Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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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