Friday, May 26, 2017

At IRRI: IFPRI project holds policy writeshop for food and agriculture

With the challenges facing food security today, foresight and strategies are important to get a step ahead. This entails understanding the landscape, exploring trends and policy options, and making informed decisions for policies in food and agriculture. To this end, the Global Futures and Strategic Foresight (GFSF) project led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) hoped to contribute through a meeting and a writeshop held at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from May 15 to 19, 2017.

The meeting, led by Keith Wiebe of IFPRI and Steve Prager of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), gathered together 24 participants from the different institutes across the CGIAR to work on papers exploring alternative agricultural research and investment scenarios, focusing on a range of commodities, regions, and other topics. The week-long activity aimed to prepare these papers for publication in an upcoming special issue of the Global Food Security journal, and to help in making informed decisions for the CGIAR and its partners and other policy-making bodies.

GFSF is a CGIAR initiative that works to explore long-term trends, challenges, and policy options for food and agriculture through multidisciplinary foresight analysis. It is a project designed to improve agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability, especially in developing countries, and is focused on evaluating promising technologies, investments, and policy reforms. GFSF is funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.

Learn more about IRRI ( or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Restructured Biometrics courses to boost use of statistics in breeding trials

IRRI Biometrics has re-designed  its course on Design and Analysis of Breeding Trials (DABT). The new DABT includes a one-day stand-alone session on the use of statistical design and analysis under different environmental and technical challenges.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trimble donates laser leveling equipment for IRRI projects in Myanmar

A partnership with Trimble, a company that supplies farming solutions, has been helping the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) sustain the work to help farmers through promotion and adoption of the laser-assisted land-leveling technology.

Trimble has been a partner in the distribution of high-quality equipment as well as provision of equipment for demonstration and capacity building, and offers a reliable support service.

Just recently, Trimble donated brand-new laser equipment for use in IRRI projects in Myanmar. The donation was facilitated by IRRI’s Postharvest and Mechanization Unit as a result of discussions held during AGRITECHNICA Asia in Bangkok in March 2017. The equipment will be used for adaptive research in laser leveling and for field demonstrations under the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia (CORIGAP) and MyRice projects.

Mobile app Rice Doctor now available in Filipino

The Rice Doctor Filipino App features localized content for Filipino extension intermediaries and farmers

Rice Doctor, an offline mobile app for identification and management of rice crop problems in the Philippines, has just launched a version in Filipino and is now available for free at the Google Play Store for Android devices.

Poornima Shankar, knowledge management and outreach specialist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), describes Rice Doctor as an interactive questionnaire that helps extension workers, farmers, researchers, and students in the diagnosis of pests, disease, and other problems affecting rice. The current version of the app can help diagnose any of more than 80 of the most common of these conditions affecting rice. 

The app is also available online at

Although Filipinos remain among the most English-proficient in Asia, for many farmers as well as the agricultural extension workers assisting them, a mobile app such as Rice Doctor being available in Filipino presents an easier-to-understand and, thus, a more straightforward knowledge resource. Rice Doctor in Filipino is the first 'localized and translated version of the diagnostic app. Similar efforts are ongoing in India and Bangladesh.

To facilitate the ‘localization’ of Rice Doctor for the Philippines, workshops and consultations with farmers, extension workers, and specialists from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) were organized by the Impact Acceleration Unit of IRRI.

The development of Rice Doctor in Filipino was supported fully under the project ImprovingTechnology Promotion and Delivery through Capability Enhancement of Next-GenRice Extension Professionals and Other Intermediaries (IPaD), a collaboration among IRRI, DA-PhilRice, and DA-Agricultural Training Institute.

Last year, Project IPaD and the Impact Acceleration Unit also did a study in different parts of the country to assess and improve the usability of Rice Doctor.

IRRI with its partners have also developed other mobile-based tools for farming, one of which is RKB Lite, the offline version of the Rice Knowledge Bank, a web-based resource on the best practices in rice farming. It is also available as an app at the Google Play Store.

Learn more about IRRI ( or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dilbagh S. Athwal, IRRI’s first deputy director general, passes away

By Gene Hettel

Dilbagh S. Athwal, 88, a member of the early management team at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), passed away on 14 May at his residence in Toms River, New Jersey. He was born in Lyallpur, India (now Pakistan) on 12 October 1928.

A renowned Indian plant breeder, Dr. Athwal joined IRRI in 1967 (photo from that time) as its assistant director. In 1972, he was promoted to associate director and then, in 1976, he was appointed as the Institute’s very first deputy director general.

At IRRI, he administered the fledgling training program, supervised the research studies of postdoctoral fellows, and shared various administrative duties with IRRI’s first director general, Robert F. Chandler. Of his colleague, Chandler later wrote: “Athwal had sound judgment, was an indefatigable worker, and was highly regarded by the IRRI staff.”

While still at IRRI in 1975, in recognition of his outstanding work as an agricultural scientist, Dr. Athwal won the Padma Bhushan Award. It is the third-highest civilian award presented by the Government of India. Also in 1975, he took a sabbatical from IRRI and completed an MBA at Harvard University.

In 1954, Dr. Athwal earned his PhD in genetics and plant breeding at the University of Sydney in Australia and then, back in India, he became the first head of the Department of Plant Breeding at Punjab Agricultural University and did pioneering work that led to the development of the hybrid pearl millet variety, Bajra, in 1963. He went on to produce the iconic wheat variety, Kalyan, in collaboration with his colleague and friend Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. His work in wheat was instrumental in bringing the Green Revolution to Punjab, India.

In 1977, Dr. Athwal left IRRI to become program officer for Asia at the Rockefeller Foundation's International Agricultural Development Service (IADS) in New York under Sterling Wortman, former IRRI associate director who was then IADS president. In this position, he traveled extensively in Asia where he helped design and implement programs to increase food production.

His career also took him to Washington, D.C., and Winrock International in Little Rock, Arkansas, from where he retired as a senior vice president in 1991.

Dr. Athwal is survived by his wife Gurdev, son Barinder (wife Susan), son Harjit (wife Amardeep), and five grandchildren, Lisa, Neal, Jagdeep, Nishan, and Hernoor. He is also survived by many family members, including his nephew, Raghbir.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Alzheimer's Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., 17th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601.

Learn more about IRRI ( or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sustainable Rice Platform plans integrated training strategy to support rollout of rice assurance program

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – Experts gathered at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in early May to design a training strategy to support smallholder adoption of sustainable best practices.

The Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), an alliance of 70 stakeholder institutions convened by IRRI and UN Environment, will launch an assurance scheme targeting smallholders, based on the SRP Standard and Performance Indicators for Sustainable Rice Cultivation—the world’s first sustainability standard for rice.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

New book on success stories and lessons in unfavorable rice environments launched

CURE's newly launched book is also freely available at
VIENTIANE, Laos—A new book that documents success stories as well as lessons learned from the work to help farmers in unfavorable rice environments of Asia was launched by the International Rice Research Institute during a review and planning meeting of the  Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) on 9-11 May 2017 in this Laotian capital.

The book, titled,  Climate-ready technologies: Combating poverty by raising productivity in rainfed rice environments, shares in detail the challenges, lessons learned, and cases of success in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Rainfed rice areas, largely considered unfavorable because of lack of irrigation, are also home to millions of farmers who live in poverty and rely on rice farming for their livelihood. These areas are unstable and have low productivity, ranging from an average across years of 1–2.5 tons per hectare because of the constraint presented by multiple environmental stresses, such as drought followed by flood. 

“The Consortium has worked to improve lives in resource-poor rice communities by building a network of networks and linking groups and individuals facing similar constraints,” said CURE Coordinator Digna Manzanilla.

The book also offers insights into drivers of change and enabling factors—social, cultural, economic, environmental, and institutional—that helped partner countries benefit from technologies and make an impact in unfavorable rice environments.

While farmers in several partner countries have limited access to seeds, for example, rice farmers in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal have faster access to newly-developed high-yielding, climate-ready varieties because of a regional seed cooperation agreement that expedites the release and dissemination of rice varieties to farmers in stress-affected areas.

Laos’ agri chiefs received first copies of CURE's latest book, Climate-ready technologies: Combating poverty by raising productivity in rainfed rice environments): (L-R) Digna Manzanilla, CURE coordinator; Bounthong Buoaham, director general of the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI); David Johnson, head, IRRI-CESD, and former CURE coordinator; Xaypladeth Choulamany, director general of planning and cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Laos; Chay Bounphanousay, deputy director general of NAFRI and Laos representative to the CURE Steering Committee.
“Although one country’s experience may be unique from another in terms of specific contexts, we see this exchange of experiences as contributing to innovative ways of thinking about how we can overcome many of the constraints and challenges facing rainfed rice environments,” said David Johnson, who also formerly managed CURE and is currently head of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD).

“There is rarely a clear-cut path to overcoming any challenge and raising rice productivity in rainfed environments, but by looking at what worked and what did not work from the experiences shared by our country partners, we can find ways to make rainfed rice environments less challenging,” Dr. Johnson added.

Learn more about IRRI ( or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Alternative seed systems help unfavorable rice areas combat poverty

Partners from nine member-countries of CURE convened in early May to share challenges and lessons in their work to help farmers in unfavorable rice environments.  

VIENTIANE, Laos—The formal rice seed production system in Laos can supply only 10% of the country’s seed requirement, but as researchers have found, availability of seed is just one part of the story. The delivery system is just as important, but not as simple when it comes to rainfed and similarly challenged rice areas. In the country, several non-government organizations (NGOs) were instrumental in helping some of the country’s food-insecure communities acquire rice seeds.

Community-based seed systems were reportedly instrumental in introducing stress-tolerant varieties in India, Nepal, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia, where formal seed sectors are yet to meet national seed requirements. These seed systems also supported the government’s move in these countries to fast-track seed dissemination, especially when the formal seed sector has not operated well, and where commercial seed growers are yet to be convinced that the production of seeds is investment-worthy.

“Although one country’s experience may be unique from another in terms of specific contexts, we see this exchange of experiences as contributing to innovative ways of thinking about how we can overcome many of the constraints and challenges facing rainfed rice environments,” said David Johnson, who also formerly managed CURE and is currently head of IRRI’s Crop and Environmental Sciences Division (CESD).
IRRI's CESD chief and former CURE coordinator David Johnson sought insights, experiences, and lessons from each member-country, recognizing that seemingly  unique experiences also offer an array of options that may apply to other countries as well. 

This and other interventions were discussed in a review and planning meeting of the steering committee of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE) on 9-11 May, which this year focused on scaling out climate-smart technologies that help raise productivity and combat poverty in Asia’s fragile rice ecosystems.

More than the interventions and outcomes are so-called ‘enabling’ factors—social, cultural, environmental, financial, political, and institutional—that were just as important to achieve impact at a broader scale.

Through better varieties, improved management systems, community-based seed systems, and several other interventions, the abovementioned countries benefitted from enabling farmers in the most challenging environments to improve their livelihood. These experiences were reported in a newly published book by CURE, “Climate-ready technologies: Combating poverty by raising productivity in rainfed rice environments.”

“This year’s meeting brings member-countries together to discuss accomplishments, experiences, learning, and challenges during the past four years and as well as form plans for the coming year,” according to Digna Manzanilla, CURE coordinator.

“There is rarely a clear-cut path to overcoming any challenge and raising rice productivity in rainfed environments,” Dr. Johnson added. “But by looking at what worked and what did not work from the experiences shared by our country partners, we can find ways to make rainfed rice environments less challenging.”

The member-countries of CURE include Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos PDR, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Learn more about IRRI ( or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

IRRI participates in workshop on improving small farmers' postharvest practices

Field visit to Florenden Farms in NE Arkansas. UARPP workshop participants pose in front of storage silos for rice. (L-R): Kate Wilkes (University of Arkansas), Dr. Michele Reba (USDA-Agricultural Research Service), Zarini Tahir (Kellogg Company), Caling Balingbing (IRRI), Dr. Alicia Perdon (Kellogg Company), Martin Gummert (IRRI), Dr. Terry Siebenmorgen (University of Arkansas),  Sangeeta Mukhopadhyay (Univ. of Arkansas), Mike Sullivan (Florenden Farms), Dr. Bhagwati Prakash (Univ. of Arkansas), and Zeph Odek (Univ. of Arkansas). Photo by Miriam Gummert.

ARKANSAS, USA—To exchange knowledge on state-of-the-art quality research and identify potentials for cooperation on grain quality improvements, two IRRI staff from the Postharvest and Mechanization Unit (PMU) participated in the Rice Postharvest Processing and Management Workshop sponsored by Kellogg’s and hosted by the University of Arkansas Rice Processing Program (UARPP), USA, last 3-4 April 2017. This was followed by a field trip to rice farmers, food processors, and support service providers from 5-7 April.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mozambican farmers learn to choose the best rice varieties

Farmers get busy selecting best rice varieties during a field day held at the locality of Mucelo in Zambézia, Mozambique in April 2017.

ZAMBÉZIA, Mozambique - Farmers learned how to better select the best rice varieties during a field day in late April organized by the Mozambique Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

About 40 participants came for the event, during which the farmers among them were given an introduction to concepts and principles that guide the breeding scheme at IRRI and the goals of the rice sector in countries in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The event was organized by the IRRI-Mozambique rice breeding team involving various partners in the rice value chain. Millers and representatives of district services for economic activities (SDAE) and some NGOs also took part in the event, in addition to the rice farmers who themselves represented several farmer associations.

The event included a visit to a field that had been set up with breeding trials and demonstration plots of promising rice lines. Twelve lines, including checks from the participatory varietal selection (PVS), were presented for final selection. Some of the promising lines in the demo plots were the same ones that had previously been selected by the participants themselves. Lines HHZ5-SAL14-SAL2-Y1 and IR 10L 203 were finally selected as the best, having high yield, long panicles, medium and long grains, medium plant height, and disease tolerance.

During the event, participants were able to share their respective experiences and come to appreciate new and well-performing varieties.

At the end of the field day, a recommendation was made that more of the participatory varietal selection trials be conducted in more locations.

IRRI and its partners hold field days to help rice farmers stay up-to-date on varieties, technology, and equipment that could help them improve productivity, thus empowering them to make informed decisions to improve their income and livelihood.

Learn more about IRRI ( or follow us on social media and networks (all links down the right column).

Agricultural extension seen as key to impact of science in India

NEW DELHI, India – Senior officials, scientists, and other representatives of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and partners convened for the ICAR-IRRI Collaborative workshop on 4-5 May 2017 to discuss the strengthening of research in agricultural extension.

Agricultural extension is seen as a crucial means to accelerate the impact of agricultural knowledge and technologies by informing policy and practice, as well as to promote innovation.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

IRRI gears up for a modernized rice breeding program

By Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

NEW DELHI, India—“Modernize your rice breeding program.”

This is the challenge issued by Gary Atlin, senior program officer, Agricultural Research and Development of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), to the scientists and partners of the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) program, supported by the BMGF, during the annual review and planning meeting.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

NIA, farmer group, partner with IRRI for irrigation research

Signatories to the agreement were Engr. William Ragodon, regional manager, NIA Region IV-A;
Jacqueline Hughes, deputy director general for research, IRRI;
and Mr. Andres Batitis, president, PIDAMMARIS .

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – A portion of the experimental farmland of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will soon become the site of research to find the most efficient way to distribute irrigation water.

Under an agreement signed recently among the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) of the Philippines, the farmer association Pinag-Isang Damdamin ng mga Magsasaka ng Mabacan River Irrigation System, Inc. (PIDAMMARIS), and IRRI, the project will be looking at rice productivity and water use, sustainability of rice production systems, water quality, and the overall operations and management of a local irrigation system, with the goal of developing a model approach for other irrigation systems under NIA.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Rice technologies feature in India farmers’ fair

BIHAR, India - Rice technologies were showcased during the Kisan Kalyan Mela 2017 (agriculture exhibit) held at the Motihari District of Bihar on 15-19 April 2017. The event commemorates the  100th year of the Champaran Satyagrah movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi, whom many consider the “father of the nation,” to help poor farmers in the region.