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International Rice Research Institute April 2005, Vol. 4 No. 1

Game of life
Farmers play games
with scientists

Rice year wrap-up

Putting rice back
on the map

A farm boy's tale

Rice leader heads home

Intensify to diversify
Smarter rice growing helps Cambodian farmers
ISSN 1655-5422
Vol. 4, No. 1

Introducing IRRI . .............................................................. 4

Proud to lead the way

Donors Corner .................................................................. 5

Forging partnerships in agricultural research: The
Australian Centre for International Agricultural
Research develops solutions to the problems .
that limit productive and sustainable agriculture

News . .......................................................................................... 6
Rice knowledge helps tsunami recovery
ASEAN nations endorse 10-year, 3-point plan
Robert Zeigler named IRRI director general
New research alliance to help fight poverty
IRRI wins best article award

Rice in the news . ................................................................ 9

Healing wounds
Year of rice dinner startles guests
Pros and cons of genetically modified .
rice in China
What's rich, creamy, delicious and weighs .
7.5 tons?

Intensify to diversify.................................................. 12
Smarter rice growing gives Cambodian farmers .
an opportunity to try new crops and gain .
more income

The tale of a Texas farm boy ................................. 18

Ronald P. Cantrell, the Texas farm boy made . A dry vision ......................................................................... 28 People . .................................................................................... 36
good, heads home after 6 years at the helm . As Asia’s irrigation water becomes increasingly . Hybrid rice expert bags multiple awards
of the International Rice Research Institute scarce, researchers are developing rice . Keeping up with IRRI staff
varieties that can thrive in dry conditions
A day on the farm . ......................................................... 22 Partners in progress
Home to research that helps feed the world’s . How to find needles in haystacks . ................... 30
poor, 200 hectares of land in the northern The relatively new science of bioinformatics . Rice Facts .............................................................................. 37
Philippines might just be Asia’s most . is helping agricultural scientists accelerate . Do lower rice prices help the poor?
valuable real estate research that was once prohibitively . Lower rice prices aren’t necessarily bad .
time-consuming or even impossible news for farmers
The game of life . ............................................................. 25
A fresh approach to the challenge of sharing Grain of Truth . ................................................................ 38
agricultural resources has rice farmers . Special section: ..................................................................... 32
International Year of Rice Ups and downs: private-sector investment .
playing games with scientists
The year that put rice back on the map
A grainful year for development organizations

cover Leharne Fountain

International Rice Research Institute
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Rice Today is published by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s should not be construed as expressing IRRI policy or opinion on the legal status of any
leading international rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with country, territory, city or area, or its authorities, or the delimitation of its frontiers or
offices in 11 other countries, IRRI is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on boundaries.
improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, Rice Today welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. Potential contributors
particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of are encouraged to query first, rather than submit unsolicited materials. Rice Today
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Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2005
introducing IRRI

Proud to lead
the way

T he world was a terrifying

place in 1952-53. The
period saw the first use of
“population explosion” in
Time magazine and — a cruel irony — the
first detonation, over the Pacific Ocean, of
a hydrogen bomb. It also brought across
the Pacific two senior Rockefeller Founda-
tion agriculturalists to study how to end
who depend on them for reliable, afford-
able supplies of their staple food. IRRI’s
work, on its research campus at Los Baños
and across Asia in collaboration with the
national partners it has nurtured, has
greatly contributed to the near doubling of
the Asian rice harvest since 1970.
Today, the institute combines rice-
biodiversity conservation, gene discovery
2 decades of stagnating rice yields in Asia. and plant breeding with natural resource
By 1960, the population explosion was a management, integrated pest manage-
cover story in Time, and the International ment, agricultural engineering and
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) was estab- postharvest technologies, and social and
lished in the Philippines to shore up global policy studies to develop ecologically
food security in the face of exponential and economically sustainable strategies
population growth. to reverse a troubling new stagnation
Along with the other midwife of the in rice-yield improvement. This trend
Green Revolution, the Mexico-based occurs in the contexts of slowing popula-
International Maize and Wheat Improve- tion growth and Asian farmers enjoying
ment Center, IRRI was a prototype for a an average yield more than double that of
global network of research centers that, their parents and grandparents at IRRI’s
since 1971, have found common purpose founding. It nevertheless threatens to
within the Consultative Group on Interna- undermine the indispensable agricultural
tional Agricultural Research. With more foundation of development, thus sabotag-
than US$400 million in annual fund- ing the prospects of today’s 600 million
ing from its 63 cosponsors and member poor in rice-producing Asia and a large
states and organizations — in particular portion of the billions to be born in the
the World Bank and developed countries several decades before the global popula-
in North America, Europe and tion finally stabilizes.
the Asia-Pacific — the 15-center People at IRRI take pride in how
group represents the world’s they, their colleagues and their prede-
largest investment in mobiliz- cessors going back to the shell-shocked
ing science to generate public middle of the 20th century have helped
goods for poor farm com- to make the world a more prosper-
munities. ous, safe and hopeful place. But much
Since IRRI’s release in remains to be done to achieve the United
1966 of the first modern Nations Millennium Development Goals
rice variety, the insti- and so alleviate hunger, want, prevent-
tute has led the way in able disease, ignorance, inequality and
developing improved environmental degradation. With contin-
rice cultivars and other ued support, IRRI’s 1,000 scientists, ad-
agricultural technologies ministrators, support staff and contract
to benefit Asia’s 200 million rice workers will contribute much more than
farmers and the billions of rice consumers their share.

Forging partnerships
in agricultural research
by Peter Core

by Peter Core
he Australian Centre for Inter- tion. While global food production
national Agricultural Research has more than matched population
(ACIAR) contributes to the growth in the past three decades,
Australian Government’s Official agricultural productivity among
Development Assistance program the rural poor remains low.
by forging partnerships in agricul- ACIAR works to raise pro-
tural research and development. ductivity in a range of areas. The
The key to ACIAR’s operations ACIAR-funded Seeds of Life project
and success has been partnering matches crops to growing conditions
with agricultural research organiza- by tapping the genetic resources

tions, including the International of five CGIAR centers, including

Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Mr. Core is Director of the Australian Centre for IRRI, to introduce improved and
other Consultative Group on Interna- International Agricultural Research. better-suited crop varieties to the
tional Agricultural Research (CGIAR) fledgling nation of East Timor.
centers, to develop solutions to the the rural poor — if not for today’s Another sustained research
problems and barriers that limit pro- farmers, then for their children. effort, supported by ACIAR and led
ductive and sustainable agriculture. ACIAR’s project activities, and its by IRRI, is developing so-called
ACIAR works with IRRI in two support for IRRI and other CGIAR apomictic hybrid rice varieties
ways: we provide Australia’s core centers, are based on both formal and that reproduce asexually, are
funding contribution to CGIAR informal consultations with part- high-yielding, and whose seeds are
centers, and we commission IRRI ner countries — an approach that genetically identical to those of the
to undertake specific projects. reflects ACIAR’s mandate to solve parent plant, overcoming
In 2003-04, Australia contribut- the problems of developing-country the high cost and inflexibility
ed US$650,000 in core funds to IRRI agriculture through partnerships of hybrid seed production.
out of a total of $4.2 million allocated in research and development. ACIAR-IRRI collaboration is
in core funding to CGIAR centers. Every 4 years, ACIAR consults also helping the cropping systems
Another $3.5 million was distributed with major partner countries to set of Laos and Cambodia. Research-
among the centers as project-specific broad priorities, from which more ers are introducing plant breeding
funding, based on the comparative detailed annual priorities are set, strategies for lowland rice, intensi-
research strengths each offered and outlined in ACIAR’s Annual fying rice-based cropping systems
in addressing issues that matched Operational Plan. Projects, devel- in rainfed lowlands, developing
Australia’s regional priorities. oped against these annual priori- direct-seeding technology, increas-
Project-specific funding aims to ties, harness research and extension ing the productivity of dry-season
build three-way linkages by connect- expertise to overcome obstacles to irrigated rice, and developing
ing the specialist research skills and sustainable productivity increases. agroecological maps for Laos.
knowledge of CGIAR centers with By involving developing-country ACIAR’s investment in global
Australian and developing-country agricultural research institutions and, agricultural research and develop-
agricultural research institutes, ulti- where appropriate, CGIAR centers ment is carefully targeted. This
mately breaking down barriers that including IRRI, projects deliver focus is reflected in our investment
hamper agricultural productivity. applicable results as well as build in, and support of, rice research. By
ACIAR’s annual budget of ap- scientific capacity, creating home- working with stakeholders in setting
proximately $38 million is com- grown and home-owned solutions. and addressing research priori-
paratively small in a global context. ACIAR focuses on delivering these ties, ACIAR ensures that benefits
Our activities are therefore carefully solutions in the Asia-Pacific region, will continue to flow to the rural
targeted, recognizing that sustainable home to more than half the world’s poor of the Asia-Pacific region.
and environmentally benign pro- population and almost two-thirds of IRRI has been, and remains,
ductivity enhancements can unlock the world’s poor. Many of these poor vital to ACIAR’s efforts to deliver re-
agricultural potential. This remains have not benefited as much as they search results that improve the liveli-
a proven avenue out of poverty for should have from the Green Revolu- hoods of the people most in need.

Rice Today April 2005 

Rice knowledge helps tsunami recovery

S alt-tolerant rice varieties have been

shipped to communities in several
countries devastated by the Indian Ocean
damaged storage and processing
facilities. The invasion of salt
water can affect rice production
tsunamis of December 26. The tsunamis in several ways, including direct
affected more than 1 million hectares of crop losses, soil damage via ero-
rice growing land — an area that supplies sion or salt contamination, and
food for at least 30 million people. The storage losses.
shipments, part of a coordinated response “Many of those affected by
by agricultural research institutes includ- the tsunami depended on local
ing IRRI, aimed to quickly reestablish food agriculture not just for food but

Mark Bell
production in the worst hit areas and help also for their livelihoods, and rice
affected communities rapidly regain food obviously played a particularly
self-sufficiency. important role in many regions. MIRACULOUSLY UNHARMED: Sri Lankan rice farmer Mr. Farook
IRRI experts are also studying the It’s essential to the success of any stands at the edge of his field in the east coast town of
Nintavur, from where he was swept away by the Indian Ocean
rice production problems that farmers recovery effort that agriculture in
tsunami on 26 December. The waves, which reached the top of
are encountering in the battered areas of the region gets back on its feet as the palm trees behind him, carried Mr. Farook inland for nearly
Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. Officials quickly as possible,” IRRI Deputy a kilometer and dumped salt water and sand over his farm.
in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand Director General for Research
reported that their main rice-growing areas Ren Wang said.
were mostly unaffected. The institute’s Rice Dr. Wang estimated that IRRI had ac- help tsunami-affected nations recover their
Knowledge Bank, an electronic repository cess to more than 40 different rice varieties agricultural productivity. Other CGIAR
of rice-related training and technology in- that tolerate salty conditions, and could be centers involved in the effort include four
formation, is providing essential advice on used either immediately by farmers in suit- institutes based in the worst-hit countries:
growing rice in the aftermath of the tsunami able areas or in breeding programs to adapt the International Water Management In-
( to salty conditions local varieties that were stitute in Sri Lanka, the WorldFish Center
AndRice/default.htm). already popular with farmers. in Malaysia, the Center for International
The salty waters that surged into coast- IRRI is working closely with its 14 sister Forestry Research in Indonesia, and the
al rice fields destroyed crops, equipment centers of the Consultative Group on Inter- International Crops Research Institute for
and seed stocks, killed farm animals, and national Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to the Semi-Arid Tropics in India.

ASEAN nations endorse IRRI 10-year, 3-point plan released a statement inviting IRRI and other
concerned agencies of ASEAN “to develop

I RRI has formed a major new alliance with

the world’s largest and most important as-
sociation of rice-producing nations. The new
ber. Coming after ASEAN agreed to establish
formal relationships with IRRI in August,
the gathering endorsed a 10-year, 3-point
a detailed blueprint for the plan and coor-
dinate its implementation to minimize the
impact of these major threats to ASEAN rice
partnership follows an invitation from the plan presented by Myanmar that focused on production.”
10-nation Association of Southeast Asian three major rice production challenges fac- The ASEAN countries are Brunei Darus-
Nations (ASEAN) for representatives from ing Asia — water shortages, global warming salam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
IRRI to attend last year’s 26th Annual Meet- and inadequate human resources. Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand
ing of the ASEAN Ministers on Agriculture The AMAF urged international donors and Vietnam. “Plus 3” nations China, Korea
and Forestry (AMAF) in Myanmar in Octo- to strengthen their support for IRRI and and Japan also attended the meeting.

Briefly Briefly Briefly

Establishing trust Board of Trustees. Professor Roman became Nations gathered on 24-26 January at the
The Global Crop Diversity Trust, set up to ex officio member when she was appointed “Innovations in Communication for Rural
help conserve forever the planet’s agricul- 19th President of the University of the Extension” workshop in Ho Chi Minh City,
tural biodiversity, is now an independent Philippines in February. Dr. Woods, execu- Vietnam. Supported by the U.K. Depart-
international organization. To be recognized tive director of research and development ment for International Development, the
under international law, the trust required strategies at the Australian Department of workshop explored new innovations in com-
12 signatories from five world regions. On Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and munication to improve rural extension.
21 October, Sweden, as well as pledging 50 Dr. Fischer, South Asia program adviser
million kroners (US$7.3 million), became the for the Australian Centre for International Lasting grains
required 12th signatory, joining Cape Verde, Agricultural Research, assumed their board IRRI has developed a farmer-friendly “super
Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Mali, Mo- duties on 1 January. storage bag” that allows cereal grains to be
rocco, Samoa, Syria, Tonga and Togo. safely stored for extended periods. Made
Communication innovation from laminated, three-layer plastic, the
New board members Eighty scientists from organizations includ- Super bag is a liner used inside a normal
Emerlinda Roman, Elizabeth Woods and ing the World Bank, IRRI and the Food storage bag. The impermeable middle layer
Tony Fischer have been appointed to IRRI’s and Agriculture Organization of the United keeps both water and oxygen out (regular

 Rice Today April 2005

Robert Zeigler named IRRI director general

A n internationally respected plant

pathologist with more than 20
years’ experience in agricultural re-
search in the developing world has
been named as IRRI’s next director
general. Robert Zeigler, 54, takes over
from Ronald Cantrell, who retired in
December (See The tale of a Texas
farm boy, pages 18-21). The Illinois
native was scheduled to assume his
c. zeigler

new duties on 1 April.

Dr. Zeigler earned his Ph.D. in
plant pathology from Cornell University in 1982. After working on

david johnson
cassava at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT),
he spent time in Burundi as a technical adviser for the nation’s maize
program before returning to CIAT as a senior staff plant patholo-
gist, ultimately taking over as the head of its rice program. In 1992,
DURING NEPAL’S International Year of Rice celebrations on 17 December,
Dr. Zeigler moved to IRRI, where he led the Rainfed Lowland Rice
the Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Hom Nath Dahal, inaugurated
Research Program and the Irrigated Rice Research Program. After
the Nepal-IRRI office in Kathmandu. The National Agricultural Research
6 years, he left the institute to become head of the Department of Council (NARC) and IRRI exchanged a Memorandum of Agreement regarding
Plant Pathology and director of the Plant Biotechnology Center at the operation of the Nepal-IRRI office and the Nepalese version of IRRI’s
Kansas State University in the U.S., before working in Mexico as electronic rice training and extension service, the Rice Knowledge Bank.
director of the Generation Challenge Program of the Consultative NARC Executive Director D. S. Pathik (center) is seen here signing the
Group on International Agricultural Research. IRRI Deputy Di- memorandum, as IRRI Senior Scientist Sushil Pandey (left) watches, along
rector General for Partnerships William Padolina served as acting with NARC and Ministry of Agriculture senior staff.
director general following Dr. Cantrell’s departure.

New research Alliance to help fight poverty The institutes’ board chairs, Keijiro
Otsuka of IRRI and Alexander McCalla of

I RRI and the International Maize and

Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT
by its Spanish acronym) have forged a new
nually, and cover more than 70 percent of
the planet’s productive cropping land.
The boards of trustees of IRRI and the
CIMMYT, said the Alliance will focus on mo-
bilizing and applying science for increased
impact in the developing world.
Alliance aimed at boosting international Mexico-based CIMMYT met on 7-9 Janu- “The process should lead to a continu-
efforts to fight rural poverty and strengthen ary in Shanghai, China, to identify research ous evolution toward even closer integra-
food security in the developing world. priorities for the new Alliance. They selected tion of certain research programs to better
Because rice, maize and wheat are four areas — intensive crop production achieve the missions of both centers,”
all cereals, the two institutes believe that systems in Asia; the formation of cereals Drs. Otsuka and McCalla said in a joint
research on the crops’ sustainable develop- information units; training and knowledge statement, adding that the Alliance would
ment and use can be better coordinated banks for rice, maize and wheat; and climate enhance the institutes’ partnerships with
through a strong Alliance. The three staples change research directed at adapting the the national agricultural research systems
provide 60 percent of global food needs an- three crops to global changes. of developing countries.

Briefly Briefly Briefly

plastic is only effective against water). The ber — and will be the main advisory body for development groups. Dr. Abed also received
bags, which can double seed life, help farmers setting the institute’s environmental guide- the 2004 United Nations Development
control grain moisture levels, maintain seed lines and policies for all activities related to Program Mahbub ul Haq Award for Out-
germination and viability for a much longer research, operations and interactions with standing Contribution to Human Develop-
period, control grain pests without using the local community. ment, in recognition of his commitment
chemicals, and improve grain quality. to empowering the poor and his success
Gates money for Bangladesh in providing opportunities for women and
New environmental council The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Com- other marginalized groups in Bangladesh.
The IRRI Environmental Council was estab- mittee (BRAC), founded by IRRI Board
lished in November to ensure the long-term of Trustees member Fazle Hasan Abed, Rice-wheat project begins
implementation, continued development received the $1 million 2004 Gates Award The project “Enhancing farmers’ income
and success of the IRRI Environmental for Global Health, funded by the Bill and and livelihoods through integrated crop and
Agenda. The council is responsible for Melinda Gates Foundation. BRAC is cred- resource management in the rice-wheat sys-
the implementation of the Environmental ited with improving the health and welfare tem in South Asia,” sponsored by the Asian
Agenda — launched at the World Rice Re- of tens of millions of destitute Bangladeshis, Development Bank, commenced in Dhaka,
search Conference in Japan, also in Novem- and has become a global model for rural Bangladesh, in February. The 3-year project,

Rice Today April 2005 

IRRI researchers win best article award Meeting highlights included Farm-
ers’ Dialogue — an innovative approach

T he CGIAR Science and Communication

Awards were presented at the annual
general meeting of IRRI’s parent organiza-
to reaching out to farmers in developing
countries — and a “ministerial roundtable”
where Ministers from Colombia, Côte
tion, the Consultative Group on Interna- d’Ivoire, Mexico and Venezuela, plus two
tional Agricultural Research (CGIAR), held private sector representatives, discussed
in Mexico City on 25-29 October. how public-private partnerships could spur
The Outstanding Scientific Article rural innovation and benefit poor farmers.
award went to a team of IRRI scientists led In a speech delivered by Agriculture
by Marta Vasconselos (pictured at right Minister Javier Usabiaga, Mexican Presi-

official photo
with, from left, Deputy Director General dent Vicente Fox pledged Mexico’s sup-
for Research Ren Wang, Director General port for rural development and expressed
Ronald Cantrell and Director for Program confidence in the country’s long-standing
Planning and Coordination Mike Jackson). to millions of poor rice consumers. IRRI partnership with the CGIAR. Other speakers
The IRRI team’s article, Enhanced iron was also represented in the King Baudouin included CGIAR Chair Ian Johnson, World
and zinc accumulation in transgenic rice Award, won by the Rice-Wheat Consortium Bank Chief Economist and Vice President
with the ferritin gene was published in of the Indo-Gangetic Plains for pioneering Francois Bourguignon, and CGIAR Science
Plant Science and shows the potential of resource-conserving technologies in South Council Chair and World Food Prize laure-
using rice to deliver improved nutrition Asia’s breadbasket. ate Per Pinstrup-Andersen.

QUALITY CENTER: Plant nutrition

expert Robin Graham (right),
from the University of Adelaide,
and former IRRI cereal chemist
Bienvenido Juliano (left) cut the
ribbon at the 15 December opening
ceremony of IRRI’s new Grain Quality
and Nutrition Research Center
(GQNRC) while GNQRC Head Melissa
Fitzgerald and IRRI Director General
Ronald Cantrell look on. The new
center will help IRRI develop rice
varieties of improved visual, sensory
and nutritional quality. The GQNRC
will also be a training hub, where
scientists from national agricultural
research systems can learn the most
aileen del rosario-rondilla

up-to-date, efficient and cost-

effective methods of evaluating rice
quality and nutrition.
Quality time on pages 26-29 of Rice
Today Vol. 3 No. 4.

Briefly Briefly Briefly

led by IRRI Senior Scientist J.K. Ladha, is of rice’s 50,000 genes. IRRI attendees The Lao-IRRI Project, which started in 1990,
designed to improve farmers’ income and included bioinformatics specialist Richard has substantially contributed to research
livelihood through technologies identified Bruskiewich, plant breeder Darshan Brar infrastructure, national research capacity
for dissemination and promotion in the and plant pathologist Hei Leung. and national self-sufficiency in rice.
rice-wheat cropping system covering the
Indo-Gangetic Plains in Bangladesh, India, Regional hub for Laos Great wall of rice
Nepal, and Pakistan. At the Lao-IRRI Rice Research and Train- Glutinous (sticky) rice has been revealed as
ing Project annual meeting in Vientiane on a secret ingredient used by ancient Chinese
Arizona Oryza 27 January, IRRI announced that it will builders to strengthen their constructions.
More than 240 rice researchers converged establish a regional hub in Laos to boost During recent maintenance work on the
on the University of Arizona on 15-17 the institute’s commitment to that country city wall of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi prov-
November for the 2nd International Sym- and regions beyond the project’s auspices. ince, workers found that plaster remnants
posium on Rice Functional Genomics. National Agricultural and Forestry Research on ancient bricks were difficult to remove.
Participants presented the latest research Institute officials and Ty Phommasack, vice Chemical and physical tests showed that
results on the genome sequence of rice and minister of the Lao Ministry of Agriculture the plaster contained glutinous rice, which
explored ways of discovering the function and Forestry, welcomed the development. evidently helped make a better mortar.

 Rice Today April 2005

Healing wounds destroyed following the U.S.-
led invasion in 2003. There are

L ast December’s devastating tsunamis

struck a double blow for many rice-
growing communities. Besides the human
similar tales from Afghanistan,
Rwanda and the Democratic
Republic of Congo. Pearce also
toll, the waves brought salt and sand into mentions IRRI’s role in the re-
coastal rice fields, destroying crops, killing patriation of rice varieties col-
farm animals, wrecking farm machinery and lected from Cambodia months
obliterating seed stocks. Seeds of salt-toler- before the Khmer Rouge took
ant rice varieties have already been sent to over (see The burning of the
Malaysia and more assistance is planned for rice on page 15). But hundreds
other affected areas (see News on page 6). of varieties have been lost for-
The need to replace seeds and intro- ever. Pearce quotes an IRRI
duce new varieties is fueled not only by study that found that in one
natural disaster, but also by war, which district, the 15 most promi-
in many countries has resulted in the nent and adapted deep-water
complete loss of varieties of rice and other rice varieties were all lost. He
crops. A new book, released by IRRI’s par- points out that, along with the
ent organization, the Consultative Group rice, traditional knowledge
on International Agricultural Research about what to plant where also
(CGIAR), examines its constituent centers’ disappeared on a catastrophic
roles in rebuilding agriculture in countries scale.
affected by conflict and natural disasters The Cambodian experi-
over the past 30 years. Authored by Mark ence also made the Cana-
Winslow and Surendra Varma of the Inter- dian airwaves. Former IRRI
national Center for Agricultural Research scientist Harry Nesbitt was
in Dry Areas, the book, Healing Wounds, interviewed in February on
was featured in the January 22 edition of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Southeast Asia. Dr. Ismail estimated that
New Scientist magazine (www.newscientist. radio program, The Current, about IRRI’s the tsunami affected more than 1 million
com/channel/earth/mg18524831.000). role in helping restore Cambodia’s rice hectares of rice land, which had previ-
The article, by Fred Pearce, recounts industry after the Khmer Rouge fell from ously provided food for at least 30 million
several examples of the effects of conflict power. On 10 January, the same program people. He also discussed the short- and
on agriculture, including the rescue of Iraq’s interviewed IRRI Senior Scientist Abdelbagi long-term damage to rice production. See
“black box.” The box contained seeds from Ismail about the effect of the Indian Ocean Healing Wounds online at
the country’s main seed bank, which was tsunami on rice production in South and publications/index.html.

Also... suggests that as atmospheric carbon dioxide

levels rise, crops may need more nitrogen
Saving time and money in India
Regional Indian-language newspapers ran
— and therefore more fertilizer — to grow. more than 20 articles on a project to develop
Global warming and rice still a hot issue and introduce direct-seeding technology and
A paper co-authored by IRRI scientists has made Harvest shortfalls still a concern integrated weed management to major rice-
Discover Magazine’s list of the top 100 science Poor harvests last year, particularly in China, producing areas of India. English-language
stories of 2004. The list, in the magazine’s prompted coverage of the issue in major national newspapers carrying the story
January issue, had Rice yields decline with newspapers across the world. The New York included The Times of India and the Hindustan
higher night temperature from global warming Times and Asian Wall Street Journal are among Times. The papers reported that IRRI weed
at number 68. Written by a research team from the publications that published features scientist David Johnson, along with Martin
IRRI, China and the United States, the study suggesting causes for declining harvests and Mortimer from the University of Liverpool’s
was led by IRRI crop physiologist Shaobing soaring prices. IRRI has warned about the School of Biological Sciences, visited field
Peng. The paper, published in the 6 July threat of ongoing shortages as rice prices have trials of direct-seeding and weed management
issue of PNAS ( undergone a 40% price increase in the past systems that could help rice farmers save
full/101/27/9971), reported that field studies year. Website Oryza ( reported water, time, labor and money.
conducted at IRRI confirmed predictions from IRRI Director General Ron Cantrell as saying
theoretical studies that global warming will that “Asia’s ability to feed itself cannot be Swiss rice
make rice crops less productive. taken for granted.” In addition to demand- Even the Swiss have been celebrating
Citing the IRRI-led study as evidence that increases from a rapidly growing population, International Year of Rice, with the news
global warming could hurt food production, a Dr. Cantrell identified four other factors that Website visiting Ticino in
story by Robert Pore in the 23 January issue of pose threats to the supply of rice — water December to find out about rice growing, Swiss
The Independent reports on work by the United shortages, global warming, scarcity of rice style. Ticino’s Mediterranean climate is ideal
States’ Agricultural Research Service. The study farmers and decreasing area planted to rice. for the cultivation of the risotto rice Loto.

Rice Today April 2005 

Reality check for rice year dinner guests

E ngland’s Telegraph carried on 26 November the story of a dinner

hosted by Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations
food agencies in Rome. Hall, in an effort to remind his diplomat
guests of the realities of world hunger during International Year
of Rice, split diners into three groups, representing three levels of
wealth. The richest third received a delicious gourmet meal, the
middle class got rice and beans, while the “poor” guests were locked
outside in the garden with a few handfuls of cold rice and a leaflet
that “explained they were representing the 60% of the world’s 6
billion people who struggle to find each meal.” The leaflet also
informed the bemused guests that the rice would fail to stave off
their hunger. Many refused to eat and were eventually let back in

photo by LEI Xu and Fang chen, beijing institute of genomics

for their “real” dinner.
The Vietnam News Agency looked at International Year of
Rice in the context of the history of rice production in Vietnam. The
report, by Huu Ngoc, stated that the rice year declaration “greatly
interests Vietnam, where 80% of the population lives in rural areas
and essentially survives on rice farming, and also where during the
double rule of the Japanese and the French in 1945, a famine took
a toll of 2 million lives.”
Calling rice the “web of life in Vietnam,” the story notes the
country’s success after the policy of doi moi (renewal) “was insti-
tuted in 1986 to curb a prolonged economic crisis that lasted for
many years, and to revive agriculture by giving farmers the full
scope of production.” Doi moi, Ngoc adds, ended Vietnam’s peren-
PUBLIC RICE: PLoS Biology, a journal published by the Public Library of
nial food shortage and helped turn it into the world’s third-largest
Science (PLoS), focused on rice in its February 2005 issue. The Genomes
rice exporter.
of Oryza sativa: A History of Duplications, by Jun Yu, Jun Wang, Wei Lin,
Washington Times reporter Takehiko Kambayashi interviewed Songgang Li, Heng Li, et al., compares the DNA sequences of the indica and
International Rice Commission Executive Secretary Nguu Nguyen japonica subspecies of rice, and reveals that duplication of genes has strongly
about International Year of Rice 2004. The interview, which ran in influenced the evolution of other grass genomes. The article is accompanied
the paper’s 29 October issue, covered the year’s accomplishments, by a synopsis, Rice Genome Approaches Completion, written to give non-
the reason behind devoting a year to rice, and how to increase experts insight into the work’s significance. All works published in PLoS
Europe’s and North America’s interest in rice issues. Biology are “open access,” and freely available. See

Pros and cons of genetically modified rice in China

G enetically modified (GM) rice in China

has received widespread media cover-
age, with articles in major magazines The
stand to gain much more than the country
might lose in exports to GM-wary nations.
Moreover, China is technically advanced in
GM rice within 2 years and, once they do,
it will move throughout Asia. “It’s the most
important food crop in the world. They’ve
Economist, Science and Newsweek, plus GM research and, according to a survey by worked on this very carefully and had
a swathe of local and other international the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, large-scale field trials for several years,” he
stories. Following China’s Ministry of Agri- there is relatively high consumer support. reportedly said.
culture announcement last December that The Economist article, along with a feature However, following a Chinese biosafety
the country would officially begin safety on China’s GM-rice issues in the 20 De- committee meeting in December, China
evaluation of GM rice, debate has raged cember issue of Newsweek (http://msnbc. denied it is definitely gearing up for the com-
about the potential benefits and risks of, mercial release of GM varieties. On 2 De-
the commercialization of GM rice in China proposes that if China does push ahead cember, Chinese news agency Xinhua stated
and elsewhere. successfully with commercialization, it that there were “no genetically modified rice
Some reports have surmised that, with could spur other developing countries with varieties in China being issued with safety
pressure mounting on Beijing to boost do- relatively advanced research systems, such certificates.” The 10 December issue of Sci-
mestic grain production and farmer income, as India and Brazil, to do the same. ence reported Fang Xiangdong, director of
China — the world’s largest rice producer More recently, news agency Reuters the China Ministry of Agriculture’s Office
and consumer — could release GM rice as posted a 28 February report quoting Clive of Biosafety, as saying that “no application
early as next year. The 18 November issue of James, chairman and founder of the In- has been approved or rejected so far.” The
The Economist suggests that China is ready ternational Service for the Acquisition of journal added that “if China does delay the
to go GM because it consumes most of the Agri-biotech Applications, a group that introduction of GM rice, a blight-resistant
rice it produces. The proportion of rice that advocates biotechnology as a means to help GM rice variety now undergoing field trials
China trades is small enough, says the maga- end global hunger. Dr. James suggested in the Philippines could be the first in the
zine, that Chinese growers and consumers that China could be ready to commercialize world to win approval.”

10 Rice Today April 2005

What's rich, creamy, delicious and weighs 7.5 tons?

ricegrowers association of australia inc.

J apan Today, The Australian, Reuters
and a host of other news publications
and organizations ran reports about Aus-
liters of stock, 800 kg of frozen peas, 1.5
kg of saffron, 600 kg of cheese and butter,
20 kg of garlic, and 400 kg of onions and
Herald were among those reporting that
Filipinos also put rice in the record books
on December 9, when residents of Nueva
tralian chefs and aid workers who on 26 celery. Ecija, in the northern Philippines, made a
November celebrated International Year The risotto, cooked over 3 hours in a 2.54-ton Biko ng Mundo (Rice Cake of the
of Rice by cooking a world-record 7.5-ton 10- by 3.6-meter steel pan, was fed to on- World).
bowl of risotto. lookers for a small donation, which went to Some 3,000 residents from 37 villages
With the Sydney Harbor Bridge in the charity group CARE Australia. helped to prepare the biko, which is made by
background, the team used large paddles to Philippine news service ABS-CBN and boiling glutinous (sticky) rice with coconut
stir together 1.6 tons of arborio rice, 4,400 Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning milk and brown sugar.

Other publications raised concerns biochemical pathways for increasing rice to be the only bacteria capable of transfer-
about the environmental and human health yield [...] and improving rice quality for ring genes to plants — is restricted by patent
implications of releasing GM rice. The consumer preference.” protection. The CAMBIA researchers, how-
China Daily said in a 13 December article However, in another Reuters story car- ever, managed gene transfer using several
that “people should not be used as guinea ried by the 28 October issue of The Manila different bacteria. CAMBIA plans to make
pigs with food they eat every day,” and that Times, the FAO also urged governments the technology freely available through
the impact of genetically modified foods to act with caution before giving the go- “open source” licensing, meaning that scien-
“on human health, the environment and ahead to commercial planting of GM rice. tists will be able to use the technique without
biodiversity has not yet been thoroughly He Changchui, FAO Asia-Pacific assistant licensing costs. On the same day, The New
studied under current levels of science and director, reportedly said that governments York Times ran an article discussing the
technology.” should undertake extensive risk assess- breakthrough and its implications.
Meanwhile, the Food and Agricultural ment on food safety and study consumer Finally, looking at an altogether dif-
Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sentiment before giving approval, adding ferent GM rice issue, Reuters reported in
has voiced its support for GM crops. At a that “countries intending to commercialize February that Japanese scientists have
conference in December, the FAO declared genetically modified rice should go through developed GM rice that may help allevi-
that biotechnology and hybrid strains could a very strict, science-based analysis.” ate hay fever. A Farm Ministry official was
be used by rice growers to reverse falling In further GM developments, an article reported as saying that the new strain of
yields. In an 8 December report, Reuters in the 10 February issue of Nature reveals rice contains a gene that produces the al-
cited Mahmoud Solh, FAO director of plant that scientists from CAMBIA, a research lergy-causing protein. The rice “treatment”
protection and production, as saying, “The center affiliated with Charles Sturt Univer- worked like other allergy therapies where
successful mapping of the rice genome sity in Canberra, Australia, have developed a small amount of the allergy-causing sub-
sequence offers still further opportunities new ways to genetically modify plants. The stance “is released into the body to allow
to identify and characterize the genes and use of Agrobacterium — previously thought resistance to build up.”

Rice Today April 2005 11

Intensify to
diversify Story and photography
by Leharne Fountain

Smarter rice growing gives Cambodian

farmers an opportunity to try new
crops and gain more income
12 Rice Today April 2005
most important source of income and
employment for rural Cambodians,
and the source of around three-
quarters of the average Cambodian’s
calories. Productivity gains in rice,
more than in any other crop, will
therefore help reduce poverty.
One of the proven routes out
of poverty is income diversification
— if the rural poor can make money
from a number of enterprises, not
only does this provide extra income,
but it also offers them a buffer when
things go wrong, such as crop failure.
Moreover, rice farmers perched on
the edge of self-sufficiency are denied
the chance to improve their lot. They
are forced to devote all their energies
to rice just to stave off hunger for
themselves and their families. In
short, better rice production opens
the door to more lucrative farming.
A short drive out of the
Cambodian capital Phnom Penh,
Preap Visarto, head of the Plant
Protection Program at the Cambodian
Agricultural Research and
Development Institute (CARDI), and
International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) Senior Scientist Gary Jahn are
conducting the Farmstead field trial,
CAMBODIAN RICE FARMER, Marie, is participating a 3-year project supported by the
in a field trial that should enable her and her
fellow farmers to grow more rice while saving
Australian Centre for International
money and resources that can be invested in other Agricultural Research (see Donors
crops. The intensified system has some farmers corner on page 5). Farmstead
growing the fast-maturing aromatic variety, Phka consists of around 6 hectares of
Rumduol (right, above and top). During the trial, rice fields in a relatively favorable
farmers also use traditional methods and varieties
(opposite bottom and right).
rainfed environment. Standing
for “Fish and Rice Management
System to Enable Agricultural
Diversification,” the project fields are
located by a canal that can provide
supplemental water to nearby fields,
although not enough to grow a fully
irrigated dry-season rice crop.
Farmstead aims to help farmers
intensify their rice production,

thereby allowing the small amount of
very year since 1995, extra water, land and other resources
Cambodia has produced consequently freed up to be invested
a rice surplus. It is in growing other crops, which can
an impressive record provide supplementary income for
given the agricultural farmers. In addition, the project aims
devastation wrought by the violence to design systems of intensification
of the 1970s. Yet many Cambodian that complement, rather than hinder,
rice farmers still harvest yields of ricefield fish farming, an important
only 2 tons per hectare, barely enough source of income and protein for
to feed their own families. Rice is the many farm families in this region.

Rice Today April 2005 13

The trial will compare intensified THE FARMSTEAD TRIAL assesses crop
loss from pests to see if the intensified
fields with conventionally managed
farming system leads to greater damage
fields, focusing on yields, crop loss, from insects such as stem borers, which
profit margins and fish production. sever the rice-bearing panicles and cause
Two rice varieties are grown in “white head,” so-called because the
the intensified fields. Farmers first grains turn white as they die.
grow an IRRI-developed modern
variety known as IR66, which
matures in 2 months. Once IR66
is harvested, they plant a variety
named Phka Rumduol, which was
developed for rainfed systems by
CARDI and matures in 3 months.
These varieties, each planted once a
year, during the rainy season, were
chosen because they can be grown
and harvested in synchronization
with the 5-month variety, named
Phka Khnhei, traditionally grown
in the region. The total growing
period is crucial, as sufficient water
is available for only 5 months.
Other considerations were
improved yield, grain quality and
market value. Phka Rumduol, for
instance, fetches a higher market
price because of its aromatic
qualities. The CARDI-designed
Farmstead system also seeks to
increase yields by leveling fields,
improving fertilizer application
and water management, and using
certified seed to ensure seed quality.
Starting in 2004, the project
has already delivered promising
results. The intensified fields
of Phka Rumduol produced
significantly higher yields than
traditional farmers’ fields — 3.3
tons per hectare, compared with
only 3 tons per hectare in fields
planted to Phka Khnhei. Add to
this another 3 tons per hectare
from IR66, and the intensified
fields are yielding more than double
what they produced in the past.
Dr. Jahn and his CARDI
collaborators are also measuring crop
loss from pests. Small subplots within
the intensified and conventional fields
are either treated with pesticide or
left untreated, regardless of what
other management practices are
carried out (see Reason to cheer in
Rice Today Vol. 3 No. 4, pages 12-17).
“This will allow us to determine
what level of control is required for
dealing with insect pests,” Dr. Jahn

14 Rice Today April 2005

The burning of the rice

ike many aspects of normal life in the country, percent of the remaining population was female.
agriculture in Cambodia was devastated during Kampong Speu Province had 17,000 widows and
the reign of the Khmer Rouge. But, during 7,000 orphans, Kampong Chhnang Province 15,000
the International Year of Rice 2004, just a few widows, and so on. In the sixteen to forty-
decades since the demise of the regime, Cambodia five age group of Prey Veng Province, females
celebrated ten years of rice self-sufficiency. This outnumbered males by about three to one.
remarkable recovery began when in 1985 IRRI This disproportionate ratio of the sexes
was invited to work with Cambodian scholars resulted in social disruption and lack of male
and scientists to help re-establish the country’s muscle power for heavy farm work. Consequently,
rural economy. Supported by funding from the women were often obliged to perform tasks that
Australian Agency for International Development, were traditionally done by men, such as land
the venture was called the Cambodia-
IRRI-Australia Project (CIAP) and ������������������������� ���������������������
was led by Australian agronomist ��� ��

Harry Nesbitt (see Rice Today Vol. ��� ���������������
1 No.1, pages 14-19). Scientist Don ���
Puckridge, a member of the IRRI team �������
��� �������� �
sent to Cambodia, has chronicled the �������

from "the burning of the rice" page 179

events that led to the rejuvenation �����

of Cambodia’s rice production in a ���
����� ����
new book titled The Burning of the ��� ���� ������������� �
Rice. The following excerpt from ��� �����������
Chapter 2 describes some of the ��������

enormous challenges faced by the
CIAP team when the project began. ���
���� ���� ���� ���� ���� ���� ���� ���� ����

population and rice production, cambodia 1961-2000

"An enduring memory of Prey

Veng Province was of a narrow dusty road on preparation and application of farmyard manure
the bank of a canal drawn straight across the and chemical fertilizer to crops. The loss of
landscape. It was a typical example of Khmer animals due to the effects of war, widespread
Rouge changes to rice culture in which they disease and overwork took their toll as well.
dug canals to follow grid lines of a map without People without animals had to hire them, with
reference to the topography. A few diminishing payment usually in rice or labor, or to do the
pools of water along the bottom of the canal work by hand. On one occasion we even saw a
were a reminder of the futility of trying to keep young woman with a yoke over her shoulders
the dry-season drought at bay. Another more straining to pull a plough while an old woman
fortunate canal was half full of muddy water, behind it guided the blade in the furrow.
with a bamboo fence placed across it to trap A social survey a few years later found that
fish as the water level dropped. Nearby were four such women had less access to animals and other
substantial wooden houses on stilts, scattered resources, were the major borrowers of informal
as if they avoided associating with each other. loans and had less access to information. Even
Conical stacks of straw near each house were though they may have been the only adult in the
being undermined by bites from cattle taking family, there was still the cultural perception
respite from the dry and almost barren fields. that they were not farmers, but were helpers
We stopped at a group of huts and saw an and housewives. In families without cattle or
orphan girl of about sixteen years of age tending buffaloes for ploughing and raking of their fields,
an earthen fireplace in the open, boiling sugar it was the women who were almost always the
palm juice in a large wok to make palm sugar, ones who repaid the labor owed as payment for
a common ingredient in cooking for those who borrowed draft animals. One morning of ploughing
could afford it. Seeing this girl and other orphans and raking was usually repaid by a full day of
in that place made more impact when we learnt pulling seedlings and transplanting. Women
that Prey Veng had over 34,000 widows and who did not own animals also provided labor in
10,000 orphans in a population of about 700,000. exchange for cow manure for use as fertilizer
Seventy percent of the men had died under the on their fields and they were often exploited
five years of Khmer Rouge rule and sixty-five because they lacked cash or other assets."

Rice Today April 2005 15

explains. “It is generally assumed EVIDENCE OF HARD WORK
that there will be a significant crop — bundles of harvested rice
line the fields at the end of
loss from pests. This experiment will
the day.
allow us to actually measure what
percentage, if any, is lost when no
pesticides are used in each system.”
Initial results of the no-pesticide
trials show a 7% yield drop caused by
pests in the intensified fields, but no
significant loss in the conventional
fields, indicating that intensification
may increase levels of crop loss.
“While intensification increases
yields,” says Dr. Jahn, “it also appears
to increase the percentage of the total
yield that is lost through damage by
insect pests. There’s a trade-off, and
we’ll perform an economic analysis
to determine whether or not it’s
financially worthwhile to control
pests in the intensified system.”

Harvest help
Marie is one of the participating
farmers. Her farm has a total area
of around 1.5 hectares, in four
separate fields, all of which are
involved in the Farmstead trials
— some as intensified fields, others
she farms using her own methods.
Her husband is a teacher at the
local primary school and she has
four children aged 12 to 17. The
day we visited, her eldest son was
harvesting rice along with two hired
laborers. She told us that her younger
children, who were at school, also
help with the harvest on Sundays.
Marie’s farm presents a typical
scene. All around, rice plants lie
flat, as though blown over by a
strong wind. Marie explains that
she flattens them herself because
the Phka Khnhei she grows is tall
and difficult to harvest when the
plants are upright. Bundles of
rice, evidence of the day’s work,
form curved rows and snake in
winding paths to the laborers.
Marie pays her laborers 8,000
riels, just over US$2, per 100 rice
bundles. They harvest approximately
800 bundles of Phka Khnhei per
field, for a total labor cost of $16 per
field. She sells her rice at 400 riels
($0.11) per kilogram and, with a yield
of close to 2 tons, receives around
$200 income from her harvest. With

16 Rice Today April 2005

Gary Jahn (left) and Preap
Visarto (middle) ask Marie
about her experiences with
the field trial.

Cambodia this year suffering from need initial income to implement Visarto and Dr. Jahn plan to expand
drought that has destroyed a fifth it — extra money to buy good the Farmstead system to include
of the country’s wet-season crop, seed, fertilizer and labor.” a crab management strategy.
Marie may earn up to 600 riels per The flexible approach the In its first year, Farmstead
kilo. She is a long way from being researchers are taking to Farmstead has shown that farmers have the
wealthy but, as far as rice farmers go, allows problems to be solved as potential to double their rice yield.
Marie is doing OK. Much room for they arise. One thing preventing Farmstead farmers, having observed
improvement remains, though, and widespread adoption of the IR66- the system’s benefits, plan to adopt
by adopting Farmstead’s intensified Phka Rumduol combination is the combination of modern varieties
system she stands to gain a better, crab damage. Phka Rumduol is in their fields next season. As they
more stable income to support her planted several weeks later than improve their rice production,
family. Importantly, she will also Phka Khnhei, leaving seedlings farmers can start to diversify their
get a chance to farm other crops. susceptible to attack by a particular crops and their income, which
Although the system is proving type of crab that matures at the same ultimately means a better life for
successful, Dr. Jahn says that it may time. Marie says this would prevent them and their families.
need to be linked with a microcredit her from planting the two modern
or livelihood improvement scheme. varieties in the lower-lying fields that Leharne Fountain is an Australian
“The farmers really like the system the crabs inhabit. It is a dilemma Youth Ambassador assigned for a
and can recognize the benefits it for many farmers with low-lying year to IRRI, where her duties include
provides, but some farmers may fields in the area. In response, Mr. serving as deputy editor of Rice Today.

Rice Today April 2005 17

The tale of a Texas farm boy by Leharne Fountain

Ronald P. Cantrell, the Texas farm boy made good, heads home after more
than 6 years at the helm of the International Rice Research Institute

f his beginnings amid the dust “I couldn’t find any of the farmers as long as you’re here, that gives us
and dirt of a Texas farm shaped in the fields. So I drove around hope that we’ll have a link into what
Ronald P. Cantrell’s outlook and I finally found them all, sitting we know will help us in the future.’”
on life, it was a storm in West under a big tree, drinking beer at It may have been a humbling
Africa that helped define his career. about 10 o’clock in the morning. I experience for a young researcher,
“I worked on a farming systems joined them and said, ‘You know, I’m but it proved priceless. Dr. Cantrell
project and we were doing village- really sorry about what happened realized that his project hadn’t
level studies,” recalls Dr. Cantrell, to your crops.’ They said, ‘No, no, established any linkage with the
who last December retired after more that’s all right. This happens all national agricultural programs.
than 6 years as director general of the time. What we’re really sad Without a conduit to the national
the Philippines-based International about is the fact that you lost your systems to feed knowledge in where it
Rice Research Institute (IRRI). “We trials, and you’ll probably leave.’ was needed and extract local know-
had a whole array of technologies at “I already knew I was leaving. how and experience, there was no
various stages of trial in this village. I told them, ‘Hey — those trials, I sustainability — no way to make
“It was the end of my second wasn’t that sure of them. I didn’t lasting improvements to local farming
year, almost the end of the know if some of them were going or, ultimately, to their livelihood.
cropping season, and there was this to be of any benefit to you or not.’
tremendous storm. The wind just “And this village chief said to me, Timely lesson
laid everything down. Everything. ‘Doctor, we knew the stuff you had in This lesson was etched in Dr.
It was a complete loss of crops. those trials wasn’t going to work. But, Cantrell’s mind when in 1984 he
joined the International Maize
and Wheat Improvement Center
(CIMMYT, by its Spanish acronym)
in Mexico, as director of its Maize
Program. CIMMYT, along with IRRI
and 13 other institutes, is part of the
Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
“I liked what I saw there,”
he explains, “because I saw an
international center that was not
there just to do the research. They
clearly recognized that their purpose
was to strengthen and complement
the national programs because
that’s the only sustainable way.”
EARLY DAYS in 1998, as Although the family farm
Robert Havener (left), provided more than mere subsistence
Jesse victolero

interim director general

of IRRI, hands over the
for the Cantrells, the young Ron
reins to Ronald Cantrell. grew up truly poor. Two generations
of family members before him had

18 Rice Today April 2005

ariel javellana
worked the land and he recalls clearly very high quality, especially the
his father’s feelings about his future. nationally recruited staff,” he recalls,
“I knew one thing from my referring to the Filipino researchers,
father,” says Dr. Cantrell, “and that managers and field workers that
was that I was going to college. make up around 90% of the institute’s
He had started farming during employees. “I couldn’t recall any of
the Great Depression and he was the other international institutes I’d
convinced that his children’s seen having national staff capable of
future should not be on the farm. assuming the same responsibilities.”

Jess recuenco
He saw that the best way out of The first major issue Dr. Cantrell
that was through an education.” faced was the imminent loss of
Needless to say, Dr. Cantrell’s several plant breeders. “Longevity is
rural upbringing influenced his crucial in breeding, especially for self-
decision to study agriculture. His beyond. They were just delighted pollinating crops like rice; replacing
family property was a combined that I was going to finish.” people like Gurdev Khush, who had
farming ranch with both cattle and After completing his Ph.D. been at IRRI for over 30 years, was
crops, and his early inclinations at Purdue University in 1970, Dr. going to be a real challenge,” he
were toward veterinary science. Cantrell worked as a maize breeder says, recalling the retirement of the
“But when I switched schools from at the Cargill Corn Research Station former IRRI principal plant breeder
one university to another,” he in Nebraska. In 1975, he headed and 1996 World Food Prize laureate.
says, “I ended up in agronomy.” back to Purdue to become associate “But I’m delighted with the transition
To support his studies, professor of agronomy, and was that’s been made. We now have three
Dr. Cantrell found a job at an appointed full professor in 1981 people committed long term who are
agricultural station working for a before heading to CIMMYT 3 years doing an excellent job in breeding.”
sorghum breeder. He acknowledges later. Following his stint in Mexico,
this as a pivotal moment in his he moved to Iowa, where he spent Major challenges
career, but admits that it was 8 years as head of the Agronomy Keijiro Otsuka, chair of the IRRI
the Vietnam War that ultimately Department at Iowa State University. Board of Trustees, notes that Dr.
drove him to pursue research. In September 1998, he returned to the Cantrell led the institute through
“On graduation, everyone was CGIAR as director general of IRRI. many major challenges and decisions.
going to Vietnam. But someone Having never previously worked A continuing decline in funding hit
came in and explained a program with rice, Dr. Cantrell recalls both IRRI hard in 2002, causing painful
where you could get an educational the trepidation and excitement he staff cutbacks. Added to this was the
delay,” recalls Dr. Cantrell. “I’d felt when he arrived at IRRI. growing international debate over
never considered going to graduate “It was daunting, not having biotechnology and how it could be
school. None of my family had ever worked on such an important crop used to benefit poor rice farmers and
gone to college before, let alone before, or the environment that the consumers. “Dr. Cantrell provided
crop grows in. Rice is a fascinating the steadying hand, strong leadership
crop, probably the most difficult and intelligent management IRRI
crop that I ever worked on. You needed,” says Dr. Otsuka.
try to make genetic improvements Dr. Cantrell was a firm believer
and at the same time maintain that that the quality of research and
unique taste and aroma. Some of the the credibility of the institute rest
most sophisticated palates I know upon the quality of the staff.
are rice eaters,” he says, touching “He was never concerned about
on one of rice’s biggest challenges. making IRRI the biggest research
“Wheat is mainly processed,” center, just the best,” says Dave
explains Dr. Cantrell. “In Africa, Mackill, head of Plant Breeding,
people always eat sorghum with some Genetics and Biotechnology at
sauce. Same with maize, it’s always IRRI. “He always focused on
eaten with something. Preserving quality, and he convinced us to
rice’s unique aroma and quality is always take the high road — to do
really difficult. Rice consumers are so everything with a sense of purpose
demanding, since they eat it alone.” and not get distracted from our core
An Indian farmer As he settled into IRRI, one research for short-term gain.”
presents a token of
thing in particular jumped out at Equally important for a director
friendship to
him: “I was very impressed with general was the ability to see the
jk ladha

Dr. Cantrell.
the staff; I thought they were of a big picture and remember why the

20 Rice Today April 2005

institute existed in the first place — to
improve the well-being of present and
future generations of rice farmers and
consumers. Dr. Cantrell emphasized
the importance of focusing on all
levels of food security, from the
national level to the household level.
He understood that simply because a
country produced enough rice for its
entire population, that did not mean
that everybody had enough to eat.

Looming issues
Dr. Cantrell leaves IRRI at a time
when many issues for rice research
loom ominously on the horizon.
He believes that climate change
will increasingly affect all of rice-
growing Asia, particularly after a
official photo

recent IRRI-led study indicated

that warmer temperatures may
threaten rice yields. But most
prominent among the challenges
is the availability of fresh water.
“Of all the fresh water used
in agriculture in Asia, rice uses
50%,” says Dr. Cantrell. “Rice
production will suffer as water
becomes increasingly scarce.
official photo

And we already see it happening.

There’s a whole realm of research

ariel javellana
centered on decreasing the need
FAMOUS LIAISONS: during his 6 years at IRRI, Dr.
for water in growing rice.”
Cantrell met with world leaders from across the
He cautions, though, that, globe, including (clockwise from top) His Majesty
“With less water, there will be more The King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej, Philippine
weeds. Managing weed populations President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Philippine
is going to be a huge area.” president Joseph Estrada and former Chinese Presi-
dent Jiang Zemin.
The greatest advances in the
shorter term, says Dr. Cantrell,
will come from closing the gap
between theoretically potential Bob Zeigler, the incoming director
rice yields and the yields that general: “Listen to the staff. We
farmers actually achieve, as well have excellent people who know
as reducing large postharvest and understand the demands
grain losses. One way to do this, from our partners. Just listen and
ariel javellana

he says, is simply to adapt existing then try to create an ever-growing

technologies to local environments. environment,” he says, underscoring
“In the next 10 years or more,” the need for both increased funding
he adds, looking further ahead, and a scientifically creative setting.
“tools such as biotechnology are The former farm boy keeps agricultural research and training
going to do some great things returning to one subject, an idea systems that must ultimately help
to help minimize the use of that cannot be emphasized strongly people improve their lives.
chemicals, increase productivity enough. It is the philosophy of “While our goal may be the
and maximize water efficiency.” inclusiveness that has underpinned elimination of poverty,” he says, “we
Dr. Cantrell would be the first his journey from the Texas cannot do that by going and doing
to admit that he has received as countryside to the upper reaches the job ourselves at the producer
much as he has given at IRRI. In of agricultural research — the level. We can only strengthen and
this light, he offers some advice to need to work with the national complement the local organizations.”

Rice Today April 2005 21

A Day on the

FARM by Leharne Fountain

photography by Ariel Javellana

Home to research that helps feed the world’s poor, 200 hectares of land
in the northern Philippines might just be Asia’s most valuable real estate

rive 60 kilometers south we don’t understand large-scale are some 40 hectares of upland
of Manila and you will problems and farm management rice fields. The farm also features
find a farm where, on any issues, then we’ve failed.” nearly 50 greenhouses, glasshouses
given day, more than 300 Lowland flooded rice fields and screenhouses, as well as a rice
people are hard at work. Mechanics make up 160 hectares and there mill and a controlled-environment
fix machinery, rat catchers lay laboratory known as a phytotron.
traps, laborers transplant seedlings, So, what kind of research
workers dig irrigation channels takes place on this prized real
— anything you might expect to estate? Plant breeders, who use
find on a commercial rice farm. just less than half of the field area,
But this is no ordinary are the biggest customers. IRRI’s
piece of land. Entomology and Plant Pathology
Occupying nearly 200 hectares, Division, Genetic Resources Center,
the International Rice Research and Crop, Soil and Water Sciences
Institute (IRRI) Experiment Station, Division each use less than 10%.
known simply as “the farm,” is where The Experiment Station uses the
IRRI scientists take their research out remainder to produce seeds and rice.
of the lab and into the wider world. “In plant breeding, we look for
“The farm reveals the truth of rare plants,” explains Dave Mackill,
our research,” says Joe Rickman, head of IRRI’s Plant Breeding,
Joe Rickman, head of the
head of the Experiment Station. IRRI Experiment Station,
Genetics and Biotechnology
“We can develop new technologies contemplates the institute’s Division. “We take several different
and breed new varieties, but if we farm. Across a field (above), strains and breed them together to
don’t test them in the field, and if sit protective screenhouses. produce new ones. Out of a million

22 Rice Today April 2005

workers harvest seeds among a mosaic of
different varieties grown for the Genebank;
(continuing clockwise) Soccie Almazan, curator
of wild rice species, inspects wild rice in the
screenhouse; wild rice variety Oryza longis-
taminata is the source of a gene that confers
resistance to bacterial blight; the IRRI rice mill.

rice plants produced this way, only generations, we end up with a select varieties are tested for tolerance
a relative handful will have the group of several hundred, which of environmental stresses.
characteristics that we want.” we then grow in yield trials.” But the farm’s value reaches far
Dr. Mackill points out that Take the quest for resistance beyond merely providing space for
plant breeding is partly a numbers to the rice disease bacterial blight. research. IRRI’s International Rice
game — the more plants you can “It’s very obvious which plants are Genebank holds in trust for humanity
test, the greater your chances of infected and which ones aren’t,” nearly 107,000 cultivated and wild
identifying those that have the says Dr. Mackill. “We select the varieties of rice. It is the world’s
features you’re looking for. But plants that show some resistance most comprehensive repository
dealing with such large numbers of to the disease and grow them in of rice germplasm (seeds and the
plants obviously requires space. the next generation of the trial.” genetic material they contain).
“More space means more plants,” This agricultural vault holds
says Dr. Mackill, “and that means Millions of plants seeds that can help save lives, as
a greater chance of success. That’s Breeding trials are a serious happened when Cambodian seeds
why the IRRI farm is so important.” investment of time and resources. collected before the devastation of
Dr. Mackill points out that Each may run for several generations, the 1970s were used to reestablish
although we often don’t know spanning periods of up to 5 years. the country’s ruined rice industry
precisely which genes give rise to Millions of plants can be sown on and help end mass starvation.
desired traits, they are expressed more than 60 hectares in each of Furthermore, the genebank is a
physically in the growing rice plants: the wet and dry seasons every year. source of genes that carry traits that
“That’s the basis of our breeding The farm must provide more than can be harnessed to improve rice
trials. We visually inspect the plants, just space, too. It also provides plants — from tolerance of climatic
and select the ones that show the different environments — nutrient- extremes of cold, heat and drought to
qualities we’re seeking. After several deficient soils, for example — where survival in nutrient-poor soils, to pest

Rice Today April 2005 23

Some need to be submerged
because they’re from swamps.”
Sometimes, even the screenhouse
environment is too variable.
Varieties that are very sensitive
to environmental conditions
can be grown in the controlled
environment of the phytotron, where
factors such as daylight hours and
temperature can be manipulated.
In areas of the farm not used
for research, rice is grown for
production. The harvest from
these fields is processed in the
Plant breeder Dave Mackill checks on breeding trials while a tractor levels a field using laser-leveling IRRI rice mill and distributed to
technology (bottom).
staff. By-products, such as bran
and broken grains, are sold. The
and disease resistance. And scientists conditions, or have similar maturity mill also facilitates research into
access the genebank to tap into other periods, are grouped together to improving rice milling techniques.
qualities, such as nutritional value, ease management and minimize The production areas expand
flavor and the physical appearance the chance of mix-ups. Harvesting and contract as research demand
of rice grains. For all that, though, needs to be timed for optimum for land fluctuates each year.
where does the farm fit in? seed-storage potential. The farm But, as Mr. Rickman explains,
“The genebank isn’t static,” also has a quarantine area, where efficiency is fundamental.
explains Pola de Guzman, all newly acquired seeds are grown, “Although it’s a research station,”
the genebank’s curator. “We to ensure that the seed produces he says, “we try to run the farm on
periodically test the seeds and any healthy plants and, if it is harboring commercial lines. We try to make it
varieties that fall below a certain disease, doesn’t infect other plants. as efficient as possible in terms of
germination rate we plant out on both labor and dollars and cents.”
the farm to harvest new seeds.” Mini-hospital The value of the farm, though,
Multiplying genebank seed Serving as a “mini-hospital” inside is not in the rice produced. Its
on the farm is crucial, she says, the IRRI farm complex is the worth lies in the opportunity it
not only to ensure the viability of screenhouse facility. This is where provides scientists to put their
the current collection, but also to researchers grow varieties that are research to the test — research
satisfy international seed requests, sensitive to an open-field that aims to help poor farmers
and to grow and characterize environment, including wild species, produce more rice, economically
newly acquired varieties. which tend to be more difficult to and sustainably, and so improve the
“We get requests for seeds from grow than cultivated varieties. lives of some of the world’s poorest
scientists and farmers all around “We really baby them,” says and most vulnerable people.
the world,” explains Ms. de Guzman. Soccie Almazan, curator of the wild In many ways, the IRRI farm is
“And, as was the case for Cambodia, species. “Different wild species the institute itself. “Without the farm,
we supply seeds to countries have very different needs. Some there is no IRRI,” says Mr. Rickman.
that have lost their own stores need partial shading and special “If we lost the farm, we would lose
through war or natural disaster.” soils because they grow in forests; much of IRRI’s value and, ultimately,
Indeed, the genebank allowed others grow well in full sunlight. our contribution to the poor.”
IRRI to supply Malaysia and Sri
Lanka with the seed of salt-tolerant
rice varieties that will grow in areas
devastated by last December’s
tragic tsunami (see News, page 6).
In any given season, thousands
of different varieties from the
genebank will be grown on the IRRI
farm. Growing so many different
types of rice, side by side, brings its
own challenges. Because such large
numbers of varieties are planted,
those that need similar growing

24 Rice Today April 2005

Guy TrÉbuil
The game of life
by François Bousquet, Tayan Raj Gurung and Guy Trébuil

A fresh approach to the challenge of sharing agricultural

resources has rice farmers playing games with scientists

magine, for a moment, that — history and culture dictate that but nothing is changing. How do
you are a Bhutanese farmer. this is the way things are done. The you change things so that all the
Farming has been in your other village can take as much water people have what they need?
family for generations. You as it likes, no matter how little is left This scenario is not uncommon
manage your farm now in the same for you and your fellow villagers. in Bhutan. A fifth of the farming
way your father, and his father, Lately, the dearth of water households in this small,
managed the land. The other has been worse than usual, mountainous kingdom northeast
farmers in your village run things and the situation has become of India cite access to irrigation
in much the same way. As far as volatile. Tempers are fraying, water as a major constraint to
you know, it has always been thus. agricultural production. In recent
Since you took the reins from years, the system of customary
your father, you have grown rice and rights to natural resources that has
a few other crops in high-altitude, served Bhutan for centuries has
terraced wetland irrigated by water become bumpier as the previously
from a nearby stream. But in the unfelt influences of economic
last few years things have started to development, commercialization
tayan raj gurung

go awry. You struggle to get enough and globalization have distorted

water to transplant your rice on time. age-old traditions. Conflict over
Farmers from a neighboring village, resources is bringing about social
situated farther up the mountainside, tensions across whole societies.
A farmer cleans the water-intake point of the
divert almost all the stream’s water Dompola village canal in west central Bhutan. Situated In the past few years, however,
into their crops. You know this 1,800–2,000 meters above sea-level, Lingmuteychu one approach has emerged that
isn’t fair, but your hands are tied watershed sports terraces of flowering rice (top). may help to quell confrontation.

Rice Today April 2005 25

Agricultural scientists François
Bousquet and Guy Trébuil
— seconded in 2001-04 to the
International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) Social Sciences Division from
the French Agricultural Research
Centre for International Development
(Cirad by its French acronym)
— have set about implementing an
innovative method for managing
renewable resources in Asia.

Social factors
Drs. Bousquet and Trébuil embarked
on their project knowing that
there is much more to establishing
successful, sustainable agricultural
systems based on rice farming
than simply providing technical
information and technologies.
Researchers sometimes ignore in a particular way, but this is — uses a combination of field
the social and economic factors only one of many legitimate points surveys, role-playing and simple
that need to be reconciled with of view. Managing rice-based computer models that simulate
any new way of doing things. ecosystems should be seen as a different members of a community
According to Dr. Trébuil, it collective learning process.” and their interactions when
is an increasingly complex task Starting in June 2001, Drs. exploiting a common environment.
to manage scarce and degrading Bousquet and Trébuil helped
common resources — such as water, their colleagues from the national Fun and games
land and biodiversity — in farming agricultural systems of Bhutan, ComMod allows all the people
ecosystems. As technology permits Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam affected by a community problem
previously isolated communities and Indonesia to investigate to examine it together and build
to connect, the differing views resource management problems a shared understanding of its
and needs of more and more in rice-growing communities. nature and causes. They can then
stakeholders must be considered. To do this, they used the so- use ComMod simulations to find
“However,” he says, “there called companion modeling acceptable solutions. The trick is to
has been a recent trend toward approach to test the effectiveness ensure sustainable use and equitable
decentralizing natural resource of their research methods and distribution of resources. Easier
management, which has given consequently improve them. said than done, to be sure, but it’s
us a chance to reassess how Companion modeling — known not all hard work. At least some of
agricultural scientists work in appropriately as ComMod, which it is, quite literally, fun and games.
developing countries. Scientists means “convenient” in the native As well as computer simulations,
approach problems and challenges tongue of Drs. Trébuil and Bousquet ComMod makes use of role-playing
games. These effectively act as
simplified simulations that allow
people to understand what the
computer is doing when it simulates
a given scenario, and how things
would work if the “rules” of resource
management were changed.
“Both of these low-tech games
and high-tech simulations,” says
Dr. Bousquet, “help researchers
understand the properties of
complex biological or social systems.
Once we validate a new model,
Guy TrÉbuil (3)

we can work with stakeholders

to assess future scenarios and
agree on collective action.”

26 Rice Today April 2005

Irrigated rice terraces (left) flank the main Chu river at the bottom of the Lingmuteychu watershed. Role-
playing farmers (above) from Dompola and Limbukha observe others’ land use decisions, assess and compare
the results of their previous decisions and cropping activities, and exchange information, water or labor. Tayan
Raj Gurung (below left, at right) watches a farmer allocating his selection of crops to his fields during a May
2003 gaming session in Dompola village.

Back to our village. In May 2003, and land use in both villages. participants feel less threatened
Drs. Trébuil and Bousquet, along The process included two gaming in role-playing scenarios or when
with fellow ComMod researcher workshops in May and December asked to discuss the virtual results of
Tayan Raj Gurung, visited Bhutan’s 2003, involving six farmers each computer simulations. The method
Lingmuteychu area, a 34-square- from Limbukha and Dompola. The allows nonconfrontational interaction
kilometer watershed drained by first gaming session was based on and more effective collective
the 11-km-long Limti Chu stream. the researchers’ understanding of the learning. “The players’ knowledge
Lingmuteychu features 180 hectares system; the second included players’ and understanding of water-sharing
of terraced wetland belonging to 162 suggestions such as an exchange of increased significantly between
households that make up six villages. labor for water and a reduction in the two role-playing workshops,”
The villages access water according to available cash. One gaming protocol emphasizes Mr. Raj Gurung.
a long-established “first-come, first- allowed the players to swap roles, “The ComMod collective
served” rule — meaning that a village giving them a sense of what life learning process,” says Dr. Bousquet,
in the upper catchment can divert was like in the others’ shoes. “makes the community better-
any or all water from the stream. informed and more able to agree
The real-life conflict that has been Real-life trials on decisions, plans and actions,
taking place concerns Limbukha, Following the role-playing, Dr. which therefore have a better chance
a higher village, and Dompola, a Bousquet and Mr. Raj Gurung at successful implementation.”
lower village. After the 10th day of designed a computer simulation that Despite — or because of — its
the fifth lunar month (in June or acted as a more complex version playful appearance, the technique
July) of each year — a date set by of the games themselves. Thirty- is having a real, positive impact
local custom according to Bhutan’s six different scenarios simulated on rice-producing communities in
traditional calendar — Limbukha combinations of factors that were Asia. The last word is perhaps best
shares half the stream flow with known to influence water allocation, left to one of the participants in a
Dompola at rice transplanting time. including three types of social ComMod workshop in northeast
Before this date, however, Limbukha network, two rainfall patterns and Thailand. Following a role-playing
does not allow Dompola to access six exchange protocols (exchanging session, Thongphun Kalayang, a
any water at all for growing rice. labor for water, for example). Farmers farmer from Khon Kaen Province,
With local agricultural officers, and researchers together assessed reminded us that, “It looks like
the research team initiated a the most promising and acceptable a game, but this is our life.”
ComMod process designed to combinations, which will this year
improve communication among undergo real-life trials. Preliminary
villagers and explore alternative results suggest that a social network Dr. Trébuil, a systems agronomist, and
methods for making decisions about comprising both villages and a Dr. Bousquet, are currently implementing
a ComMod project at Chulalongkorn
sharing irrigation water between the system in which farmers exchange
University in Bangkok. Tayan Raj
two communities. The new scenarios water for either labor or cash may Gurung works for Bhutan’s Ministry of
were designed to help people assess lead to more efficient water use. Agriculture on the Community-based
the effect of their decisions on water The researchers point out that natural resource management initiative.

Rice Today April 2005 27

A dry vision
As Asia’s irrigation water becomes increasingly scarce, researchers
by Gary Atlin

are developing rice varieties that can thrive in dry conditions

t is difficult to find an image
of rice farming that is not,
figuratively speaking, all wet.
Pictures of green paddies with sun
glinting off dark water, or of farmers
plowing muddy fields with water
buffalo, are bound up with our
mental image of rice production.
But the irrigation water on which
this picture depends is starting to
run critically short. About half of all
the fresh water used in Asia supports
irrigated agriculture. An astonishing
90% of this flows straight into rice
paddies. This already unsustainable

Gary Atlin (4)

situation is now combined with
rapidly rising water demand from
Asia’s booming industrial sector
and fast-growing cities, as well as Farmers at Tarlac, Philippines, give feedback to researchers on new IRRI aerobic rice varieties in 2003. IRRI
screens thousands of potential aerobic rice varieties under stressful conditions (top) every dry season. Farm-
frequent droughts. Competition for ers cover aerobic rice seed (bottom) in Batangas, Philippines.
water is intensifying and, if nothing
changes, will soon be out of control.
The Indian state of Tamil Nadu, for thousands of years. Traditional drought, desirable traits in any rice
for example, once farmed around 2 upland rice varieties (see Highs and variety designed for dry soils, they
million hectares of rice. In 2002 and lows, opposite) have been selected also suffer from low yields. Even
2003, drought reduced the area of over hundreds of generations for with ample water and fertile soils,
irrigated rice production to less than their ability to grow in free-draining, traditional upland varieties rarely
300,000 hectares, and is inciting a “aerobic,” or oxygenated — as yield more than 3 tons per hectare,
dispute over water allocation with opposed to flooded — soil conditions. and often produce less than half that
neighboring Karnataka. Problems But these varieties help solve in farmers’ fields. Farmers of irrigated
like this are only getting worse only part of the problem. Although (lowland) rice regularly achieve
— more than 12 million hectares they are deep-rooted and tolerant of yields of 5–8 tons per hectare. And,
of irrigated rice lands in South in fertile environments, upland rice
Asia alone are likely to face severe is prone to lodging (falling over)
water shortage within 20 years. under the weight of its own grain.
In the face of this looming crisis, Rice breeders at the International
researchers in several countries are Rice Research Institute (IRRI) want
imagining a different picture for this to change. They are developing
some of Asia’s rice fields. In their new varieties that combine upland
vision of the future, rice crops, rather rice’s adaptation to dry soils with the
than standing in water, are grown in fertilizer responsiveness and yield
dry fields, like maize or soybeans. potential of modern high-yielding
But how to create such a rice varieties. The first generation of
crop? Part of the solution has existed this so-called aerobic rice has been

28 Rice Today April 2005

developed by crossing irrigated high-
yielding varieties with traditional
upland types, and selecting the
Highs and lows
progeny under dry soil conditions

— a breeding strategy pioneered by onfusingly, the terms “upland” and
“lowland” refer to nonflooded and
researchers at China Agricultural
flooded fields, respectively, rather
University in Beijing, and at the than to elevation. Upland rice fields are
Brazilian Agricultural Research often found only a few hundred meters
Corporation (Embrapa). The resulting above sea level; lowland rice can be grown
varieties are direct-seeded into Low-yielding upland rice, grown on infertile fields
in the mountains of northern Laos, could be replaced
on bunded (walled) terraces near the tops
dry soil in nonflooded fields and by intensified aerobic rice production on flatter of mountains, as it is in Banaue in the
managed like a high-yielding wheat fields in upland valleys. northern Philippines.
or maize crop. Irrigation is applied Some Asian farmers have been growing
if available and needed, but no upland rice for thousands of years. Small
standing water is held in the fields. hectare in moist but nonflooded soils, areas of upland rice production are found in
Aerobic rice has already moved and can produce 4 tons per hectare most Asian countries, and in some regions
it remains an important and widespread
off the research farm and into in soils so dry that conventional
farmers’ fields in China, Brazil and rice cultivars simply fail to grow. In the hills of Thailand, Laos,
the Philippines. In northeastern This capacity to extract water southwestern China and northern Vietnam,
China, farmers are growing aerobic and keep growing in very dry soils is farmers still grow hundreds of thousands of
varieties, developed by researchers crucial for two main reasons. First, in hectares of upland rice on steep mountain
at China Agricultural University, on the regions most likely to benefit from slopes as the cornerstone of a shifting
about 150,000 hectares of previously aerobic rice, access to irrigation water cultivation or “slash-and-burn” system.
irrigated rice lands, in rotation can be unreliable. The extensive Forests are cleared and burned to open up
with maize, wheat and other crops. root systems of aerobic rice varieties fields for a few seasons of cropping, then
Producing 4–5 tons per hectare, help them dig deep into the soil to allowed to return to bush fallow for several
these varieties use about half as much find the water they need to keep years to restore soil fertility.
In a quite different environment,
water as traditionally transplanted growing until the next irrigation.
farmers in the plateau regions of several
lowland rice — confirming that states in eastern India grow millions of
the system can be an economically Huge problem hectares of upland rice on level ground
attractive alternative to lowland rice The second reason is control of and in unbunded fields, in annual rotation
production when water is limiting. weeds, a huge problem in dry with pasture and other upland crops such
In the cool highlands of conditions. In a flooded rice as millet and gram.
Yunnan, in southwestern China, paddy, the water layer suppresses
aerobic rice cultivation is replacing most weeds. As soon as the water
environmentally destructive disappears, though, the weeds thrive. rice with a yield potential of over 6
and low-yielding slash-and-burn If ordinary lowland rice varieties tons per hectare in dry soils — high
agriculture. Meanwhile, farmers face a dry spell, they may not die enough to compete with elite tropical
in Brazil’s Cerrado region are but they do stop growing. Weeds, lowland rice varieties. Scientists
growing a large commercial crop however, continue to grow, and can are also identifying the upland rice
of aerobic rice under high-fertility choke an entire field in a few weeks. genes that allow aerobic rice to grow
management, producing average In dry conditions, aerobic rice well in dry soils and compete with
yields of about 4 tons per hectare. seedlings push onward and upward, weeds. Research is under way to
holding their own against the weeds. tag these genes and pinpoint their
Replicating success Farmers can’t ignore weeds, but locations in the rice genome. Within
The Beijing and Yunnan groups’ they do have a fighting chance to a few years, it may be possible to
success with temperate aerobic rice control them and still save water. introduce a few key genes into elite
is being replicated at IRRI for the Despite its potential, aerobic lowland varieties and “convert”
Asian tropics. The institute started rice continues to pay a yield penalty them into aerobic varieties.
breeding aerobic rice in earnest in and it will be some time before it is Aerobic rice is only one
2001 by screening varieties from widely adopted in irrigated areas. weapon in the arsenal researchers
its existing breeding programs to At IRRI and in northeastern China, are preparing to deploy against
identify any that could produce experimental aerobically grown Asia’s looming water crisis, but
high yields when direct-seeded in rice crops yield about 1–2 tons per it promises to be a potent one.
aerobic soils. IRRI’s upland breeding hectare less than the best irrigated
program contributed a variety, known lowland rice crops in the same area. Dr. Atlin is a senior plant breeder
as Apo in the Philippines, that has But the gap is closing. IRRI in IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics
a yield potential of over 6 tons per researchers are developing aerobic and Biotechnology Division.

Rice Today April 2005 29

How to find needles
in haystacks by Richard Bruskiewich

The relatively new science of bioinformatics is helping

agricultural scientists accelerate research that was once
prohibitively time-consuming or even impossible

orty-five years ago, when the last function a completely unknown are grounded in the early 1970s in the
International Rice Research concept 4 decades ago. In step with form of algorithms — step-by-step se-
Institute (IRRI) was founded, IRRI’s, and rice research’s, technical ries of instructions for solving a com-
computers were power-hungry progression over that time, the triple puter-based mathematical or symbol-
curiosities filling large rooms in revolution of biotechnology, comput- ic problem — created to compare dif-
military, government and banking ing and communication has increas- ferent DNA sequences to one another
institutions. Only a few years before ingly invaded the desk top, field and or search a database of sequences for
that, Cambridge University biolo- laboratory of the practicing agricul- a match. In the past 20 years, re-
gists James Watson and Francis Crick tural scientist. This invasion shows search interest in bioinformatics has
discovered the molecular structure of no signs of abating. The public effort exploded. More and more projects
a substance called deoxyribonucleic to sequence the genome — the sum are being funded to read the complete
acid, or DNA. Rotary-dial telephones total of genetic information in a given DNA sequences of the genomes of
and black-and-white televisions organism, encoded in its DNA — of many organisms, including humans
were just starting to pervade the rice has just been completed; now the and rice, and consequently charac-
households of the developed world. race is on to decipher the meaning of terize the functions of each gene.
Today, the computing power what it is to be a rice plant. Foremost
that once filled rooms now fits in the in this venture is the characterization Open and interconnected
palm of a hand. Computers can serve of every rice gene, each of which en- The tools of bioinformatics gener-
simultaneously as a telephone, a cam- codes the plant’s biological activities. ally consist of, unsurprisingly, one
era and an Internet browser — the Playing a leading role in this or more computers and specialized
work is the science of bioinformatics, computer programs (somewhat
which spans all three of the technical more sophisticated than your aver-
revolutions that have led science into age word processors). The data come
the new millennium. Bioinformatics from public or private databases,
combines mathematics, statistics, or are raw experimental data from
computing science, information the laboratory. In keeping with the
technology and natural sciences to spirit of bioinformatics as an open,
capture, analyze, store, integrate interconnected scientific branch
and disseminate biological informa- of learning, many of the tools and
tion. Such information is usually databases are available, often for free,
al benavente (2)

the product of large amounts of raw on the Web, thereby vastly increas-
data derived from genome sequences ing the discipline’s power and scope.
as well as other high-throughput In the past few decades, research-
The screen of IRRI's cluster grid computer displays a experiments such as analyses of how ers have developed a broad suite of re-
DNA sequence, which can be analyzed far more effec- and when genes are expressed. markable bioinformatics applications
tively thanks to bioinformatics specialists like Rich-
ard Bruskiewich (top). Four of these machines, held
Although computers were first for rice research, including many
by IRRI and three sister institutes, are networked used in scientific research, including publicly available online databases.
to create a globally distributed super-computer for biology, as early as the 1950s, bioin- The rice genome sequencing project
high-throughput processing of information. formatics is relatively new. Its roots itself has spawned several databases

that house the rice genome sequence of rice functional genomics — the
and its associated biological functions science of discovering genetic struc-
(see, for example, the International ture, variation and function.
Rice Genome Sequencing Project, Crop research within IRRI’s
a multicountry partnership led by parent organization, the Consulta-
Japan’s Rice Genome Research Pro- tive Group on International Agri-
gram, at cultural Research (CGIAR), has
Numerous other online data- become a key component in the drive
bases publish rice-related informa- to meet the United Nations Millen-
tion. The U.S.-funded Gramene nium Development Goals, which
database ( allows include eradicating extreme pov-
researchers to compare rice with erty and hunger, and reducing child
other grasses, as does the Japanese mortality. Bioinformatics, which
Oryzabase ( IRRI's International Rice Information System is a extends, streamlines and stimulates
rice/oryzabase). IRRI itself hosts public repository of rice germplasm information. research, is crucial to this battle.
the International Rice Information IRRI is one of 16 institutes par-
System (IRIS) at, realizing that bioinformatics was ticipating in the recently inaugurated
a repository of information on rice to play a rapidly escalating role, the Generation Challenge Program, an
germplasm — rice seeds and the institute promptly created in 2000 a initiative to use molecular biology to
genetic material they contain. IRIS bioinformatics specialist position. help boost agricultural production
includes details on all of the nearly The bioinformatics activities of and, consequently, the quality of life
107,000 samples housed in IRRI’s In- IRRI’s Biometrics and Bioinformat- in developing countries. The program
ternational Rice Genebank, associat- ics Unit (BBU) have since expanded will characterize differences in DNA
ed field data, and related information in both scope and staffing. As well sequences that confer differences
on rice genes and their functions. as adapting publicly available bio- in plant behavior in the field. A key
informatics tools to crop research, task for the program’s bioinformat-
Joining forces the team has a wealth of exciting ics specialists is to build a globally
Informatics in the broader sense research under way. For example, distributed and integrated network of
has played an important role from team members are analyzing a databases and tools for crop infor-
the earliest years of IRRI’s research. customized database derived from mation management and analysis.
Modest computers were used to the patterns of gene expression Initial efforts have helped establish
statistically analyze plant breeding exhibited by thousands of genetically a network of globally integrated,
experiments, but were later sup- different rice plants that have been shared-access, high-performance
planted by the current generation of subjected to drought. Ultimately, bioinformatics computing facilities in
personal computers. About a de- these data may help scientists de- four CGIAR centers, including IRRI.
cade ago, IRRI established limited velop and identify high-yielding Bioinformatics at IRRI is gear-
Internet connectivity to improve drought-tolerant rice varieties. ing up internally, and collaborating
communication with global col- The team is also managing the externally, to generate millions of
laborators and partners. Around the field characteristics of a large col- new data points of experimental
same time, IRRI’s biometrics team lection of mutant rice plants that information. The resulting data
joined forces with scientists from have had their genome deliberately sets hold keys that will unlock new
the International Maize and Wheat mutated. The resultant change in the knowledge linking the agricultural
Improvement Center to create the way a plant’s genes are expressed performance of plants to their un-
International Crop Information may cause it to behave differently derlying DNA. In turn, this informa-
System ( software, under certain conditions (nutri- tion will accelerate efforts to breed
which underlies the IRIS database. ent-deficient soils, for example). a new generation of stress-tolerant,
However, it was only in the late This changed behavior may offer nutritionally enhanced, higher-yield-
1990s, when the rice genome se- researchers clues about which genes ing crops that need fewer inputs and
quencing project was established and they can use to eventually breed are better for the environment.
began generating sequence data, that improved rice varieties. Much of the
the awesome potential of bioinfor- bioinformatics team’s information
matics at IRRI became truly appar- is, or will be, published in IRIS. Dr. Bruskiewich is a senior scientist and bioin-
ent. It would allow scientists to per- formatics specialist in IRRI’s Biometrics and
form analyses that would otherwise Leading the way Bioinformatics Unit. To find out more about
bioinformatics, visit the Websites of profes-
be impossible, or would take a pro- Looking to the future, BBU is lead-
sional bioinformatics organizations such as the
hibitively long time — bioinformatics ing the way in developing a rice International Society for Computational Biol-
could, if you like, offer directions bioinformatics network that will ogy ( or the Asia Pacific Bioin-
to the needle in the haystack. Upon consolidate the global resources formatics Network (

Rice Today April 2005 31


The year that put rice back on the map

he International Year of India
Rice has come and gone. The Indian
The United Nations de- Council of Ag-
clared the rice year to ricultural Re-
draw global attention to the grain search (ICAR)
that feeds half the world and its hosted the
central role in the lives of millions, International
if not billions, of poor people. Symposium on Rice: “From Green
Did it succeed? There are clear Revolution to Gene Revolution” on 4-
signs that the campaign achieved 6 October in Hyderabad. ICAR Direc-
its main aim of boosting public and tor General Mangala Rai announced
donor awareness. Rice hit the news that the council was pushing func-
pages, airwaves and Websites more tional genomics “to enhance produc-
than any time in recent memory. tivity, reduce input costs and increase
The scientific community, govern- the profit margins of the producers
ments and national agricultural so that we are competitive in cost, as

leharne fountain
research and training programs have well as quality, locally and globally.”
forged new and important links. Dr. Rai also noted that ICAR has
The International Year of Rice initiated work on organic farming,
Secretariat declared that, “The suc- with former IRRI Principal Plant
cess of International Year of Rice A CAMBODIAN schoolgirl enjoys International Year of Breeder Gurdev Khush adding that
Rice celebrations in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
2004 has given new impetus to efforts such farming could be adopted in
to develop sustainable rice-based limited areas for production of small
systems that will reduce hunger and and Fisheries, drew on Cambodia’s quantities, but, “We can’t think of
poverty, and contribute to environ- success in overcoming the devasta- feeding the entire population of
mental conservation and a better life tion of the 1970s to now be celebrat- India with organic agriculture.”
for present and future generations.” ing 10 years of rice self-sufficiency. The South Asian Association for
Read on for a sample of events Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Rice
from around the world. And China Expo 2004, held in Mumbai on 8-10
remember — rice is, indeed, life. More than 150 December, aimed to build strong
rice production trade relations between the SAARC
and environ- countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan,
Cambodia mental protec- India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan
Cambodia tion scholars, and Sri Lanka. The expo boasted
celebrated policy-makers more than 15,000 attendees, includ-
International and industry experts met at the Inter- ing trade and industry representa-
Year of Rice on national Conference on Sustainable tives, and exporters and importers.
17 December Rice Production, held 15-17 October The year was a good one for
with a colorful in Hangzhou, to promote sustainable Indian scientists, who scooped
event at the Cambodian Agricultural development of rice under the theme several international awards. Rice
Research and Development Institute “Green rice means healthy life.” breeder S. Mallik of West Bengal’s
(CARDI). Schoolchildren, university Conference steering commit- Rice Experiment Station won the
students, scientists, farmers and tee chair Zhai Huqu said that the Senadhira Award, which honors a
politicians enjoyed the proceedings, three disciplines explored at the leading Asian scientist working in
which included a harvesting competi- conference — policy, technology and rice research, for developing rice
tion in which teams threshed, win- agricultural extension — underpin varieties for rain-fed lowlands. Dr.
nowed and, finally, weighed their rice. sustainable production in rice crop- Mallik’s award complemented Indian
Speakers, including representa- ping systems. “The success of such winners in four categories of the
tives from CARDI, IRRI, the Aus- an undertaking is crucial if we want International Rice Research Notes
tralian Agency for International to meet the goals to feed the world, Best Article Award (see Wedding
Development and the Cambodian utilizing, but without exploiting, our rice not thrown but sown on pages
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry precious natural resources,” he said. 36-37 of Rice Today Vol. 3 No. 4).

32 Rice Today April 2005

Indonesia support for continued cooperation and U.S. Agency for International
Speaking on between IRRI and the Indonesian Development economist Peter Rosner
“Rice research national agricultural systems. (“Rice and food diversification: cur-
in Indonesia: Other speakers included Food rent status and future direction”).
present ap- Crop Production Management Direc- Achmad Suryana, director
proach and tor General Jafar Hafsah (“Strategy general of the Indonesian Agency for
future direc- and policy on rice production in sub- Agricultural Research and Develop-
tion” at the opening of the Rice and optimal agroecosystem”), IRRI Social ment, hoped that the seminar, which
Rural Prosperity seminar in Jakarta Sciences Division Head Mahabub was attended by over 120 partici-
on 7-8 December, Minister of Agri- Hossain (“Economic prosperity and pants, would inspire new recommen-
culture Anton Apriantono expressed the prospect of rice industry in Asia”), dations for Indonesian rice policy.

A grainful year for development organizations

RRI and other organizations genome sequence and structure of which focused on the impact of
that work towards rice chromosome 1, (Nature, Volume IRRI’s ADB-funded projects.
improving lives and 420, November 2002) won first
livelihoods were enthusiastic prize in the rice breeding category. International Rice
participants in International Awards were also presented Research Institute
Year of Rice celebrations. to the winners of the International Throughout International Year
Year of Rice Global Photography of Rice 2004, IRRI hosted or co-
Food and Agriculture Contest: “Rice Is Life” (see www. hosted 15 regional and international
Organization conferences, workshops and
The Food and Agriculture htm), with first prizes going to Vu symposia, attended by delegates
Organization of the United Nations Nguyen from Vietnam (professional from at least 36 countries. At
(FAO) celebrated the 25th World category) and Meizi Ninon Liu its headquarters in Los Baños,
Food Day campaign on 16 October. from China (amateur category). Philippines, the institute received
The theme of “Biodiversity for Food more than 50,000 visitors,
Security” highlighted the role of Asian Development Bank including farmers, school students,
biodiversity in ensuring people’s Asian Development Bank (ADB) government officials, diplomats
sustainable access to high quality President Tadao Chino opened the and representatives of donor and
food and the efforts of researchers Celebrating the International Year of international organizations.
in developing more nutritious Rice Seminar at the bank’s Manila International Rice Forum
rice strains. World Food Day aims headquarters on 16 November. IRRI participants, including 2004 World
to heighten public awareness of, Board of Trustees Chair Keijiro Food Prize Laureate Yuan Longpin
and help generate solutions to, Otsuka, in his keynote speech on and Indian Minister of State for
the problem of world hunger. “The history, impact and role of rice Agriculture Kanti Lal Bhuria, visited
The event included presentations research in Asian development,” IRRI on 28 November for a tour of the
by FAO and IRRI of the International stressed that “the ‘Second Green institute and talks with IRRI staff.
Year of Rice International Award for Revolution’ holds the promise of IRRI extended the same hospitality to
Best Scientific Articles (see www. not only solving the problems of more than 120 staff from Philippine to growing water and land scarcity national and local government
Youyong Zhu, President of Yunnan but also the negative legacy of agencies on Host Country Day, 18
Agricultural University in China, the first Green Revolution.” November. A seminar by Senator
and Takuji Sasaki, Director of the Philippine Secretary of Miriam Defensor-Santiago on “The
Genome Research Department at the Agriculture Arthur Yap spoke on Philippines’ Law on International
National Institute of Agrobiological “Hybrid Rice in the Philippines,” Organizations” capped the event.
Sciences in Japan. The paper by Dr. while IRRI Director General Ronald On 4 September, students
Zhu and his team, Genetic diversity Cantrell presented “Research from 14 public and private high
and disease control in rice, (Nature, strategy for rice in the 21st Century.” schools competed in an on-the-spot
Volume 406, August 2000) won first The conference coincided with painting contest based on the themes
prize in the rice agronomy category. an IRRI rice exhibit, held at ADB Rice is life, Rice is culture, Rice is
Dr. Sasaki’s team’s paper, The headquarters on 11-19 November, food and Rice is environment.

Rice Today April 2005 33

Year of Rice
2004 reached
its scientific
climax on 5-7
when around 1,200 of the world’s
leading rice researchers, representing
42 countries, attended the World Rice
Research Conference in the science
city of Tsukuba. The kagamiwari,
or breaking of the rice wine barrel,

al benavente
kicked off the conference reception
party, at which delegates were served
freshly-pounded rice cake, made team members from the University of the Philippines Rural High School stand beside their masterpiece
traditionally by Japanese farmers. after winning IRRI's International Year of Rice on-the-spot painting contest.
Organized by the Japanese
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and
Fisheries, the conference was formal- 3 decades of collaboration, and in forum brought together govern-
ly opened on 4 November in Tokyo recognition of its outstanding con- ment leaders and some of the world’s
before moving to Tsukuba, where tribution to the health and food leading agricultural scientists to
scientists presented papers on four security of the people of Nepal.” discuss four key issues affecting rice
key topics: innovative technologies — production, trade, development
for boosting rice production, perspec- Nigeria and culture. Country presentations
tives on the place of rice in healthy Nigerian Presi- focused on “Efforts to reduce poverty
lifestyles, adaptable rice-based sys- dent Olusegun among rice farmers.” Key guests and
tems that help improve farmers’ live- Obasanjo presenters included Department of
lihood, and the role of rice in environ- visited on 12 Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap,
mentally sustainable food security. October the Agriculture Ministers Fakhrul Islam
IRRI will publish the proceedings Tokilankwa Alamgir of Bangladesh and Khan-
of the conference on CD with the pro- Rice Farm in Kwali, where he in- tilal Bhuria of India, and Asia Rice
visional title “Rice Is Life: Scientific spected an exhibition of local rice Foundation Chair Emil Javier.
Perspectives for the 21st Century.” products as part of Nigeria’s celebra- The forum’s International Rice
The CD will include keynote lectures, tion of International Year of Rice. Festival gave rice-producing coun-
orally-presented papers, posters and Chief Audu Ogbeh, National Chair tries, rice research and trading
wrap-up papers by session conveners. of the People’s Democratic Party, companies, agrochemical companies,
and Mallam Adamu Bello, Minister and rice-based food manufacturers a
Nepal for Agriculture, accompanied the chance to showcase their products.
The Kingdom of Nepal president. The celebration demon- The Department of Foreign Af-
has pledged to celebrate strated the government’s commit- fairs hosted on 25 October a United
National Rice Day ment to boost its agricultural sector, Nations Day reception, which fo-
every year on 15 Asadh particularly the local rice industry. cused on the International Year of
(mid-July by the Nep- Rice theme, “Rice Is Life.” Foreign
alese calendar) to high- Philippines Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo,
light the importance of As the nation reaffirmed the Philippines’ com-
rice in the lives of farmers. Hom Nath that proposed mitment to the United Nations
Dahal, Minister of Agriculture and International Millennium Development Goals.
Cooperatives, made the announce- Year of Rice The “Rice Is Life” theme also
ment in Kathmandu on 17 December, 2004, the inspired a photography contest spon-
when Nepal celebrated International Philippines’ celebrations were some sored by the Asia Rice Foundation; a
Year of Rice and inaugurated the of the grandest worldwide. Apart Philippine Postal Corporation stamp
Nepal-IRRI office (see News, page 7). from declaring November National design contest for students; and
IRRI also presented a certifi- Rice Awareness Month, the coun- Ani (Harvest), a special rice exhibit
cate of recognition and partnership try hosted on 27-29 November the by the Museo Pambata (Children’s
to Nepal’s National Agricultural International Rice Forum, which Museum) in Manila. Dave Lep-
Research Council “in celebration was attended by over 400 delegates rozo, Jr. won the photo contest and
of International Year of Rice, over from across Asia and beyond. The stamp contest winners were Maria

34 Rice Today April 2005

Elena Alegre of Antonio Regidor
Elementary School in Manila, L.J.
Ian B. Delgado of Antique National
High School and Gary M. Manalo of
Tiburcio Tancinco Memorial Insti-
tute of Technology in Calbayog City.
For a comprehensive round-
up of IYR activities in the Phil-
ippines, visit www.philrice.

South Korea
Two major
events marked
Year of Rice
in South
Korea. The International Rice Sci-
ence Conference, held in Seoul on
13-15 September, boasted the theme
“Rice Science for Human Welfare in
the 21st Century.” Heu Sang-Man,
Korean Minister of Agriculture and
Forestry, opened the conference and
former IRRI principal plant breeder
and 1996 World Food Prize Laure-
ate Gurdev Khush delivered the
keynote speech, “Feeding 5 billion
people — the role of rice breeding.”
The 8th annual meeting of
the Council on Rice Research in
Asia, held 10-12 September in “WORKING WOMEN in rice mill” is the title of the photo (top) taken by Md. Rashid Un Nabi of Bangladesh,
Suwon, was attended by senior who won 3rd prize in the amateur category of the FAO’s International Year of Rice Global Photography Contest:
representatives from Asia’s 15 “Rice Is Life” for his shot of two Bangladeshi women processing rice in a locally-made oven. The winning
main rice-producing countries. entry in the professional category, by Vu Nguyen of Vietnam (above), shows terraced fields in northern
Vietnam as a farmer prepares for rice transplanting.

The Mekong Vietnam’s most important rice- Year of Rice 2004, the conference’s
Rice Confer- focused event in the last decade, “Rice, the Environment and Liveli-
ence in Ho according to Food and Agriculture hoods for the Poor” theme addressed
Chi Minh Organization of the United Nations natural resource diversity and
City on 15-17 Representative Anton Reynchner. the selection of rice strains most
October was A special event of International suited to the Greater Mekong
Subregion shared by Cambodia,
Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand
Where to from here? and China’s Yunnan Province.

T he 21st Session of the International Rice Commission is scheduled by the

FAO to take place in Peru in 2006. The event will provide an opportunity to
review the progress made following the International Year of Rice and look at
More than 170 participants
from 18 countries attended.
Bui Ba Bong, Vietnamese Vice
what more needs to be done. The FAO will publish a book based on the “Rice Minister of Agriculture and Rural
Is Life” theme to further raise awareness of the role rice plays in food security, Development, announced that by
livelihood improvement and sustainable production. Seventeen projects on rice the end of 2007, at least half of
and rice-based systems will also receive technical guidance and support from Vietnam’s rice farmers will have
the FAO. adopted the Ba Giam Ba Tang
As International Rice Commission Executive Secretary Nguu Nguyen put it: (Three Reductions) practices,
“For us, International Year of Rice does not end with 2004.” which teach them to optimize their
pesticide, fertilizer and seed use.

Rice Today April 2005 35

Hybrid rice expert bags multiple awards Partners in progress
of the South Ko-
rean Rural De-
velopment Ad-
R obert Carsky was tragically killed on
6 November by a bomb blast in Bouaké,
Côte d’Ivoire. At the time of his death, Dr.
ministration's Carsky was working as a cropping systems
National In- agronomist for the Africa Rice Center
stitute of Crop (WARDA) after spending 15 years with the
Science. Chosen International Institute of Tropical Agricul-
for his develop- ture. He is survived by his wife Rebecca and
ment of hybrid children Jasmine, Amado and Julien. He
rice technology leaves behind a legacy of help and hope for
for the tropics, African farmers and their families.
Dr. Virmani has Sam Hsieh, IRRI Board of Trustees
helped make member from 1995-1997, passed away last
hybrid rice a April at the age of 84. He is survived by his
commercial re- wife Alice, daughters Wen-Tai and Wendy,
ality in several and sons Wen-Ning and Wen-An.
countries. The Eugene Terry, plant pathologist and
two winners agricultural research and development spe-

each received a cialist, has been named as Program Steering

I RRI Principal Scientist Sant Virmani

(second from left) has capped a stellar
2004, picking up two prestigious awards.
cash prize of 500,000 yen (US$4750).
Dr. Virmani was also one of the recipi-
ents of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award
Committee Chairman of the Generation
Challenge Program, replacing Ismail
Serageldin. Dr. Terry recently served as
Dr. Virmani, principal scientist in IRRI’s at the Annual Non-Resident Indian Confer- the implementing Director of the African
Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnol- ence, 7-9 January in Mumbai, recognizing Agricultural Technology Foundation.
ogy Division, received on 5 February the his contributions to hybrid rice breeding, Gordon Conway, 12th president of
International Koshihikari Rice Prize at a cer- genetics and seed production. Other winners the Rockefeller Foundation, has retired.
emony in Fukui City, Japan. Also receiving included U.S.-based Hollywood filmmaker Laxmi Maskey has been appointed
the award was Hae-Chune Choi, director M. Night Shyamalan, author Vikram Seth Director of Planning and Coordination of
of the Rice Genetics and Breeding Division and golfer Vijay Singh. the Nepal Agricultural Research Council.

Keeping up with IRRI staff Development Administration for 3 years. with each issue. He has joined WRENMedia
Arvind Kumar has joined PBGB to and is based in Hong Kong.

G lenn Gregorio is one of this year’s

Outstanding Young Men, in the field of
plant breeding and genetics, after receiving
work on drought tolerance in rainfed rice.
A plant breeder and geneticist, Dr. Kumar
previously worked at Indira Gandhi Agri-
Jing-sheng Zheng has joined IRRI’s
Crop, Soil and Water Sciences Division
(CSWS) to work on the Genetic Enhance-
the award from young people’s leadership cultural University. PBGB international re- ment Project. He previously worked at the
group the Philippine Jaycees, as well as the search fellow Ish Kumar departs following Rice Cultivation and Physiology Depart-
Gerry Roxas Foundation and The Outstand- successful management of the IRRI-Asian ment at the Institute of Rice and Wheat
ing Young Men Foundation. Development Bank project “Sustaining of the Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sci-
On 9 December, Gelia Castillo, IRRI Food Security in Asia through the Develop- ences. Yazukazu Hosen, soil scientist, has
consultant, received a 2004 Outstanding ment of Hybrid Rice Technology.” also joined CSWS. He previously worked as
Filipino Award, given to pioneering Filipi- Suan Pheng Kam, senior scientist in a senior researcher for the Crop Production
nos by the Philippine Jaycee Senate. IRRI’s Social Sciences Division (SSD), has and Environment Division of the Japan In-
IRRI scientists Swapan Datta, J.K. left IRRI after 10 years, during which she ternational Research Center for Agricultural
Ladha and Shaobing Peng have been applied Geographic Information Systems to Sciences. Departing are CSWS postdoctoral
elected Fellows of, respectively, India’s land-use planning and infrastructure, and fellows Ramasamy Rajendran and Mur-
National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, helped establish the Consortium for Unfa- shedul Alam, both of whom worked on
the Soil Science Society of America, and the vorable Rice Environments. She has joined site-specific nutrient management.
American Society of Agronomy. the WorldFish Center in Malaysia. Bhaha Prasad Tripathi has joined
Former IRRI Director for Research Economist David Dawe, senior sci- IRRI’s Nepal office as an assistant scientist
and Training Mano D. Pathak received entist in SSD, led policy research for better and assistant manager.
a Research Accomplishment Award from understanding of farmers’ nutrient manage- Leharne Fountain, IRRI’s third
the Leading Japanese Rice Research Group ment practices, as well as market dynamics Australian Youth Ambassador, arrived in
on 4 November in Tokyo, in recognition of and trade policies affecting the Asian rice October to work on programs for visitors
his discovery and development of genetic economy. He joins the Food and Agricul- and as deputy editor of Rice Today.
resources that confer insect resistance on ture Organization of the United Nations in Amita Juliano, assistant scientist in
tropical paddy rice. Bangkok after 7 years at IRRI. IRRI’s Genetic Resources Center, passed
Darshan Brar, senior scientist in Peter Fredenburg, editor of Rice To- away on 1 March after a long battle with
Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biotechnol- day and other institute publications, leaves cancer. Amy, who worked at IRRI for 15
ogy (PBGB), has been named an honorary IRRI after 3 years. He helped build an inter- years, is survived by her husband Victor and
scientist of the Republic of Korea’s Rural national readership that continues to grow daughter Sabrina.

36 Rice Today April 2005

RICE FACTS ����������������������������������������

Do lower rice prices

��� ����������

help the poor?

��� ���

by Mahabub Hossain ���
Head, IRRI Social Sciences Division ��� �������������

� �
���� ���� ���� ���� ���� ���� ����
Lower rice prices aren’t ����
Fig. 1. Trend in rice (milled) price in the world market, 1961-2004.
necessarily bad news for farmers Source: Production: FAOSTAT Electronic Database, FAO. 20 Dec 2004 udpate.
Rice price: relates to Thai rice 5%-broken deflated by G-5 MUV Index deflator (adjusted based
on 2004 data update). Source:

he price of rice has consistently prices affordable is therefore cru- producer price of paddy (unhusked
fallen over the last 40 years. cial to poverty reduction, good rice) in the domestic market shows a
Since the beginnings of the health and continued education. relatively small decline in price over
Green Revolution in the mid-1960s, But price trends raise as many the past few decades (Figure 2).
the real (inflation-adjusted) price of questions as they answer. How do Second, lower prices do not
rice in the world market has been falling prices affect Asia’s millions necessarily mean lower profitability.
more than halved while global rice of rice farmers and farm fami- The main factor driving the long-term
production has increased (Figure 1). lies? What would motivate people decline in agricultural prices is tech-
This movement in price has to continue farming in the face of nological progress that contributes to
not been smooth. An upward trend declining profitability? And how a drop in the unit cost of production.
during the oil crisis in 1973-75 was can prices stay low if the supply Despite the higher cultivation costs
followed by a sharp downturn in fails to keep pace with demand? of modern rice varieties, their higher
1980-87 due to the rapid expan- First, the world market price of yields mean lower costs for farmers
sion of rice production in China rice in dollars is a poor indicator of per ton of harvested rice. This effect
and the devaluation of the Thai profitability in the domestic market. is amplified by improved crop man-
baht. Thailand is the world’s lead- For example, the exchange rate of the agement and mechanization, which
ing rice exporter and global rice Thai baht fell from 21 per dollar in also cut production costs. These lower
prices, which are set in U.S. dol- 1965 to 43 per dollar in 2002. Thus, prices help redistribute to consum-
lars, are strongly tied to the baht. Thai farmers who exported rice in ers some of the gains that farmers
Is this long-term decline in the 2002 effectively received more than reap from technological progress.
price of developing countries’ domi- double the price obtained by their Third, irrigation-induced multi-
nant food staple good or bad news 1965 counterparts, which compen- ple cropping has led to an increase in
for food security and poverty reduc- sated them for the drop in price on harvested area, further boosting pro-
tion? In low-income Asian countries, the world market. Indeed, an ex- duction per farm household. So, even
governments tend to prefer lower amination of the inflation-adjusted if the decline in rice price had been
prices. Among the poor, there are far more than the decline in unit cost of
more net buyers of rice than net sell- ������������ production, farm household income
ers. In many countries, the landless ����������� would have improved because of
poor — who meet their entire food ��� ����������
increased production per unit of land.
needs from the market — constitute ���
�������� Farmers in many countries con-
one-third to one-half of the popu- tinue to increase their rice production
lation. Add to this a large propor- despite the decline in prices, indicat-
tion of equally poor urban laborers ���
ing that rice farming is still economi-
and you have a vast majority of the �� cally viable. If prices fall too fast, a
poor who spend more than a third �
period of stagnation or decline in pro-
of their income on staple food. duction follows, as was seen in 1998-
















Because people rightly place ���� 2003. But the shortage of production
a high priority on their basic food Fig. 2. Trends in producer prices (inflation-adjusted) leads to a rise in prices, thus restoring
needs, any increase in rice price of paddy, selected countries, 1976-2002. farmers’ incentives. The last two years
Source: Paddy price: FAOSTAT Electronic Database, FAO. 20 Dec 2004 update.
means less money for other needs, Deflator: World Rice Statistics and 2004 edition of International Financial have seen an increasing world rice
Statistics of International Monetary Fund.
such as health care and children’s Note: Nominal prices were deflated by country-specific wholesale price price that should offer rice farmers
education. Keeping staple food index converted to US$ using 2002 exchange rate sufficient motivation to continue.

Rice Today April 2005 37

grain of truth

Ups and downs: private-sector

investment in rice research
Gerard Barry
Golden Rice Network Coordinator and Head, IRRI Intellectual Property Management Unit

ice is, arguably, the world’s most important food crop. In population and the eventual need for Japan to open up its market
spite of this prominence, the private sector for many years to competition from foreign rice grain.
concentrated only on developing rice crop protection prod- The liberalization of the seed laws in Japan was a major driver
ucts such as herbicides and insecticides. There was little investment for Japan Tobacco to seriously consider establishing rice busi-
in improving rice varieties, and low participation in the crop seed nesses, initially in Japan, but eventually in other countries. Japan
business. In the mid-1990s, however, several agricultural multi- Tobacco, with a strong technological advantage in rice genetic
nationals and some large national firms began to look seriously at transformation, formed a research partnership with Monsanto
investing in businesses based on rice seed. and ultimately established the Orynova joint venture with Zeneca.
Well before this, hybrid rice technology had moved out of Orynova subsequently ceased operations some time after Zeneca
China into several new regions, including the United States, India merged with Novartis (to form Syngenta).
and Latin America. Its gradual validation in a number of areas However, several factors then converged to stem the flow of
— including yield and adaptability, and a sense that the business private sector investment and research interest. The high prices
would be viable — demonstrated that returns from an investment paid for the various seed and technology acquisitions and the
in rice seed research were possible. Indeed, many of the companies slower than expected return on investments forced companies
that looked at new opportunities in rice had already had success to trim expectations and budgets, and in many cases to severely
with maize and other hybrid crops. scale back investment in rice research and
Several companies had also devel- Several factors converged to development. Despite the buoyant mood
oped crop biotechnology traits, including at the launch of the first crop biotech
herbicide tolerance and insect resistance stem the flow of private sector products, there was a growing recognition
in cotton, soybean and oilseed rape that the complexity of the new products
(canola). These traits were then developed investment in rice research, — especially in the public and regulatory
for maize and potato, giving the develop- arenas — had been underestimated. Com-
ers confidence that the technology could including the high prices paid for panies began to return their focus to the
be adapted to still more crops, including crops and regions in which they already
rice. seed and technology acquisitions, had secure businesses and products.
What followed was a period of aggres- Today, the major corporate players
sive expansion in investment and research and slower than expected return in the international seed business — in-
in many crops, from the major row crops cluding Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta, Ad-
and commodities to vegetables and even on investments vanta, Monsanto and Bayer CropScience
flowers. It was also a time of large take- — remain active in rice but tend to limit
overs and mergers, which resulted in several traditional non-seed investment to hybrid and some varietal seed businesses or to a
companies finding themselves the owners of rice seed businesses. specific product, such as the herbicide-tolerant Clearfield™ rice
The sale of Cargill’s seed businesses to Aventis (formerly AgrEvo, of BASF. The first genetically modified rice, Bayer CropScience’s
now part of Bayer CropScience) and to Monsanto resulted in one herbicide-tolerant LibertyLink™, was approved for commercial
such example. Many of the companies commenced significant in- release in the U.S. in 1999-2000. Last year, the UK cleared it
house rice research with an emphasis on biotechnology. New alli- for import for processing and animal feed, and the company is
ances were formed with the public sector — Rhone-Poulenc (now awaiting the same clearances from the European Union before
part of Bayer CropScience), for example, became a major partner launching the product.
with the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology in Singapore. Although it failed to meet its early promise, private-sector
Companies established new, or expanded existing, research biotechnology research in rice is continuing. The U.S. Department
programs for the major rice diseases (blast research at DuPont, of Agriculture’s database of Field Test Releases indicates ongoing,
for example). Some of the companies’ targets also fit well with and sometimes expanding, testing of a number of biotech traits.
national research priorities. The development of herbicide-tolerant Furthermore, investment in areas such as hybrid rice development,
rice, for instance, would help to accelerate the adoption of direct and farming and postharvest technologies, continues to support
seeding in Japan — a priority driven by the aging Japanese farm and complement public rice research.

The use of product and company names does not represent an endorsement of these by IRRI

38 Rice Today April 2005

Rice Today April 2005 39