Thursday, March 30, 2017

PhilRice, IRRI host training to help improve productivity of African rice farmers

Engr. Eugene Castro of IRRI Education welcomes the participants from Africa and the Philippines 
to the rice seed production training at the PhilRice Central Experiment Station.

MUÑOZ, Philippines—The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) Central Experiment Station in Nueva Ecija is currently hosting a training designed to provide participants with knowledge and skills in rice seed production and the promotion of quality seed among African farmers.

The specialized course on rice seed production and extension methods, a collaborative initiative of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its Philippine research partner PhilRice, runs from 6 March to 28 April. The course covers land and seedling preparation, planting, field problem diagnosis, harvesting, and postharvest practices. Extension methods and technology transfer strategies promoting the use of quality seeds will also be a key component of the program.  From 9 to 16 April, the participants will be at the IRRI headquarters in Laguna for some supplementary field, laboratory, and classroom activities.

There are 19 participants from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda attending the 8-week course. The participants were selected based on the work they do in their respective countries’ agricultural research institutions and public extension programs. Others represent non-government organizations, universities, and the private sector. In addition, 10 participants from the Philippine Department of Agriculture are also attending.

The training program is one of the activities under the Extension Capacity Development for Rice Food Security in Africa Project, which is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. This project stands alongside the rice value chain improvement initiatives of different members of the Coalition of African Rice Development and aims to contribute to the fulfillment of the respective national rice development strategies of its member countries.

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Myanmar farmers, extension agents join workshop on mechanized land leveling to boost agricultural development

Farmers from four townships covered by MyRice and CORIGAP projects attended the workshop on laser land leveling. They also shared the current best management practices they are trying out in their farms during a Learning Alliance meeting.

MAUBIN, Myanmar—The Ayeyarwaddy Delta, the rice bowl of Myanmar, is endowed with vast land and water resources. However, traditional practices prevent smallholder farmers from achieving optimal rice yields. Increasing farmers’ incomes and productivity require technological innovations such as laser land leveling.

“The precision land leveling using laser-guided system is a technology option that provides a more even land surface resulting in improved crop productivity through reduced irrigation water, chemical input, and more uniform crop growth,” said Engr. Caling Balingbing, an agricultural engineer from the Postharvest and Mechanization Unit at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Balingbing was one of the experts tapped for a laser land leveling demonstration in Maubin on 23 March.  About 60 farmers, extension agents, and private sector and non-government organization personnel from Daik-U, Hlegu, Maubin, and Letpadan Townships participated in the demonstration as an option for better crop management.  The activity is part of the Learning Alliance, which brings varied stakeholders with similar interests to assess and develop ways to optimize the use of rice-based technologies and practices.

“This event is a great opportunity to interact with NGOs, the private sector, Department of Agriculture, and farmers from other townships,” said Romeo Labios, IRRI scientist and agronomist in Myanmar. “Taking advantage of the Learning Alliance platform, stakeholders can discuss how these technologies from IRRI can provide efficient use of land and water resources and other farm inputs to increase productivity and get a better income. They can learn from each other’s experiences and interact with our private sector guests how you can use this and other technologies.”

“Just by observing the field, I can immediately see the difference and the benefit of laser-guided land leveling it will bring to my farm,” said U Shwe Toe, a  rice and pulse farmer leader from Maubin. “I want to use this immediately; I hope that we can come up with ways to own these technologies.”

“This is a good initiative that helped farmers understand the benefit of the technology,” said Dr. Myo Aung Kyaw from Pioneer Agrobiz, Inc. “From the discussions, they are really convinced that this technology would really work well on their farms.”

Other IRRI experts at the laser land leveling demonstration were Yan Lin Aung, agricultural engineer, and Su Su San and Hlwan-Oo, assistant scientist and researcher, respectively at the IRRI Myanmar office.

The event was organized by Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprints (CORIGAP-PRO) and MyRice project. CORIGAP-PRO  is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, while MyRice is funded by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Role of mechanization in sustainable rice production highlighted during international exhibit

Martin Gummert, IRRI's postharvest and mechanization expert,
talks about the impact of mechanizing rice harvest. 

BANGKOK, Thailand— “There is a need to mechanize the rural areas to increase productivity as that is a key driver for change in the rice sector,” Dr. Bas Bouman, the director of a global partnership platform for making rice research more effective in meeting development challenges.

The leader of the CGIAR Research Program on Rice (RICE) made the statement at the AGRITECHNICA Asia, a trade fair for agricultural machinery and equipment held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Center on 15-17 March.

Bouman, an expert on sustainable agricultural development and food security at IRRI, presented IRRI’s mission to combat poverty, food security, health and environmental issues, and promote sustainable rice production.

“Mechanization should benefit farmers to have a better life and income and make good quality rice available in the market,” he said. Bouman also rallied the audience to take part in the sustainable rice platform in order to help small farmers maintain productivity while minimizing the environmental and social footprint.

Bouman was joined by his colleagues who discussed other issues at the exhibit’s series of seminars on the role of mechanization in sustainable rice production. Engr. Martin Gummert, IRRI’s expert in postharvest technologies, presented the advantages and drawbacks in mechanizing rice harvest (in photo).

“The rice combine harvester is a game-changing technology that made wetter grains available in big volume at harvest seasons putting pressure on the traditional postharvest system, especially grain drying,” he said.  “Combine harvesters solve the problem of labor shortage and harvesting cost can be lowered by up to 60%.

“However, unlike manual harvesting, combines leave rice straw in the field causing new problems,” Gummert added.

For every 4 tons of rice grain, 6 tons of straw are produced. In Asia, this amounts to about 550 million tons of straw.  Farmers usually dispose of the rice straw by burning or by incorporating the byproduct into the soil.

“Both practices of burning and incorporating in the field have adverse impacts on human health and the environment through smoke and greenhouse gas emission, respectively,” said Dr. Bjoern Ole Sander, a climate change specialist at IRRI, as he discussed the effects of a changing climate on rice production and the environmental impacts of farmers’ practices in managing the rice straw after harvest. Sander proposed a combination of limited straw incorporation combined with the straw collection and off-field use as a climate-friendly alternative.

Dr. Nguyen Van Hung,  a research scientist working on rice postharvest and byproduct management at the institute, also provided workable options in managing the massive amounts of rice straw from the use of combine harvesting and how farmers can earn additional income while ensuring environmental sustainability and protecting the health of people in the community.

“We are using life cycle assessment of different rice straw management practices to help identify sustainable straw management practices and provide recommendations to policy makers,” he said.

Engr. Carlito Balingbing presented the numerous advantages of laser-assisted land leveling technology and the many benefits that small rice farms have gained since it was introduced by IRRI in Asia in 1996. Laser land leveling is a climate-smart agriculture practice that helps conserve resources while increasing yields and farmers’ incomes. The benefits from a laser level fields include efficient water use, better weed and nutrient management, uniform crop maturity, among others.

The current trends in contract farming and the different strategies for promoting sustainable rice in the market through appropriate packaging and labeling were covered by Dr. Matty Demont, the lead of IRRI’s market and value chain research team.

“Survey results from Vietnam on customers’ preferences show that there is a market for sustainably produced rice,” he concluded. “It is very encouraging to observe that urban Vietnamese consumers are willing to pay price premiums up to 30% for sustainably produced rice when the product is accompanied by information on its production standards and traceability.”

The seminars led to enthusiastic discussions between IRRI and other organizations.

“We will develop further projects related to sustainable rice production using the updated information on rice straw management,” said Dr. Juejan Tangtermthong, the regional advisor on monitoring & evaluation at Better Rice Initiative Asia.

Dr. Mayling Flores Rojas, an agricultural systems mechanization officer at the Food and Agricultural Organization, also expressed interest in developing collaborative activities with IRRI, particularly in mechanization and postharvest technologies.

The AGRITECHNICA seminar series on the role of mechanization in sustainable rice production was organized by the German Agricultural Society (DLG) in collaboration with IRRI’s Postharvest and Mechanization Unit and GIZ through the ASEAN Sustainable Agrifood System.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sustainable rice production is critical to environmental conservation

Dr. Grant Singleton, rodent ecologist and CORIGAP-PRO coordinator, discusses some of IRRI's contribution to environmental conservation. 

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—“As the rising global population demands for more food, there is also increasing pressure in producing rice sustainably,” said Grant Singleton during a lecture on environmental conservation at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

“People, especially students, should be aware and concerned about the need to improve rice production," Singleton said. "The poor use of pesticides and other inputs can have an adverse effect on our environment and human health. We have a toolbox that will increase rice production in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Singleton, a principal scientist and rodent ecologist at the International Rice Research Institute, was one of the notable speakers from different fields of environmental research at Overshoot: The Earth is an apple I can consume for a day, a seminar series organized by the UP Ecology and Systematics Major Students Society.  The seminar, held on 13 March, featured the insights of experts on overconsumption and exploitation of natural resources practices and the potential solutions for sustainable growth and development.

Singleton discussed the research activities of the CORIGAP-PRO (Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint) project in alleviating poverty and improving food security and gender equity of small rice farmers in an environmentally sustainable manner.  The project conducts adaptive research with rice farmers in demonstrating, testing, and validating the best management practices for sustainable rice production in major granaries in Asia.  Some of these include One Must Do, Five Reductions in Vietnam, the Three Controls Technology in China, the cost reductions initiative in Thailand, and integrated crop management in Indonesia. CORIGAP-PRO aims to sustainably increase rice yield by 10% for 500,000 smallholder farmers in Asia by 2020.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Biometrics training to enhance researchers’ skills in crop research

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Twenty-one researchers and graduate students from eight countries attended a training on biometrics to improve their skills in analyzing data in crop research. Their new knowledge is expected to guide them in making appropriate conclusions and recommendations to different stakeholders.

Basic Experimental Design and Data Analysis (BEDDA), developed by the Biometrics Group at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), aims to teach the participants in planning and managing their own research investigation. It covers the principles of experimental design, randomization and analysis of basic experimental designs for crop research, and simple correlation and regression analysis. The course uses a combination of lectures, group discussion, and hands-on exercises via the Statistical Tool for Agricultural Research (STAR), a user-friendly software developed by the group.

Held at IRRI headquarters on 6-10 March, BEDDA was headed by Ms. Alaine Gulles, senior specialist, and Ms. Rose Imee Zhella Morantte, specialist.

BEDDA is one of the courses offered by the Biometrics Group. Similar courses are also available such as the Design and Analysis of Breeding Trials (DABT) conducted with the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) for the Transforming Rice Breeding - BRRI project held in Gazipur early this year.

The next DABT using the Plant Breeding Tools (PBTools) software will be held in May. For more details please see

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Rice-fish farming could help boost farmers’ income in Myanmar’s “rice bowl”

H.E. Senator Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells and party consult farmer beneficiaries, 
DoA and DoF partners. (Photo by Hnin Thiri Naing).

MAUBIN Township, Myanmar—Aquaculture production in rice-based cropping systems could potentially boost farmers' productivity, income, and nutrition in the Ayeyarwaddy Region, the country’s main rice-producing area.

Funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the 12-month mini rice-fish project aims to assess the potential of integrated rice-fish business models to increase the income of farmers in the disadvantaged flood-prone areas of the Ayeyarwady Delta.

“I am happy to see that farmers are benefiting from the investment provided by the Australian government in improving food security in Myanmar,” said H.E. Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells, Minister of International Development and the Pacific. The Minister, along with Mr. Nicholas Coppel Australian, ambassador to Myanmar, and other Australian officials visited the site in Tar Pat West Village on 14 March.

H.E. Senator Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells and other Australian officials visit the rice-fish trial project site in Tar Pet West Village. (photo by Hnin Thiri Naing).

The mini rice-fish project is led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in collaboration with WorldFish, the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Department of Fisheries (DoF).

“It promotes the use of new high-yielding stress-tolerant rice varieties, new techniques in rice farming, and best management practices while raising fish in the same area,” said Dr. Romeo Labios, an IRRI scientist and agronomist in Myanmar.

“The rice field may be deliberately stocked with fish as in our study or enter the fields from the surrounding water ways when flooding occurs or both,” explained Dr. Manjurul Karim, the program manager of WorldFish.

Fish yields can range widely from 350-1000 kg/ha/season depending on the type of rice-fish systems, species present, and the management, according to Karim.The fish provides a source of protein and farm income.

During the visit, the Minister had the opportunity to interact with some of the target beneficiaries of the project, many of them were women farmers. She found that, while most male farmers’ are mainly interested in growing rice, all the women farmers showed great interest in the rice–fish system for the nutritional value of the fish as a dietary component, as well as the extra income from selling their fish harvest.

“I hope that the fish harvest from the project could help the nutrition requirement of the family,” H.E. Fierravanti-Wells said. She is also looking forward to outcomes from a larger rice-fish study funded by ACIAR that planned to begin in July.

U Aung Kyaw, a participating farmer in the rice-fish project, informed the Minister that he will invite other farmers to visit his farm before and during harvest and explain the benefits of the rice-fish systems. He plans to expand the system in his 6-hectare farm next season.

“The DoF also plans to apply the new techniques of rice-fish systems on a larger scale in areas where it is applicable,” said U Tin Mg Oo, DoF Maubin District Manager.

In addition to the rice-fish production, the Australian officials were also briefed about the Solar Tunnel Dryer for fish and the Solar Bubble Dryer for rice, two postharvest technologies developed by IRRI and the University of Hohenheim in Germany that prevent smallholder farmers from losing large portions of their harvests.

Ms. Su Su San explains the advantages of drying the harvested fish using the Solar Tunnel Dryer. (Photo by Hnin Thiri Naing)

Unlike traditional sun-drying, the Solar Tunnel Dryer protects the fish from dust, flies and other insects,” said Ms. Su Su San, an IRRI assistant scientist in Myanmar. “Farmers do not need pesticides to control insects. It can use battery and solar panel as its power source and can be used to dry other product like chili and fruits.”

Mr. Yan Linn Aung, a postharvest development specialist, explained the benefits and advantages of Solar Bubble Dryer for rice.  The dryer minimizes the effects of unpredictable weather during the drying of the grains.  It also traps solar radiation to heat the paddy while ventilators push the moisture out.

“This field visit provided me additional knowledge on the technologies IRRI and World Fish have developed on-farm,” said Ambassador Coppel.

The IRRI Team is led by Dr. Labios with Dr. Jongsoo Shin, Mr. Aung Myo Thant, Mr. Aung, Ms. San, and Ms.Tin Tin Myint. The WorldFish team is led by Dr. Karim with Dr. Nilar Shein.

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International food and agri conference focuses on innovative ways to ensure enough and safe food for all

Dr. Bruce Tolentino talks about IRRI's work and challenges faced in rice science at one of the plenary sessions of the International Conference on Food and Agriculture.

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna—“We have reached the physical frontier for food production, so we must now stretch our imagination and use our knowledge in search of new frontiers that would help us find better, innovative ways to ensure that there is enough and safe food for all,” said Dr. Fortunato Dela Peña, secretary of the Philippine Department of Science and Technology, during the first International Conference on Food and Agriculture (ICFA).

ICFA, held at the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture on 2-3 March, was convened to provide a platform for dialogue on issues, exploring options, and nurturing partnerships, especially on research collaboration. The conference was divided into these sub-themes: food security, poverty and development, climate change consequences on agricultural and food production systems, globalization and regional integration, human capital development, and innovation and technology. About 140 participants from different countries attended the conference, which centered on the theme Sharing Knowledge, Creating Solutions: Capacitating Stakeholders of Agriculture for Future Earth.

Dela Peña stressed the importance of research results being used to improve conditions for food and agriculture in developing countries with increasing population and the declining capacity of natural resources to sustain our basic industries.

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general for communication and partnerships at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), explained the importance of research in making rice production sufficient, especially for the marginalized people. Tolentino cited IRRI’s research on improved rice varieties that can withstand drought, submergence, and salinity, among others.

“The poorest of the poor are benefiting the most from the newer discoveries,” he said. “Rice is the oldest food crop, which is eaten by 70% of the world’s poor. If you improve the crop, both in yield as well as in health, you’re helping a lot of poor people. If you look at the histories of countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, and China, you’ll see that as the rice sectors bloomed, so did their economies.”

In addition to food security, Dr. Howarth Bouis, founding director of HarvestPlus and visiting fellow at IRRI, advocated reducing mineral and vitamin deficiencies through biofortification research and dissemination. Presently, more than 100 varieties of eight biofortified crops have passed agronomic tests of varietal release committees in 30 developing countries.

 “We have proven that biofortification works,” Bouis said. “Now the big job is dissemination and mainstreaming.”

Dr. Mohd Nordin Bin Hasan, professor emeritus of the Institute for Environment and Development at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and chair of the Regional Advisory Committee for Future Earth Asia, was the other keynote speaker at ICFA. Bin Hasan described Future Earth as the new international platform for research on global sustainability. It aims to promote and enhance the conduct of integrated research on challenges in global change and transformations to sustainability.

Future Earth was designed to respond to the need for a more nimble innovation system for global sustainability in the face of increasing rates of change and depletion of global resources, according to Dr. Bin Hasan.

More than 80 research results were presented during the 2-day conference. Among them was that of IRRI senior scientists David Johnson and Reiner Wassmann who discussed raising productivity and reducing risks in fragile rice environments in the face of climate change. They presented the concept of climate-smart agriculture that merges adaptation and mitigation into a comprehensive approach to help rice farmers cope with the changing climate. This includes adopting more resilient rice varieties and using alternate wetting and drying technology, a simple but effective means for conserving water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30-70%.

ICFA was organized by the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics of the College of Economics and Management, University of the Philippines Los Baños.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Farmer welfare and consumer health are keys to rice sector development in the Asia-Pacific Region

Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general on communication and partnerships, 
leads the discussion during the rice working group panel of the 2017 Responsible Business Forum.

JAKARTA, Indonesia—More than 600 decision makers from public, private, and developmental sectors participated in the 4th Responsible Business Forum (RBF) on Food and Agriculture to establish innovative and collaborative approaches to food and nutrition security in the Asia-Pacific Region. Held on 13-15 March, this year’s theme is Securing Asia’s Food and Nutrition Future: Enhancing Access to Finance, Technology, Knowledge, and Markets.

“These twin objectives need to be met simultaneously in order to help both farmers as well as consumers,” said Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and chair of the panel on rice at the RBF. “For its part, IRRI is working on the science solutions to not only tackle improved rice yields but to also enhance rice nutrition and quality.”

Representatives of business, governments, international developmental agencies, and farmers attended the event and will produce actionable recommendations for increasing productivity through agricultural sustainability, product innovation for food safety and nutrition, and collaboration along the entire food chain.

The guests of honor and speakers at the 4th RBF included Indonesian Minister for National Development and Planning Bambang Brodjonegoro, Indonesian Land and Spatial Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil, Permanent Secretary of Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Tin Htut, and Philippine Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Research institutions trained to bring web-based rice productivity app to Indonesian farmers

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—A capacity-building program was held to help Indonesian research institutions disseminate the Weather-Rice-Nutrient Integrated Decision Support System (WeRise) to farmers faster and more effectively. WeRise is a web-based app developed to help farmers plan their cropping season by providing advisories on the best time to plant, suitable varieties to use, and timing of fertilizer application based on rainfall distribution and other weather factors.

The program was conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)-Japan Collaborative Research Project on Climate Change Adaptation through Development of a Decision-Support tool to guide Rainfed Rice production (CCADS-RR) for its research partners. The training focused on helping the participants learn the logical components of WeRise to enable them to disseminate the technology more effectively and improve farmer’s welfare and contribute to the rice self-sufficiency program of the Indonesian government.

An important output of the activity was an action plan drafted by the participants to disseminate WeRise. In the process, risk analysis and identification of contingency plans were also undertaken. On-site and on-farm experiments are being conducted in West Nusa Tenggara, West Java and South Sulawesi to validate WeRise in the context of Indonesia’s rainfed rice areas.

“I hope that the training not only built your capacity but also fostered a greater sense of ownership for WeRise,” said Dr. Keiichi Hayashi, CCADS-RR coordinator and IRRI soil scientist. He also encouraged the participants to focus on getting success stories as they implement the action plan as part of their institutional mandates.

 “Finding extensionists and farmer leaders who will be willing to participate in the dissemination activities for WeRise could be a challenge,” said  Lia Hadiawati, a participant from the Assessment Institute for Agricultural Technology—West Nusa Tenggara. “But a lot of things could be learned along the way.”

The training was held at the IRRI headquarters on 23 January to 24 February with funding support from the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries of Japan through the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace under the On-the-Job Research Capacity Building for Sustainable Agriculture in Developing Countries program.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Second phase of global research partnership for strengthening rice production worldwide kicks off

RICE Independent Steering Committee

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Around 40 scientists from major partner institutions participated in the kickoff meeting for the CGIAR Research Program on rice agri-food systems (RICE) at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters on 6-8 March. RICE, the second phase of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), provides a single strategic plan and unique new partnership platform for impact-oriented rice research for development. It streamlines current rice research for development activities of the CGIAR and aligns them with more than 900 rice research and development partners worldwide.

Scientists from the Africa Rice Center, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement (Cirad),  Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD),  Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences as well as representatives from the CG System Management Office attended the RICE inception workshop. Along with IRRI scientists, the participants conducted a detailed planning of the 2017 activities under the flagship projects. They also reviewed the theory of change, updated the list of outputs and outcome milestones, and discussed several cross-cutting issues such as gender; capacity development; monitoring, evaluation,  learning (ML&E); impact assessment; communication; open access; publications; cross-CRP collaboration/site integration; and intellectual asset management.

The RICE Program Planning and Management Team, represented by deputy director generals and senior scientists from the partner centers and the flagship project leaders also discussed budgetary and operational issues. On 9-10 March, the RICE Independent Steering Committee (ISC) convened to review the GRiSP experience and the terms of reference of the new ISC.  The ISC is composed of seven external experts; representatives from the respective Board of Trustees of IRRI, AfricaRice, and CIAT; and the director generals of IRRI and AfricaRice. The committee assessed the targets, indicators, milestones, and budget of the flagship projects and cross-cutting activities. The ISC will formulate recommendations and continue to monitor activities under RICE.

For more information about RICE, please read Continuing global partnership through rice.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

UPLB rice varietal improvement team wins outstanding research team award

The UPLB Rice Varietal Improvement Team receives the 2016 outstanding research team award.
LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The Rice Varietal Improvement Team (RVIT) of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) received the 2016 outstanding research team award during UPLB’s 108th Foundation Day on 6 March. 

Since 2011, the RVIT Team has introduced five rice varieties, which are products of hybridization and selection adapted to rainfed lowland rice ecosystems and drought conditions. These varieties have been certified by the National Seed Industry Council (NSIC) of the Philippines and are commercially available as NS Rc276 (Sahod Ulan 4), NSIC Rc282 (Sahod Ulan 7), NSIC Rc286 (Sahod Ulan 9), NSIC Rc398 (Tubigan 34), and NSIC Rc 418 (Sahod Ulan 14).  In 2009, the team, in collaboration with the Philippine Rice Research Institute, released NSIC Rc204H (Mestiso 20), the first two-line hybrid rice in the country. The RVIT continues to pursue developing superior rice varieties, which is a task that began in the 1960s. 

The RVIT Team is led by Dr. Jose Hernandez of the Institute of Plant Breeding and is composed of Teresita Borromeo, Pompe Sta. Cruz, Danilo Lalican, Senen Escamos, Sancho Bon, Ernesto Cayaban, Jr., Ann Mylalulex Magnaye, Katrina Malabanan-Bauan, Alfredo Sinohin, Ester Magsino, Fe Alzona, Angelina Felix, Melissa Pino, Edna Mercado, Juan Mateo, Loreto Caoagdan, Romeo Juarez, and Bernalito Nuñez. 

(With reports from The UPLB Horizon 2017-01)

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Australian-funded projects are helping Myanmar rice farmers improve their livelihood and income

Farmers and DoA and DoF partners hold a consultation meeting to talk about the impact of the ACIAR-funded projects. (Photo by Aung Myo Thant)

MAUBIN TOWNSHIP, Myanmar—Rice farmers in Ayeyarwady  and Bago Regions are reaping the benefits from the adoption of new improved rice varieties, best crop management practices and post-harvest management introduced through two collaborative projects funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The projects focus on improving farmers' profitability and the productivity of rice-rice and rice-pulse cropping systems and promotes a system where fish are grown concurrently with rice.

On 27 February, Mr. Andrew Campbell, the chief executive officer of ACIAR, members of ACIAR’s Commission for International Agricultural Research, and Ms. Esther Sainsbury, first secretary of Australian Embassy in Myanmar visited the project sites in Maubin Township and met with some of the beneficiaries of the projects.

In Tar Pet West Village, Maubin Township, the officials visited the mini rice-fish project, a 12-month project led by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in collaboration with World Fish, the Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Department of Fisheries. The Commissioners also met with farmers and DoA partners involved in the Diversification and intensification of rice-based systems in lower Myanmar (MyRice) project. The project showcased the lightweight rice thresher, hermetic seed storage systems, a seeder for pulses, the Solar Bubble Drier for rice, and the Solar Tunnel Drier for fish.

ACIAR officials visit the rice-fish trial project site In Tar Pet West Village. (Photo by Su Su San)

“I am pleased to see the work of IRRI and WorldFish on-the-ground as well as the positive responses and benefits garnered by farmers in the community,” said Sainsbury.

Farmers from several villages in Maubin shared their experiences with the best management practices (BMPs) for rice-rice, rice-pulse, rice-fish systems; the Learning Alliance; and the business models of MyRice, and the impact of the project on their livelihoods.

“The project enhanced the knowledge and experience of our technicians while farmers benefited significantly from the improved technologies and best management practices (BMP) for rice-rice and rice-pulse production and post-production,” said U Theik Soe, DoA District Manager.

The team also visited the farmers’ 2-hectare seed production area for Yaenelo 7, a drought-tolerant rice variety suited for the summer cropping season, and the 5-hectare BMP showcase for summer rice. The BMPs include improved varieties (Yaenelo 4 and Yaenelo 7), drum seeder for row planting, and improved nutrient, pest, and weed management.

“I could make more money by selling seeds since the price is higher than grain,” said U Kyaw Thu, a farmer and seed producer.

“Because of higher yields and lower input costs (in BMPs), I am able to earn more money,” said U Thaung Win. “I was able to buy television and solar panels from extra money from 2016 monsoon harvest. I was also able to send my children to school for longer than I had planned.”

“I am happy to see that IRRI  and WorldFish works together and produce effective achievements on-the-ground in Myanmar,” said Campbell.

The ACIAR Commissioners included Don Heatley (Commission Chairman), Catherine Marriot, Lucinda Corrigan, Tony Gregson, John Cook. Other accompanying delegates were Eleanor Dean (general manager, Outreach and Capacity Building), Peter Horne (general manager, Country Programs), Suzanne Gaynor (executive officer), Maree Livermore (executive officer, Country Programs), Dulce Simmanivong (regional manager), Ohnmar Khaing and Myo Thura (ACIAR Myanmar program manager and program coordinator, respectively).

The IRRI Team for MyRice is led by Dr. Grant Singleton with Dr. Romeo Labios, U Aung Myo Thant, U Yan Linn Aung, Daw Su Su San, and Daw Tin Tin Myint.

The World Fish Team is led by Dr. Michael Akester with Drs. Manjurul Karim and Xavier Simon André Tezzo.

The International Water Management Institute was represented by Dr. Robyn Johnston.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

IRRI empowers women to be bold and positive agents of change

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—No society, let alone an organization, has successfully overcome challenges and thrive without the contribution of women. For this reason, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) embraced the theme of this year's International Women's Day (IWD),  be bold for change, during the IRRI’s annual IWD celebration on 8 March.

“IWD is a celebration of economic, political, and social achievements of women,” said Dr. Ranjitha Puskur (photo, right),  lead of the Gender Research Program at IRRI. “We work in an organization that works not just towards a prosperous world but towards a just and equal world."

“Gender equality is in the interest of economies, societies, organizations,  men, women and,  children,” she added. “We cannot fully empower women unless we engage men and boys.”

Recent estimates by The World Economic Forum say that it will take another 170 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, according to Puskur. However, we can catalyse and accelerate change in our own spheres of control and influence and not have to wait 170 years. And we can do that irrespective of whether we are men or women, young or old."

The issues are complex. Family responsibilities are not the only factors that complicate things. For instance, women have a tendency to systematically underestimate their own abilities.

"Men attribute their success to themselves and women attribute it to other external factors,” explained Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook in a  recorded video message (TED Talk) shared during the IWD celebration. “If you asked men why they did a good job, they'll say, ‘I'm awesome, obviously, why are you even asking?’ If you ask women why they did a good job, they'll say, ‘someone helped them, they got lucky, or they worked really hard.”

She also cited the numbers: out of 190 heads of state, only 9 are women; of all the people in parliament around the world, 13% are women; in the corporate sector, women at the top reaches only 15-16%.  “Even in the nonprofit sector—a world many people like to think of as being led by more women—women at the top are only 20%,” Sandberg pointed out.

What does it truly mean to achieve a gender-equal workplace and how do we close the gender gap?

“My grandmother used to say that privilege is invisible to those who have it,” said Dr. George Kotch (photo, left), head of IRRI Plant Breeding.  “The other thing she told me is that God doesn't help those who don't help themselves. I think there's a call for empowerment because what we have within institutions, in a general comment, is that those who are privileged really do not know that they are privileged. What we have to do is create a brand that can break through that.”

“The IRRI brand, for example, is not only leadership but also in the way we work,” he said. “That's one of the things that IRRI will work to strive for, from a personal perspective, people need to be bold and rise and make noise. From an IRRI perspective, we have to make an example to everybody within the global rice community that the way we work here is different. There is a lot of responsibility not only in the science, but on the leadership on how things get better.”

“In the end, a gender-friendly, gender-balanced IRRI is the face we want to show to the world,” said Christine Croombes (photo, right), director of human resources services at IRRI. “Let us be the shining mirror in which our work can be reflected. We must look to the future and take positive steps to encourage equality for both genders and provide support for each other as and when we need it. In the spirit of IWD, we have to find it within ourselves to be bold for change.”


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Asian researchers “test drive” new web-based app that helps farmers produce environmentally sustainable rice

Dr. Ando M. Radanielson, one of the developers of the field calculator application, explains the process to a workshop participant as they input field data into the online tool. 

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—More than 50 researchers from Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and the Philippines tested a web-based decision tool that calculates the sustainability of farmers’ practices  and  best management approaches in rice production. Known as the field calculator, the tool collects farmer field data and measures it against 12 sustainability indicators defined by the Sustainable Rice Platform.

“The field calculator can be used to determine whether adopting a certain technology or combination of technologies and management approaches is economically and environmentally sustainable,” said Dr. Sarah Beebout, leader of the field calculator development team of the Closing rice yield gaps with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP) project.

“It gives a visual summary of the technologies’ environmental, economic, and social impacts, allowing users to make sound recommendations and decisions in different locations for each planting season,” added Beebout, who is also a soil scientist at the International Rice research Institute (IRRI).

The researchers tested the field calculator during a workshop on 23–24 February at IRRI headquarters. The workshop was organized by the CORIGAP project, which officially started its second phase in 2017.

The participants were composed of national agricultural research and extension partners of CORIGAP, as well as scholars and staff from the International Rice Research Institute. Using their own field data, the researchers provided extensive feedback on scientific, navigational, and design issues of the application. A strategic plan was developed for testing the tool in farmers’ fields in different countries as well as turning the alpha version of the field calculator into the beta version.

“We are happy that this workshop enabled us to collect feedback based on users’ experience,” said Dr. Ando Radanielson, member of the field calculator development team and an expert in cropping systems modelling at IRRI. “We will prioritize the improvement recommendations and begin field testing it in coordination with CORIGAP extension partners.”

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Top Philippine university becomes steward of world's largest aquatic fern collection

Azolla, the unassuming tiny aquatic fern, has surprisingly several valuable uses.  (Photo by Niño Banayo, IRRI)

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—The world's largest collection of aquatic fern (Azolla) from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is being transferred to the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB). IRRI’s collection, which includes about seven species of Azolla from 50 countries in the world, will be under the stewardship of UPLB’s Crop Science Cluster of the College of Agriculture and Food Science, whose dean, Dr. Enrico Supangco, will be receiving the collection in a turnover rite on 8 March.

"Azolla is a largely untapped resource that needs to be further understood in both its simplicity and complexity, “ said IRRI agronomist Yoichiro Kato. “It is possibly one of nature's most ingenious inventions and curious gifts to humanity."

UPLB will share the Azolla collection with the Philippine Rice Research Institute and students, researchers, farmers, and other interested stakeholders, according to Niño Banayo, an IRRI agronomist, who co-managed IRRI's Azolla collection.  Some samples of the Azolla species from the collection were also sent to the Dr. Cecilia Koo Botanic Conservation Center (KBCC) in Taiwan, a Noah's ark of tropical plants.

IRRI started collecting Azolla in 1976 as part of studies on using and enhancing biological nitrogen fixation. The Azolla collection includes natural populations, hybrids, and mutants that cannot be recovered from nature. The aquatic legumes collection protects germplasm that grows in fragile wetland environments threatened by loss and genetic erosion.

Despite its small size, Azolla has a number of uses: biofertilizer, livestock feed, and source of renewable energy. Many species are also edible and are rich in protein and essential amino acids. In fact, some scientists investigated the potential of Azolla for space agriculture and as a super food crop for colonial habitation in Mars.

Dr. Supangco (seated) signs an agreement transferring stewardship of the world's largest aquatic fern collection from IRRI to UPLB. Also in photo: (from left)  Dr. Joe Hernandez, Dr. Pearl Sanchez, Prof. Teresita Borromeo, Dr. Edna Aguilar, Dr. Rex Demafelis from UPLB and Drs. Jacqueline Hughes, Yoichiro Kato, Crisanta  Bueno, Bruce Tolentino and Mr. Niño Banayo of IRRI.

Incredibly, Azolla is able to double its biomass every two or three days. It can also capture and fix nitrogen from the air, making it an ideal biological fertilizer for any other food crops like rice. Besides nitrogen, the plant is also very effective at capturing and fixing atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02), a known greenhouse gas.

This amazing ability is uniquely associated with an event believed to have happened some 49 million years ago that reversed Earth's warm climate into the present icehouse state it is in today. This same event in the past may well hold the key to reversing a reliably unpredictable climate by sequestering greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Myanmar agriculture ministry implements project to increase the yield of poor rice farmers

Dr. Tin Htut, MOALI Permanent Secretary, sets the agenda for the workshop on a project that aims to increase rice yield and cropping intensity of small farmers in Myanmar.

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar—The Myanmar agriculture ministry implemented a project that focuses on increasing the yield of small rice farmers, particularly women, ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable groups in Myanmar.

On 23 February, Dr. Tin Htut, Permanent Secretary of the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation (MOALI), and more than 20 representatives from the World Bank, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and MOALI participated in a workshop to begin the implementation of the Myanmar Agricultural Development Support Project (ADSP).

Irrigation problems have long been preventing Myanmar’s farmers from increasing their rice yield and cropping intensity. ADSP aims to make irrigated agriculture in small farms (0.8 hectares or less) more profitable, diversified, and sustainable through participatory activities and improved management approaches.  The target beneficiaries are expected to take active roles in planning and decision making on cropping systems, water allocation and distribution, and on-farm water management.

ADSP is a seven-year project (2015-2021) supported by the World Bank. IRRI will be involved for three years (2017-2019) to provide expertise in building the capacity of the country to develop climate-smart rice technologies and natural resource management options and strengthen the pathways toward increased adoption of the new technologies by the stakeholders.

“IRRI’s past and current activities in the country will enable the institute to effectively transfer the proper knowledge and technology to its research and extension partners in Myanmar,” said Dr. Indira Ekanayake, World Bank mission leader in Myanmar.

The IRRI team for ADSP is led by Dr. David Johnson, with Drs. Jongsoo Shin, Romeo Labios, and Madonna Casimero.

IRRI has a long-standing partnership with MOALI in R&D programs that include plant breeding, crop and natural resource management, and mechanization, among others.

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CORIGAP Phase 2 to increase yield of 500,000 rice farmers across Asia by 2020

CORIGAP-PRO is officially launched with the symbolic raising of a laser beam projector used in leveling soil surface. Dr. Evequoz (left), SDC senior adviser, and Dr. Hughes (right) lead the 
opening ceremony. 

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—Phase 2 of the project, Closing Rice Yield Gaps with Reduced Environmental Footprint, will work to sustainably increase rice yield by 10% for 500,000 smallholder farmers in seven “rice granaries” of Asia by 2020. Called CORIGAP-PRO, this second phase is a multi-country project under the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium.

More than 45 scientists, national partners, and CORIGAP advisory committee members from seven countries gathered at the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to launch CORIGAP-PRO, which now includes the Philippines as an “associate country.”

“This event is a platform for the project members to review the key outcomes made during phase 1 and to plan and strategize ways to achieve the targets set for the next phase,” explained Dr. Grant Singleton, CORIGAP coordinator and IRRI principal scientist.

From 2013 to 2016, CORIGAP directly interacted with 1,362 farmer groups and 125,000 farmers, spanning an area of 250,000 hectares of lowland irrigated rice in Asian countries. Two project sites were located in Indonesia while Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Sri Lanka each hosted a project site.

“CORIGAP is a great example of how IRRI, our partners, and local farmers can join hands to create sustainable results that help farmers make a positive impact in their lives," said Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, IRRI deputy director general for research. "This collaboration has helped achieve a triple win; improving rice yields, increasing farmers' profits, and ensuring sustainable production.”

CORIGAP-PRO will build on the success of the project's first phase. Scientists and researchers will continue working closely with national partners to augment their current national and regional programs by introducing best management practices for rice. Some of these include One Must Do, Five Reductions in Vietnam, the Three Controls Technology in China, the cost reductions initiative in Thailand, and integrated crop management in Indonesia. The project will also foster cross-country learning on common areas of interest, such as developing Good Agricultural Practices for rice.

“The challenge for CORIGAP-PRO is how to make all these technologies and improved practices available to all farmers in all the project countries,” said Dr. Michel Evequoz, a senior adviser at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the major donor for the project. “IRRI appears to have the right partners for the extension and scaling out of the technologies. I will follow the progress of CORIGAP-PRO with much interest.”

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Climate change forum tackles problems and solutions affecting smallholder farmers

IRRI scientist Wassmann (center) talks about climate change in the Philippines and making the country's food production climate-proof. Also in photo: Prof. Cruz of UPLB (left) and Dr. Gonsalvez of IIRR (right).

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—"Are we ready for climate change yet?" The question was posed by members of the Philippine Agricultural Journalists (PAJ) to experts during the forum Usapang sakahan: Climate Change: Handa na ba tayo? on 23 February.

"Would you ever be ready for something like climate change?" responded Dr. Reiner Wassmann of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and a member of the panel of climate change experts. "It does not only apply to the Philippines but in many other countries as well. What I have to say is a lot of things are happening and the country is trying to be more prepared now than before."

Dr. Julian Gonsalvez, a senior consultant of the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), agreed. "There is a momentum and optimism. The science community in the Philippines have a lot to offer,” he said. “What we need to do is to move action to where it is needed the most. At any time, you need to have location-specific solutions. Who plays a role in that but the local government?"

The Philippines gets an average of about 20 typhoons a year, unlike many of its Southeast Asian neighbors, and this poses a threat to agricultural productivity. Gonsalvez explained that disaster risk reduction is becoming more widely adopted as a framework for farmers to adapt to climate change.

Prof. Rex Victor Cruz of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) recommended creating a common land-use framework through zoning.

"Our land-use policies are still in disarray and we need to unify these policies," he said. "For example, existing land-use laws are in place through the Agricultural Fisheries Modernization Act. But local government agencies have the authority to convert 15% of lands within their jurisdiction based on the local government code. Right away, we see these two laws oppose each other. That's where the problem is.”

Wassmann noted that from a scientific point of view, and if zoning is done correctly, the country would benefit from the agricultural diversity. He and Gonsalvez are incorporating it as an element in a project that promotes climate-smart villages.

PAJ member Rex Navarro, who is also a farmer, shared that the most difficult climate change-related problem for rice farmers is too much rain, too little rain or getting rain at the wrong time.

Gonsalvez explained how in Capiz, Iloilo, where most of the rice areas are rainfed, it became possible for farmers to grow a third rice crop in a year.

"It took only two days for a backhoe to build one reservoir, and now Capiz has at least 40 reservoirs,” he said. "That is climate-smart agriculture; it's something that addresses food security and prepares people for climate change in a way that doesn't produce a lot of greenhouse gasses.”

"If we do not recognize the importance of smallholder farmers, we are missing an opportunity to promote climate-smart agriculture that has social inclusiveness as an important element to climate change adaptation," Gonsalvez added.

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