Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Towards greater genetic gains in rice based agri-food systems in South Asia and Africa

On a mission to make Asia and sub-Saharan Africa more food secure, IRRI’s Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) Project, chiefly supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), was launched in 2008. In its decade of implementation, STRASA has brought forth a new era of scientific excellence in rice science, as evidenced by the following impacts: extensive network of research and development and expertise generated from stress-tolerant rice varieties’ delivery and extension; strengthened supply chain networks; shared platforms for varietal knowledge enhancement, production and training; and widespread diffusion reaching farmers and benefiting consumers worldwide.

Through STRASA, about 230,000 tons of seeds were produced and distributed to nearly 8 million farmers in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and over 200 rice varieties in over 18 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, making the project a catalyst at a policy level; with IRRI and its partners ushering in a new level of rice diplomacy in Asia and Africa.

Now on its final year of implementation, STRASA convened in an annual review and planning meeting about 160 delegates from South Asia, Africa, Philippines, and USA, to assess the project’s challenges and milestones, and set directives for its operation until 2019.

“We consider STRASA to be the most successful project in recent times, paving the way for a second Green Revolution in Eastern India,” said  Dr. S. K. Pattanayak, the event’s guest of honor and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers Welfare. “India is going to reach 111 million tons of rice this year, and for this, credit should go to this Project,” he added.

Dr. Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, acknowledged the positive impact of improved varieties such as Swarna-Sub1, Samba Mahsuri-Sub1, and DRR 42. “To double farmers’ incomes, we need to focus on holistic development of rice and rice-based agri-food systems. ICAR would be very happy to continue our partnership (with IRRI) and provide support.”

Highlighting the fruits of the strong partnerships and close networks, Dr. Gary Atlin, Senior Program Officer for Agriculture Research and Development of BMGF, said, "STRASA is the strongest partnership that I am aware of between regional and global breeding programs; between national systems and CGIAR Centers; and it’s been very strongly supported by governments. It is fitting that we consider how we can now build on what we’ve accomplished with STRASA and accelerate our contribution to productivity in the region.”

Reflecting on STRASA’s catalytic role in releasing high yielding stress tolerant varieties, Dr. Jacqueline Hughes thanked the governments, BMGF, NGOs and NARES partners, while congratulating the STRASA team--“I believe this will really help us have a collective voice not only to amplify the successes of STRASA, but to make greater impact for the people we serve, helping us plan ahead and have a legacy that will live on for future generations.”

In working with the government and other partners, IRRI has helped usher a new era of cross-country and regional cooperation. The signing of the Dhaka Agreement (2013), Kathmandu Agreement (2014), and Siem Reap Agreement (2017) accelerated the exchange of technology and varietal knowledge, and enhanced South-South collaboration.

The meeting comprised of sessions on drought, submergence, salinity, seed systems, and cross-cutting activities on biotic stresses--emphasizing challenges, successes, and future directions. Special sessions discussing genetic gain; trends in rainfed lowland rice breeding networks; future breeding; grain quality tools; product development; seed multiplication and dissemination; impact assessment; and gender issues were also held. By way of closing, key scientists and breeders were recognized for making significant contributions to the development, dissemination, and adoption of STRVs. STRASA’s 11th annual meeting was held from April 30-May 03 in New Delhi, India.

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