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.

 “By modernizing the rice breeding program, we will be able to help Africa and South Asia partners sustainably increase the rate of genetic gains they deliver, especially for the smallholder farmers,” added Dr. Atlin.

The IRRI-led STRASA was recognized for its “wise leadership” that led to its successful implementation. Around 180 participants from IRRI headquarters and partners from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Africa, attended the Phase 3 Annual Review and Planning Meeting held on 30 April–2 May at the National Agricultural Science Complex, India.

Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra, secretary of the Department of Agricultural Research Education and director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), welcomed the participants with a declaration to support the STRASA call to deliver higher rates of genetic gains to farmers and increase the rate of varietal replacement in the region.

Meanwhile, the Chief Guest, Sh. Shobhana K. Pattanayak, secretary of the Department of Agriculture-Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare, reiterated Sec. Mohapatra’s remarks in his inaugural address. “It is now a policy of India not to promote rice varieties that are more than 10 years old,” added Pattanayak.

The STRASA meetings began with concurrent sessions on its four major objectives groups (drought, submergence, salinity, and seeds dissemination), and the cross-cutting groups on biotic stresses and grain quality. The concurrent sessions reviewed the progress made during the last year and discussed next year’s workplans and activities.

The second day of the meeting was mostly devoted to discussing the updates on the three major activities that STRASA will focus on for the rest of phase 3. The first major activity is developing gender-responsive, stress-tolerant rice value chains presented by the gender team led by Dr. Ranjitha Puskur, IRRI gender specialist. The other two major activities are on modernizing rice breeding and on product development and advancement, which were chaired by Dr. George Kotch, IRRI Plant Breeding Division head.

Dr. Koffi Djaman, AfricaRice agronomist, presented a summary of the progress in Sub-Saharan Africa; while Dr. Uma Shankar Singh, STRASA South Asia regional coordinator, summarized progress on seed multiplication, dissemination, adoption, and targeting in South Asia. An update on monitoring and evaluation and impact assessment was also presented by Dr. Samarendu Mohanty, head of IRRI's Social Sciences Division.

The overall STRASA project coordinator and head of IRRI's Genetics and Biotechnology Division, Abdelbagi Ismail, thanked all the participants for their continued hard work and great contribution to the project as it enters its 10th year.

Other senior officials who participated in the meeting include Dr. J.S. Sandhu, ICAR deputy director general; Mr. Md. Fazle Wahid Khondaker, additional secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh; Dr. Bedanand Chaudhary, rice coordinator and senior plant pathologist, National Rice Research Program, Nepal; Dr. Nafees Meah, IRRI representative to South Asia; Dr. Bas Bouman, director, CGIAR Research Program on Rice Agri-Food Systems (RICE-CRP), and Dr. David E. Johnson, head of IRRI's Crop and Environmental Sciences Division.

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