Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Asia Rice Foundation USA announces 2014 Travel and Study Award Winners

During their15th annual meeting, held on 5 July at U.C. Davis, the trustees of the Asia Rice Foundation USA (ARFUSA) announced two 2014 winners of the organization’s Travel and Study Award Program. Ana Maria Bossa Castro and Haley Sater will each receive a $3,500 travel grant to visit the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines in the coming months.

Ms. Bossa Castro, a native of Colombia, is a second-year PhD student at Colorado State University (CSU). Her research project, Defeating Bacterial Diseases of Rice: Novel Resistance Sources for Rice Crops in Africa and Latin America, is a collaborative project among CSU, IRRI, and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia.

At IRRI, she will participate in the Institute’s 3-week international course, Rice: Research to Production in 2015. The course will provide her with a unique opportunity to learn from experts about the latest rice research, as well as the most efficient production techniques. She will also meet with IRRI scientists collaborating with her to update them about her bacterial disease research and to discuss future experiments.

Ms. Bossa Castro has also received funding for her PhD research from the Monsanto Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program.

Ms. Sater, a Minnesota native, is working on her master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. Her research involves obtaining better abiotic stress tolerance in rice. These stresses, especially drought and salinity, limit rice production all over the world.

Her time at IRRI will involve a 3-month research project with Glenn Gregorio and other breeders to help close the information gap regarding dual drought and salinity tolerance in rice. She will help develop a method for phenotypic evaluation of the two stresses. This preliminary study will provide a foundation for future research into the mechanism for dual stress resistance. It may also be used to help breeders determine which lines might be useful to incorporate into crosses to achieve hardier plant types for growing in drought- and salinity-afflicted areas.

ARFUSA is made up primarily of U.S.-based former IRRI staff members who have all worked and lived in countries where rice is vital for food and to earn a livelihood. They started the foundation to support activities that help contribute toward a world that can feed itself, treasure the rich heritage of rice cultures, and value rice- growing land as a precious resource to be shared with future generations. The foundation is particularly interested in cultivating the next generation of rice scientists through its Travel and Study Awards to young scholars.

Applications for 2015 Travel and Study Awards are now being accepted. The deadline is 1 June 2015. More details can be found at http://www.asiariceusa.org/awards.html.

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Gender workshop showcases efforts to mainstream women contribution in rice farming

The IRRI Gender Research Team organized the GRiSP Gender Research Network workshop to showcase a wide variety of GRiSP research and outreach activities in Asia and Africa. National and international scientists from IRRI headquarters, IRRI-India, IRRI-Bangladesh, and representatives from Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and Africa Rice Center attended the event held at IRRI Headquarters, Philippines on 25−27 June.

In his opening speech, Matthew Morell, IRRI deputy-director general for research, discussed how research on gender can influence the adoption and impact of rice knowledge and technologies, and help in developing policies and strategies for the implementation of programs.

“All our research must be directly targeted to making a significant measurable difference,” Dr. Morell said.
In her keynote speech Gelia Castillio, rural sociologist and IRRI consultant, emphasized the need to give women a face and an identity instead of being treated as data and statistics. She recommended undertaking research projects to follow-up the current status of the women who have benefitted from past GRiSP projects.

Dr. Hope Webber, IRRI monitoring and evaluation specialist, stressed the need for collecting sex-disaggregated data to facilitate project evaluation. Dr. Sonia Akter, IRRI gender specialist, discussed the CGIAR recommended minimum standard guidelines for sex-aggregated data collection.

The lessons learned from technology dissemination, status of women's empowerment, as well as the impact of climate change and male out-migration on women’s changing role in agriculture were among those highlighted and discussed.

Workshop participants made a commitment to continue high-quality, policy-relevant, action-oriented research activities to foster gender-equity and enhance women's empowerment across the globe.

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Vietnamese officials visit IRRI for a closer look at its activities in Vietnam

Thirty-two officials from Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Petrovietnam Fertilizer and Chemical Corporation visited IRRI on 11 June to learn more about the Institute’s research activities, particularly  the Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP). CORIGAP, a project under the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, aims to optimize productivity and sustainability of irrigated rice production systems in several Asian countries including Vietnam.

The delegates were briefed by Dr. Grant Singleton, CORIGAP coordinator, on the activities of both IRRC and CORIGAP in Vietnam. Dr. Bjoern Ole Sander, climate change specialist, presented his team’s research on climate change while Dr. Roland Buresh, soil scientist, discussed site-specific nutrient management. IRRC developed the principles for site-specific nutrient management which has evolved into the Rice Crop Manager decision-support tool.

The visit was arranged by Dr. Pham Van Du, deputy director general of the Department of Crop Production, Vietnam, in coordination with the project office of CORIGAP.

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Vietnam: IRRI heads workshop on the future of the rice industry in the Mekong Delta

Written by Trina Leah Mendoza, Pieter Rutsaert, and Matty Demont

Key stakeholders of the Vietnamese rice sector gathered to discuss strategies towards a sustainable rice value chain in the Mekong Delta on 5-6 June in Ho Chi Minh City.

The workshop aimed to engage participants in a multistakeholder discussion about the future of the Vietnamese rice industry. IRRI organized the event with support from Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint (CORIGAP), a project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Agriculture Competitiveness Project funded by the World Bank.

Participants included representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, research institutes, and the private sector including exporters, farmer cooperatives, and the food industry. Indonesian and Thai partners from the CORIGAP project also attended the workshop as a learning experience to reproduce the exercise in their respective countries.

A SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats) combined with a strategic orientation round (SOR) was used to engage discussion among stakeholders. The theory and procedure was developed and instructed by Dr. Pieter Rutsaert, CORIGAP postdoctoral fellow, while Dr. Matty Demont, IRRI senior economist and market research and value chain specialist, framed the analysis around the concept of sustainable food value chain development. The framework covered the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

Participants were guided through several collective tasks to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the Vietnamese rice sector to become more sustainable, and the opportunities and threats that the sector faces. Participants then individually quantified the relationships between internal and external drivers of the sector. These results will enable CORIGAP scientists to develop an overall strategy for sustainable development of Vietnamese rice value chains. 

The stakeholders perceive the sector’s capability to grasp opportunities (including growing export and domestic markets) to be higher than its resilience to potential threats (including more stringent food safety regulations and global warming). This finding is important for policymakers who are currently repositioning Vietnam on the international rice market.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

IRRI-Bangladesh gets the ball rolling on new project for reducing postharvest losses

Written by Alfred Schmidley 

IRRI-Bangladesh kicked off the Innovations Lab for Reduction of Postharvest Loss, a new project that aims to enhance food security in Bangladesh by reducing postharvest losses and recovering more rice from farmers’ harvests, at the BRAC Center in Dhaka on 3 June.  The 5-year project is funded by USAID, under the Feed the Future initiative, and will be implemented by IRRI–Bangladesh with support from Kansas State University and  the University of Illinois.

The event included learning activities in identifying postharvest needs for research and technologies. It also focused on improving the processing of both paddy and seed through multi-stakeholder partnerships, including farmers and women Self-Help Groups. Participating organizations included international NGOs, universities and government research institutions, community-based organizations, and other postharvest stakeholders. Dr. M.A. Sattar Mandal, former vice-chancellor and current professor at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Dr. Shahidur Rahman Bhuiyan, USAID senior agricultural and food policy advisor, and Dr. Paul Fox, IRRI representative for Bangladesh, were the featured speakers.

As part of its next step, Innovations Lab for Reduction of Postharvest Loss will engage local partner networks for assessing needs for training and piloting of awareness-raising of options that suit to local actors needs.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

IRRI celebrates the 116th Philippine independence

By Gina Zarsadias


IRRI’s sectoral organizations AIRESS, AISAS, IFSA, and SINOP led a flag raising ceremony on June 11 commemorating the 116th anniversary of Philippine Independence on June 12.

This year’s theme, set by the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment, Kalayaan 2014: Pagsunod sa yapak ng mga dakilang Pilipino tungo sa malawakan at permanenteng pagbabago, was chosen to remind IRRI staff of the bravery of Filipino heroes that helped win the country’s independence as well as to inspire them to use their skills and talents to help alleviate poverty, and become instruments for economic growth.

Mr. Carlos Huelma gave the invocation, Mr. Tony Lambino, head of communication, led the Philippine National Anthem, Mr. Manuel Marcaida led the pledge of allegiance to the Filipino flag, and  Atty. Eugeniano  Perez III, IRRI's legal counsel and Dr. Glenn Gregorio, senior scientist, gave their respective messages. Ms. Jenny Jarlego rendered Bayan Ko as balloons were released to symbolize the unity of Filipino employees of IRRI.

Also in attendance were Philippine National Scientist Dr. Gelia Castillo, Mr. George Cinconiegue,  Mr. Glenn Enriquez,  Mr. Hiram Gomez,  and Ms. Flora de Guzman.

Ms. Iris Bugayong and Mr. Mico DueƱas served as the emcees during the event.

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IRRI joins rice-themed Asian book festival

By Leah B. Cruz

Tony Lambino, head of communication at IRRI, talks about the 'magic' that rice research has been for the work
to secure food for billions globally, before writers and illustrators during the AFCC 2014 in Singapore.

Asia’s food staple was the theme of the 5-day Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) held last week at the National Library of Singapore.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in support of the AFCC 2014 theme which is rice, launched two children’s books and an exhibit booth at the Library plaza. The two books are The Rice Books for Kids by Norma Chikiamco and Travels of Little Rice Grass by Anupa Roy.

Also launched during the AFCC was All About Rice, a bibliography of rice-themed books, published by the National Book Development Council of Singapore; the Rice Bowl Game, an interactive digital setup developed by VastPotato; and an “urban rice paddy,” an installation artwork by the Edible Art Movement.

A featured talk, Rice: Science, Art, and Magic, was given during the AFCC by Tony Lambino, head of communication at IRRI, who expounded on IRRI’s success stories to an audience composed primarily of producers or consumers of literature and other media formats for children. Analogies were drawn between magical moments in the research and creative process.

Through these activities, IRRI introduced its mission and work, particularly on research aimed at making rice a healthier part of the Asian diet and, for farmers, making rice more resilient against climate change.

Tony told the story of how some IRRI-developed rice varieties have saved whole countries from famine in the past, and how IRRI’s work evolves to address new challenges in securing the world’s food. IRRI continues to help regions overcome not only hunger and poverty but the onslaught of extreme climate events that leave poor rice farmers destitute and put them at severe risk of losing investments in any cropping season. Also, through its healthier rice portfolio, IRRI and its partners aim to address malnutrition or “hidden hunger,” which affects two billion people globally.

IRRI believes that exposing children very early to what it takes to produce rice, as well as to the crucial contributions of science to ensuring food security, is important not only for them to appreciate what it takes for a bowl of rice to get to the table but to hopefully make agriculture a future career option for the best and most creative minds.

Claire Chiang, chair of the board of advisors of the AFCC, said in the foreword for All About Rice: "Our thanks and appreciation to IRRI for enriching the project with an information booth full of interesting facts, stories and beautiful photos, a talk on Rice: Science, Art and Magic, introducing authors of rice-themed picture books, and inspiring the creation of a virtual reality rice-bowl challenge and an interactive art installation."

Though not a rice-growing country, Singapore is home to some of IRRI’s partners and supporters of its research. It is also a major market for special types of rice that are preferred by discriminating palates, common in cosmopolitan cultures. These special rice types are also more expensive, and represent an opportunity for some farmers to earn more per kilogram of produce. Part of IRRI’s work also seeks to help farmers earn more from rice farming and thus improve their livelihoods.

IRRI's participation at the AFCC was coordinated by Flaminia Lilli of IRRI Fund Singapore.

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