Thursday, April 23, 2015

BMGF lauds STRASA for speeding up the process of bringing new rice varieties to farmers in South Asia

By Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

Gary Atlin, senior program officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, cited the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project for reinventing the process of varietal release and dissemination. 

“STRASA has been a flagship program for the Gates Foundation for the past 8 years,” said Dr. Atlin during the first year review of the project’s 3rd Phase. “It has the strongest abiotic pipeline development process in the world.” STRASA is the best investment that BMGF has made, he added.

“STRASA’s partnership with the national programs in eastern India made great progress through the years,” said Dr. J.S. Sandhu, deputy director general (Crop Sciences) at ICAR during the plenary session on 21 April. “Climate change is the biggest challenge we face but it is a good time now to move on and face these challenges in partnership with STRASA and the BMGF.” Climate change is expected to aggravate droughts, floods, and soil salinity.  

Concurrent sessions on the project’s four major objectives evaluated progress since the launching of phase 3 in 2014. The networks for each objective—Drought, Submergence, Salinity, and Seed Tracking and Dissemination—presented reports and reviews on their activities with partners including national research institutions and non-government organizations (NGOs). One of the activities is increasing awareness and use of stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs) by farmers, especially marginalized women and farmers in remote areas. They also reported on how state governments and private companies are continuously becoming active partners in STRV dissemination and commercialization.

The Drought Breeding Network (DBN), the Eastern Indian Rainfed Lowland Shuttle Breeding Network (EIRLSBN), and the Salinity Tolerance Breeding Network (STBN) have been key movers in the development, evaluation and commercial release of drought-tolerant varieties, Sahbhagi Dhan, CR Dhan 201, 202, 204, and 205; submergence-tolerant varieties, Swarna-Sub1, Samba-Sub1 (Samba Mahsuri), CR1009-Sub1, and Rajdeep; and salt-tolerant varieties CSR43, CR-Dhan 405 and 406, and Gozaba 5, respectively. 

Other major research institutions under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), such as the Central Rice Research Institute, Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, and the Directorate for Rice Research, in partnership with major state agricultural universities, also contributed to the release and commercialization of STRVs last year, particularly, DRR Dhan 42, 43, and 44 and Tripura Khara Dhan 1 and 2, Tripura Hakuchuk 1 and 2, and Tripura Aus Dhan, all drought-tolerant varieties. 

Reports on progress of rice varieties tolerant to multiple abiotic stresses (submergence + salinity or drought + submergence) indicated these varieties are currently being evaluated in multi-environmental trial (MET) sites. Issues on MET protocols and procedures for consolidation in each network were a major focus in these sessions. 

Farmer partners gave their testimonies on the benefits gained in planting STRVs, particularly, the flood-tolerant Swarna-Sub1 and the drought-tolerant Sahbhagi Dhan. 

Mr. Anand Kumar Singh, a farmer from Bihar, who planted Swarna-Sub1, narrated, "I was the only one to have a harvest after flooding hit our rice fields. Since then, I have not stopped planting Swarna-Sub1 and have shared my success story with more than 400 farmers."

The first year review of phase 3 of the STRASA project  was held from 19 to 22 April. Highlighting the plenary was a brainstorming discussion on the way forward for STRASA, focusing on the challenges and opportunities in the rainfed lowlands.

Capping the activity were joint meetings of STRASA-associated projects under European Commission-International Fund for Agricultural Development, National Food Security Mission, Improved Rice-based Rainfed Agricultural Systems, and the Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative. A special information/training session was conducted for breeders by Eero Nissila, head, Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnology at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Marco Karkkainen on the new Breeding for Rice (B4R) software being developed by IRRI. 

About 150 participants attended the event.  

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

IRRI observes Earth Day 2015, urges staff to be climate-smart

Reduce your team’s environmental footprint by lowering your office’s energy consumption. It will automatically conserve non-renewable fossil fuels and help to reduce IRRI’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world celebrates the 45th Earth Day on the 22nd of April, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) urges staff to make meaningful commitments towards environmental change and responsibility.

“Staff members can do a lot to help reduce energy costs by using  light and air conditioning wisely as these consume the most energy in the workplace,” said Arman Mohammed, head of IRRI’s Physical Plant Services.  

IRRI is taking significant steps to reduce the energy consumption of its various facilities. The Institute is currently installing solar-powered street lights in research areas and staff housing.  It is also replacing fluorescent lights with more energy-efficient LED lights.  Motion-activated sensors are also installed in common areas to avoid wasting electricity when there is no-one in the building.

Here are  five easy tips that staff can do to reduce their carbon footprint at work and at home:

  1. Set the air conditioner thermostat to 23-24 degrees Celsius.
  2. Switch off lights, computer screens, and air conditioners when leaving the room.
  3. Choose reusable food and drink containers and utensils instead of disposable options.
  4. Close the doors and windows of air-conditioned rooms .
  5. Use double-sided printing to conserve paper. 

“IRRI scientists are constantly looking for ways to reduce the environmental footprint of rice production,” says Brechje MarĂ©chal, an IRRI researcher and volunteer working behind the Sustainability@IRRI campaign. “Researchers encourage farmers around the world to farm more sustainably by using less fertilizer, water, and pesticides. Individuals in the IRRI community should do their part too.”

IRRI employees  are also invited to join the Sticker Happy contest for friendly reminders on saving energy. The winning entry will be made into a sticker to be placed in buildings and announced in all iTVs across the IRRI campus. Entries must contain less than 20 words and submitted (in Word files) to on or before 15 May.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

IRRI joins in celebrating 50 years of rice research in India

IRRI staff and members of the Board of trustees (BOT) led by Director General Robert Zeigler and Deputy Director General for Research Matthew Morell participated in the Golden Jubilee Annual Rice Research Group Meeting (ARRGM) held at the Indian Institute of Rice Research (IIRR) in Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, 12-15 April. Important items on the agenda were to join IIRR staff in celebrating the milestone 50th annual meeting and to review the progress of the IRRI-India Work Plan (2013-16). Around 500 rice researchers and dignitaries from across India (photo) attended the four-day event and took the opportunity to interact with the visiting IRRI staff members.

At the inaugural session on Sunday morning, Zeigler expressed his appreciation of the contribution of Indian scientists to agriculture. “India’s initiative in 1965 by setting up an agency for rice research, now IIRR, was a model emulated the world-over. “India leads the world in food security and its strides in rice research have always been first-of-its-kind,” he said.

During a media briefing following the inaugural session (photo), Zeigler said that the importance of rice in India cannot be overstated. “The country must be able to feed itself and, in now doing so, a platform has been provided for economic development and a foundation for social growth,” he told reporters.

This year, IRRI researchers and their Indian counterparts joined in discussions on five key areas among the 24 joint projects that are being conducted under the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP): system agronomy, breeding for unfavorable environments, yield enhancement, breeding for direct seeding, and the rice strategy for India and the future of the rice sector in the country.

Morell pointed out that IRRI’s commitment to strengthening its presence in India is exemplified by the presence of the Institute’s Board of Trustees in Hyderabad, which held its annual meeting at ICRISAT, 15-18 April.

He was pleased to see that the IRRI-India interactions are strong and the progress in the collaborative work plan is being made. “There is a lot of excitement around the technologies being used and the varieties that are coming through the breeding pipeline,” he said. “We have a great foundation to continue into the future.” In the photo (from left) are J.S. Sandhu, deputy director general (Crop Science) for the Indian Council of Agricultural Research; Gurbachan Singh, chairman of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board; and Dr. Morell.

During the ARRGM session on Wednesday, Sam Mohanty, IRRI's chief economist, said that India has reached the pinnacle in rice exports. “The country has come a long way in the past 5 decades from a country with a severe food deficit to being a major grain exporter.  Much of what Mohanty covered is in the April-June issue of Rice Today.

Photo montage: A busy week in India

At the ceremonial lamp lighting to kick off the 4-day ARRGM are (from left): Madappa Mahadevappa, former chairman of the Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board; Dr. Zeigler; Dr. Sandhu; V. Ravindra Babu, director of the All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project; and Subbanna Ayyappan, director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Dr. Zeigler (4th from left in photo) helped hold up a 6-yard-long saree made entirely of rice straw during inaugural ARRGM session. Read more about it in The Hindu.

Dr. Zeigler (center) and other Institute staff surveyed progress in IRRI's experimental rice plots on the campus of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT). From left with Dr. Zeigler are Dr. Morell; Arvind Kumar, plant breeder for South Asia; Sudhir Yadav, irrigated systems agronomist for the South Asia Breeding Hub; and J.K. Ladha, representative for India and Nepal.

During the ARRGM, Gene Hettel, editor-in-chief of Rice Today, visited with the magazine's April-June cover guy, Nekkanti Subba Rao. Read about the incredible story of this Andhra Pradesh rice farmer in Rice Today.

On Monday morning, 13 April, an IRRI delegation led by Drs. Zeigler and Morell visited the Professor Jaishankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) in Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, India, to hear about the university's rice research projects and how IRRI can assist. Following the signing of an MOU between IRRI and PJTSAU, staff representatives from both organizations posed for this group photo. See story in The Hindu.

At IRRI’s exhibit at the ARRGM, Lanie Reyes, Rice Today magazine's managing editor, interacts with some of the participants as they eagerly sign up for receiving the quarterly electronic version of the magazine.

During a break during the ARRGM sessions, IRRI researchers R.K. Singh (2nd from right) and Hei Leung confer with (from left) A.P. Padmakumari and Gururaj Katti, both IIRR principal scientists in entomology.

Members of the IRRI Board of Trustees held their annual meetings at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, 15-18 April. They took time out on 16 April to move from the meeting rooms to the great outdoors to inspect IRRI's research plots on the ICRISAT campus. In the photo, they are joined by members of IRRI's HQ management and India research teams.

Arvind Kumar, leader of IRRI's rainfed lowland South Asia Hub plant breeding group, has the rapt attention of some of the Institute's BOT members as he explains ongoing research in IRRI's experimental plots on the ICRISAT campus.

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Golden Rice to receive 2015 humanitarian award from U.S. government

The Golden Rice Project has won the prestigious 2015 Patents for Humanity award on nutrition. Through this award, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recognizes the vision of Ingo Potrykus, Peter Beyer, and Adrian Dubock for creating the enabling conditions for smallholder farmers to benefit from Golden Rice. Potrykus and Beyer invented Golden Rice as a potential complement to the nutrition toolkit in the fight against vitamin A deficiency that afflicts about 190 million people globally.

Royalty-free access to key technologies used in Golden Rice has enabled IRRI and public institutions to continue research and development of Golden Rice on a not-for-profit basis. Through this royalty-free arrangement and by breeding Golden Rice into already popular inbred varieties, resource-poor farmers can afford and reuse the seeds when they become available.

The USPTO confers the Patents for Humanity award to patent owners working to bring life-saving technologies to the underserved people of the world. Innovations in medicine, sanitation, household energy, living standards, and nutrition aimed at improving global health and living standards for the less fortunate are eligible for the award. The USPTO will confer the award during a livestreamed ceremony from the White House at 10 am EST on April 20.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Union agriculture minister urges Indian farmers to grow flood-tolerant rice

Bihar, India - Union Minister of Agriculture Shri Radha Mohan Singh asked farmers from 15 states of India to grow Swarna-Sub1, among other flood-tolerant rice varieties. This was the minister’s key message during the 2015 Horticulture Conclave in Bihar on 10 April 2015.

Flood-tolerant rice is a major innovation that can greatly help bring the second green revolution to eastern India,” stated Singh.

 “About 30% of rice area in India is flood prone,” said Sudhanshu Singh, an agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) who works on rainfed lowland rice systems. Thus, flood-tolerant rice, such as Swarna-Sub1, can help increase farmers’ incomes by enabling them to grow rice in previously unproductive areas.

In response to the call of the minister, many farmers at the event visited the IRRI booth to learn more about flood-tolerant rice. "This is the first time I learned about this variety and I cannot believe that it can survive under water for more than 12 days," says Kishore Yadav, a farmer from Betiah district. I will grow this next season in my field near river Gandak."

Farmers were also interested in drought-tolerant Sahbhagi dhan, as the lack of water often affects rice grown in elevated areas.

Minister Singh appreciated IRRI's efforts in distributing brochures on the management of these stress-tolerant varieties in Hindi and other local languages. He also acknowledged IRRI’s efforts in disseminating the technology and seeds of climate-smart rice in Bihar through the Improved Rice-Based Rainfed Agricultural Systems and the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) projects.

The government has implemented large-scale programs for the multiplication and distribution of seeds of Swarna-Sub1 and Sahbhagi dhan. These programs include the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) and Bringing the Green Revolution in Eastern India (BGREI). In Bihar, the IRRI-NFSM project has planted about 4,500 hectares of demonstration plots to climate-smart rice over the last 3 years.

In Bihar, a large quantity of Swarna-Sub1 and Sahbhagi dhan seeds were distributed in 2014. The government has invested in large-scale seed production of these varieties and is expected
to produce more than 3,000 tons of Swana-Sub1 seed this year alone.

"We will not rest until we succeed in ensuring the turnaround of the farm sector and see smiles on the faces of the farmers," the agriculture minister said.

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Philippine agriculture officers undergo training on field trial protocols

Regional field officers from the Department of Agriculture (DA) underwent training in preparation for participatory varietal selection (PVS) trials that they will facilitate for the 2015 wet season. PVS is a simple way for breeders and agronomists to determine varieties that perform well on-farm and are preferred by farmers.

The activity was conducted under the Accelerating the Development and Adoption of Next Generation Rice Varieties for the Major Ecosystems in the Philippines (NextGen Project), which aims to accelerate the release of new rice varieties to Filipino farmers. The course was designed to help the participants from Regions 1-3 and the Cordillera Administrative Region improve their data collection and field layout techniques.

"We conducted  the training to make sure that the data we would get from the PVS trials managed by these field officers in the different regions are accurate or error-free because that would affect the results of the NextGen project," said Thelma Padolina, a NextGen counterpart from the Philippine Rice Research Institute ( PhilRice).  "For example, if the field layout alone was incorrectly set up, that would affect all the sampling data and we want to avoid that.”

“What was good about doing the field layout exercise was that besides being hands-on, it was also collaborative," said Dr. Arthur Dayrit, a supervising science research specialist and the rice development and extension focal person in Region 3 who attended the training activity at PhilRice in Nueva Ecija.  “We were able to discuss our ideas and clarify any differences in doing the actual field layout before going into the field.”

Once farmers have selected 2-3 varieties at the PVS trials managed by the field officers, the registered and certified seeds to be planted by accredited seed growers in specific rice areas  will be certified by the National Seed Quality Control Services of the Bureau of Plant Industry so the seeds  will be commercially available to farmers.

"Our aim in the NextGen  project is not only to breed the next generation of superior rice varieties,” said Dr. Mary Jean Du, a scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “But also to provide a mechanism for making seeds more available in the regions, helping them become seed self-sufficient."

The participants were also trained in data analysis and using the Rice Crop Manager.

"As researchers we need that because it's important for us to know how to interpret the data correctly," noted Dr. Jesson del-Amen, the National Cooperative Trial (NCT) cooperator from the Benguet State University in CAR.  "I also found the Rice Crop Manager interesting because that was something new for me.  It is simple to use and, as long as you have Internet connection in the field, you can use it to help farmers directly."

The course, which was held  on  23-26 March, was the last of a series conducted by PhilRice and IRRI. Similar training were conducted in the Visayas and Mindanao earlier this year. The four-day training is part of the Philippine Food Staples Self-sufficiency Roadmap  2011-2016, a product of a series of workshops spearheaded by the DA Rice Program and participated in by various agencies in the Department of Agriculture. Its target is to achieve rice self-sufficiency for the country by 2013 and maintain it through 2016.

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IRRI research hub in Hyderabad benefits South Asia

Arvind Kumar, leader of IRRI's rainfed lowland South Asia Hub plant breeding group, has the rapt attention of some of the Institute's BOT members on Thursday morning as he explains ongoing research in
 IRRI's experimental plots on the ICRISAT campus. 
Hyderabad, India- "In three short years, a systematic breeding program for irrigated direct-seeded rice (DSR) and rainfed conditions is now in place at IRRI’s South Asia rice breeding hub in Hyderabad, India,” says Arvind Kumar, IRRI plant breeder and head of the facility.

IRRI’s Hyderabad team has developed and identified lines that are suitable to drought conditions in South Asia. These lines are being developed in the background of popular mega-varieties in the region. Thus, drought-tolerant versions of Sambha Mashuri, MTU1010, Vandana, Anjali, and Kalinga3 are now ready to be tested and validated in many different locations in South Asian countries.

Kumar and his team have also developed lines that are drought-tolerant versions of Swarna-Sub1, a famous IRRI-bred, flood-tolerant variety that is in great demand by farmers.

“The unpredictable climate with its extreme fluctuations in rainfall and temperature during the wet and dry seasons is giving farmers extreme anxiety,” says Kumar. “Swarna-Sub1 with the drought tolerance trait will surely help those farmers in rainfed areas whose crops often suffer drought during one part of the season and then must endure floods during another part.”

Testing of the Swarna-Sub1 + drought lines began last year in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. “We also have some promising breeding lines for DSR and aerobic rice,” he adds.

Capacity-building programs for researchers in the region have also been conducted recently through the IRRI hub. These include Marker-assisted introgression of different traits to develop new generation climate-smart rice; Rice breeding: recent developments, emerging challenges, and future needs; and statistical analysis training.

New projects with support from the Indian government and international agencies have been initiated in the hub. These include a Harvest Plus-supported project on zinc biofortification; an ADB-supported project on climate-smart rice; and government-supported projects on breeding new rice varieties and improving productivity of different crops in Karnataka state.

 “We are really excited about the work being done in the hub,” says Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general. “The facility is already providing targeted breeding in India with a spillover benefit to its neighbors.”

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