Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Philippines: DA-IRRI Heirloom Rice Project taps "local champions" for its grassroots advocacy

Grassroots advocacy is one of the most effective ways of raising the level of awareness regarding certain causes to influence public perception, regulations, or public policy. To mobilize and harness the power of grassroots brand advocates, the Heirloom Rice Project (HRP) conducted a workshop for “local champions” from local government units and state colleges and universities in Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province.

Local champions are HRP partners within their communities who will actively coordinate self-help group activities for the project beneficiary and eventually sustain the management of the Department of Agriculture (DA) project. The HRP team, composed of staff from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and DA-Cordillera Administrative Region organized the activity to update the local champions on the latest project developments. The workshop also helped them define their roles in the implementation activities for HRP’s second year and in the identification of project activities with community-based indicators of landscape resilience, that is, the rice terraces sites of the UNESCO world heritage.

Digna Manzanilla, a social scientist at IRRI and co-project leader for HRP’s components on linking smallholders to the value chain, as well as on model documentation, knowledge management and M&E, facilitated the discussion on the various roles of local champions in the project’s activities. The participants defined how their current professional qualifications and responsibilities fit into their new role as local champions. They have also identified capacity-building needs that could enable them to better perform their part.

Mr. Adrien Salazar, an IRRI graduate student intern from Yale University, gave the participants a brief overview of community-based indicators of resilience to guide them in identifying activities that they perceive as contributing to the environmental, economic and social dimensions of landscape resilience. Outputs of this workshop will be applied to the framing of indicators relevant to heirloom rice farmers, through field research to be piloted in two project sites in the coming weeks.

The DA-IRRI Heirloom Rice Project workshop was held in Tuba, Benguet on June 24, 2015.

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Regional cooperation and ‘correct’ pricing key to sustainable rice production

HANOI, Vietnam - Mainstreaming good practices, finding the ‘right price’ of rice, and working together as a region are crucial to making rice production sustainable.

These are key points resulting from the discussion of global experts and stakeholders convened as the rice working group during the recently concluded 2nd Responsible Business Forum for Food and Agriculture held in the Vietnamese capital.

Proactive regional cooperation in agriculture, especially for rice—the region’s most important crop staple—becomes even more crucial with the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Philippines: Conservation agriculture in South Asia highlighted at climate-smart agriculture workshop

The turbo happy seeder is a planter capable of directly drilling in the field while retaining surface residue and without any soil disturbance, thus following the principles of conservation agriculture. Photo from Parvinder Singh, CIMMYT. 
Experts have become concerned about the long-term sustainability of conventional tillage crop production systems. In the past decades, a variety of economic, environmental, and social problems have been plaguing these practices, including labor shortages, diminishing water and energy resources, deteriorating soil health, decreasing farm profitability, and other issues related to climate change.

Conservation agriculture (CA), on the other hand, can potentially address the challenges to the future of agriculture and food security. CA is a set of soil management practices that includes minimal soil disturbance, soil residue management, and crop diversification. These practices were presented during the regional workshop on climate-smart agriculture technologies in Asia on 2-4 June in Muntinlupa City.

Increased soil tillage or ploughing results in poor soil health or soil degradation. To keep soil disturbance to a minimum, zero-tillage technologies such as the laser leveller, turbo happy seeder, and zero-till relay planters, were developed and tested in selected sites in the Indo-Gangetic Plains in northern India.

Research on the energy dynamics of wheat production under different tillage techniques demonstrate that zero-tillage technologies have the highest energy-use efficiency and the lowest consumption of water and fuel. There is also evidence that zero- tillage technologies produce lower emission of greenhouse gases.

“To ensure that these zero-till technologies are farmer-friendly and will be disseminated easily, we tested these technologies through on-farm trials at the Bourlaug Institute for South Asia,” says Parvinder Singh, a research scientist from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. “They were also tested in farmer-participatory trials in selected climate-smart villages.”

The farm machinery needed for zero-tillage need not be costly, according to Dr. Singh who leads the research on climate-smart agricultural technologies such as zero-tillage with residue retention, relay planting, water- and nutrient-smart practices. Dr. Singh’s team worked with local manufacturers in developing affordable machines that will be readily available for market distribution once they have been tested. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Underprivileged students receive free school supplies from IRRI-ECDC donation drive

More than 85 students of the Kabaritan Elementary School received bags containing school supplies and uniforms provided through a donation drive of the IRRI-Employees’ Credit and Development Cooperative (ECDC).

Lapis, Papel, at Bag, an annual activity now on its second year, enjoined ECDC members and IRRI employees to donate used school bags or cash to help underprivileged students in IRRI’s host community of Bay. The school supplies were distributed by ECDC members in a simple ceremony during the school opening on 1 June.

In keeping with its commitment to social and community services, cooperative members also participated in the annual Brigada Eswela, a clean-up drive to prepare classrooms for the school opening. In addition, ECDC also continued its feeding program for 400 young schoolchildren in Bay.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Philippines: Heirloom rice awes foodies at BellySima

The unique culinary features of heirloom rice varieties from the Cordilleras were featured at the BellySima Food Festival as part of the market outreach of the Heirloom Rice Project (HRP) that is jointly implemented by the Department of Agriculture and the International Rice Research Institute. BellySima Food Festival 2015, held at the Glorietta 3, Makati, City on 12-13 June 2015, features and promotes healthy Filipino food options and experiences among consumers and entrepreneurs.

Heirloom rice was included in the Top 10 People's Choice among 40 participants to the festival. Event organizer RJ Ledesma of the Mercato Group expressed appreciation of the participation of HRP. "It is worth celebrating that more people know of these fantastic rice varieties in the country," Ledesma said.

At the festival, heirloom rice Ominio from the Mountain Provinces and the Tinawon rice from Ifugao, along with other heirloom varieties from Benguet and Kalinga were cooked and sampled by food enthusiasts. All these rice varieties were grown by highland farmers with the Rice Terraces Farmers Cooperative (RTFC), one of the implementing partners of HRP.

HRP is working toward increasing productivity of heirloom rice, which takes 6–7 months to mature and are thus grown only once a year. By linking heirloom rice to potential export and domestic markets, farmers are able to sustain their livelihoods,  the cultural prize of which is that the rice terraces that the region is famous for are preserved.

The HRP is a shared collaboration between the DA-Philrice, DA-Cordillera Administrative Region field office, local state colleges and universities, and IRRI.

The Bellysima Food Festival is a regular event at Glorietta 5 beginning 19 June 2015.

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Plant Breeding for Food Security symposium focuses on global impact of Gurdev Khush’s work on rice production

The Plant Breeding Center, in collaboration with the Confucius Institute, hosted the Plant Breeding for Food Security symposium on the global impact of plant genetics to rice production in honor of the work of Gurdev Khush.

Dr. Khush is an agronomist and geneticist who shared the 1996 World Food Prize with Henry Beachell for his achievements in attaining global rice security during a time of exponential population growth.  After serving as a faculty member of the University of California for seven years, he joined the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines as a plant breeder and was appointed head of the Plant Breeding Department in 1972. He spent over 21 years at IRRI directing and participating in genetic research and breeding. Dr. Khush played a key role in the development of more than 300 modern high-yielding rice varieties, which helped increase world rice production from 257 million tons in 1966 to 626 million tons in 2006. He returned to UC Davis where he is currently adjunct professor.

With a panel of his international colleagues and mentees, Dr. Khush addressed the symposium to discuss the challenges he faced during the Green Revolution, and once again expressed his dedication to and deep appreciation for the faculty he learned from, claiming, “UC Davis faculty prepared me for those challenges.” Audience members engaged the highly respected line-up of international and local speakers with questions and suggestions for future research, and to share stories of how Dr. Khush inspired them in their own work.

“To an American, it’s hard to understand just how important rice and rice breeding is to the world,” Dr. David Lobell, associate professor at Stanford University, said to give the audience some perspective on the breadth of Dr. Khush’s global recognition. “For an American like me, maybe the best way to understand the impact of Gurdev Khush is to know that, in many places, he is more of a household name than Michael Jordan.”

Over 200 guests came from all over the world to attend the day-long symposium to discuss the advances of global production in rice, wheat, and tomato; the future obstacles that face an ever-growing world population; and the technologies that will revolutionize farming and food production.


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USAID-ASTV tackles challenges in promotion and adoption of new rice seeds in Cambodia

by Maria Rowena M. Baltazar

Rice production significantly contributes to Cambodia’s national food security and poverty alleviation, according to Agricultural Development and Climate Change: The Case of Cambodia. However, several factors are keeping Cambodia’s rice yield the lowest in the region. Majority of lowland farmers grow only a single crop annually since they are dependent on rainfall. The increasingly erratic rainfall in recent years due to climate change has also adversely affected the country’s crop production. In addition, most farmers still rely on traditional agricultural practices and seeds.

The various concerns on seed and modern technologies were discussed during the inception workshop of the Accelerating the Adoption of Stress-tolerant Rice Varieties by Smallholder Farmers in Nepal and Cambodia (USAID-ASTV) project. USAID-ASTV, a USAID-funded project, seeks to reduce poverty and hunger as well as increase food security and income of poor farm households.

Dr. Abdelbagi Ismail, a scientist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and project leader, presented the systematic implementation of USAID-ASTV as 1) varietal evaluation and release; 2) seed production and distribution; 3) GIS and targeting; 4) monitoring and evaluation; 5) baseline, market studies and impacts; and 6) policy support to adoption of stress-tolerant rice varieties.

Stakeholders also discussed challenges in achieving the project’s goal through the provision and distribution of high-yielding rice varieties tolerant of abiotic stresses:
  • Conducting a study on market demand of varieties to be promoted by the project. 
  • Developing seed quality control and producers of foundation and certified seeds capable of supplying demand within the project and beyond. 
  • Creating a strategy for promoting new rice seeds and the adoption of new technologies by farmers.
A workplan for each group was drafted and the final version will serve as the guiding document for the strategic implementation of the project.

The inception and planning workshop for USAID-ASTV was held on 8-9 June in Phnom Penh. H.E. So Khan Rithykun, director general of Cambodia’s General Directorate of Agriculture, and Dr. Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships graced the closing of the event.

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