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www.irri.

org

Special supplement for Philippine Society of Nutritionist-Dietitians (PSND), Inc. Annual Convention

15-16 May 2014

Selected features
on rice and nutrition

Rice and health: getting to the truth

A

Ang kanin na sariling atin ay para sa mundo rin.

Nourishing
a nation
by Alaric Francis Santiaguel

More than an agricultural commodity,
rice is the Filipinos’ must-have food and
primary source of nourishment

T

his year, the Philippines
is celebrating its National
Year of Rice, which is
focusing on achieving rice
self-sufficiency, improving
the income of rice farmers, and
promoting better health among
rice consumers. As part of the
National Year of Rice, the Philippine
government is encouraging Filipinos
to eat “just the right amount of rice”
and expand their diets to include
bananas, sweet potatoes, and maize.

www.irri.org

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Also, in July, the country
celebrates Nutrition Month when
there is added attention on reducing
hunger and malnutrition. The slogan
for Nutrition Month is “Together we
can end hunger and malnutrition,”
a clear demonstration of their
commitment to improving nutrition
among Filipinos.
So, what does rice have to
contribute towards a healthy diet?
Rice is the leading source of
sustenance for all Filipinos. In 2009,

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mong the over 120,000 types of rice in the International GeneBank housed
at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna, and at
the Philippine Rice Research Institute GeneBank, around 10,000 are from the
Philippines. Taken together, these rice varieties are the raw materials that rice scientists
and nutrition researchers use to improve the grain quality and nutritional aspects of rice,
which has been part of the human diet for thousands of years.

These Filipino rice varieties stored in the genebanks are vital indigenous
contribution of the Philippines to global food security and nutrition. “Ingenious
nutrition” the theme of this year’s convention of the Philippine Society of NutritionistDieticians, calls on Filipino nutritionists “to take a deeper, inward look at their own
physical and social environment.”

In relation to this, this special compilation is hoping to encourage the Philippine
nutrition community to consider the current and potential contributions of rice science
and research and interrelationships with their own work.

For example, IRRI and PhilRice are working together in pursuing research
projects that (a) look into the potential of rice in providing a sustainable, diet-based
source of micronutrients that could help tackle malnutrition problems; (b) study the
glycemic index of rice and how it could still become part of a healthy diet for average
consumers and those who are at risk of diabetes; (c) advocate for the responsible
consumption of different kinds of rice including brown rice and minimizing wastage;
(d) explore the great potential of heirloom rice varieties as a point of entry toward
recapturing the ritual aspects of meals, both in the historical and modern senses of
holistic healthier lifestyles and the cultivation of community.

In fact, historical evidence suggests that rice may have already been produced
and eaten 10,000 years ago. This, alongside its current global status as the world’s most
important human food, makes rice production responsible for feeding more people over
a longer period than any other crop. Into the future, rice will remain an important food
staple not only for Filipinos, but for more than half of the world’s population—over 3.5
billion people and counting.

the country had an average annual
rice consumption of 123 kg per
person1—among the highest in the
world. Filipinos spend more on rice
than any other food, according to
the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics
(BAS).2 The BAS survey showed,
Filipinos, especially those from lowincome households, are depending
solely on rice more than ever for their
daily dietary energy supply and
dietary protein because it remains the
most affordable food in the country.

2009 World Rice Statistics.
Agricultural Indicators System (AIS) Report: Food Consumption and Nutrition. 2011. Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, Department of Agriculture.

Rice Today July-September 2013

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Rice mainly contains carbohydrates,
which are an excellent source of
energy, but it does not provide all the
nutrients required for a healthy diet
when it is eaten alone. This could lead
to deficiencies in micronutrients such
as iron, zinc, and vitamin A.
Micronutrient deficiency can
occur when rice makes up most of
the daily diet. It significantly affects
the lives and health of around 2
billion people worldwide, with 26%
of all children under the age of five
being stunted and 31% suffering from
vitamin A deficiency, according to
the Food and Agriculture Office.3
And the Philippines is not exempt.
Approximately 1.7 million Filipino
children (6 months to 5 years old) are
vitamin A deficient.

Dr. Cezar Mamaril mills his own paddy to
commercially produce brown rice.

Supplementing a rice-based diet
with a diversity of other nutrient-rich
foods is an effective way of ensuring
a nutritious diet.

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Balancing rice

The state of food and agriculture 2013: Food systems for better nutrition (www.fao.org).

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Rice Today July-September 2013

Old-school nutrition

The Philippine government is also
promoting the consumption of brown
rice.
Not a specific variety, brown rice
refers to any kind of rice that still has
its outer layer of bran and the germ—
where most of the nutrients (such as
niacin, thiamine, and phosphorus)
are found. Moreover, brown rice is
rich in insoluble and soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber slows down digestion
and can lower bad cholesterol,
while insoluble fiber helps relieve
constipation. The two types of fiber
work together to promote a healthy
digestive system.
Despite its health benefits, brown
rice consumption remains low in the
Philippines (and across other parts of
Asia) compared to white rice. Cielito

Habito, former director general
Brown riCe is enjoying
renewed popularity among
of the Philippines National
health-conscious people
Economic and Development
because of its high fiber
Authority, reported on brown
and nutritional content.
rice consumption in his column
No Free Lunch in the Philippine
Daily Inquirer.4 Dr. Habito’s
article explains that before rice
mills were introduced to the
Philippines and neighboring
countries a century ago,
pounding the grains was the
only processing available and
so people ate only unpolished
or brown rice. The advent of
modern mills made pounding
of the grains unnecessary and
eventually Filipinos shifted
to eating polished or white
rice. Brown rice disappeared
from dining tables as more
Filipinos shifted to eating
white rice. It was soon seen as
of rice and could help solve the
an inferior, ‘dirty’ product. While
country’s perennial rice shortage.”
white rice was considered ‘modern
He admits that some barriers
and sophisticated,’ brown rice was
associated with poverty. But in recent exist that make consumers shy away
years, the tables have turned in favor
from brown rice, but he believes
of brown rice.
these can be overcome. “Many people
don’t like the rough texture of cooked
brown rice. This is probably due to
Benefits of brown rice
improper cooking,” Dr. Mamaril
“Brown rice is rich in minerals,
says. “People who cook it for the first
vitamins, and antioxidants,
particularly the pigmented rice,”
says Cezar Mamaril, former IRRI
scientist and currently a consultant at
BasMati riCe has a low to medium Gi.
PhilRice.
He is also a rice farmer who sells
brown rice and he says business is
good as more Filipinos are realizing
the product’s health benefits. “My
supply of brown rice does not
last into the next season and we
sometimes run out of stocks to sell.”
Brown rice is popular among
well-informed, middle-class
professionals, but not the vast
majority of Filipinos. However, Dr.
Mamaril feels more Filipinos should
eat brown rice.
“Based on testimonial evidence,
people consume less rice when they
eat brown rice,” he says. This could
lead to lower per capita consumption

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time follow the usual way of
cooking white rice where they
add water to rice at a ratio of
1:1. It should be a 1:2 ratio of
rice to water. They should also
soak it in water for at least 1
hour before cooking.”
Dr. Mamaril says using
the right variety with the
right amylose content is just as
important. Amylose content is
the chemical characteristic that
makes cooked rice dry and
flaky, or moist and sticky. Rice
with high amylose content
tends to be dry and less tender
and it becomes hard upon
cooling when cooked. Low
amylose makes cooked rice
soft and sticky.
“Most of the brown rice
sold commercially is likely a
mixture of different varieties
with different amylose content giving
the product an uneven texture,” he
explains. “But, if you use one variety
with medium amylose content, you
don’t even have to soak it in water.
You need more water and the time of
cooking may be longer but the cooked
brown rice will be soft.”
But it is the price of brown rice
that is really preventing more people
chris quintana

Not by rice alone

of these important micronutrients.
High-nutrient rice could be an
effective way to provide many rural
and impoverished households in Asia
with improved nutrition because rice
is already widely grown and eaten in
these regions.

lanie reyes

However, Dr. Eufemio Rasco,
executive director of the Philippine
Rice Research Institute (PhilRice),
points out that the increasing
consumption of rice coupled with the
decreasing intake of other foods can
contribute to an unhealthy diet.

“A healthy nutrition
tip for a rice-based diet
is to consume rice with
lean meat, poultry, fish,
or shellfish, legumes,
and vegetables,” says Dr.
Maria-Bernardita Flores,
executive director at
the National Nutrition
Council of the Philippine
Health Department. “Eat
a variety of foods every
day.”
However, the stark
reality is that many people
simply cannot afford
or access a diverse and
healthy diet that includes
a range of nutritious foods
alongside rice.
IRRI shares the Philippine
commitment to addressing
malnutrition and is developing rice
with more iron (see “Iron-clad” rice on
page 46 of Rice Today Vol. 10, No. 3),
zinc, and beta carotene (a source of
vitamin A) (See Golden grains for better
nutrition on pages 14-17 of Rice Today
Vol. 10 No. 4.) to help people get more

http://opinion.inquirer.net/32743/win-win-with-brown-rice.

Rice Today July-September 2013

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difficult, while foods
with a low GI are
considered healthier.
“Rice has
previously been
classified as a
high-GI food,”
says Melissa
Fitzgerald, former
head of IRRI’s grain
quality research.
“But this single GI
classification for all
rice is turning out to
be ill informed.”
In 2011, Dr.
Fitzgerald’s IRRI team
and her colleagues at
the Commonwealth
Scientific and
Industrial Research
Organisation in
Australia published
research that
showed the GIs of
235 varieties of rice
from different ricegrowing countries
were more varied
than previously
thought.
“Our research
showed that there was large

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from buying it, Dr. Mamaril says.
Brown rice is more expensive because
there is a smaller supply; plus it has
a shorter shelf life. According to him,
adding to the cost of production is
that most mills in the country are
not set up to process brown rice, so
the cost of milling brown rice—even
though it requires less processing—is
higher.

Filipinos eat an average of 123kg of rice per person
every year, for them a meal isn't a meal without rice.

White rice and diabetes: fact or
fiction?

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by Gladys Ebron

Eating smart

In the Philippines there is a popular
saying that goes “if you haven’t had
your rice today, then you have not
eaten.”
The good news is that rice can be
part of a healthy diet. Consumers can
choose brown rice or low-GI rice for
additional health benefits. Plus, rice
can be combined with other healthy
foods to provide complete nutrition.
And, with the potential coming of
high-nutrient rice – even consumers
with limited choices who are likely to
keep eating high quantities for rice,
may be able to get a more nutritious
diet.
Mr. Santiaguel is a writer at IRRI.

In addition to increasing the yield potential of rice,
developing rice with high grain quality is essential so
farmers can benefit from its higher commercial value

I

ncreasing the yield potential of
rice has always been the priority in
working to increase food security.
But, in the race to feed the world,
grain quality, is sometimes forgotten. Developing rice varieties without
considering grain quality can leave
farmers with a low-value product and
consumers with rice they find unappealing to eat. So, IRRI is developing
strategies to improve grain quality in
rice with high yield potential.

Grain quality is not a luxury

Grain quality traits such as size,
fragrance, shape, texture, color, and
taste may be perceived as something
of interest to only richer consumers.
In fact, rice consumers across the
globe look at the same indicators
to define their own preferences.
Since more than half of the world's
population eats rice, many of
whom are poor, the preferences of
the poorest rice consumers matter
to ensure that their rice is both
nutritious and palatable.

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Although brown rice is the darling of
many nutritionists, polished or white
rice has sometimes been placed on
the opposite end of the spectrum. It
has been blamed by some as being
one of the worst foods for diabetics.
All foods are assigned a Glycemic
Index (GI) number, which measures
how rapidly food can raise blood
sugar after consumption. HighGI foods can increase the chances
of getting diabetes, and make
management of type 2 diabetes

In search of the
perfect grain

variability in GI between the
different varieties of rice—ranging
from a low of 48 to a high of 92, with
an average medium GI of 64,” Dr.
Fitzgerald says.
The identification of low-GI rice
varieties makes it possible to conduct
studies on the effect of low-GI rice on
people with metabolic health issues.
This information will be useful in
developing long-term public health
strategies and management plans for
people with diabetes.

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suppleMentinG a rice-based diet
with a diversity of other nutrient-rich
foods is an effective way of ensuring a
nutritious diet.

Rice Today July-September 2013

Likewise, farmers see the value of
grain quality because better quality
means higher prices, and this can
translate into more profit. However,
some farmers continue to plant lowyielding varieties—because the grain
quality of higher yielding varieties is
unacceptable to local consumers. So,
ensuring good or even better grain
quality is one way of encouraging
farmers to adopt more productive rice
varieties.
Grain quality is also an important
factor during the milling process. It
determines whether the grains can
withstand milling without breaking.
Broken grains have a lower value and
can reduce the quantity of grain that
reaches the consumers.

Uncompromised quality

“In the past, increasing yield
somehow compromised grain
quality. But unimpaired grain
quality and optimum yield are
something that we would like to
have at the end of the day,” explains
Rice Today July-September 2013

Nese Sreenivasulu, head of the
Grain Quality and Nutrition Center
(GQNC) at the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI). “Since
2004, the GQNC team has been
analyzing various grain quality
traits in different types of rice to help
breeders select and develop varieties
with enhanced grain quality.
“Grain composition matters
to the whole community because
of its commercial importance.
That’s why we are improving grain
quality by also increasing the
grain’s nutritional value,” says Dr.
Sreenivasulu.
The GQNC team evaluates
physical traits (chalkiness, head rice
yield, milling potential, and grain
dimensions) and several biochemical
traits (amylose content, gelatinization
temperature, gel consistency,
viscosity, grain elongation, and
aroma). These traits help assess
milling potential and grain
composition, the two major aspects of
overall grain quality.
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sensory analyses with a group of
trained panellists, they found that
sweet taste played a major role in
distinguishing the premium rice
varieties among consumers in
Southeast Asia.

The idenTificaTion of
important genetic information
on what makes rice chalky
could lead to chalk-free rice
varieties in the future.

Size and shape

Dr. Sreenivasulu explains that rice
has a rich diversity in grain size and
shape, and consumer preferences
for these traits vary among different
regions. For instance, in India, people
in the northwest area prefer long
grains while those in the east like
short grains.
“With the recent success in
identifying various genes for grain
size, we are in a better position to
breed new rice varieties with short or
long grains to suit distinct regional
preferences,” Dr. Sreenivasulu says.

Chalkiness

Grain appearance is judged by its
opacity or chalkiness—or to the
nonexperts—how translucent or how
white it is. Consumers generally
prefer rice with a translucent grain.
Hence, chalky rice is less acceptable
in the market.
Chalkiness is also undesirable
because it makes rice grains weak
and prone to breaking when milled.
Rice with broken grains fetches a
much lower price in the market. So,
from a marketing perspective, high
quality often means more whole
grains after milling.
In 2012, in an IRRI study
supported by the Australian Centre
for International Agricultural
Research, Melissa Fitzgerald,
then head of GQNC, and her
team identified important genetic
information on what makes rice
chalky. With this discovery, IRRI
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scientists are optimistic about
developing higher quality chalk-free
rice varieties in the future.

Aroma

Aroma is an important trait that
is generally associated with high
quality grains such as those of
jasmine and basmati rice. IRRI and
other research institutions have
shown that most aromatic rice shares
the same version of the aroma gene,
badh2. Farmers have highly prized
rice with this gene for thousands
of years. Different rice varieties
with this gene were widely adopted
throughout the ancient rice-growing
world.
However, what makes rice
grains aromatic remains a scientific
mystery today. Although 2-acetyl-1pyrroline (2AP), the main aromatic
compound responsible for the
fragrance of jasmine and basmati
rice varieties, has been identified,
more than 150 different unknown
aromatic compounds exist, says Dr.
Sreenivasulu. Researchers are yet to
fully understand the significance of
those compounds in contributing to
aroma.

either firm or soft as indicated by its
gel consistency. Hard gel consistency
often means the cooked rice is firmer.
“We are also interested in exploring grains with high protein content
and combining this trait with high
amylose in rice to reduce its glycemic
index,” Dr. Sreenivasulu says. “By
manipulating amylose content among
other factors, we can influence grain
quality to make rice healthier.”

Sensory evaluation

Understanding rice’s composition
and desirable traits is only the first
step to improving grain quality. The
next step, perhaps the most important
one, is to have the value of these traits
validated by consumers.
This is where Rosa Paula Cuevas,
a postdoctoral fellow at GQNC,
comes in. She conducts a regular
sensory evaluation of rice with a

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ScienTiSTS aT iRRi are using molecular
technology to incorporate desirable
milling, cooking, and processing quality
traits into breeding programs.

The economic value of rice also
depends on its cooking and eating
qualities. In South Asia, particularly
in India and Pakistan, aromatic
basmati rice is highly preferred for its
dry texture as the grains never stick
to each other. In Southeast Asian
countries such as Thailand and Lao
PDR, aromatic and slightly sticky
jasmine rice is highly desired.
Amylose content and gel
consistency strongly influence the
cooking and eating characteristics
of rice. Dr. Sreenivasulu explains
that rice with high amylose content
is harder and nonsticky when
cooked. These are the kinds that are
most suited for people with type 2
diabetes. When cooked rice cools,
rice with high amylose content can be

M. saucelo

Texture

Taste

Dr. Fitzgerald and other collaborating
scientists conducted research
to differentiate “premium” rice
from “second best” varieties from
Thailand, China, the Philippines,
Japan, Australia, Pakistan, India,
Iran, and Brazil. Through descriptive
Rice Today July-September 2013

dR. neSe Sreenivasulu (left), head of the Grain
Quality and nutrition center, and his team including
dr. Rosa Paula cuevas (far right)aim to help deliver
high-quality rice varieties.

group of panelists to better describe
and understand the “mouthfeel” and
other quality attributes of rice. She
hopes that sensory evaluation can
bridge what people experience when
they eat rice with what scientists
understand about grain components.
“Although amylose content
and gel consistency can measure
hardness, these do not give a
complete picture of what consumers
perceive,” Dr. Cuevas says. “That’s
when sensory evaluation can be used
to explore what current routine tests
are missing out on. It helps ensure
that rice breeding programs reflect
the qualities that consumers want.”

Seeds for the future

According to Dr. Sreenivasulu,
environmental conditions such as
drought, salinity, flooding, and high
temperature adversely affect grain
quality.
”Our goal at GQNC is to attain
high grain quality while maintaining
high yield in the face of unfavorable
environments,” he says. “As of now,
we do not fully understand how
climate change alters the grainfilling process at the molecular level.
Therefore, our priority should remain
with developing varieties with the
best grain quality suited for the
changing climate.
“Our strategy is to explore the
vast genetic diversity of rice in the
International Rice Genebank, harness
what is already known about quality
traits across different environments,
and uncover potential genes
conferring enhanced grain quality
under abiotic stresses,” he says. “This
will help rice breeders select traits
that are of interest for consumers and
incorporate those traits into new rice
varieties.”
For Dr. Sreenivasulu and his
team, the work has a long way to go.
“IRRI further needs to complement
the outcome of this holistic knowledge
to optimize precision breeding in
order to develop the best quality
rice that is suited for changing
environments,” he concludes.
Ms. Ebron is a public relations officer at
IRRI.

Rice Today July-September 2013

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Throwing it away

Research shows that the Philippines,
the world’s biggest rice importer
for several years, wastes rice that
is worth at least US$535,000 (23
million pesos) every day, or at least
$223 million a year—enough to feed
4.3 million people. The Food and
Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI),
under the Department of Science and
Technology, revealed these 2008 data,
further noting that every Filipino
wastes an average of 3 tablespoons
(9 grams) of rice daily, which is
equivalent to 3.3 kilograms per year.
With 94 million people (National
Statistics Office 2010) and 9 grams of
wasted rice per day (FNRI 2008), the
total wastage is 308,000 tons: 36% of
the 2011 rice imports.
Wasted grams per head actually
vary in different regions across
the Philippines. FNRI’s National
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irri

moises john c. reyes

That rice you

Broken particles, discoloration, partial removal of the bran (due to undermilling), and black spots (due to
insect damage)—such disturbances in this mix of rice kernels count as postharvest waste.

throw away
by Aileen Macalintal

Every year, millions of tons of rice are wasted; finding ways to
prevent this loss could help the Philippines save rice
Nutrition Survey shows that on one
of the three island groups of the
Philippines, Luzon, daily rice and
product wastage is 16 grams per
capita and 12 grams each for the
other two, Visayas and Mindanao.
Also, middle-class families tend to
waste more than low-income families.
Apparently, the more people have, the
more they waste.
If the Philippine figures cause
deep concern, global figures for
“throwaways,” plus postharvest
losses, can be alarming.

Chain of waste

A Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) study, “2011 Global food
Rice Today April-June 2012

losses and food waste,” revealed
that a third of global food (1 billion
tons) is wasted. Part of this is cereals
(including rice). Losses in rice come
from the unmilled grains through
poor harvesting and postharvest
activities, inefficient transportation,
inadequate storage, wasteful
processing, and market spoilage.
The first rice wastage happens
after harvesting. Cited in the report,
losses during agricultural production
happen when rice grains spill and
degrade during handling, storage,
and transportation between the
farm and distribution to markets
(wholesale, retail, supermarket, and
wet markets).

Consumption, when the final
wastage takes place, usually results in
throwaways (due to “bad cooking”)
or leftovers. “Perhaps one of the most
important reasons for food waste
at the consumption level in rich
countries,” explained the FAO report,
“is that people simply can afford to
waste food.”
How much food is lost and
wasted in the world today and
how can we prevent this? “These
questions are impossible to answer
precisely, and not much research
is going on in this area,” lamented
the report. With global population
now more than 7 billion people and
continuing to increase and food
production having difficulty catching
up, a lack of critical attention to this is
surprising.

Preventing waste, saving lives

chris quintana

A

family of five cooks a
kilogram of rice in a pot for
breakfast. Somebody forgets
about it and it burns—the
rice at the bottom of the pot becomes
almost inedible. The kids don’t finish
their meals. Leftover rice is all over
their plates and in the pot, which will
sit in the kitchen for hours. At the end
of the day, the family throws away a
plastic bag full of burned and spoiled
rice. This is how a family as well as
many households and restaurants
in the Philippines waste this highdemand political commodity, which
feeds half of the world’s population.
At first, this fact may not sit well
with the Philippines’ annual per
capita consumption of 120 kilograms,
or about 5 cups, of rice per day. Why
buy that much rice for the table when
a significant amount is thrown away,
taking with it all the nutrients and
energy that rice can give? National
Food Authority Administrator
Angelito Banayo has a term for this
behavior—takaw-tingin (literally, takaw
pertains to gluttony, tingin means
sight; the concept refers to impulse
buying or acquiring at the sight of
things desirable). But, what seems to
be wrong with a few grains of rice left
on the plate or in the pot? The devil is
in the details.

Will it be hard to change the wasteful
eating habits in the Philippines?
According to Flordeliza Bordey, an
economist at the Philippine Rice
Research Institute (PhilRice), “If we
look at the trend of the two FNRI
surveys (2003 and 2008), it is not
impossible to influence the seemingly
wasteful eating behavior of Filipinos.”
Campaigns on raising awareness can
be a key to this.
Rice Today April-June 2012

Dr. Bordey, who is also the
program leader of PhilRice’s impact
evaluation, policy research, and
advocacy, said that PhilRice launched
a rice awareness campaign in 2011, as
part of its celebration of rice awareness
month (November). “The messages
of this campaign are ‘eat your rice
right’ and ‘save rice, save lives,’
which advocated reducing rice waste
at the consumer level,” she added.
The activities included a fun run,
university visits, and Facebook blogs.
According to Dr. Bordey, PhilRice
proposes a similar campaign during
the national year of rice in 2012.
Approved by the Department of
Agriculture, this campaign aims to
reach out to more consumers.
The hundred tons of rice wasted
each year, not just in the Philippines
but in the whole world, need to be
taken seriously. Our social conscience
will tell us that the rice we waste (or
money, for that matter) can just be the
very rice we need to feed the hungry
and the undernourished.
As research institutions take
part in securing food for the next
generations through high-yielding
crops, consumers must also help solve
problems in food scarcity through
responsible consumption, so that
everyone will have enough to eat.
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Rice fables: Philippines

The first palay
retold by Alice Flinn-Stilwell
illustrated by Sherri Maigne Meneses

This Philippine folklore about the origin of rice has been told in various ways in
many a gathering as it was passed from generation to generation.

L

ong ago, when the world was new and peaceful,
trees grew tall and strong, flowers bloomed,
oceans and swift rivers rippled under sunny skies,
and animals roamed in abundance.
All people were hunters and gatherers. They moved
from place to place, living under leafy shelters or in dry
caves. Food was easily available. Fish were easy to catch,
fruits and tubers were plentiful, and they could always
trap an animal to roast.

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Makisig and Liwayway lived happily. Life, like the
world around them, seemed idyllic. Being newly married,
they wanted time to be alone, so they moved their camp
away from the clan and closer to the sea.
Late one afternoon, Makisig returned from collecting
shellfish from the rocks near the shore.
“Liwayway, I like this place,” he said.
“Me, too!” Liwayway replied, taking the laden basket
from him.
The setting sun caught the crests of the waves and
turned them from golden orange, then red, until the sun
disappeared below the horizon of the South China Sea.
The fragrant warmth of the night enveloped the contented
couple.
Liwayway soon became pregnant. They were both
delighted and they decided to stay in their own place,
where Makisig cut bamboo to build a stronger shelter.
But then, the expected rains did not come. The sun
continued to shine every day, the soil dried and cracked,
the leaves on the trees turned brown and fell, and animals
left in search of food.
Makisig had to walk farther each day searching
for something to fill their food basket. He knew good
food was important for his wife and their coming child.
Sometimes, he ate only a few berries, saving the more
succulent ones for Liwayway.
One hot afternoon, Makisig trudged a long way. He
found nothing to eat. He searched in a small valley, but
found nothing. He trudged on up a steep hill to find only
yellowing grass. Exhausted, he lay down under a small
scrubby tree.
He lay with his eyes closed, tired, worried, but
enjoying the respite from walking. After a while, a light
cooling breeze fanned him. Feeling refreshed, he opened
his eyes.
“I must be dreaming,” he thought, “the grass is
dancing.”
He shut his eyes and rested again. Then he heard
sounds like music. The dry grass rustled rhythmically,
and seemed to say, “Makisig, we want to help. We have

Rice Today January-March 2013

something for you. Pick our grains. We are good food and
delicious.”
Makisig peered through half-opened eyes, then
looked again more closely. He stared in disbelief. The
grass was bowed down with grains. He struggled to his
feet and picked a drooping stalk.
“Smells good!” he said aloud.
The breeze rustled the grass again, and seemed to
say, “Pound the grains lightly with a stone to remove
the golden brown husk. Boil the pearly white parts. The
grains are good.”
Makisig doubted that this dry hard grain could taste
good. But, his basket was still empty, so he filled it with
heads of this grass and set off home.
“We can only try,” he thought.
As he reached their bamboo shelter, he worried.
“Did I imagine it all?” But, his basket was full, so
he told Liwayway the whole story. They removed the
husks, and the white grains were soon bubbling in a
clay pot over a fire.
What the grasses told Makisig was true. The hard
grains softened, and also became much larger. They
put the hot grains on banana leaves to cool, added a few
small fish, and sat down to a feast.
“Mmm, delicious!” said Liwayway.
”And how good to feel full,” murmured Makisig.
They slept well that night.
Makisig returned the next day to cut as much grain
as he could carry. The wind whispered again. “Plant the
best grains in the valley, in muddy soil. If it doesn’t rain,
carry water from the river. The plants will grow lush and
green and will give you more grains—plenty for you and
Liwayway, and for the new child. In time, there will be
enough to share with your clan. Call the grains palay!”
Makisig and Liwayway never went hungry
again, nor did their clan. Soon, all were growing
this wonder grain.
Ms. Flinn-Stilwell is a writer based in
Hobart, Australia. This story is part of
her forthcoming book, Rice–a grain with
many stories, a collection of 28 legends
about rice and the many customs associated
with this amazing grain. Ms. Meneses is a
communications associate at IRRI.
Rice Today January-March 2013

13
35

A consumer’s

guide
to rice

color grains from the whole-grain head
rice. A head rice output of 55% to 60% is
considered good for modern equipment.
In many areas around the world,
rice is packaged and labeled according
to grade, variety, percent of broken,
and off-color grains present. White-rice
quality increases with the number of
times the grain passes through the mill
and more starch layers are removed. This
is an important aspect in making sake, a
Japanese rice wine for which the liquor’s
quality is judged on the number of
milling cycles, among other factors.

Story and photos by John R. Leeper

A

long time ago, I was told, “Rice
is to Asians what wine is to
Europeans.” Wine is linked to
Europe’s culture and cuisines
as closely as rice is to Asia’s. Both rice
and wine have myriad differences, but
both are influenced by the environmental
conditions under which the crop is
grown. Each domesticated rice variety
has qualities or traits that differentiate it
from all others.

A. Short B. Medium C. Long

Grain shape
Rice grains can be round to long,
straight, or curved. They can be short,
medium, and long. A simple way to
determine a rice variety’s length is to
place a grain vertically beside grains
of the same variety that are stacked on
their sides. Then count the number of
grain widths it takes to equal a grain’s
length. This method works for unhulled,
dehulled, and milled grains alike. When
the length of the grain is no more than
twice its width, it is short grained.
Medium-grain rice is characterized by
its length being between two and three
times its width. And, long-grain rice has
a length more than three times its width.

Parboiled rice
Parboiling is a method of partially
cooking or gelatinizing the rice grain in
its hull. For millers, gelatinization helps
mend the grain’s cracks and fissures,
and this improves the head rice or whole
grain milling rate. Parboiling also
transfers some of the nutrients from the
outer germ layer, which is milled away,
to make polished or white rice, into the
endosperm. Milled parboiled rice tends
to have a slight yellowish or tannish
color. It also tends to take a little more
water and cooking time. When cooked,
parboiled rice is less sticky than its
nonparboiled counterpart.

14
38

A

Rice Today October-December 2011

B

C

Milling quality
Rice quality also depends on milling.
The milling process involves more
than whitening or polishing—the
mechanical removal of the pericarp from
the endocarp. It begins with cleaning
the paddy or harvested grain. This step
may be followed by parboiling. Finally,
the bran is milled from the grain. On
average, with modern milling equipment,
dehusking removes 20% of the paddy
weight. An additional 10% is removed
after milling, leaving 70% of the original
weight. Modern rice mills also use
sophisticated sorting machines that
separate broken, chalky, speckled, and off-

Grain color
When milled, rice varieties produce
white grain. Brown rice, also known as
husked rice or cargo rice, is unmilled,
has the bran attached to the grain, and is
one of the healthiest forms of rice to eat.
A majority of the vitamins in rice are in
the bran and are lost with milling. Rice is
milled because the oils in the bran readily
oxidize, turn rancid, and impart an offflavor. Storing brown rice in the freezer
will slow the process of rancidification.
Rice bran oil is one of the healthiest
plant oils and is high in heart-healthy
tocopherols and tocotrienols, which are
members of the vitamin E family. Rice
bran oil extracted by some modern mills
can be used in high-quality cooking oil,
pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. The
bran is also used as animal feed and
would be an excellent source of vitamins
and fiber if the oil could be stabilized.
Rice starch
Amylose and amylopectin are the two
basic starches that make up the rice
endosperm. Amylose molecules are
lightly branched chains of glucose
monomers. Amylopectin, on the other
hand, is made up of branching chains of
the glucose molecule and is more easily
digested than amylose. Long-grain rice
typically has more amylose and is less

sticky than medium- and short-grain rice,
which tend to have progressively higher
amylopectin content. Sticky or glutinous
rice has no or a negligible amount of
amylose. Rice is gluten-free and is
considered hypoallergenic.
Rice starch can be milled into
flour or used in making everything
from cosmetics to tablets. Rice starch
granules are particularly good for making
puddings, confections, and gravies,
for which smoothness and texture are
important.
Cooked rice may also be
enzymatically digested to produce rice
syrup, or it can be fermented to produce
alcohol. Sake is the most famous of the
rice-based alcoholic beverages.
Enriched and fortified rice
Packaged rice may be labeled as either
enriched or fortified. These represent
two methods of adding back the vitamins
and minerals that are lost in the milling
process, which produces white or
polished rice.
Enriched rice is simply rice
overcoated with vitamins and minerals.
It is recommended not to wash enriched
rice because this removes these vitamins
and minerals.
Fortified rice is made by blending
vitamins and minerals with rice flour and
extruding the dough through a granulator
to create an artificial rice grain. These
vitamins and minerals are then blended
with the milled rice at a ratio of normally
one or two fortified grains per hundred
grains of milled rice. Fortified rice can
be washed prior to cooking without a
significant loss of vitamins and minerals.
Cooked rice
No single method of cooking rice works
well for all varieties and cuisines.
The optimum amounts of ingredients,
temperature, and time allowed for
cooking will vary with the variety, with

Rice Today October-December 2011

the food being prepared, and with the
equipment and method of cooking. Other
ingredients, such as milk and cream, can
be added before, during, or after cooking
to add color, flavor, or texture.
When I was a child, my mother
cooked rice on the stove in a special rice
pot with a double lip. A crust of brown,
crispy, partially caramelized rice would
frequently form at the bottom of the pot.
This layer was called “koge” (pronounced
“ko-gay”), Japanese for burned, and was a
favored childhood delicacy. Unfortunately,
with the modern rice cookers, koge rice is
a thing of the past.
Packaged precooked rice dishes, now
in the market, need to be reheated only
by placing the package in boiling water
or the microwave.
The taste of rice
The taste of rice is the marriage of two
senses: flavor and texture. A majority of
rice varieties are nonaromatic and have
subtle flavors that do not rely on aroma.
Aromatic rice varieties, on the other
hand, derive much of their distinctive
flavor from the mixture of volatile
chemicals. Cooked rice can run a wide
gamut of textures. It can be waxy, firm,
sticky, smooth, or creamy.
At times, I’m asked what my favorite
rice variety is. I always reply that I have
no favorite; it depends upon what I am
eating. Just as Basmati or Jasmine rice
will not make good sushi or donburi,
Nihonbare rice does not make the best
Biryani rice, a popular Indian dish, or
khao pad gai, a Thai rice dish. Each
variety was developed for a consumer
within a specific culture and cuisine.
This being said, it gets down to personal
preferences. Does this not hold true for
wine as well?
Dr. Leeper is rice technology leader for
RiceCo International, Inc.

39
15

Grain of truth

by Sarah Beebout

A

rsenic, cadmium, mercury,
and lead are four ubiquitous
trace elements known to have
a harmful effect on human
health. These elements are naturally
present at very low concentrations in
the environment, and human bodies
are able to detoxify them in limited
amounts.
Most of what we know about
toxicity of these elements comes
from case studies of people who
were exposed to the toxins through
unrecognized pollution sources. In
these cases, the people were exposed
to the toxin through many ways such
as air, water, and food simultaneously.
So far, no evidence shows clearly that
rice consumption, by itself, has had
toxic effects on humans.
But, since the effects of longterm chronic exposure are not well
known, people are concerned that
rice consumption might expose them
to these elements and endanger
their health. This concern has led to
interesting scientific investigation
and discussion in the 7 years since I
last wrote on this topic (see Are we at
risk from metal contamination in rice? on
page 38, Vol. 5, No. 3 of Rice Today).

Arsenic

Of these four elements, arsenic
remains the biggest concern. Arsenic
can move from the soil into rice grain,
and rice produced in high-arsenic
soil has higher arsenic than average.
The arsenic in soil or irrigation
water is sometimes high enough to
inhibit plant growth, resulting in
low yield. Scientists have already
identified rice varieties that grow well
in high-arsenic conditions and can
minimize arsenic accumulation in the
grain. So, plant breeding programs
can potentially develop even safer
varieties. Also, rice plants in more
flooded soil (anaerobic conditions)
take up more arsenic. So, an effective
16
46

way to lessen arsenic uptake is to use
moderately dryer growing methods
through irrigation management. The
relative toxicity of different chemical
forms of arsenic is still debated. But,
the science for differentiating among
these forms is progressing rapidly. I
hope that we will soon know which
forms of arsenic are safer and which
forms accumulate in rice grains
under different conditions.

Cadmium

Cadmium is second as a public concern about toxins in rice. We know
that rice plants can take up cadmium
from polluted soil and produce grains
with elevated cadmium concentration. However, very few reports have
shown cadmium concentrations
higher than the “allowable limit”
for rice grains, even when they are
grown in moderately polluted soil.
But, not everyone agrees on what this
allowable limit should be. Cadmium
is known to be more likely taken up
by rice plants when the soil is aerobic
(the opposite of arsenic). So, one way
to minimize cadmium uptake would
be continuous flooding.
Studies to understand and
identify the genes that control the
movement of cadmium from rice
roots into the grains are in progress
including the identification of genes
that essentially prevent cadmium from
reaching rice grains. These genes can
be helpful in plant breeding programs
to ensure that all new rice varieties
have a very low cadmium risk.

Mercury

The mercury content of rice has
not received much public attention
because of other more important food
sources of mercury (most notably,
fish). Mercury in rice is reportedly
lower than “allowable limits”—with
the same caveat that these “limits”
are still under discussion.
Rice Today July-September 2013

A potential problem is that,
although mercury in rice is lower
than in fish, a large amount of rice
consumed from some contaminated
areas may be enough to raise the
overall consumption of mercury to
a worrisome level. Since moderate
mercury contamination is widespread
from coal-burning exhaust, some
scientists have been investigating
how mercury contamination affects
rice. One of the more toxic forms,
methylmercury, is formed in flooded
or intermittently flooded soils and
is sometimes present in rice grains.
Some rice varieties are better than
others at excluding mercury from the
grains, but we don’t know yet how
they do this so we cannot recommend
which varieties are the safest.

Lead

Lead, on the other hand, received
the least public interest until last
month, when an unpublished
study indicating high lead in
rice was presented at a scientific
meeting, causing a publicity stir.
However, these anomalously “high
concentrations” have not been
published scientifically, and the
preponderance of published evidence
so far indicates that very little lead
accumulates in rice grains, even in
areas with moderately polluted soil.

Conclusion

Consumers need not change their
rice-eating habits based on any
known risks from toxic elements.
Scientists can now detect very low
amounts of these elements in rice
grains. Some studies are being
done on how these elements move
within soil and rice plants. We hope
that these will enable us to develop
even safer rice varieties and rice
production techniques.
Dr. Beebout is a soil chemist at IRRI.

Study serves up healthy choice of rice

R

ice consumers concerned
about reports that rice
is linked to diabetes can
rest assured that rice
can be part of a healthy diet,
with scientists finding that the
glycemic index (GI) of rice varies
a lot from one type of rice to
another, with most varieties
scoring a low to medium GI.
The findings of the research,
which analyzed 235 types of rice
from around the world, is good
news because it not only means
rice can be part of a healthy diet
for the average consumer, but it
also means people with diabetes,
or at risk of diabetes, can select
the right rice to help maintain a
healthy, low-GI diet.
The study found that the GI
of rice ranges from a low of 48 to
a high of 92, with an average of
64.
The research team from
the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) and Australia’s
Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organisation
(CSIRO) Food Futures Flagship
also identified the key gene that
determines the GI of rice, an important
achievement that offers rice breeders
the opportunity to develop varieties
with different GI levels to meet
consumer needs. Future development
of low-GI rice would also enable food
manufacturers to develop new, low-GI
food products based on rice.
Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald, who
led the IRRI team, said that GI is
a measure of the relative ability of
carbohydrates in foods to raise blood
sugar levels after eating.
“Understanding that different
types of rice have different GI values
allows rice consumers to make
informed choices about the sort
of rice they want to eat,” she said.
“Rice varieties such as India’s most
widely grown rice variety, Swarna,
have a low GI and varieties such
as Doongara from Australia and
Basmati have a medium GI.”
irri

Rice, health, and toxic metals

More than 3 billion rice consumers can rest assured
rice can be part of a healthy, low-Gi diet.

Understanding that
different types of rice
have different GI values
allows rice consumers to
make informed choices
about the sort of rice
they want to eat.

Dr. Tony Bird, CSIRO Food
Futures Flagship researcher, said that
low-GI diets offer a range of health
benefits: “Low-GI diets can reduce
the likelihood of developing type
2 diabetes, and are also useful for
helping diabetics better manage their
condition.
“This is good news for diabetics
and people at risk of diabetes who
are trying to control their condition
Rice Today July-September 2012

through diet, as it means they
can select the right rice to help
maintain a healthy, low-GI diet,”
he added.
Low-GI foods are those
measured 55 and less, mediumGI foods are those measured
between 56 and 69, while high-GI
foods measure 70 and above.
When food is measured to
have a high GI, it means it is
easily digested and absorbed by
the body, which often results in
fluctuations in blood sugar levels
that can increase the chances
of getting diabetes, and make
management of type 2 diabetes
difficult.
Conversely, foods with low
GI are those that have slow
digestion and absorption rates
in the body, causing a gradual
and sustained release of sugar
into the blood, which has been
proven beneficial to health,
including reducing the chances of
developing diabetes.
Eating rice with other foods can
help reduce the overall GI of a meal
and, when combined with regular
exercise, can reduce the chances
of getting diabetes. In addition,
people who exercise need more
carbohydrates in their diet and can
take advantage of low-GI foods for
sustained activity.
Rice plays a strong role in
global food security. Being the
staple for about 3.5 billion people,
it is important to maximize the
nutritional value of rice. Low-GI rice
will have a particularly important
role in the diets of people who derive
the bulk of their calories from rice
and who cannot afford to eat rice
with other foods to help keep the GI
of their diet low. Low-GI rice could
help to keep diabetes at bay in these
communities.
This is the first of several studies
the group plans to carry out based
on investigating the role of rice in
mitigating chronic diseases such as
type 2 diabetes.
7
17

irri

Mari Tefre/Global Crop DiversiTy TrusT (2)

Governments, individuals, and organizations, including IRRI, come together to secure the world’s food
in a frozen cellar located just over a thousand kilometers away from the North Pole

The VaulT's illuminated roof against the scenic surroundings.

Mankind takes a giant leap—

again
by Ma. Lizbeth J. Baroña

The VaulT's amidst the vastness of the cold, icy surroundings.

T

he first was a footprint on the Moon.
The second one is a freezer.
This freezer, however, is one dug
deep inside a frozen mountain about
1,130 kilometers from the North Pole,
in the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway.
Tucked away in this giant refrigerated
vault is the foundation of humans’
food—seeds.
Neatly packed and frozen to
withstand hundreds of years of
storage and just about any conceivable
destructive force known to humans are
duplicates of seeds of different crops
from all over the world, including
more than a hundred thousand seeds of
different rice types.
The International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) sent its final batch of
rice seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed
Vault, dubbed the “Doomsday Vault,”
in November 2010. IRRI deposited
the largest shipment of 70,180 for the
inauguration of the Vault in February
2008. Following its last shipment, IRRI
now has the largest number of accessions,
amounting to 112,807, for any single crop
18
30

and its wild relatives kept in the Vault.
These are duplicates of the rice diversity
conserved in IRRI’s International Rice
Genebank (IRRI-IRG).
Dr. Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton,
evolutionary biologist and IRRI’s T.T.
Chang Genetics Resources Center head,
assures that IRRI takes every reasonable
measure to make the collection in the
IRRI-IRG safe.
“The IRRI-IRG is earthquake-proof,
typhoon-proof, and flood-proof,” Dr.
Sackville Hamilton explains. “We also
have an independent backup power supply
to protect against power cuts, and we
keep a supply of spares in stock to deal
rapidly with equipment failure. We also
have a backup collection to the primary
collection kept at IRRI that is untouched,
but provides immediate backup.”
Dr. Sackville Hamilton said that,
since 1980, IRRI has also been keeping
another backup of the IRRI-IRG
collection at Fort Collins, Colorado, in
the United States. “The United States’
environmental and political risks are
different from those in the Philippines,”
Rice Today July-September 2011

he further explains. “This backup
collection in Fort Collins adds to the
safety measures being taken at IRRI.
“The collection kept in Svalbard is
our ultimate backup. We cannot conceive
of any other measure we could take to
make it safer. We cannot think of a more
secure system to safeguard this vital
resource.”

Life’s frozen cellar

The frozen mountains, the isolation, and
the polar bears that provide extra layers
of security are just some of the reasons
why the world’s agricultural heritage
found itself a fortress in Svalbard,
Norway.
According to the Global Crop
Diversity Trust, “The technical
conditions of the site are virtually
perfect. The location inside the mountain
increases security and unparalleled
insulation properties. The area is
geologically stable, humidity levels are
low, and it has no measurable radiation
inside the mountain. The Vault is placed
well above sea level (130 meters), far

above the point of any projected sea-level
rise.”1
The Trust is a public-private
partnership that raises funds from
individual, corporate, and government
donors to establish an endowment that
will provide complete and continuous
funding for key crop collections.
The Trust explains that, even if the
supply of electricity gets cut off, the
frozen mountain and its thick rocks will
keep the seeds frozen for a long time.
The Vault, constructed by the
Norwegian government as a “service
to the world,” is managed under terms
between the Global Crop Diversity Trust,
the Norwegian government, and the
Nordic Genetic Resource Center.
The International Treaty on
Plant Genetic Resources for Food
and Agriculture in 2004 provided the
platform through which an international
legal framework for conserving and
accessing crop diversity, as well as
building the Vault, became a reality.

Taming the wild

Although thousands of rice species exist
around the world, only a few of these
are being cultivated. These cultivated
rice varieties are naturally diverse. This
diversity, however, is not enough to build
better varieties. It is, in this case, more
than in any other, that the extraordinary
diversity in rice and its wild relatives
becomes crucial.
For decades, scientists have been
scouring the unbeaten path of the vast
wild rice gene pool to look for genes that
allow them to develop rice that provides

1
2

IRRI scIenTIsTs at the TT chang Genetic Resources center
prepare seeds for shipment last november 2010.

more yield and is tolerant of stresses
such as drought, heat, flooding, and
saline soil.
Among the major setbacks to food
production today is the increasing scarcity
of resources. Hence, we look more closely
at rice, and at every other crop species, to
find ways to unlock the many secrets of its
gene pool and help it adapt, survive, and
thrive despite the many challenges.
Such is the story of “scuba rice”—
the IRRI-bred variety that can withstand
being submerged under water for 2
weeks (see Scuba rice on pages 26-31 of
Rice Today Vol. 8, No. 2). Many years
ago, an Indian low-yielding rice variety
called FR13A caught the imagination of
scientists due to one remarkable trait:
flood tolerance.
For years, scientists looked for
the genes that gave FR13A its floodresistant characteristic. And, when they
found it, they named the gene “SUB1.”
Today, high-yielding varieties that had
been given the flood-resistance gene are
helping rice farmers cope with frequently
flooded rice fields.
The wonderful story of the
previously unremarkable FR13A
highlights why the world should be
worried about vanishing plant species
and rice varieties.

Treasure on loan

A nuclear holocaust need not happen to
spell doomsday for food sources. Every
day, a crop species is lost to typhoons,
floods, war, and, sometimes, to simple
things like mismanagement or lack of a
sustained power supply.

It is hard for some people to
appreciate the importance of conservation.
But, thinking of crop conservation as a
way of keeping a good credit record may
help, because “biodiversity, the world’s
most valuable resource, is on loan to us
from our children.”2
Diversity is the insurance for food
security. Every time a species is lost, that
diversity narrows, which means that the
number of options shrinks as well. There
is something “in” these vanishing varieties
that is priceless: genes. These genes hold
the many answers to questions on basic
survival and sustaining life on the planet.
Scientists said that warmer
temperature causes lower yield for rice.
They may not be able to do something
about the heat that gets trapped in the
atmosphere, but they can do something
about the food. They can breed varieties
that can stand up to climate change.

Food for the next generation

Backing up and protecting the world’s
diverse agricultural heritage are giving
this generation, and the next, options
to get around nature’s roadblocks as
the human population grows, while the
resources that are needed to meet the
corresponding demand for nourishment
become scarce.
These “options” are kept frozen,
ready to be retrieved when events of the
future require it. It is a way of ensuring
that food keeps coming even well after
this generation has passed on.
See related video at http://snipurl.com/
svalbard_shipment.

www.croptrust.org
IRRI. 1998. Biodiversity: Maintaining the Balance (1997-1998). Manila (Philippines): IRRI. 60 p.

Rice Today July-September 2011

19
31

Farmers have more access to good-quality seeds through community seed banks

I

n Arakan Valley, the upland
“rice belt” of North Cotabato,
Philippines, farmers hold dear
a rice variety—Dinorado, a
native upland rice characterized
by its pinkish grain, sweet aroma,
and good eating quality. For the
Arakeños, Dinorado has been part of
their community as far as they can
remember. Long ago, the Arakan
Valley was home to exotic Dinorado
rice. So much so that Dinorado has
become part of their pride and social
identity.
Dinorado is a “special” rice that is
sought for weddings, birthdays, and
fiestas, among other occasions, and
it is a status symbol in the country.
Its price is 50% higher than ordinary
rice. Unfortunately, the quality of
Arakan Dinorado diminished as
the genetic purity of its seed stocks
declined.1
To preserve the purity of the
seeds, farmers must know how to
manage the health of their seeds—and
this lack in management was found
in the farm communities in an initial
needs assessment of the Consortium
for Unfavorable Rice Environments
(CURE) of the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI).
Also, most of these farmers lack
access to higher-yielding modern
varieties. Traditional varieties tend to

These are some of the challenges
that CURE aimed to tackle in Arakan.
In a team effort, the CURE scientists
at IRRI joined forces with USM, the
Philippine Rice Research Institute,
the Municipal Agricultural Office
of Arakan, and the Department of
Agriculture. They call themselves the
“Arakan Valley team.”

Seeds of survival

have a lower yield (an average of 1.6
tons per hectare). Thus, 4–6 months
of hunger is a common experience
among farmers who cultivate
traditional varieties. During these
months of hunger, farmers and their
family sometimes eat the seeds set
aside for the next cropping season.
Another problem is that upland
rice farming, which is mostly rainfed,
is at the mercy of the weather. “For this
same reason, seed producers do not
usually lend seeds to upland farmers;
even local moneylenders are less likely
to invest in farming that is deemed high
risk,” related Dr. Rosa Fe Hondrade,
a social scientist at the University of
Southern Mindanao (USM).

The Arakan Valley team understands
the value of seeds to farmers. Farmers
depend on viable seeds for the
survival of their households; when
seeds are scarce, so is food security.
To avoid this problem, the team set its
sights on improving seed health and
quality management practices of the
farmers and making modern varieties
along with other traditional varieties
available to them.
So, they mobilized a group of
farmers who were willing to be
trained on how to properly produce
good-quality seeds and to know
about modern rice varieties suitable
in their area. This group of farmers
evolved into a local network called
the “community seed bank.”

Benefits to the farmers

Through the community seed bank,
“We learned how to produce quality
seeds such as getting rid of unwanted

On-farm conservation

“The community seed bank in
Arakan achieved a momentum
that allows farmers access to the
seeds they need while maintaining
biodiversity,” said Dr. Casiana Vera
Cruz, senior scientist at IRRI and
CURE work group leader for upland
farming areas.
Arakan’s community seed bank
is categorized as in situ conservation
(or on-farm conservation). In contrast
to off-farm conservation (gene banks),
in situ conservation allows “farmers
to be stewards of crop diversity—
they grow varieties as a way of
conserving them and preserving
plant genetic diversity,” Dr. Vera
Cruz explained. “By increasing the
diversity of varieties that farmers
grow and preserve through active use
of traditional varieties, particularly
those with useful traits such as good
grain quality, adaptability, resistance
to many biotic stresses, and tolerance
of abiotic stresses, farmers can

government unit
even recognized and
supported it.

Amidst progress

Farmers Hernani Dumalag and nestor
nombreda benefit from the community seed
bank by having access to good quality seeds.

increase yield and reduce disease and
pest problems.”
Plant genetic diversity is perhaps
more important to farmers than
any other environmental factor. It
provides them and breeders with
options to develop, through selection
and breeding, new and more
productive crops that are resistant
to pests and diseases and are well
adapted to changing environments.2

More productive crops

Genetic diversity made it possible for
plant breeders to develop new highyielding modern rice varieties, which
the Arakan Valley team introduced to
farmers. These varieties were shown
on demonstration during farmers’
field days for farmers to judge how
modern varieties perform when it
comes to yield, grain quality, and
resistance to pests and diseases,
among other factors important to
farmers.
“Farmers can then make an
informed decision on what to sow
on their respective farms,” said Dr.
Edwin Hondrade, CURE key site
coordinator of USM.
With ACSBO knitting the Arakan
farm community closer together, it
becomes easier for farmers to share
their experiences on the type of
varieties they grow, their farming
practices, and their seed health
management practices.
In short, the community seed
bank was widely accepted in several
villages of Arakan, and the local

So much has changed
in Arakan since
the 1990s. “Going
to the upland areas
of Arakan from
Kidapawan, its nearest
city, used to take
almost a half day,”
noted Dr. Vera Cruz.
“But now, it takes
just over an hour. Gone are the rocks
that speckled the unpaved roads,
which made them rougher and more
slippery during the wet season.”
Now, a long stretch of
cement roads connects farms to
markets. North Cotabato has been
transformed from the fifth-poorest
province in the Philippines in 1998
into one of the progressive provinces
and a favorite investment area in the
region.
This influx of investments
transformed some of the upland
rice areas in Arakan into plantation
crops, particularly the revival of
old and new rubber plantations.
Rubber trees did make some Arakan
farmers financially well-off. This
Known For its
aroma and good
eating quality,
Dinorado fetches
a good price in
the market.

ISaganI Serrano

by Lanie C. Reyes

Jack alberto S. Herrera (3)

seeds

types of rice from our fields, as
well as selecting, drying, and
storing seeds, and other seed health
practices,” said Nestor Nombreda, a
54-year-old farmer and president of
the Arakan Community Seed Bank
Organization (ACSBO).
“In 2006, ACSBO came into the
picture because farmers wanted
their community seed bank to
continue even after the project ended,
explained Dr. Rosa Fe Hondrade.”
“An important benefit of being
a member of the community seed
bank is that, if my crop fails, I can
borrow seeds from another farmer,”
said Hernani Dumalag, 59 years
old. “If I need a variety of seed, I
can barter even a small amount
of rice, let us say, 5 kilos. Besides,
buying seeds from a seed producer
is expensive.”
Aside from the benefit of readily
accessible seeds, farmers know the
source and the quality of the seeds.
Thus, the community seed bank
provides an informal guarantee of
quality.

1

Zolvinski S. 2008. Listening to farmers: Qualitative impact assessments in unfavorable rice environments. IRRI Technical Bulletin No. 12. 47 p. (http://snipurl.com.
listen_to_farmers).

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20

Rice Today April-June 2012

2

Rao NK. 2004. Plant genetic resources: Advancing conservation and use through biotechnology. African Journal of Biotechnology 3(2):136-145.

Rice Today April-June 2012

17
21

ISaganI Serrano

HusbanD anD wiFe Dr. edwin Hondrade
and Dr. rosa Fe Hondrade helped mobilize
the arakan community seed bank.

The more, the better

Crop diversification is also promoted
in Arakan. “We always encourage
farmers to grow different rice
varieties as well as crops,” said
Dr. Edwin Hondrade. “A kind of
insurance in case one variety or crop
fails.”
This strategy was proven helpful
in 2011 when most of the rice crops
in Arakan failed because of rat and
pest infestations. Because many kinds
of rice varieties were sown, some
varieties survived. It can be noted
that most farmers mentioned modern
variety UPL Ri5 as having survived.

Seed banking with a twist

some rice areas in arakan are converted
to rubber plantations because of higher
potential income from rubber.

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Rice Today April-June 2012

The Arakan farmers often cultivate
Dinorado as a cash crop, but the
well-off farmers, on the other hand,
grow Dinorado for their food. Among
Arakeños, “no other rice can compete
with its taste.”
Under the leadership of
municipal agricultural officer Edgar
Araña, Dinorado, Arakan’s priority
product, is listed under the “one
town, one product” program of the
national government. That is why
knowledge of good seed health
practices is of great value for the
Arakan community.
Moreover, the community seed
bank model has been embraced
by the local government unit of
Arakan, but with a twist. It applies
the principles and practices of a
community seed bank to develop and
preserve its exotic Dinorado variety,
and it promotes organic farming.
“Applying ‘organic amendment’ to
the Arakan Dinorado brand further
increases its value,” Mr. Araña
said. “It can be sold for up to 80
pesos (almost $2) per kilogram.”
This is more than double the price
of standard types of rice in the
Philippines.
For Mr. Araña, the local
government unit is not only

some members of the arakan Valley team: (L-r) James Dulay of the
local government unit of arakan, Dr. edwin Hondrade of the university
of southern mindanao, arakan municipal agricultural officer edgar
araña, Dr. casiana Vera cruz of irri, and mr. enrique Layola of the
Department of agriculture.

preserving Arakan’s Dinorado and
conserving biodiversity but also
nurturing the soil—the “source
of life”—on which rice grows.
“Organic farming is friendly to
the environment and healthy for
humans,” he said.
Within the context of
conserving the “source of life,” in
2009, the local government unit
established the Land Utilization
Program for Sustainable Livelihood
of Arakeños (LUPA, the Tagalog
word for soil). The LUPA conducts
farmers’ field schools that
incorporate community seed
banking and organic farming.
In addition, Mr. Araña shared
that the community seed bank has an
ecotourism aspect, which is deemed
a spillover success. “People are
interested in visiting Arakan to see
how its exotic Dinorado is cultivated
organically.”

herbicides,” farmer Nestor Nombreda
said.
“If one’s area is small, hand
weeding is okay,” he explained. “But,
if the area is more than a hectare, it is
difficult to weed by hand.”

A farmer’s choice

Whether it is about the type of rice
varieties to cultivate or the methods
of farming practiced, “farmers
have to judge the opportunities
available to them and what suits their
conditions best before they decide for
themselves,” said Dr. David Johnson,
IRRI weed scientist and CURE
coordinator.
“It is important that we offer

farmers options, as we recognize that
farmers often know better than we do
in many ways,” he added.
Surely, the community seed bank
has helped farmers in Arakan. They
learned how to produce good-quality
seeds that resulted in an increased
seed supply of a culturally important
traditional variety that fetches a high
price such as Dinorado and a highyielding modern variety such as UPL
Ri5. Now, with access to modern
varieties, they can have more stable
and better yields that can stand up to
unfavorable conditions. As a result,
more and more farmers will no
longer experience food insecurity and
hunger.
lanIe reyeS

“UPL Ri5 has been preferred by
both growers and local rice traders
for almost two decades since it was
introduced by the USM team,” said
Dr. Rosa Fe Hondrade.

In fact, “ACSBO is so successful
that it has become a model in nearby
towns,” said Dr. Edwin Hondrade.

Jack alberto S. Herrera (2)

economic progress became evident
with some changes in the Valley:
some nipa huts became houses of
stones; the usual sight of horses tied
to a tree became pickup trucks and
utility vehicles; plus, some signs
of development here and there—a
gasoline station, a grocery store, and
a hospital.
With rubber sap priced at almost
US$1 (40 pesos) per kilogram, a farmer
can earn as much as $2,300 (more
than 100,000 pesos) from a hectare of
a 6-year-old rubber plantation. As the
trees mature, this gives more income
to farmers. And, farmers can sustain
this potential income until the trees
reach 25 years old.
But what has become of the
upland rice farmers in Arakan Valley?
Are they a case of poverty caught in
the midst of progress?
Those farmers who converted
their rice areas into rubber
plantations earlier are reaping the
benefits of their investments, whereas
some others still need to wait for a
year or two before they start to tap
their rubber trees.
Surprisingly, despite the
popularity and the potential income
from rubber plantations, the Arakan
farmers did not stop cultivating rice.
For them, nothing beats the security
of having some rice saved for their
consumption. For this reason, ACSBO
continues to be relevant even with
this change in the community.

Confessions of a “backslider”

Although organic farming is
believed and followed faithfully by
members of the LUPA, there are some
“backsliders.”
“We are called ‘backsliders’
because we reverted back to using
chemicals such as pesticides and

Hinumay, Lambog, and amma are
among the traditional varieties
that farmers grow in arakan Valley.

Rice Today April-June 2012

23
19

treasure
by Alaric Francis Santiaguel

Challenged and threatened by development intruding on their
lands and traditions, the seed keepers of the Philippines’ Cordillera
region fiercely held on to their native rice varieties. Now, the world is
discovering the precious gems in their possession: heirloom rice.

F

or thousands of years, the
indigenous tribes of the
mountainous Cordillera region in
the northern part of Luzon Island
in the Philippines placed their fate in the
hands of chosen women. They are the
“seed keepers” and they are tasked with
harvesting the life force of their rice.
Seed keepers select the grains to
be saved and sown for the next planting
season, thus playing a crucial role in
the turnout of the next rice harvests.
Before harvesting begins, they scour the
field and take great care in picking the
panicles with the best form and structure.
The prized seeds are then planted and
nurtured in specific areas in the rice
paddy isolated from other plants. These
are propagated until the seed keepers

24
12

have accumulated enough stocks to share
with farmers.
Through the millennia of crop
domestication and selection, the seed
keepers were, and still are, instrumental
in shaping the characteristics of their
rice varieties. Only the most vigorous,
acclimated, and healthy seedlings make
the cut—which means they are the most
suited to withstand pests, diseases, and the
environmental conditions of the region.
Heirloom harvest
After being handed down in an unbroken
link, from generation to generation,
more than 300 of these native rice
varieties achieved a venerated status
as tribal heirlooms. Heirloom rice is a
spiritual bridge to the ancestors who
Rice Today October-December 2010

built considerable knowledge through
trial and error and fashioned unique
technologies from experiences collected
over the centuries. It has become as much
a part of the region’s culture and identity
as the resplendent rice terraces that the
people’s forebearers carved out of the
mountainsides.
What actually separates native
varieties of rice from heirloom rice is
hard to identify. “What makes a family
belonging something treasurable?” asked
Nigel Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton, an
evolutionary biologist and head of the
International Rice Research Institute’s
(IRRI) T.T. Chang Genetic Resources
Center. “If it’s something that’s
been handed down from your greatgrandparents, it gains some meaning to

Cream of the crop. Seed keepers such as
editah Dumawol (inset) carefully scour
the rice fields for robust panicles heavy
with grains. only those that meet the seed
keepers’ standards are set aside for future
planting.

you. Some emotional meaning that has a
particular value in your way of living.
“I would think of it as a community
judgment,” he added. “It’s not really
the individual farmer. It needs a bigger
scale than just a farmer. But we’re
talking about just opinions here. This
is a concept that’s developing in many
countries, recognizing that something is
special about some old varieties that you
don’t get in new varieties.”

1
2

3

4

Genetic reservoir
But heirloom rice has intrinsic values
to outsiders as well. The seed keepers
were the original rice plant breeders.
The enormous diversity of rice they
developed in the Cordillera region is like
a big box of genetic tools that serve as a
crucial line of defense against the threat
of insects and diseases.
“When we bring rice into the
genebank and make it available for
breeding, the value in that comes in
specific genes,” said Dr. Sackville
Hamilton. “Maybe the aroma gene,
maybe something special about the
texture, the taste, the resistance to
diseases, and many different attributes.
We can generate a value that’s good
for farmers out of the material in the
genebank, just by virtue of its genetic
properties. We can combine these genetic
properties into other varieties and make,
we hope, better varieties.”
But these native rice varieties were
not always viewed this way.
Out with the old, in with the new
“When IRRI started, in the 1960s, the
mentality was: we need more food,” Dr.
Sackville Hamilton explained. “IRRI
knows how to produce more food, higher
yields, with more fertilizer, with dwarf
genes, all those kinds of things. We
developed the technology that replaced the
technologies that farmers had at the time.”
But every community had its own
culture, its own way of growing rice,
and its own varieties. So, Dr. Sackville
Hamilton said that by adopting IRRI’s
early technologies, “We just threw away
their old technology and replaced it with
the new technology.”
The new technology included new
high-performing rice varieties and
vegetables. The Banaue terrace farmers
in Ifugao Province, impressed by the
new varieties, swapped their heirloom
rice varieties for nonindigenous, highyielding rice varieties, which can be
planted and harvested twice a year,

and also for temperate vegetable crops
promoted by the Philippine government
through the Green Revolution.
The high price of change
But the new rice varieties and vegetable
crops required expensive inputs such
as fertilizers and pesticides. Years of
heavy use of pesticides and commercial
fertilizers diminished the fertility of the
1
soil. It also “accelerated the poisoning
of the rice terraces,”2 thus destroying
agrobiodiversity and making traditional
rice paddy cultivation of fish, shells, and
clams no longer feasible.3
The spiraling cost of pesticides and
chemical fertilizers had put farmers in
debt.3 When the farmers were forced
to stop using agrochemicals because of
their high prices, the yield capacity of
the rice in the Banaue terraces suffered
drastically. Robert Domoguen, chief
information officer, Department of
Agriculture in the Cordillera Region,
reported in 2008 that farmers who
tried to plant high-yielding varieties
in their fields stopped doing so when
they observed that, without chemical
fertilizers, the succeeding crops grown
in the same paddies produced low
yields.4 He added that modern varieties
also required pesticides to protect them
during diseases and pest infestation.
isagani serrano

chris quintana (2)

The seed keepers’

moDern-Day seed keeper. Dr. Sackville
Hamilton recognizes that the unique
genes in heirloom rice could be crucial
for breeding modern varieties.

Carling J. 2001. The Cordillera indigenous peoples, their environment and human rights. Paper presented at the Asia Society.
UNESCO Bangkok. 2008. The effects of tourism on culture and the environment in Asia and the Pacific: sustainable tourism and the preservation of the World Heritage Site of the
Ifugao Rice Terraces, Philippines. Bangkok (Thailand): UNESCO Bangkok. 90 p.
Baguilat Jr., Teodoro. 2005. Conservation and land use: using indigenous management systems in Ifugao, Philippine Cordilleras. Paper presented at the Conférence Internationale
Biodiversité: science et gouvernance Atelier 13—Diversité biologique, diversité culturelle: Enjeux autour des savoirs locaux.
Domoguen, Robert. 2008. Best practices on agricultural crops production and resource management in the highlands of the Philippines Cordillera. Philippines: Department of
Agriculture, High-Value Commercial Crops (HVCC) Programs. 184 p.

Rice Today October-December 2010

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GM rice growing in a confined field trial at irri.
GM rice growing in a confined field trial at irri.

and salinity; improved nutritional
value and health benefits; and higher
nitrogen-use efficiency.

Research on GM rice at IRRI

genetically modified rice
by Adam Barclay and Sophie Clayton

irri

People often argue passionately for or against genetically modified (GM) crops. Rice Today’s
aim here is not to take sides in a debate that has often generated more heat than light, but rather
to look at the facts—what is actually happening in relation to GM rice with a separate focus on
work underway at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

G

M crops have been grown
commercially since the 1990s.
The global coverage of GM
crops in 2011 was 160 million
hectares in 29 countries (Fig. 1),
reports the International Service
for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech
Applications. And, they predict that,
by 2015, at least 20 million farmers
in more than 40 countries will be
using the products of biotechnology,
including GM crops, on around 200
million hectares.
This article specifically focuses
on GM rice—that is, rice that has had
a gene or genes from another species
or rice variety introduced into its
genome using modern biotechnology
techniques. This GM rice exhibits the

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traits conferred by the introduced
gene or genes.
As of December 2012,
commercialized GM rice had not
yet become a reality—which means,
farmers aren’t growing it and
consumers can’t eat it yet.
The GM Crop Database of the
Center for Environmental Risk
Assessment shows that two GM rice
varieties (LLRice60 and LLRice62,
both with herbicide resistance) were
approved in the United States in
2000. Subsequent approval of these
and other types of herbicide-resistant
GM rice occurred across Canada,
Australia, Mexico, and Colombia.
However, none of these approvals
resulted in commercialization.
Rice Today January-March 2013

In 2009, China granted biosafety
approval to GM rice with pest
resistance, but no commercial rollout
has taken place.
Nevertheless, R&D on GM rice
continues to advance in both the
public and private sector around
the world. GMO Compass notes that
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China,
France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Iran,
Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, Spain,
and the United States have all been
involved with GM rice. Bangladesh
and South Korea are also engaged in
research on GM rice.
Researchers are working on GM
rice with higher yield; increased
resistance to pests, diseases, and
herbicide; better tolerance of drought

Golden Rice

The best-known and most advanced
example of IRRI’s research on GM rice

Fig. 1. Map showing the 29 countries that grow biotech crops, by rank according to area (2011).
Source of map: ISAAA Brief 43-2011: Executive Summary: Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2011 (www.isaaa.
org/resources/publications/briefs/43/executivesummary/default.asp).

is that of Golden Rice. Unlike other
rice, this contains beta carotene—a
source of vitamin A (See Golden grains

Golden rice is being further developed and
and evaluated potential new way to address
evaluated as a as a potential new way to
tackle vitamin-A deficiency.
vitamin A deficiency.

isagani serrano

The sTaTe of play:

IRRI’s approach to its GM rice R&D
is based on a premise that genetic
modification has the potential to
safely deliver to rice farmers and
consumers a number of benefits that
cannot be achieved through other
breeding methods.
Genetic modification is used
as a research tool—to understand
gene function—even when there is
no intention to develop a GM rice
variety, and to develop new GM
varieties with added beneficial traits
that cannot be found within the rice
gene pool.
“Compared with other major
crops such as corn (maize) or wheat,
rice has an extraordinarily diverse
genetic resource base that spreads
across at least 24 different species of
rice,“ explains Dr. Eero Nissilä, head
of IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics,
and Biotechnology Division. “This
means there is already a very large
pool of useful rice genes that breeders
can use to develop new varieties of
rice with improved traits.
“In fact, less than 5% of our rice
breeding focuses on delivering GM
rice varieties,” he adds.

Rice Today January-March 2013

for better nutrition on pages 14-17 of
Rice Today Vol. 10, No. 4).
By working with a mix of leading
agricultural and health organizations,
IRRI is helping to further develop and
evaluate Golden Rice as a potential
new way to help address vitamin-A
deficiency. Work on Golden Rice is
most advanced in the Philippines,
where it is led nationally by Dr.
Antonio Alfonso of the Philippine
Rice Research Institute.
“We’ve completed some initial
field tests in different locations to
evaluate and select breeding lines
that potentially would meet farmers’
and consumers’ expectations, to see
how Golden Rice grows in different
environments, and to compare
any environmental impacts of
Golden Rice with those of other rice
varieties,” said Dr. Alfonso.
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27

Turbocharged C4 rice

IRRI’s most ambitious attempt to
genetically modify rice is its C4 rice
project. The project, which brings
together a mix of international
partners, is attempting to make rice
much better at photosynthesis, the
process of turning sunlight into grain
(see New rice plant could ease threat of
hunger for poor on page 8 of Rice Today
Vol. 8, No. 2).
Rice uses a C3 photosynthetic
pathway, which is much less
efficient than plants such as maize
that use a C4 pathway. Rice already
has all the components required
for C4 photosynthesis, but they are
distributed “differently” within
rice cells. By rearranging the
photosynthetic structures within the
leaves using genetic modification,
it is theoretically possible to switch
rice over to C4 photosynthesis—
potentially increasing productivity
by 50%.
In 2012, the C4 rice project got an
injection of financial support valued
at US$14 million over 3 years from the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the
UK government, and directly from
IRRI.
“This is exactly the sort of
innovative scientific research that the
[UK] Prime Minister was calling for
at the Hunger Summit at Downing
28
14

Street,” said Lynne Featherstone,
UK Parliamentary undersecretary of
state for international development.
“This new funding will enable IRRI
to begin producing prototypes of this
‘super rice’ for testing. This could
prove a critical breakthrough in
feeding an ever-growing number of
hungry mouths.”
The research still has a long way
to go, but the scientists have already
identified crucial genes needed to
assemble C4 photosynthesis in rice,
and they now aim to produce C4 rice
prototypes for testing.

Iron-clad rice

IRRI senior scientist Dr. Inez SlametLoedin is leading two other projects
on GM rice. Like Golden Rice, the first
of these aims to combat the problem
of “hidden hunger,” or micronutrient
malnutrition, worldwide.

“We use genetic modification
when we see a unique
opportunity to incorporate a
new trait … that could have
significant benefits for rice
farmers and consumers.”
Eero Nissilä, head of rice breeding, IRRI
Rice Today January-March 2013

Dr. Slamet-Loedin and her team
are developing iron-rich rice. This
has the potential to prevent the
iron-deficiency anemia that afflicts
more than 1 billion people globally,
particularly poor women and
children (see Iron-clad rice on page
46 of Rice Today, Vol. 10, No. 3). Iron
deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia
contribute to increased maternal
mortality, stifle children’s cognitive
and physical development, and
reduce people’s energy.
In its experimental work, IRRI
has added two genes to the popular
rice variety IR64. One of these is a
gene named “ferritin” from soybean,
which codes for iron storage. Rice
has its own ferritin gene, but adding
another increases the plant’s ironstorage capacity. Ferritin from
soybeans is a major source of iron
for vegetarians. Crucially, it provides
iron that is highly bioavailable—that
is, can be easily absorbed and used
by the body. The other gene, which
comes from another rice variety,
helps transport iron to the grain.
“Adding a ferritin gene will
increase iron-storage capacity,”
explains Dr. Slamet-Loedin, “but you
also need to increase the amount of
bioavailable iron reaching the grain—
hence, the need for the transporter
gene, which allows iron in the leaf,
where it is abundant, to be moved to
the grain, the part of the rice that is
eaten.”
As a bonus, she says, the use of
a transporter gene will also increase
zinc in the grain.
In 2012, IRRI and the Colombiabased International Center for
Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) each
performed the first confined field
trials of iron-rich GM rice outside of
Japan, to look at iron content in the
grain and to check the performance
of rice in different conditions.
Non-GM rice varieties that
are relatively high in iron have
concentrations of 5–8 parts per
million. Dr. Slamet-Loedin’s team
targets an iron concentration of
13–14.5 parts per million in rice grain.
Given average rice consumption,
this could provide 30% of women’s
and children’s estimated iron

requirements. Early trials at IRRI
revealed an iron content of 11–13
ppm, on the cusp of the target.
Further growing, bioavailability, and
food and environmental safety tests
are still needed as the team works
toward iron-clad rice.

Confirming gene function

Dr. Nissilä explains that one of
the most important uses of genetic
modification at IRRI is in identifying
useful genes and confirming the trait
they are responsible for. By using
genetic modification, researchers can
take a rice gene that they suspect may
be responsible for a favorable trait,
and insert it into another rice plant
to see whether the trait of interest
is also transferred. If it is, then they
know that is the gene they want to
target in their conventional breeding
programs—which will result in a
regular, non-GM rice variety that
includes the beneficial gene and
associated trait.
For example, IRRI used genetic
modification to confirm the major
gene responsible for phosphorus
uptake—PSTOL1 (see Rice gene boosts
phosphorus uptake on page 6 of Rice
Today Vol. 11, No. 4). However, the
original rice plant with the PSTOL1
gene was not genetically modified
and future varieties bred to include
the PSTOL1 gene will not be GM.

Institutional Biosafety Committee at IRRI

A

n Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) is responsible for ensuring that IRRI complies
with local and international regulations and guidelines in the conduct of its experiments
that involve GM crops or other products. In the Philippines, where IRRI undertakes research
on GM rice, the composition and responsibilities of the IBC are determined by the Biosafety
Committee of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-BC).
IRRI’s IBC is composed of three IRRI scientists, two scientists from the University
of the Philippines Los Baños, and four representatives from the local Los Baños and
Bay communities around IRRI headquarters. It works under the Philippine regulatory
framework, which was first established in 1990. DOST-BC oversees IRRI’s IBC and, through
the IBC, all research on GM rice at IRRI. No GM organisms can be used in IRRI’s research
without prior authorization from DOST-BC.
“We must assure that research on GM rice is both safe and effective, and that is
possible only through a team of dedicated, independent people who are able to assess
the environmental, health, and social implications of the science, and enforce biosafety
measures that prevent the unintentional release of GM material,” says Dr. Ruaraidh Sackville
Hamilton, head of IRRI’s IBC.
“The Philippines was the first country in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian
Nations) region to introduce a biosafety regulatory system, and it remains one of the most
robust anywhere, and one of the very few with broad representation that includes civil
society,” he added.

Drought-hardy rice

Dr. Slamet-Loedin is also leading
IRRI’s efforts to identify useful
drought-tolerance genes that could
lead to the development of either
GM or non-GM drought-tolerant rice
varieties (see Overcoming the toughest
stress in rice: drought on pages 30-32 of
Rice Today Vol. 8, No. 3). This is more
challenging than nutrient-enriched
rice because drought itself is complex
as well as the way it affects rice crops.
For example, any new variety must
be tested in drought conditions of

Genetic ModiFicAtion helps identify genes
that could build drought tolerance—although
the final rice variety does not have to be
genetically modified.

isagani serrano

isagani serrano

dr. eero nissilä and dr. inez Slamet-loedin are
using genetic modification in their rice breeding
and research to help develop new rice varieties.

Rice Today January-March 2013

varying severity and length, and at
different times during the growing
season (drought hitting during the
reproductive stage of rice tends to
have the worst impact), as well as
in different soil types. Furthermore,
any new drought-tolerant variety
needs to perform well in nondrought
conditions too.
This project has support from
Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry, and Fisheries and is a joint
effort among the Japan International
Research Center for Agricultural
Sciences (JIRCAS), which has
provided funding; RIKEN, a large
public research organization in Japan;
and CIAT, which is helping with
testing.
Promising GM breeding lines
with improved drought tolerance
have already been developed. Some
of these lines include extra rice genes
and some have genes from a tiny
plant called Arabidopsis. Over the
past few years, the performance of
these lines has been tested in drought
conditions using screenhouses. In
2011 and 2012, it was time to move
the testing outdoors and IRRI and
CIAT completed confined field tests
of the lines at rainfed lowland sites
in the Philippines and upland sites in
Colombia, respectively.
Dr. Slamet-Loedin says that to get
a rice variety that tolerates drought
29
15

grain of truth
at different stages during its life cycle
as well as different types of drought,
“stacking” all the genes for drought
tolerance into a single variety could
get the best results.

“Iron-clad” rice

trAininG pArticipAntS from around the
world learn how to use biotechnology
and to genetically modify rice at irri.

by Inez

Building expertise on GM rice

I

isagani serrano

The intention of IRRI’s current
research on GM rice is that, one day,
new GM lines will be passed on
to researchers in national agencies
for further development and, if
approved, eventually to farmers and
consumers.
Alongside the development
of this research goes training
in biotechnology and genetic
modification techniques for rice
scientists. This gives them specialized
skills to conduct biotechnology
research and to build up their
expertise and understanding of
the area, so that they can respond
research opportunities back in their
home countries and institutes, and
meet their own local needs.
In September 2012, IRRI
ran the “Advanced Indica Rice
Transformation Course”—the first
time ever that the Institute provided
training on the genetic modification
of rice. Indica rice—the rice most
widely produced in South and
Southeast Asia—is a broad group
of many different types of rice that
are usually grown in hot climates.

Nine public- and private-sector
participants attended the training
from China, Colombia, India,
Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines,
and the U.S. They got hands-on
experience and learned about
biosafety issues and international
guidelines for biosafety management
in research.
Says one of the trainees, Ms.
Ritushree Jain, an Indian national
who is doing her PhD at the
University of Leeds in the UK, “After
this training, I hope that I will be
able to make a construct and put

GM rice is not yet available to eat but one aim
of research on GM rice at irri is to improve the
nutritional value of rice for consumers in the future.

some genes into rice plants and
especially in indica varieties, which
are more susceptible to drought and
nematodes. A lot of rice cultivation
is affected by drought stress and
nematode infestation and these are
big problems.
“My hope is that I will be able
to find some genes to integrate into
Indian rice varieties and develop
something new that will help,” she
adds.
Mr. Barclay served as a science writer
at Green Ink (www.greenink.co.uk)
when he wrote this article. He is now
a communications manager at CRC
CARE. Ms. Clayton is the public
relations manager at IRRI.
For a related podcast on IRRI Radio
associated with this article, go to https://
soundcloud.com/irri-radio.

“My hope is that I will be able
to find some genes to integrate
into Indian rice varieties and
develop something new that
will help.”
Ms. Ritushree Jain,
biotechnology trainee

irri

30
16

H. Slamet-loedIn

Rice Today January-March 2013

n 2010, the number of
be bioavailable. One preferred
Iron-enrIched rice will soon contribute
hungry people surpassed
biotechnology approach uses
to reducing "hidden hunger."
1 billion worldwide
the gene from soybean for the
because of increases in
protein ferritin. Ferritin is an
food prices. Unbeknownst
iron-storage protein that can
to many, more than 2 billion
hold up to 4,500 atoms of iron
people are suffering from
per molecule in its central
‘‘hidden hunger,’’ a term used
cavity. A study with humans
to describe micronutrient
with ferritin purified from
malnutrition. Anemia
soybean has shown that the iron
affects more than 2 billion
from this source is one of the
people globally, with women
most bioavailable forms known.
and children most at risk.
Several studies have reported
Deficiency in dietary iron is a
that this ferritin approach can
main cause of anemia. It is the
increase the iron content to 8–10
most common and widespread
ppm, but not yet to 14 ppm.
Kurniawan rudi TrijaTmiKo
nutrition problem, together
Recently, some studies
with deficiency in zinc, iodine, and
iron per kilogram (ppm) of rice, and a
have shown that modifying the iron
vitamin A.
maximum of 4–5 ppm in a few rice mills
transporter nicotianamine in rice
Iron deficiency and iron deficiency
in Vietnam. Similar studies in the U.S.
can be effective in increasing iron
anemia cause a range of health problems
and Brazil have verified the very low iron concentrations in the grain. This
in humans, including increased chances
in white rice.
approach uses a number of rice genes
of maternal and child mortality and
Breeders at the International Rice
for nicotianamine synthase to boost
negative consequences on cognitive
Research Institute screened thousands
the overall levels of the transporter and
and physical development of children.
of rice seeds from the International
thereby increase the movement of iron
They also affect an individual’s physical
Rice Genebank (a seed bank) and from
into the grain. The incorporation of the
performance, especially the work
breeding lines and varieties for the
two approaches, soybean ferritin and
productivity of adults.
iron content in the polished rice. They
rice nicotianamine synthase, together in
Combating micronutrient
identified a few potential breeding
popular varieties is now being advanced
malnutrition is considered to be among
materials with 5–8 ppm iron. Biofortified to determine whether the combination
the best investments that generate a
crops need to contribute at least 30%
will lead to achieving the very important
high return in socioeconomic benefits
of the estimated average requirements
goal of rice with higher iron.
according to the 2008 Copenhagen
for them to be meaningful to a target
Biofortification can serve as an
Consensus. The Consensus listed
population group. The HarvestPlus
important sustainable tool in combination
biofortification, a method of breeding
Program of the Consultative Group on
with existing ways of overcoming
crops in order to increase their nutritional International Agricultural Research has
iron deficiency and iron deficiency
value, as one of its top five investments to set a minimum of 14 ppm iron in polished anemia; these existing approaches
address global challenges.
rice to benefit women and children.
include a diverse diet, fortification, and
In developing countries, rice, as a
Now, the next question is, how to fill supplements. The main advantages
staple food, may still provide as much
the gap.
of developing varieties with high iron
as 80% of the daily calorie intake.
In addition to more breeding, one
content are that this is a food-based
Unfortunately, polished white rice
option is to use modern biotechnology
approach and delivering the solution
contains low amounts of iron. A study
to introduce other genes to increase the
in such a widely consumed crop could
of the iron content of polished rice
uptake and storage of iron in the rice
contribute to a large effect.
marketed in a number of rice mills in
endosperm (white rice when polished).
the Philippines and Vietnam showed
In earlier work, it has been established
that popular varieties such as IR64,
that the iron in rice is highly bioavailable Dr. Slamet-Loedin is a senior scientist
Sinandomeng, Intan, and Jasmine 85
(can be absorbed and used by the human
in IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics, and
generally contain 2–3 milligrams of
body) and additional iron should also
Biotechnology Division.
46

Rice Today July-September 2011

31

32
14

GoldEn Grains

for better nutrition
by Ma. Aileen Garcia

isagani serrano

E

mma is a 38-year-old mother of
eight from the Philippines. She
earns a living as a cleaning lady,
and putting food on the table is
a challenge that she and her husband face
each day.
For Emma and many other families
in Asia, rice is the staple food, which
eats up the family’s meager budget. “We
depend on rice every day, because it
is filling,” she said. “Most of the time,
however, we cannot afford fish, meat, or
vegetables. We only sprinkle salt or soy
sauce to add some flavor or sometimes
prepare rice as porridge.
“I know this lacks the important
nutrients that will help make my children
grow healthy, but what can I do? We
have to fill our stomachs first,” Emma
laments.
Families around the world, like
Emma’s, consume only nutrient-poor
staple foods because other nutritious
food such as meat products, vegetables,
and fruits are scarce, unavailable, or
too expensive. This contributes to
hidden hunger—malnutrition from
micronutrients. With the ballooning
world population, “hidden hunger” will
also likely rise.
Lack of sufficient vitamin A in
the diet reduces the body’s ability to
fight infections such as diarrhea and
measles. It can also cause blindness and
increases the risk of death. Vitamin A
is particularly important for children as
well as pregnant and lactating women as
their nutrient needs are increased.
Asia has one of the highest
prevalences of vitamin A deficiency in
the world. It is considered a public health
problem in many Asian countries with
33.5% of preschool children afflicted.
In 2009, the World Health Organization
reported that more than 90 million
children in Southeast Asia suffered from
it, more than in any other region. Each
year, it is estimated that 670,000 children
under the age of five die because they are
vitamin A-deficient, and another 350,000
go blind.
The Philippines’ Food and Nutrition
Research Institute (FNRI) reported that,
in 2003, vitamin A deficiency afflicted
40.1% of Filipino children, 15.5% of
pregnant women, and 20.1% of lactating
women, making it a serious public health
concern.

Golden Rice is unique because it
contains beta carotene, which gives
it a golden color.

Rice Today October-December 2011

To address the vitamin A deficiency
problem in the Philippines, the
government, together with nongovernment
organizations and the private sector, has
been implementing far-reaching programs
such as the distribution of vitamin
A capsules. Sangkap Pinoy, a food
fortification program, was also established
to ensure that food products such as
noodles are fortified with vitamin A along
with other micronutrients.
Owing in part to these programs,
recent data indicate that the population’s
vitamin A status has improved. The
National Nutrition Survey conducted by
FNRI in 2008 showed a decreasing trend
in vitamin A deficiency among children
aged 6 to 59 months (15.2%), pregnant
women (9.5%), and lactating women
(6.4%).
Despite these positive developments,
however, vitamin A deficiency remains
a significant public health problem in
many less developed countries according
to Nancy Haselow, vice president
and regional director of Helen Keller
International (HKI). HKI has been
advocating the elimination of vitamin
A deficiency for more than 40 years,
working with governments and other
partners to reach those most in need
through various interventions.
She said, “The most vulnerable
children and women in hard-to-reach
areas are often missed by existing
interventions that can improve
vitamin A status, including vitamin
A supplementation, food fortification,
dietary diversification, and promotion of
optimal breastfeeding.”
Also, interventions such as vitamin
A supplementation are sustainable only
as long as there is funding and political
will to continue. What if support for
these programs halts?
A free-market driven, food-based
effort with wide coverage that reaches
poor areas could be more sustainable
toward controlling vitamin A deficiency
in the future, thus preventing blindness
and earlier death. What could help fill
the basket of options to tackle vitamin A
deficiency?

1

A golden advantage
Golden Rice may be part of the answer.
Golden Rice is unique because it
contains beta carotene, which gives it
a golden color. The body converts beta
carotene to vitamin A as it is needed.
According to research published in 2009,
daily consumption of a very modest
amount of Golden Rice―about a cup―
could supply 50% of the Recommended
Daily Allowance of vitamin A for an
1
adult.
Through genetic modification,
Golden Rice contains genes from maize
and from a common soil microorganism
that produce beta carotene in the grains.
It was first developed by Prof. Ingo
Potrykus, then of the Institute for Plant
Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of
Technology, and Prof. Peter Beyer of the
University of Freiburg, Germany.
By 1999, Prof. Potrykus and Dr.
Beyer had produced a prototype Golden
Rice and published their landmark
research in Science. Since 2000, scientific
research and international collaboration
on Golden Rice have been supported by
funding and in-kind support from the
private, public, and philanthropic sectors.
In 2005, a major breakthrough led to the
development of a new Golden Rice that
now produces more beta carotene. This
became the foundation of the current
efforts.
The beauty of Golden Rice lies in
its potential to reach many people—who
may not have regular access to other
sources of vitamin A—because rice is
widely produced and consumed. Rice
is eaten and grown in more than 100
countries, including the Philippines,
and is the staple food for more than 3
billion people. Rice provides 50–80% of
the total caloric intake of most Asians,
who are most affected by vitamin A
deficiency.
“Since a large proportion of
vitamin A–deficient children and their
mothers reside in rice-consuming
populations, particularly in Asia, Golden
Rice should substantially reduce the
prevalence and severity of vitamin A
deficiency, and prevent at least hundreds

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Rice Today October-December 2011

33
15

aileen garcia (2)

Severity of vitamin A deficiency in Asia

Jill Kuehnert

PaRmindeR ViRk, iRRi senior scientist; alamgir
Hossain, BRRi principal plant breeder; and antonio
alfonso, PhilRice plant breeder and Golden Rice project
leader (at left, from left to right).
emma looks forward to the day when she can serve
more nutritious rice to her children (top).

Source: Global Prevalence of Vitamin A Deficiency in Population at Risk 1995–2005: WHO Global
Database on Vitamin A Deficiency (www.who.int/vmnis/en/)
1

of thousands of unnecessary deaths
and cases of blindness every year,” said
Alfred Sommer, professor and dean
emeritus, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health. Dr. Sommer, an
internationally acclaimed public health
scientist, has been at the forefront of
vitamin A deficiency research, leading
major studies that were fundamental to
the current understanding of the effect of
vitamin A supplementation on mortality,
malnutrition, and blindness.
If proven effective in improving
vitamin A status, Golden Rice could
be used in combination with existing
approaches, including education,
supplementation, and fortification
programs, to overcome vitamin A
deficiency. Golden Rice could become
part of the long-sought solution, which
farmers themselves can harvest from
their own fields, year after year.
The Golden Rice project
Major nutrition and agricultural research
organizations are now working together
to further develop and evaluate Golden
Rice as a potential way to reduce vitamin
A deficiency in the Philippines and
Bangladesh, among other countries.
The International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) leads the Golden Rice
project and is directly involved in
several agriculture-related aspects of
the project, including initial breeding
34
16

work to insert the new Golden Rice trait
into rice varieties that were selected by
the Philippine Rice Research Institute
(PhilRice) and the Bangladesh Rice
Research Institute (BRRI). This
involves laboratory work, greenhouse
tests, and some preliminary field
evaluation. Potential Golden Rice
varieties are then transferred to national
rice institutes for further development
and assessment.
“Golden Rice is an incredible
innovation that we are proud to be
working on,” said IRRI Director General
Robert Zeigler. “It has a huge potential to
help reduce the devastating consequences
of vitamin A deficiency in rice-growing
and rice-consuming countries.”
In the Philippines, PhilRice is
at the forefront of developing new
Golden Rice varieties that are suited
to specific rice-growing conditions in
the country. One popular rice variety
being developed by PhilRice to have a
Golden Rice counterpart is PSB Rc82,
more commonly known in the market
as Peñaranda. PhilRice has just recently
conducted a confined field test, to be
followed by multilocation field trials
for several seasons, in accordance with
regulatory requirements.
“We are conducting our breeding
carefully to make sure that the new
Golden Rice variety retains the same
high yield, pest resistance, and excellent
Rice Today October-December 2011

grain and eating qualities while helping
to tackle the pervasive problem of
vitamin A deficiency in the Philippines,”
said Dr. Antonio Alfonso, chief science
specialist and Golden Rice team leader at
PhilRice.
Safety first
Like other genetically modified crops,
Golden Rice will be made available to
farmers and consumers only after it has
been approved by national regulatory
bodies.
To help establish the safety of
Golden Rice in the environment, field
trials and other evaluations will be
conducted in both the Philippines and
Bangladesh. Field trials are important,
too, to show that Golden Rice grows the
same as other rice in local conditions.
Furthermore, these trials will inform the
national regulators about the safety of
Golden Rice, just like in the regulatory
framework of Bangladesh.
Golden Rice will be assessed
according to internationally accepted
guidelines for the safe use of modern
biotechnology, such as the Codex
Alimentarius of the Food and
Agriculture Organization and World
Health Organization, OECD Consensus
Guidelines, and the Cartagena Protocol
on Biosafety. Philippine safety
regulations contained in Department of
Agriculture Administrative Order No.

Severity cutoffs based on serum or plasma retinol <0.70 mmol/L in preschool-age children
(mild: >2–<10%; moderate: >10–20%; severe: >20%.

8, Series of 2002, are based on these
international guidelines.
PhilRice and BRRI will submit all
safety information to their respective
national government regulators, which
may be as early as 2013 in the Philippines
and later in Bangladesh. Regulators will
review these data as part of the approval
process for Golden Rice before it can be
released to farmers and consumers.

emma's son sprinkles salt
on his rice to add a little
flavor.

Can Golden Rice make a difference?
Dr. Gerard Barry, Golden Rice network
coordinator and IRRI’s Golden Rice
project leader, shared that his team has
been working on Golden Rice since 2006
to develop a safe and effective way to
deal with vitamin A deficiency, prevent
blindness, and save lives.
“Our latest stage of work is now
supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation,ˮ he said. “Helen Keller
International, a leading nutrition
organization, will also be involved to
assess the efficacy of Golden Rice.ˮ If the
safety of Golden Rice is confirmed, HKI,
with university partners, will conduct
some studies to see whether Golden Rice
could help improve vitamin A status
among deficient populations.
PhilRice and BRRI are breeding
the Golden Rice trait into other rice
varieties that are locally adapted and
popular with farmers, matching their
yields and other performance factors.
Golden Rice seeds and grains will be
available in the market and are expected
to cost farmers and consumers the
same as other rice. Cooking and taste
tests will likewise help make sure
these qualities of Golden Rice meet
consumers’ needs. The experience
gained in developing, evaluating, and
planning the delivery of Golden Rice in
the Philippines and Bangladesh will be
Rice Today October-December 2011

Golden Rice
for Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, one in every five
children aged 6 months to 5 years is
estimated to be vitamin A-deficient.
Among pregnant women, 23.7% had
low serum retinol levels, indicating
vitamin A deficiency.
As in the Philippines, rice is an
indispensable part of the Bangladeshi
diet, providing an average of more
than 70% of calories every day.
Unfortunately, most of the time, rice
is all some Bangladeshis can afford to
eat. Although rice fills their stomachs,
it doesn’t provide a source of healthy
micronutrients such as vitamin A.
Dr. Alamgir Hossain, who is leading
the Golden Rice work for BRRI, said
that he has been working with the
inventors of Golden Rice as well as
with IRRI scientists for years. “Our
work focuses on putting the Golden
Rice trait into the best all-around
varieties, such as BRRI dhan29,
the most popular rice variety in
Bangladesh.
“As we do in all our work on rice,
we will be looking at the performance
of the Golden Rice version of BRRI
dhan29 over many generations, across
different regions of Bangladesh, and
in different seasons.
“We want to be sure that Golden
Rice grows just as well as the original,
so farmers won’t have to give up
higher yield, or pest resistance, or
other attributes in order to help those
most in need of a potentially healthy
and filling meal,” he concluded.
important in designing plans for Golden
Rice in other countries, too.
Golden Rice offers a bright prospect
for nutritionally enhanced crops to deliver
on the promise of better nutrition. It could
give Emma another nutritious food to
rely on and a chance for her children and
grandchildren to be healthier.
With Emma and those like her
serving as an inspiration, the Golden
Rice project partners continue to work
to evaluate the safety and efficacy of
Golden Rice in the Philippines as another
potential approach to fighting vitamin A
deficiency.
35
17

Debunking Golden Rice myths:

Many misconceptions exist
about Golden Rice—too many to list
them all here. But, as a plant scientist
who works on rice, although not
genetically modified rice, let me talk
about three of them.

a geneticist’s perspective

Myth 1: Golden Rice is “unnatural”

by Michael Purugganan

I

t all started in 1984 in Los Baños,
Laguna, in the Philippines.
Scientists had begun to develop an
exciting new approach to breeding
crops—genetic engineering—and
everyone wondered how it could be
used to help the world.
In a house in this college town
sat several breeders who were
dreaming of what traits they could
come up with using this exciting new
technology. Increase yields? Develop
crops to survive droughts? Protect
rice against pests?
One breeder, who developed
many of the Green Revolution crops
that had saved hundreds of millions
from famine, gave a startling answer:
yellow rice. Why? Because, he said,
vitamin A deficiency afflicts millions
of people around the world.1

Finding answers to global
malnutrition

How bad is vitamin A deficiency? In
2005, for example, the devastating
effects of lacking this one vitamin
affected 190 million preschool
children and 19 million pregnant
1

women in 122 countries. Each
year, it is responsible for up to 2
million deaths and 500,000 cases of
irreversible blindness.
Rice could substantially
reduce the devastating impact of
vitamin A deficiency because in
many developing countries—the
Philippines among them—the poorest
families lack the means to buy the
vegetables and fruits that contain
this crucial nutrient. They can afford
nothing more than plain white rice.
There is only one problem. Rice
is not usually a source of vitamin A.
While many fruits and vegetables
have the genes to make this vitamin,
neither rice nor any of its close wild
relatives have these genes. Traditional
breeding in rice is useless in the
fight against this deadly vitamin
deficiency. It would take genetic
engineering to help solve the problem
of making rice produce its own
source of vitamin A.

Golden Rice, from dream to reality
Today, we are there. The dream of
yellow rice—now dubbed Golden

isagani serrano (2)

A leading authority on plant evolutionary and
ecological genomics confronts the misconceptions
about Golden Rice with cold, hard facts

Rice—has gone from a rice breeder’s
dream to actual rice plants that can
be grown in fields.
Golden rice promises to help
reduce the deaths and blindness
that come with not getting enough
vitamin A in poor communities
around the world. As we try to
improve the nutrition of poor families
across the country, Golden Rice can
help alleviate the health scourge of
vitamin A deficiency. Studies have
shown that one cup of Golden Rice
could provide around 50% of the
recommended vitamin A that an
adult needs for a day.
We are there—that is, if we are
not misguided enough to turn our
backs on this important technology.
Recently, activists stormed a
research field in Bicol on southern
Luzon island in the Philippines and
destroyed one of several field trials of
Golden Rice, potentially setting back
the delivery of this humanitarian
crop. It was a criminal act against
a project whose only goal is to help
elevate the health of the world’s
poorest people.

That person was Peter Jennings, the first breeder at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In an IRRI Pioneer Interview, Gary Toenniessen, a managing
director of The Rockefeller Foundation and long-time IRRI collaborator, recalls this discussion among the breeders. Go to http://youtu.be/a7bGykLVm2E.

36
10

Rice Today October-December 2013

First is the notion that Golden Rice is
some sort of unnatural, monster rice.
The truth is, in developing
Golden Rice, geneticists have inserted
only three genes into rice DNA to
allow it to make beta carotene, which
is a source of vitamin A. Three genes
out of the more than 30,000 genes
present in a rice plant. And, the genes
they inserted to make the vitamin
are not some weird manufactured
material but are also found in squash,
carrots, and melons.
So, there is nothing unnatural
about the process—scientists just
figured out how to take a gene from
one species and add it to another’s
DNA. Plants do this in the wild all
the time. It is called horizontal gene
transfer, and plants, animals, and
bacteria have been shown to acquire
many genes from each other as they
evolve.
Breeders actually do much more
radical things to the rice genome
and the rice plant by traditional
breeding methods, and with much
less information about what exactly
they are doing to the rice plant’s
genes. We know a great deal more
about the genes that were inserted

into the Golden Rice by geneticists—
what they do, how they act—than we
know about thousands of genes and
millions of mutations in rice.

Myth 2: GMOs are unsafe and risky

Second is the idea that genetically
modified organisms (GMOs) are
unsafe, cause cancer or other
major health risks, or pose serious
environmental problems.
Let me be clear here—the safety
issue has been studied and discussed
by scientists around the world,
and they concluded that there is no
evidence that GMOs are inherently
unsafe. Let me repeat again. The most
prominent scientific bodies in the
world—among them, the U.S. National
Academy of Sciences, the American
Medical Association, the World Health
Organization, and the Philippine
National Academy of Science and
Technology—have publicly concluded
that GMOs are safe.
Now, it is true that we still
have to test the safety of every new
genetically modified plant variety
that is developed—that is just
common sense. In fact, GMOs are
probably the most intensely tested
and studied crop varieties in the
world. Much more so than the seeds
you buy from your local garden or
farm store, which are released with
no health or safety analysis.
But, you ask, haven’t I read
stories about scientists that have
supposedly linked health problems—
even cancer—to eating GMO foods?
Well, the overwhelming majority
of reputable scientists who have
examined these claims have shown
that such conclusions are simply
wrong. These stories are based on
research that was poorly designed
and analyzed, and other scientists
have strongly criticized these studies.

Myth 3: Golden Rice is a big
business

Finally, there is the idea that Golden
Rice is being developed to be sold by
big biotechnology companies to profit
from poor famers.
Again, let us be clear here:
Golden Rice is a public project.
While the company Syngenta helped
Rice Today October-December 2013

develop Golden Rice, they have given
it to the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) for free—no costs, no
fees, no royalties.
Golden Rice is now being bred
by IRRI, in cooperation with the
Philippine Rice Research Institute,
and other public breeders around the
world. The varieties that are developed
will be turned over to government
agricultural agencies in developing
countries, which will then determine
how to distribute them to farmers.
IRRI is not selling Golden Rice,
and no big biotech company will
make money out of it.

Critical juncture for the
Philippines

Our country, and the world, is now
at a critical point. The population of
the planet will hit 9 billion people
by 2050. The Philippines already
has more than 100 million people.
In the face of the decreasing land
for farming, a growing population,
and increasingly erratic climates,
we need to use every tool we have,
including agricultural biotechnology,
to help our farmers and our people to
survive and thrive.
Our scientists have helped
develop Golden Rice varieties, as well
as other genetically engineered crops,
to increase our food security. Let us
not turn our backs on this technology
for the 21st century, and find ourselves
once again at a technological and
economic disadvantage.
Nearly 30 years ago, some of
the best rice breeders in the world
gathered in Los Baños and discussed
harnessing biotechnology to help
feed the world. What they dreamed
up is now poised to become a reality
that will help farmers produce more
nutritious rice that can save lives.
Let us make sure that those who
need it most can, for once, put gold on
their plates.
Dr. Purugganan is a Dorothy Schiff
Professor of Genomics and Dean of
Science at New York University.
This edited version of the article is
reprinted with permission from GMA
News Online and the author.
37
11

What’s cooking?

What’s cooking?

Ingredients for the gochujang sauce
90 g gochujang (Korean red chili
pepper paste)
60 g Korean red chili pepper powder
50 g sugar
20 g minced garlic
50 mL rice syrup
20 mL soy sauce
 Ingredients for the broth
800 mL water
2 slices radish
1 piece white or light green part of
a leek, sliced
7–8 pieces dried anchovies
3 pieces fish cakes  
1 piece dried kelp

38
16

by Sue Pretty and Sysomphane Sengthavideth

S
Tteokbokki: Korean rice
cake in spicy sauce
by Jeehyoung Shim-Chin

Other ingredients
400 g sliced garaetteok (5 cm in length)
70 g sliced cabbage
50 g sliced leek (green part)
A pinch of toasted sesame seeds
Sliced boiled eggs or fried dumpling (optional)
Directions
1. Mix all ingredients for the gochujang
sauce in a container. Set aside.
2. Put all the ingredients for the broth,
except the fish cakes, into a sauce pan
and allow the mixture to boil.
3. When the broth starts boiling, add the
fish cakes and boil the broth until it
thickens and its color becomes opaque
white.
4. Remove the fish cakes and the rest of the
ingredients to make a clear broth. Slice

5.
6.

7.
8.

the fish cakes into 5-cm squares. Set
aside.
Stir in the previously prepared
gochujang sauce in the broth.
Add the sliced garaetteok and simmer
until the garaetteok becomes soft, and
the sauce becomes thick. (Stir constantly
so that the rice cakes won’t stick to the
bottom of the pan.)
Add the sliced fish cakes, leeks, and
cabbage and gently mix them with the
sauce.
Remove from heat. Serve immediately
and garnish by sprinkling toasted
sesame seeds on top.

This dish can be served with sliced boiled
eggs or fried dumplings.

Watch Jeehyoung demonstrate how to prepare this delicious Korean dish in an 8-minute video on
YouTube at http://sn.im/tteokbokki.
Rice Today October-December 2013

teamed sticky rice
is an essential part
of every meal in Lao
PDR. In most cases,
it is preferred to regular steamed rice.
True to its name, steamed sticky rice
sticks together in one big heap.
In Lao PDR, the best way to eat
sticky rice and eggplant dip is with
your hands. And, this is how it is
done: simply tear a bite size of rice
from the sticky rice heap, roll it into
a small ball, and enjoy with grilled
eggplant dip or any Lao dish of your
choice.

Chris quintana (2)

Jeehyoung left her job as a preschool
teacher in Korea and moved to
the Philippines in 2006 to join her
husband, Joong Hyoun Chin, who
works as a molecular breeder at IRRI.
Aside from cooking for her family
and friends, she spends some of her
time painting and playing string
instruments with her children.

Laotian steamed
sticky rice with
eggplant dip

grant leceta (3)

T

teokbokki is a
popular Korean
snack food,
especially among students.
It is served in many small
eateries and restaurants
located near schools and
universities.
Basically, it is made
of garaetteok, a chewy,
cylinder-shaped white
rice cake, and is cooked
in spicy gochujang sauce, a
Korean fermented red chili
pepper paste. It is available
in several variations such
as tteokbokki with noodles,
tteokbokki with fish cakes,
and tteokbokki with seafood,
among others.
Its other ingredients,
which include eggs and
vegetables, make it a
healthier option than
regular meals and other
snack foods.

Khao niao (Steamed sticky rice)
Ingredients
1 kg sticky rice
3 liters water (for soaking)
Directions
Rinse the sticky rice under running
water until the water runs clear. Soak the
rice in the water for 2–3 hours. Soaking
the rice will reduce the cooking time, so
soak for as long as possible.
Once soaked, drain the rice, removing
all excess water, then place the sticky
rice into a steaming basket and begin
to steam. After about 30 minutes, turn
the rice over and further steam for 10–15
minutes until cooked.
Set aside.

Jeow mak keua
(Grilled eggplant dip)
Ingredients
500 grams Japanese eggplant
6 pieces shallots
10 cloves garlic

10 pieces chilies
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp lime juice
A handful of coriander leaves,
finely chopped
Salt to taste
Directions
Grill the eggplants, chillies, shallots,
and garlic until the skins are charred.
Remove from the grill and cool. Then
peel the eggplants, shallots, and garlic
and chop coarsely.
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the
chilies and salt. Add the shallots and
garlic and continue to pound until all
the ingredients are crushed.
Next, add the eggplants, lime juice, and
fish sauce and pound again until the
ingredients are well combined. Lastly,
mix in the coriander leaves.
Serve with the steamed sticky rice.
Tip: Do not use water when peeling the
skin of the eggplants—they will become
soggy and will also lose their incredible
smoky flavor.
Serves 3–6.

Sue lived in Lao PDR for 4 years before moving to the Philippines in 2011 with her husband, IRRI
experiment station head Leigh Vial. She met Dtae at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Lao
PDR, where they both worked on tiger conservation. During social gatherings, which often
revolved around food, Sue found Laotian dishes delicious and seriously addictive.
Dtae is now studying for her master's degree at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
Sue and Dtae, together with some Lao students, regularly meet to cook, chat, laugh, and enjoy
Lao food.
38

Rice Today October-December 2012

Watch Sue and Dtae demonstrate how to prepare this
appetizing Laotian dish in a 6-minute video on YouTube
at http://snipurl.com/lao-sticky-rice.

39