quality seeds, and handle the breeder seed production from sowing to maturity. To learn more about rice-based cropping systems, they visited the Indian Institute of Vegetable Research.

The training is expected to help farmers improve their crop management skills, which will lead to better harvest.

Dr. A. Vaishampayan, Director of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, opened the training session and experts from different organizations gave presentations. They are Dr. J.P. Tandon from ICAR, Dr. S. Selvaraj and Dr. R.K. Trivedi from MOAFW, GOI, Dr. Sudhanshu Singh and Dr. R.K. Singh from IRRI, and Dr. P.K. Singh from BHU. The hands-on training was coordinated by Drs. R.K. Singh and P.K. Singh of IRRI, and Dr. R.K. Sahu of the National Rice Research Institute in Cuttack.  

Cambodian representatives remarked that “this training is an eye-opener for us. Though communication was a challenge, the hands-on exercise helped us better understand the importance of seed quality in producing rice”. 

In his closing address, Dr. Arvind N. Singh said, “this training initiative is very useful in developing seed expertise and entrepreneurship among farmers in this region. The skills they learned will help them improve their livelihoods, which will benefit the society as a whole”.

The 4-day training was jointly organized by ISARC, Banaras Hindu University (BHU), and NSRTC, and was coordinated by Mr. T.C. Dhoundiyal, IRRI’s Project Manager for South Asia's Stress Tolerant Rice Program.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

IRRI scientists join FP2 team to upgrade rice value chains in Asia and Africa

From left to right: Val Pede (IRRI), Kaori Fujita (JIRCAS), Vipa Surojanametakul (Kasetsart University), Tadashi Yoshihashi (JIRCAS), Rose Fiamohe (AfricaRice), Matty Demont (IRRI), Bas Bouman (IRRI), Frédéric Lançon (CIRAD), Prajongwate Satmalee (Kasetsart University), Guillaume Soullier (CIRAD), Martin Gummert (IRRI), Christian Mestres (CIRAD), Sali Ndindeng (AfricaRice)

Last October 23–27, a meeting on “Rice Flagship Project 2” was held at the CIRAD office in Montpellier, France. The objective of the event is to do a year-end review of the RICE-FP2, and discuss activities and outputs for 2018.

The event brought together a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from IRRI, AfricaRice, CIRAD and JIRCAS committed to a common goal of upgrading rice value chains in Asia and Africa. The FP2 research promotes sustainable rice value chains by engaging with stakeholders such as farmers, processors, traders, service providers, consumers, policy-makers, and other stakeholders in rice and rice by-product markets. The goal of the research is to catalyze a wide portfolio of strategies to upgrade rice product quality, postharvest processes, policy and contractual arrangements, and to develop new products along the rice value chain.

IRRI is represented by Bas Bouman, CRP Director, Matty Demont and Val Pede, respective FP2 and FP1 leaders, and Martin Gummert, FP2 postharvest cluster leader.

During the event, participants reviewed the progress of their FP2 activities in 2017, and highlighted major achievements and lessons learned. They explored linkages between FP2 and FP1, and other CRPs such as CCAFS and PIM. They also presented strategies for gender inclusiveness and capacity development.

The team developed strategies for outreach and private sector engagement, and identified potential donors and funding opportunities to support FP2’s research portfolio. As part of the program, they visited the Soufflet Rice Mill in Camargue, France to learn about French practices in rice value chain development.

Rice Mill at Camargue, France
 At the end of the 5-day program, team members each presented their work plan and expected outputs for 2018. They identified several activities for 2018 such as webinars, virtual meetings, a symposium during the 2018 International Rice Conference, and a joint paper on upgrading rice value chains in Asia and Africa by the end of 2018.

Frederic Lançon of CIRAD remarked, “FP2 incorporates diverse expertise that can be used for effective training and capacity building programs with value chain stakeholders in Asia and Africa, which is essential in rice value chain upgrading”. Bas Bouman said that even though the FP2 team is small, it is dynamic and has achieved an impressive output during its first year. As an emphasis, Val Pede added that “The team has successfully bridged research between FP1, FP2, FP3 and FP5 and beyond. Examples are the market intelligence it produced for product profiling in rice breeding, the incentive mechanisms it developed for sustainable rice production and the ongoing collaboration with CCAFS on climate-smart and sustainable agriculture.”

Matty Demont reflected that “FP2 serves as an ideal platform for inter-disciplinary learning and spillover of research and lessons learned between Asia and Africa. Since FP2 provides market intelligence to other flagship projects, it is able to make the RICE CRP more market-driven and gender-inclusive. The product profiles for rice breeding, for example, take women’s preferences for varietal development into account in an early stage”.  Finally, Yoshihashi Tadashi of JIRCAS expressed appreciation for the team work, and looks forward to 2018 as a year of more success and achievements.

For more information on FP2 and its role in upgrading sustainable rice value chains, you may visit http://ricecrp.org or contact Matty Demont at m.demont@irri.org.

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Friday, October 27, 2017

IRRI joins PhilRice Los Banos Station's "Lakbay Palay"

To celebrate Farmer’s Day, IRRI joined Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) Los Baños Station’s 2017 Wet Season Lakbay Palay last 18 October. Bearing the theme “Binhing Sapat at Angkop, Itaguyod Natin”, the event aimed to teach farmers about new and appropriate rice technologies that they can adopt for a more sustainable rice production.

390 farmers from the CALABARZON region attended this bi-annual gathering. Various rice-related technologies were showcased in the exhibits, including hybrid and inbred seed production. IRRI in particular, highlighted hybrid rice technology, heirloom, and next generation (Next-Gen) rice varieties developed for major ecosystems in the Philippines.

A Technology Forum was held as part of the event. Keynote speakers discussed the importance of public hybrid seeds and its role in increasing agricultural yield.

As a token for the event, IRRI gave farmers some samples of improved irrigated and rainfed rice seeds.

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Understanding and assessing rice seed systems: A training collaboration of IRRI and CIAT/FLAR

Quality seed production and ensuring delivery of quality seeds to farmers are significant challenges for national seed systems around the globe.  To address these challenges, IRRI Education, together with with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR), conducted a two-week training on seed production and understanding of seed systems.

Entitled Understanding and Assessing Rice Seed Systems, the training which ran from October 17 to 27 was attended by 20 delegates from four Latin American countries: Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Panama, in addition to Taiwan and Japan. The first leg of the training was held at CIAT headquarters near Cali, Colombia while its second leg was held in Ibague City, Colombia, hosted by the Rice Producers Federation of Colombia.

The second leg of the training included sessions about seed systems by Dr. Silmar Peske, seed expert from Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, and editor of SeedNews bulletin. Tours were also conducted to provide a context of rice and seed production in Colombia.

"This training has been a great opportunity to provide capacity building for FLAR partner countries.   There is plenty of excitement among participants to learn from experts as well as each other about how to address the many challenges of producing quality seed and understanding seed systems,” shared FLAR Executive Director, Eduardo Graterol. 

"The training participants have varied roles across the seed production chain, coming from both the public and private sectors and ICDF as a rural development organization,” added Dr. Ana Laura Pereira, seed production specialist from the National Institute of Agricultural Research in Uruguay. Dr. Pereira provided an excellent review of seed production techniques during the training.

"This training brought a lot of different aspects together," said Jason Beebout, IRRI Education training designer.  "Aside from this first-time partnership between IRRI and CIAT/FLAR for capacity building, it brings a diversity of participants and resource persons together”.

Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF), an international organization that supports smallholder farmers globally, worked with IRRI and CIAT to sponsor this capacity building initiative. Following up from last year’s two-week Seed and Extension capacity training at the IRRI Headquarters, this initiative also widened the reach of IRRI Education.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

IRRI, BRRI discuss policies on adopting farm mechanization and AWD technology in Bangladesh

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) are jointly spearheading the adoption of climate-smart technologies for agriculture in Bangladesh through the project, “Climate-smart practices and varieties for intensive rice-based systems in Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh is prone to various natural disasters, such as severe flooding and pest onslaught, that cause significant damage to rice-based systems. The project’s aim is to test, validate, and outscale technologies and practices, such as the alternate wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation method, diversified rice-based cropping systems, and new rice varieties, to cope with the adverse effects of climate change in the country.

To discuss strategies to help improve the lives and livelihoods of the rice farmers, a policy dialogue meeting on the constraints to the large-scale adoption of farm mechanization and AWD technology and the required policy measures in Eastern Bangladesh was held at the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD) last 19 October 2017.

This project, funded by the Asian Development Bank, is implemented at the Muhuri Irrigation Project area in Feni District, Bangladesh.  It also seeks to address limitations in technology and identify required policy measures for scaling the climate-smart agricultural technologies.

High-level officials and delegates from the academe, government, and private agencies were present during the event. Among them are policymakers, academicians, researchers, agricultural scientists, development workers, private sector representatives, and farmers.

Dr. Shahjahan Kabir, Director General of BRRI, led the meeting, and Dr. Md. Abdur Rouf, Joint Secretary for Policy Planning of the Ministry of Agriculture, was the chief guest.

The participants also outlined the next steps in promoting rice transplanting and harvesting machines, and AWD methods in eastern Bangladesh. Dr. Arvind Kumar, IRRI Senior Scientist, and Dr. Abul Basher, ADB’s representative, gave keynote presentations that provided an array of information about the new technologies.

Attendees expressed their appreciation for the event as it gave them a platform to discuss critical issues in Bangladesh’s rice industry. To ensure continuity of the project’s success, stakeholders may expect similar policy dialogues in the future.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Climate-smart rice project shortlisted in 2017 Newton Prize

The project Climate-ready rice: Optimizing transpiration to protect rice yields under abiotic stresses, led by the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Kasetsart University in Bangkok and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has been shortlisted in the 2017 Newton Prize. The Prize is part of the Newton Fund initiative and supports exceptional research and innovation in partner countries in Asia, where production of better rice varieties have social and economic importance.

“We are honored and delighted that we were shortlisted. It is indeed good news because this recognizes our excellent work in rice research and collaboration with our international partners,” said Dr. W. Paul Quick, IRRI Principal Scientist and the lead project coordinator at IRRI’s C4 Rice Center.

This international collaborative project aims to enhance the heat and drought tolerance of rice plants while decreasing water loss and increasing water-use efficiency. In turn, this will make the crop survive and produce yield even in dry conditions. The success of this project would benefit farmers and improve food security in Asia.

The Newton Prize winners will be announced at celebratory award ceremonies held in each of the partner countries in November 2017. 

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

IRRI, GrainPro introduce advanced hermetic rice storage tech in Vietnam

In Vietnam, it is crucial that rice producers and traders learn more about effective rice storage techniques to preserve rice quality and increase its market value. One significant challenge among Vietnam farmers is proper rice storage and management to maintain its prime condition. Mismanagement of storage can lead to rice loss due to birds, rodents, and other animals, as well as grain quality deterioration. On the other hand, storing rice properly helps preserve its high quality while reducing its negative effects in the environment. It also enables farmers to gain a bigger profit margin.

To build awareness on effective and sustainable rice storage techniques, GrainPro and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) introduced the Ultra Hermetic Storage technology in Vietnam through a workshop titled "The Ultra Hermetic Storage: A seminar-workshop for ensuring Vietnam's rice quality". It was attended by government agencies, NGOs, and private sector representatives from big rice producers in the country.

Hermetic storage is a postharvest technology that is being used in many countries for the past 20 years. Because of the air-tight enclosure, it can reduce loss and preserve grain quality. It can also be operated without power, and does not require pesticides for fumigation.

“This workshop helped us understand best practices in storage management and gives us more options for our rice processing and business”, said Gentraco Corporation representative, Ho Chi Cong. Du Ngoc Bao Anh from the Loc Van Company added, “this new technology should be introduced to start-up business models supported by Vietnamese Government”.

Promoting this postharvest technology among Vietnam's rice farmers can allow them to store rice that are of export quality. But to make this possible, the Ultra Hermetic Storage technology must be disseminated broadly. To this end, the workshop provided an opportunity to identify potential collaborations for wide-scale distribution, as it gathered private companies and government staff in Vietnam.

The workshop was co-organized by Martin Gummert and Nguyen Van Hung of IRRI, Tom de Bruin of GrainPro, and Dr. Nguyen Thanh Nghi of Nong Lam University. It was held last 28 September at Nong Lam University, Ho Chi Minh.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Myanmar signs Seed Sharing Protocol Agreement

Myanmar has become the latest country to sign the Seed Sharing Protocol Agreement. The nation joined Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka in this initiative that allows signatories to rapidly distribute modern rice varieties across their borders. This will enable new, climate-resilient seed varieties to reach the fields of the farmers in a shorter amount of time, which in turn will secure their food supply and increase their income.

Signed on 10 October during a meeting of IRRI’s Board of Trustees in Myanmar, the agreement will establish common parameters for varietal release. Modern, climate-resilient rice varieties that withstand drought or salinity help vulnerable farmers establish a secure food supply for their families as well as added income that they can invest in their own future.

Standard regulatory systems for new rice varieties require multi-season testing to ensure performance, pest and disease resistance and consumption quality. While these processes are important for quality assurance, it is typically conducted independently by each country. As such, a variety released in one country is still required to go through a similar vetting process in a neighboring country, increasing the time to market these new rice varieties.

The expansion of the regional seed-sharing agreement to include Myanmar builds on the success of the existing South Asia Regional Seed Policy Agreement, which was signed in 2014 by the governments of Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. In its first 3 years, this agreement has enabled eight rice varieties to be released and shared across three countries.

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Myanmar Department of Agriculture Research hosts IRRI Board meetings

On 10 October, Dr. Aung Thu, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation in Myanmar, joined the Board of Trustees of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and senior leaders alongside members of the donor community to witness Myanmar becoming a signatory to the Seed Sharing Protocol Agreement.

The signing took place as part of a day-long set of activities co-hosted by the Myanmar Department of Agriculture Research (DAR) and IRRI in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

The Seed Sharing Protocol was first signed in Siem Reap in June, 2017 by the agriculture ministries of Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The protocol enables signatories to drastically speed up the distribution of modern rice varieties across their borders allowing new and better seeds to reach the hands and fields of farmers more rapidly. In just 3 years, eight rice varieties have already been released and shared across the three original member country signatories - Bangladesh, Nepal, and India.

The protocol signing ceremony was followed by a Donor Roundtable discussion. Attended by U Naing Kyi Win, Director General of Department of Agricultural Research as well as representatives from USAID, the Asian Development Bank, ACIAR, the Chinese Embassy, JICA and the World Bank, the session featured a series of presentations on donor strategies for agriculture in Myanmar.

U Kyaw Swe Linn, Deputy Director General of the Department of Agricultural Planning opened the session with a presentation on the goals and objectives for the agriculture sector of the Myanmar government.

“One of the key thrusts of the new IRRI Strategic Plan is a commitment to greater regionalization and actually embedding global expertise, locally so that researchers are able to work more closely with national partners and respond to local challenges,”  said Jim Godfrey, Chair of the IRRI Board of Trustees. He went on to say, “This session was very enlightening because it helped us to better understand the challenges and the opportunities that exist to support the Myanmar government closely as it strives to double its rice exports by 2020 and return to its preeminent position in the world’s rice trade.”

Earlier in the day, IRRI Trustees and senior leadership spent the morning at the Department of Agriculture Research where they were treated to a variety of traditional Myanmar rice-based delicacies. Information booths and a small demonstration of the sandalwood Thanaka were also available for those who wished to take advantage of the natural Myanmar sunscreen. The group then proceeded to view the DAR experimental rice fields where they were able to see several varieties selected and released by DAR including high zinc lines, IRRI variety trials, and the excellent farm management and support of IRRI’s field work.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IRRI Molecular biology staff receives award at 2017 functional genomics symposium

Mr. Dhananjay Gotarkar in front of the winning poster for
upstream category
Suwon, Korea -- During the International Symposium of Rice Functional Genomics, held last 25-28 September, staff members from the Plant Molecular Biology Laboratory of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), headed by Dr. Ajay Kohli, received an award for a poster presented in the upstream category.

Entitled “The Rice guanine deaminase negatively regulates a positive trait: evolutionary selection for root architecture,” the poster was presented by IRRI PhD scholar Dhananjay Gotarkar. He co-authored it with Dr. Kholi and their teammates Toshisangba Logkumer, Dhananjay Gotarkar, Kenneth Olsen, and Amrit Nanda.

The paper, from which the poster is based, covered the characterization of an amidohydrolase. It is a target gene of the NAM transcription factor, which is part of regulon-like QTL, DTY12.1-, which is a QTL for grain yield under drought. The amidohydrolase was found to be a guanine deaminase (GDA). This gene has not been characterized in plants until now and this discovery makes it the first reported Guanine deaminase in plants.

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IRRI presents climate-smart solutions for rice growers at Philippine-France Forum

Manila -- Climate change poses a risk to the agricultural sector, threatening food security and farmers well-being. Against this backdrop, the Philippine-France Forum on Agriculture on 26 September provided a venue for sharing of scientific and environmentally efficient strategies to address the effects of climate change.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) presented its projects that benefit rice farmers and consumers.  Matty Demont (photo), IRRI senior scientist and leader of the market research team, shared research being done on upgrading the rice value chain in the Philippines.

“Rice breeders need to tailor rice varieties to both market trends and the climate change. We also need to help rice farmers become more climate-resilient and competitive,” Demont said.

IRRI has developed and released climate-smart rice varieties that are drought-, flood-, and salt-tolerant to help farmers and communities cope with the adverse effects of climate change. Relevant and timely information on rice production is also important to boost productivity. IRRI works on widening farmers’ access to useful data through the Philippine Rice Information System (PRISM) project.

PRISM uses remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), crop modeling, smart phone-based surveys, and cloud computing to generate information on where, when, and how much rice is grown in the country and assess crop health and damages caused by flood and drought. IRRI’s scientist Alice Laborte and the project leader noted that involving the right partners is very crucial to this initiative’s success.

The Forum on Agriculture, held at the New World Manila Bay Hotel, was part of the celebration of the 70th anniversary of France and Philippines diplomatic relations. IRRI’s used the occasion as part of its commitment to share expertise to achieve food and nutrition security, improve the quality of life in rice-related communities, and protect the rice-growing environment for future generations.

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Rice industry stakeholders in Thailand learn about better postharvest management

On September 26-29, IRRI postharvest experts held training sessions in Chainat and Uttaradit provinces in Thailand. This training sought to improve rice quality through better postharvest technologies and practices. Participants were contract growers, rice mill owners, and machine operators.

Engineers Caling Balingbing and Joseph Sandro, IRRI mechanization and postharvest experts, conducted a 4-day training course for key stakeholders of the Kellogg’s-funded postharvest loss reduction project. This initiative aims to ensure high-quality rice for use in the company’s products. Techniques in rice harvesting systems were relayed through lectures and hands-on exercises, including basic operation and setting up the combine harvester to get an efficient output. Factors that affect the drying process were also discussed.

Engr. Balingbing showed the participants how to operate combine harvesters and explained the importance of correct machine settings in achieving the desired output. He also taught them how to measure losses from combine harvesting by using grain loss collection pads in the field.

“We hope that this training will equip the participants with the necessary skills and knowledge about the important principles of postharvest management of rice, particularly on combine harvesting and dryer operation," he noted. "This knowledge will help avoid huge losses of rice along the value chain. It will also help maintain the quality of milled rice products that reach the market, especially Kellogg’s customers.

Engr. Sandro discussed drying principles and talked about technical and environmental factors that affect drying. He also conducted a simple experiment that illustrated how different drying conditions affect rice quality.

Noppadol Saenpo, managing director of Asia Seed and Grain Production Co. Ltd., expressed his appreciation for the knowledge they gained and emphasized its role in enabling his staff to apply techniques in harvesting rice and minimizing losses in the field. “This training complements what the Thai Rice Department conducts whenever we have new staff ," he said.

The owner of Korat Yongsanguan Rice Mill remarked, “I am very much delighted upon knowing the process and conditions as to temperature and humidity to dry paddy with mechanical dryer to attain best quality of paddy for milling and storage.” He added that the knowledge he gained will be cascaded to his staff that are involved in rice mill operations.

In November and December, IRRI’s Mechanization and Postharvest Team will conduct two more training courses on storage and milling.

For more information about this initiative, contact the Mechanization and Postharvest Team at postharvest@irri.org.

Authors: Reianne Quilloy and Caling Balingbing

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Odisha rice farmers begin seed production training

One of IRRI’s most significant initiatives is to develop and distribute high-quality, high-yield seeds that can thrive in vulnerable environmental conditions. Working toward this mission, IRRI launched a project called “Increasing Production of Rice Based Cropping Systems and Farmer’s Income" in Odisha, India. This project aims to make high-quality seeds accessible in the region in order to raise rice productivity and farmers' income.

As part of the project, a training program on quality rice seed production and storage was held last 6 September in Puri, Odisha, in collaboration with local NGO Lutheran World Relief Services.

The training program will test and demonstrate the training modules for seed production and proper storage practices. Test results will be used to revise the existing modules on seed production, which farmers and other stakeholders can then use as a guide. The updated module will be distributed across Odisha, with IRRI aiming to reach 2,700 farmers in all 30 districts of the state.

Thirty-five delegates attended the training. Among the topics discussed by Dr. Survesh Shukla, Training and Communication Specialist, and his team were:
  • seed/grain quality,
  • seed cleaning and treatment
  • nursery preparation,
  • rouging at different crop stages, and
  • observations and actions needed at different production stages (i.e., harvesting, threshing, drying, postharvest, and storage).
Recommended seed cleaning and storage practices were also demonstrated to the participants. In addition, training materials, such as flipbooks and manuals, were distributed among the farmers. The flipbook is specifically designed for women, as the program also aims to enhance women's capacity and increase their involvement in the seed sector. Participants also engaged in an open forum wherein they shared their experiences, asked questions, and voiced their insights.

Other stakeholders such as Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), seed certification units, seed producers, and agriculture officials are expected to join the next round of trainings.

Authors: Manzoor H. Dar and Deepti Saksena 

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Former IRRI Board chair passes away

Dr. Angeline Kamba, 81, IRRI Board of Trustees Member from 1998 to 2003, died on September 12, 2017. A family representative stated that she “has passed peacefully at home after being unwell for over a month”. She is survived by two children and two grandchildren.

Dr. Kamba served as chair of the IRRI Board from 2002 to 2003, the first woman and African to serve in the position. Prior to this, she was Zimbabwe’s representative to UNESCO Commission on Culture and Development, and held other positions in different local and international agencies such as Zimbabwe’s National Archives and CAB International.

She is a terrible loss to the development industry, and we express our deepest condolences to her family.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

IRRI, ADB, stakeholders discuss climate-resilient agricultural practices in Bangladesh

There is a great need to quickly disseminate water-saving technologies to the farmers of Bangladesh, according to Md. Toufiqul Alam, additional secretary of the country's Ministry of Agriculture. 

With that goal, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) organized an inception meeting for the project, “Piloting of Climate-Resilient Agricultural Practices in Bangladesh” at Feni, 21-22 August. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss new knowledge from the launch of climate-resilient water-saving alternate wetting and drying agricultural practices. 

A work plan to solicit feedback from policymakers, experts, farmers, and other stakeholders associated with the implementation of the Muhuri Irrigation Project was recommended. Participants (photo) included the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), the Department of Agriculture and Extension (DAE), irrigation operators, and farmers. This project is part of ADB’s program on “Investment Assessment and Application of High-Level Technology for Food Security in Asia and the Pacific.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Putting rice straw waste to good use

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines―A two-day workshop focusing on research-based, sustainable rice straw management initiatives and viable market prospects for rice straw was held at the IRRI Headquarters, 8-9 August. The event, titled "Putting Waste to Good Use: Sustainable Rice Straw Management in the Philippines," brought together researchers from Philippine government agencies and state universities and private sector entrepreneurs.  

A rice byproduct, rice straw can potentially be useful in several ways. However, in the Philippines, it is deemed to have little to no commercial value. Thus, it is usually burned or incorporated into the soil. Finding optimal uses for rice straw and determining how to manage it in an environmentally friendly way can increase farmers' income.

Friday, August 11, 2017

India: Season-long training on rice cultivation under way in Odisha

To further disseminate information and technologies on rice production across Odisha, India, season-long training sessions on using a mat-type nursery and mechanical transplanting and other aspects of cultivation have been under way since 14 July. The first session focused on raising healthy rice seedlings and preparing a mat nursery. 

Organized by Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK)-Bhadrak of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology (Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India) in collaboration with Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia (CSISA), the program is composed of five training days for each session, which are covering each phase of rice cultivation. The other four sessions are tackling rice transplanting, weed management, pest and disease management, and harvesting.

Twenty village agricultural workers from the Department of Agriculture participated during the first training day. They were grouped into five, each of which was assigned a plot at the KVK experimental farm. This scenario allows them to conduct trials throughout the training period.

Dr. Aurovinda Das, senior scientist and program coordinator of KVK-Bhadrak, explained the objectives of the training program as well as its relevance in Bhadrak, Odisha. Scientists from CSISA and KVK discussed the technical aspects of the program and demonstrated the actual mat nursery preparation in the field.

Instructional leaflets containing guidelines on mat-type nursery management, manual transplanting, and best bet agronomy were distributed among trainees. All participants are expected to further train farmers, dealers, and members of NGOs in mat-type nursery management in Odisha, India. 

Establishing a modified mat nursery is the most popular training video that IRRI has ever produced with nearly 310,000 views.

Authors: Aurovinda Das, Debashis Nayak, Vivek Kumar, Panneerselvam Peramaiyan, and Ashok Kumar

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

IRRI bags Outstanding Research Award for biofortified indica rice study

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines ― IRRI's  Genetic Transformation Laboratory, headed by Dr. Inez Slamet-Loedin, was recognized at the Regional Science and Technology Week (RSTW) for its work on iron- and zinc-enriched indica rice. The study is regarded as a breakthrough in the battle against micronutrient deficiency.

IRRI's Genetic Transformation Laboratory Team receives an Outstanding Research Award from LBSCFI's PARRFI.

Titled "Biofortified Indica Rice Attains Iron and Zinc Nutrition Dietary Targets in the Field," the paper garnered the Outstanding Research and Development Award for the Research Category from the Los Baños Science Community Foundation, Inc.'s (LBSCFI) Philippine Agriculture and Resource Research Foundation, Inc. (PARRFI). LBSCFI's PARRFI grants this award to agricultural, forestry, and environmental projects that contribute to national development. The study was also recently published at Nature's Scientific Reports.

"The team is really excited to learn that we won the award. We feel honored that our continuous and persistent effort all these years was greatly appreciated. This recognition would certainly encourage the team to work with more spirit and more focus on developing healthier rice varieties for rice consumers," said Norman Oliva, one of the researchers.

The study successfully verified the proof of concept on attaining Fe/Zn nutritional targets under flooded field conditions. Genetically engineered rice has raised the levels of iron (up to 15 micrograms) and zinc (up to 45.7 micrograms). Generally, polished rice grains contain only around 2 micrograms of iron and 16 micrograms of zinc.

The RSTW, themed Science for the People: S&T in Harmony with Biodiversity, was organized by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Region IV and featured back-to-back activities with the LBSCFI.  Highlight of the celebration was the Syensaya's Wonderama, which showcased interactive urban-, marine-, agriculture-, and environment-related exhibits. Simultaneously, fora were also conducted, including the DOST CALABARZON Community Empowerment thru Science and Technology Forum and LBSCFI's Technology Forum on Water Security. The event was held on August 2-4.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Gelia T. Castillo (1928-2017): Helping science to serve a human purpose

                                                                                         Photos by Gene Hettel
By Gene Hettel

It is with deep sadness that the International Rice Research institute (IRRI) announces the passing of Dr. Gelia Tagumpay Castillo, 89, on Saturday, 5 August. Gelia, who was a Philippine National Scientist and long-time IRRI consultant, had been ill for some time.

Born on 3 March 1928 in Pagsanjan, Laguna, Philippines, she was an internationally respected rural sociologist. Her outstanding publications are major and definitive works on Philippine agricultural and rural development.

Her books include All in a Grain of Rice, known to be the first book written by a Filipino about the Filipino farmer's response to new technology, and Beyond Manila, cited as an in-depth and analytical study of the actual problems and needs of the rural areas in relation to countryside development. These works gave Filipinos insight on their own rural development efforts and their attempt to reach the farmer and the rural poor. Throughout her professional life, she was guided by the precept that “science must serve a human purpose.”

Gelia earned her AB (psychology), MS (rural sociology), and PhD (rural sociology) degrees, respectively, at the University of the Philippines (1948), Pennsylvania State University (1958), and Cornell University (1960).

She began her professional career as an instructor in psychology and sociology in the Department of Agricultural Education, College of Agriculture, University of the Philippines (UP, 1953-57). She went on to become an assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor of rural sociology at the UP College of Agriculture, respectively, 1960-66, 1966-72, and 1972-88). In 1988, she was appointed to the highest rank of university professor (one of the first six appointees to such a position at UP, which she held until her retirement in 1993). On 3 March 1993, she was appointed as professor emeritus.

In 1999, she was conferred the rank and title of National Scientist by the President of the Philippines. She also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the UP Alumni Association (1975), the Rizal Pro Patria Award (1976), and the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the UP College of Agriculture (1979).

Outside the Philippines, she was a teaching and research assistant and visiting professor in the Department of Rural Sociology, Cornell University, 1958-60 and 1966-67, respectively.

Gelia makes a point during IRRI's 2010 science review. 
At IRRI, she served as a visiting scientist in the Social Science Division during the mid-1980s and was a consultant to the Institute beginning in 1994 through to 2013. Recently made an IRRI scientist emeritus, she was truly the grande dame of the Institute community.

She was contributing her social science expertise to the early efforts of the Institute’s fledgling Agricultural Economics Department as far back as the 1960s. More than half a century later, she was still asking piercing questions at Thursday seminars and making pithy on-the-mark observations during IRRI’s annual scientific reviews, like this synopsis given at the conclusion of the 2010 review when she emphasized the importance of the Global Rice Science Partnership.

Her 2009 IRRI Pioneer Interview (depicted in the photo montage at the top) displayed her great enthusiasm, zest, and love for rice, rural sociology, and life itself.

IRRI Director General Matthew Morell noted: “Over recent years, Gelia continued to regularly attend events at IRRI and, despite her declining health, provided us with vibrant examples of intellectual vitality, lifelong curiosity, and passion for knowledge. She was a truly remarkable person.”

IRRI Director General Emeritus Robert Zeigler, who worked closely with Gelia during her final years at IRRI, recently stated, “She was a tireless champion for our relations with the national agricultural research systems. She always reminded me of how important training was and is for IRRI to remain relevant.”

Gelia is survived by three children, Evello (Bobby) Castillo, Gertrudes Castillo Holder, and Nina T. Castillo-Caradang; six grandchildren; and one great grandchild. She was preceded in death by her husband, Leopoldo S. Castillo, who was professor emeritus at the UP Institute of Animal Science.

In lieu of flowers, colleagues and friends may give a donation in honor of Gelia to the Philippine Sociological Society.

Listen to some of the speakers at a memorial service for Gelia attended by IRRI colleagues held on 9 August 2017 at the Resurrection Chapel of St. Therese on the UPLB campus in Los Baños, Laguna.

Other reports: GMA News | Philippine Sociological Society

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