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International Rice Research Institute January-March 2006, Vol. 5, No. 1

Rice in the mountains


A new green revolution

Thailand special
The restless rice breeder
Improving jasmine rice

The genome sequence


Making waves in rice research

ISSN 1655-5422
contents
Vol. 5, No. 1

A time of revolution ........................................... 4


Recent developments in rice research have set the
stage for an exciting future

More rice on the web ........................................... 5


The latest word on Web sites dedicated to rice, from
research tools to recipes

News . ........................................................................ 6
Agricultural ministers support IRRI proposals
Debate over basmati
New books
Council discusses genetic resources treaty
Sequence of rice genome finalized
Media focuses on Asian drought A mountainous success ................................... 30
Hurricane Katrina hits rice Hidden among the hillsides of China’s Yunnan Province,
Climate change and methane a new green revolution is taking place as farmers
and researchers prove that, despite long-held
Coping with drought pessimism, upland rice farming can reap rewards
Good and bad tsunami news
Transgenic rice as a vaccine Beating blast ....................................................... 36
Dying crop diversity? Combining traditional and modern breeding
techniques, researchers in Korea have succeeded
in the perilously difficult task of making Korean
Keeping up with IRRI staff ................................ 11 rice varieties resistant to one of the crop’s most
destructive diseases
Achievements . ..................................................... 12
Agricultural leader to retire
It’s not all about the research! ................... 38
The International Rice Research Institute is, as its
Donors Corner . .................................................. 13 name suggests, renowned for its research. But,
A strong supporter of agricultural research: the All in the genes ................................................... 19 for more than 40 years, it has also trained
Canadian International Development Agency Like the plants they produce, plant breeders seem scientists to make sure that research has impact
supports research that improves the lives of the to be strong, healthy, and productive. Thailand’s
poor in developing countries renowned rice breeder Surapong Sarkarung
confirms that it takes more than retirement to keep Rice Facts . ............................................................. 41
a good breeder down Rice in Africa
The gene revolution ......................................... 14 Can rice help reduce hunger and poverty in
The recent sequencing of the rice genome ushers sub-Saharan Africa?
in an exciting new era in public rice research Improving the sacred ....................................... 24
Who says the sacred can’t get any better? Thai scientists
show that even their revered jasmine rice can Grain of Truth . ................................................... 42
benefit from an occasional helping hand Training for greater impact

cover design Juan Lazaro IV, George Reyes International Rice Research Institute
publisher Duncan Macintosh DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
editor Adam Barclay Web (IRRI): www.irri.org
art director Juan Lazaro IV Web (Library): http://ricelib.irri.cgiar.org
designer and production supervisor George Reyes Web (Rice Knowledge Bank): www.knowledgebank.irri.org
contributing editors Gene Hettel, Bill Hardy
news editor Juanito Goloyugo Rice Today editorial
photographer Ariel Javellana telephone (+63-2) 580-5600 or (+63-2) 844-3351 to 53, ext 2725;
circulation Chrisanto Quintana fax: (+63-2) 580-5699 or (+63-2) 845-0606; email: a.barclay@cgiar.org
printer Primex Printers, Inc.

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
15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research assumes no responsibility for loss or damage to unsolicited submissions, which should
(CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. For more information, visit be accompanied by sufficient return postage.
the CGIAR Web site (www.cgiar.org).
Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2006
More rice on the Web
I
n its last issue, Rice Today offered org/impact/research/rice.html), while org), a “nonprofit organization that
readers a glimpse of the literally IRRI adds impact information of its own works for an Asia that can feed itself,
millions of Web sites that mention, in (www.irri.org/media/impact). Two of treasures the rich heritage of its rice
one form or another, rice. (A quick check IRRI’s sister centers, the International cultures, cares about the well-being of
on Google.com just before this issue went Center for Tropical Agriculture (www. both its rice consumers and producers,
to print brought up more than 100 million ciat.cgiar.org) and the Africa Rice and values its rice-growing land as a
results—up from around 40 million a Center (www.warda.cgiar.org) are also precious commodity to be shared with
few months ago.) We continue the theme full of information on rice research in, future generations.” The foundation
here, so read ahead for more on where to respectively, Latin America and Africa. aims “to mobilize and provide support
satisfy your hunger for knowledge about IRRI itself recently launched BETA for research, educational, cultural, and
the world’s most important cereal crop. versions of its Environmental Agenda advocacy movements that promote
In 1949, at a time when global Web site, GreenRice.net (www.greenrice. public appreciation of the role of rice
rice production was stagnating at net), which provides communication in the diverse culture of Asia.” The
dangerously low levels, the Food and tools and access to information about site offers information on a range of
Agriculture Organization of the United rice and the environment, and Rice rice-focused topics, including science,
Nations established the International News Worldwide (http://ricenews.irri. cultural heritage, and cooking.
Rice Commission in an And, speaking of
effort “to promote national cooking, with all the
and international action research and development
in matters relating to the happening in the name
production, conservation, of rice, it’s easy to forget
distribution, and that this indispensable
consumption of rice.” grain for millions actually
Almost 60 years later, the tastes good. Every day, all
commission continues over the world, people are
to play a vital role on the creating mouthwatering
world rice stage. Its Web dishes using rice.
site (www.fao.org/ag/irc) Unsurprisingly, myriad
includes pages on technical sites and pages offer
cooperative networks and methods for cooking
partnerships, rice news rice. For example, www.
and events, publications, ricegourmet.com offers
and even a database of “delectable rice recipes
rice-related photos. from countries all
The Agricultural over the world,” www.
Research Service is congocookbook.com/
the U.S. Department of index_4.html contains
Agriculture’s main in- African rice dishes,
house scientific research www.mex-recipes.com/
agency. Entering “rice” into the org), which keeps readers up-to-date mexican-rice-recipes.html offers recipes
service’s search tool (at www.ars.usda. with the latest news and features about from Mexico, and www.theitaliantaste.
gov) brings up a host of information rice from Web sites around the globe. com/italian-cooking/riso/index_
on rice breeding and pathology, rice The Consortium for International rice_eng.shtml tempts the taste buds
quality, genetic characterization of Crop Protection (www.ipmnet.org), of Italian food lovers. The California
rice traits, and tools and technologies which works “to implement effective Rice Commission lists a range of
for breeding improved rice. and environmentally sensitive crop dishes plus nutritional information
The International Rice Research protection worldwide,” offers a range of (www.calrice.org/b_cuisine.htm;
Institute (IRRI) is one of 15 centers freely available resources that focus on pictured) and the Rice Knowledge Bank
that are part of the Consultative integrated pest management, including carries the favorite recipes of IRRI’s
Group on International Agricultural a monthly newsletter, a resource staff members and friends at www.
Research (CGIAR). The CGIAR’s database, and an event calendar. knowledgebank.irri.org/recipes.
home site offers information on the The Asia Rice Foundation is, Just make sure you don’t
impact of rice research (www.cgiar. according to its Web site (www.asiarice. drool on your keyboard.

Rice Today January-March 2006 


NEWS
Agricultural ministers support IRRI proposals said, “The RKB could become an increas-
ingly important tool for rice farmers all over
Asia, providing them with direct access to
the very latest rice-farming strategies and
technologies.”
Zeigler warned that rice farming in
ASEAN may be losing the skills and the
knowledge it needs. “The challenge,” he
stressed, “is how to show that rice farming
has an exciting future in ASEAN with new
technologies and new opportunities that
will attract those with a good education and
managerial skills.”
Zeigler and Padolina also reported to
the AMAF about the progress made on the 3-
point ASEAN-IRRI 10-year plan focusing on
water, climate change, and human resource
issues endorsed by the same gathering in
Myanmar in 2004.
Zeigler said that IRRI would like to
see the institute’s Environmental Agenda
and corresponding Web site, Greenrice.net,
Juanito Goloyugo

“adopted by the nations of ASEAN to ensure


that the benefits of ongoing research and the
new technologies that will be developed are
fairly and efficiently shared by everyone in
IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler (left) welcomes H.E. Dr. Chan Sarun, the Cambodian Minister of Agri- the region.”
culture, Forestry, and Fisheries, at the IRRI environmental exhibit, which ran concurrently with the ASEAN The ministers agreed to develop agri-
meeting in Tagaytay, Philippines.
culture to secure a stable supply of safe food
for their peoples; conserve the natural en-

I RRI sought and received the Association


of South East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN)
endorsement for two major proposals at the
workshop focusing on the future training
and education of a new generation of rice
scientists.
vironment and the socio-cultural traditions
of rural communities; make permanent
the East Asian Emergency Rice Research
27th ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and IRRI will organize and hold the RKB project to speed up responses to food needs
Forestry (AMAF) meeting in Tagaytay City, meeting at its headquarters in Los Baños, following disasters; and mobilize existing
Philippines on 27-29 September 2005. Philippines, and the training and education national stockpiles earmarked for the Asian
The proposals, presented by Director workshop will possibly be held in Singapore, Emergency Rice Reserve under the ASEAN
General Robert Zeigler and Deputy Director to be organized jointly by IRRI and other Food Security Reserve Agreement.
General for Partnerships William Padolina, partners in the ASEAN region. The institute The 6th AMAF meeting will be held in
called for a regional meeting on the future also called for the adoption of the RKB as Singapore in 2006, while the 8th ASEAN
development of IRRI’s Rice Knowledge an ASEAN project. and People’s Republic of China, Japan,
Bank (RKB) to provide farmers with direct In his presentation, From endorsement and Republic of Korea Summit will be held
access to the latest rice-farming strate- to action: a new generation of rice farm- on 13 December 2005 in Kuala Lumpur,
gies and technologies, and a meeting or ers and rice scientists for ASEAN, Zeigler Malaysia.

IRRI’s Agricultural Engineering Unit helped orga-


nize and conduct a hands-on training workshop
on Grain-Drying Systems and Dryer Fabrication
with Dr. Phan Hieu Hien at Nong Lam University
in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Seven participants
from Myanmar, Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Viet-
nam—seen here assembling a fan rotor—were
taught the importance of grain drying in reduc-
ing paddy losses and maintaining seed and grain
quality. They learned to identify suitable dryer
types for their countries, perform cost-benefit
analysis of drying, manufacture critical compo-
nents such as fans and rice hull furnaces, and
conduct fan and dryer testing and evaluation.
The 10-22 October course was an Irrigated Rice
Martin Gummert

Research Consortium activity with support from


the IRRI Training Center and the Lao-IRRI Rice
Research and Training Project.

 Rice Today January-March 2006


Debate over basmati In the face of re-
ports of several cases

A protracted “aromatic” debate is going on


among India’s scientists and exporters
on whether or not to label their new varieties
of fraudulent exports,
the paper reported
that the EU—whose
of aromatic long-grained rice as basmati. definition of basmati
The National Commission on Farmers, in insists that a vari-
its “Crisis to Conflict” report, called on the ety should contain
agriculture ministry and the Indian Council at least one parental
of Agricultural Research to develop a policy strain from tradi-
that would use the basmati label only for tional basmati—has
“traditional fine grain aromatic rices of insisted on DNA test-
antiquity of a specific geographic origin,” ing of basmati rice
The Indian Express reported. exported from India
Crop scientists and exporters, on the and Pakistan and that
other hand, wanted a more accommodat- “the EU is prepared to
ing basmati definition. “It should be based lower its high tariff
on quality characteristics and not insist on barrier by Euro 250
immediate parentage,” A.K. Singh, senior a ton to facilitate im-
scientist in the genetics division of the In- ports of true basmati
dian Agricultural Research Institute, was rice.”
quoted as saying. In 1999, the EU

Ariel Javellana
Dr. Singh feared that programs for contested the claims
improving basmati would end because ex- of India’s Pusa Bas- GRAINS of basmati rice.
porters of improved varieties don’t get the mati-1 and Pakistan’s
same advantages as basmati exporters. The Super Basmati vari-
paper reported that the European Union eties, asserting that they were developed, saying this was a political decision that could
(EU) gives a subsidy of US$200 per ton for rather than traditional, and denied duty be reversed at any time. Seshadri was report-
imported basmati rice, but not for other derogation for their import. “Following this, ed as insisting that “only traditional varieties
aromatic long-grained varieties. India in 2000 decided to categorize basmati should be entitled to be called basmati and
As the debate continues, India’s Finan- under two heads—one for traditional variet- that developed aromatic varieties should be
cial Express published a series of articles on ies and the other for developed varieties,” marketed under a different brand.” None-
the issue, reporting that Pakistan and India reported the newspaper. theless, the paper reported, Anil Mittal of
are considering registering basmati rice in In February 2004, the EU reversed this exporter KRBL believes that “the developed
the World Trade Organization’s Geographi- decision. However the paper quoted R.S. varieties have a yield advantage and should
cal Indication System. Seshadri of rice exporter United Riceland as be considered as basmati.”

New books information on Green Revolution varieties project with a regional mandate. The goal
of rice. This information is buried in plant was to create and train a regional network
breeders’ field books and records of plant of national agricultural research and ex-

I R Varieties and Their Impact, by Ghur-


dev Khush, former IRRI principal plant
breeder and 1996 World Food Prize Lau-
pathologists and entomologists. […] I hope
that this publication will serve as a source
of information on varieties that had such
tension systems (NARES) practitioners
of companion modeling in Southeast Asia
and to support these practitioners in the
reate, and Par- a significant impact on food security and development of their own applications
minder Virk, poverty alleviation and fostered economic and case studies. This volume is one of
IRRI senior development.” the first collec-
plant breeder, Companion Modeling and tive outputs and
is a compre- Multi-Agent Systems for Inte- its various con-
hensive list of grated Natural Resource Man- tributions show
all the high- agement Systems in Asia, edited work in prog-
yielding “IR” by François Bousquet, Guy Tré- ress. Its produc-
rice varieties buil, and Bill Hardy, examines the tion benefited
released by the relatively new research approach from strong
institute. The of companion modeling, which support from
book includes covers spatial modeling and adap- the NARES in-
information on tive management of renewable volved in the
34 IR varieties resources. The book follows a joint project activi-
as well as 328 IR breeding lines that were effort in 2001-04 by IRRI and the ties, particularly
released as 643 varieties in 75 countries. In French Agricultural Research Cen- in Thailand. For
a foreword to the book, IRRI Director Gen- ter for International Development more on com-
eral Robert Zeigler says, “Rice scientists, (CIRAD) that led to the implementation panion modeling, see The game of life on
journalists, and historians often search for of a Thailand-based companion modeling pages 25-27 of Rice Today Vol.4, No.1.

Rice Today January-March 2006 


NEWS
Council discusses genetic resources treaty varieties was developed by each country,
sharing and collaboration became more

P lant variety protection rights and the challenging. “There’s no doubt that we must

IRRI/Iaard
continued implementation of the Inter- collaborate to develop the best new rice
national Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources varieties,” he said.
for Food and Agriculture have aided the He cited the International Network for
development of new rice varieties and the Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER), which
exchange of plant genetic resources between has provided material for the development and
countries. This was a key message to emerge release of 667 new rice varieties in 62 countries
from the 9th annual Council for Partnerships around the world during the last three decades.
on Rice Research in Asia (CORRA) meeting “It’s very important for food security and rice
in Bali, Indonesia, on 9-11 September, hosted production in Asia that INGER be able to
by the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Indonesian Minister of Agriculture, continue its work,” Lee said.
Research and Development (IAARD). H.E. Anton Apriyantono. Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India,
CORRA Chair Seong-Hee Lee told Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Myanmar,
senior representatives of the major rice- benefits arising from the use of these plant Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ne-
producing countries: “It’s very important resources. pal, Thailand, and Vietnam are the current
that rice-producing and -consuming nations Lee said that most of the CORRA mem- CORRA members.
continue to develop new varieties to combat bers, however, are still not parties to the IAARD also held the International Rice
problems such as pests and diseases, and to treaty because of its complex requirements Conference on 12-14 September. Indonesian
have this collaboration is crucial.” when it comes to national governments. Minister of Agriculture H.E. Anton Apriyan-
Under the treaty, all ratifying countries Lee, who is also director general of the tono opened the conference in Bali. IRRI
must agree to facilitate access to their plant National Institute of Crop Science of South Director General Robert Zeigler gave the
genetic resources (including rice) for food Korea’s Rural Development Administra- conference keynote speech on Rice research
and agriculture. In turn, those involved tion, told the CORRA meeting that, as the and development: supply, demand, water,
will share—in a fair and equitable way—the concept of national sovereignty over rice climate, and research capacity.

Sequence of rice genome finalized France, India, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the
United Kingdom, and the United States.

T he final sequencing of the japonica rice


genome announced in the 11 August
issue of the journal Nature was reported
cereal grasses, “this has transformed the
way we study the UK’s main crops—wheat
and barley,” Professor Michael Bevan of
The first draft of the genome sequence
of the indica subspecies of rice, widely
cultivated in China and in tropical Asian
across the globe. The unscrambling of the the John Innes Centre told The Telegraph. countries, was achieved by the Beijing
genome, described in the Online edition of “The delineation of the genome is a Genomics Institute (BGI) in collaboration
BBC News by Robin Buell of The Institute of milestone for rice improvement programs with 10 other Chinese institutions and the
Genomic Research as “the Rosetta Stone for that translate genetic information into im- University of Washington.
crop genomes,” is a milestone development proved varieties,” says Leung.” The pathway India’s Minister for Science and Tech-
that could one day help mitigate hunger from sequence to on-farm use is actually nology, Kapil Sibal, told The Indian Express,
around the world. happening gradually over the years, but now “It’s a revolutionary landmark that could
According to the United Nations, rice we can look at the whole, which is important ensure India’s food security … since India
provides 20% of the world’s dietary energy for understanding more complex biological now has complete access to the entire rice
supply. But, in coming decades, more rice problems, such as drought tolerance.” genome with no encumbrance related to
will be needed to feed the world’s hungry Established in 1998, the International intellectual property rights.”
as current consumption trends point to 4.6 Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP) While the international research
billion people relying on rice by 2025. was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. community has unrestricted access to the
IRRI Senior Plant Pathologist Hei Japanese researchers led the program, along Chinese and IRGSP data, The Christian
Leung said that the successful mapping with teams of scientists from Brazil, China, Science Monitor points out that “for all the
of the rice genome “sets a gold standard” enthusiasm about the drafts, plant biologists
for sequencing other cereals with similar acknowledge that sequencing is only a first
genetic makeup—maize, wheat, barley, rye, step in using the tools of biotechnology to
sorghum, millet, and sugarcane—and speed- improve cereal crops. The genes in the se-
ing up the search for genes that will guard quence must be mapped to specific chromo-
these crops against diseases and pests and somes, their functions must be identified, as
improve their productivity. well as the processes they trigger.”
According to Nature, scientists esti- But, as Johnjoe McFadden, professor
mate that rice contains 37,544 genes, in con- of molecular genetics at the University of
trast to humans’ 20,000 to 25,000 genes. Surrey, pointed out in The Guardian, “the
Knowledge of the 389 million-base-pair release of the rice genome sequence places a
genome will help crop researchers develop powerful toolkit in the hands of researchers
improved rice varieties with traits such as eager to improve crop yields.”
higher yield, improved nutritional content, For more on the significance of the rice
Adam Barclay

and resistance to pests and diseases. genome sequence, see The gene revolution
As rice is closely related to the other on pages 14-18.

 Rice Today January-March 2006


Media focuses on
Asian drought

D rought across Asia dominated the


headlines again in recent months. As
drought continued to create havoc for the
poorest around the globe, Agence France
Presse (AFP) picked up the Rice Today story
Dreams beyond drought (September 2005,
Vol. 4, No. 2, pages 14-21).
The 17 October AFP story, Rice re-
search turns to Asia’s chronic drought,
was subsequently reported by major news-
papers and Web sites around the world. As
well as running on page 1 of the 18 October
Philippine Daily Inquirer, the article was
carried by online news services, including
TODAYonline.com and Yahoo! News, which
reported that “IRRI said a study this year
concluded that dry spells, more than floods
or typhoons, are the primary recurring
threat in Asia, where around a fifth of all the
rice-growing areas are drought-prone.”
The Kathmandu Post reported on 13 With over 8 million hits since its launch in September 2002, the IRRI Rice Knowledge Bank
August that, following a drought-induced (www.knowledgebank.irri.org) has become the world’s premier repository for rice-related training and
price rise, some 2,500 metric tons of cheaper extension material. Now, a revamped Knowledge Bank is set to make information that helps feed half the
Indian rice has illegally entered the Nepali world even more accessible. The new-look Rice Knowledge Bank is more intuitive, allowing people to easily
market, prompting rice entrepreneurs to locate information to solve their rice-farming needs. Associated with the impressive volume of visitors to
fear for the survival of local rice mills. the site is a growing realization that the RKB is now a major tool with which the institute communicates its
rice science and rice-farming messages to the rice community across Asia.
A story from online rice news service
Oryza.com reports that the Thai government
plans to ban rice sowing in drought-hit areas to Climate change and methane The Voice of America, a U.S.-govern-
conserve water resources and prevent farmers ment-funded international multimedia
from suffering losses due to damaged crop.
From not enough rain to too much,
The Rising Nepal reported on 7 August that
A n AFP story, Climate change to reduce
rice yields, which quoted IRRI senior
scientist John Sheehy, was carried by Yahoo!
broadcasting service, also ran a 19 October
report on the need to improve world rice
production to keep pace with population
Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture and Coopera- News on 18 October. The article reported and climate change. Padolina was again
tives has implemented reforms and offered that increasing emissions of carbon dioxide quoted, saying that “if the present trend of
subsidies to monsoon-affected regions of the would “drive yields down by 0.15 tonnes per population growth continues, rice produc-
country, including the provision of seeds in hectare (2.47 acres) in 50 years.” tion must increase by 30–40% to match
wet areas where cultivation is possible and AFP likewise quoted Deputy Director demand.”
an awareness campaign to use pesticides to General for Partnerships William Padolina The 11 August issue of the journal Sci-
protect cultivated rice from diseases. as saying that rice yields must increase ence published a study by Yahai Lu of China
by 30–40% by 2030 to match population Agricultural University and Ralf Conrad of
Hurricane Katrina hits rice growth, which is greater than the increase the German Max-Planck-Institute for Ter-
in production over the past 15 years. restrial Microbiology, who have identified

M eanwhile, Oryza.com reported on 2 the microorganisms responsible for using


IRRI

September that, in the wake of Hur- carbon released by rice plants’ roots to make
ricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana on methane, which is consequently released
29 August, Mississippi rice farmers could through the soil into the atmosphere.
experience yield drops of at least 20%. The Asian rice farms are one of the world’s
farmers’ biggest concern was the time it largest sources of methane—the most
would take to harvest lodged (fallen) rice, important greenhouse gas after carbon
which, according to them, means “triple dioxide—and emit 50–100 million tons of
the time, triple the diesel fuel and labor the gas each year. The study was reported
expenses.” on the SciDev.net Science and Development
Oryza.com also reported on 6 Sep- Network Web site, which quoted Andrew
tember that His Majesty King Bhumibol Whiteley of the U.K. Centre for Ecology and
Adulyadej of Thailand donated an unspeci- Hydrology as saying that, “Once scientists
fied quantity of rice to help feed people in know which organisms are involved in a
hurricane-hit areas of the U.S. The King also AN IRRI scientist particular process, they can focus right
sent a note to President George W. Bush, gathers data for down on them and design experiments to
expressing his sorrow for the tragedy. methane research. work out how important they are.”

Rice Today January-March 2006 


NEWS
Coping with drought Good and bad tsunami news

A s part of its Post-Tsunami Initiative


following the disastrous Indian Ocean
earthquake and tsunami of 26 December
2004, the Future Harvest centers of the
Consultative Group on International Ag-
ricultural Research have set up a Web site
“to serve as a common platform for CGIAR
information on relevant research and de-
velopment information on restoring liveli-
hoods and on integrated natural resource
management in areas directly and indirectly
affected by the tsunami and earthquake
disasters, particularly in Indonesia.”
The Jakarta Post reported on 25
August the promising news that “Fears
that the most fertile agricultural land in
the Indonesian province of Aceh has been
wrecked by seawater that swept inland from
JOse Raymond Panaligan

the December 26 tsunami are unfounded.”


The Indonesian daily quoted a New Scientist
article on a study that had shown that that
salt from the tsunami did not penetrate far
into the coastal rice-farming soils, and that
irrigating with salt-free water has removed

T wo important meetings—Interdrought
II and the Annual Research Meeting of
the Generation Challenge Program—were
proteome and metabolome under drought.
Postdoctoral fellow Jill Cairns talked on
The use of deletion mutants in identifying
most of the excess salt. However, accord-
ing to the story, “Some rice fields remained
slathered with thick sea sediment, and in
held in Rome on 24-28 September. During candidate genes for drought tolerance. The parts of Aceh’s flood plain, changes in drain-
the Interdrought II meeting, IRRI senior Interdrought symposia provide a platform age patterns wreaked by the tsunami mean
scientists Sushil Pandey and John Bennett for presenting, discussing, and integrating that once-rich agricultural land is regularly
made presentations on, respectively, Cop- results of both basic and applied research inundated by seawater that rushes up tidal
ing with drought in developing countries’ into crop production under drought condi- creeks. Such problems may take as long as
agriculture and Monitoring changes in the tions. a decade to fix.”

Arsenic-tolerant rice of the Future Harvest centers of the CGIAR feature the 26th International Rice Research
IRRI is looking to mitigate the effect of con- are helping to rehabilitate agriculture in 47 Conference and will be co-organized by
tamination by breeding rice varieties tolerant developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin IRRI and the Indian Council of Agricultural
of arsenic-contaminated water and soil in America, and the Pacific through the Heal- Research.
Bangladesh. Social Sciences Division Head ing Wounds initiative.
Mahabub Hossain, irrigated rice breeder IRRI-Korea collaboration
Parminder Virk, and IRRI-Bangladesh staff Managing tungro disease The Rural Development Administration
members M.A. Hamid Miah, M.A. Ghani, About 80 farmers and Department of Ag- (RDA) of the Republic of Korea and IRRI
and Noel Magor recently met with officials riculture personnel from Iloilo Province, have agreed to a five-year extension of the
of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute to Philippines, learned about Mixed planting memorandum of understanding signed in
initiate collaborative research that attempts of resistant and susceptible varieties for 2000 for further collaboration involving
to solve this major health problem. tungro management during a farmers’ biotic and abiotic stress tolerance of tem-
forum on 1 September. Results from field perate japonica rice. RDA Administrator
Salt-tolerant seed varieties trials conducted by IRRI and the Provincial Jeong-Soo Son and IRRI Director General
The International Crops Research Institute Agriculture Office in the 2002-04 planting Robert Zeigler signed the letter of agree-
for the Semi-Arid Tropics and the M.S. seasons showed that mixing 75% tungro- ment at a ceremony at the International
Swaminathan Research Foundation are resistant Matatag 9 seeds and 25% disease- Technical Cooperation Center (ITCC), RDA,
screening crop varieties that have salt toler- susceptible IR64 produced higher rice yields on 29 August. Dr. Zeigler also presented a
ance, selecting varieties through community with good eating quality. Tungro devastated seminar, Challenges facing rice-producing
participation, establishing local seed banks, thousands of hectares of rice crops in Iloilo countries in Asia.
and rehabilitating soil and water systems. from 1999 to 2000.
Six varieties of rice found on the east coast of IRRI’s strategic planning
Tamil Nadu, India, have potential in flood- International Rice Congress 2006 IRRI conducted a series of strategic plan-
prone areas. IRRI also provided seeds of India is scheduled to hold the second Inter- ning workshops—which aimed to identify
salt-tolerant rice varieties. Fifteen agricul- national Rice Congress (IRC2006) in New new science and technology, economic and
tural research institutes under the alliance Delhi on 9-13 October 2006. IRC2006 will political, environmental and ecological,

10 Rice Today January-March 2006


Transgenic rice as a vaccine

N ews agency Reuters and U.K. newspaper


The Guardian have reported on the
development of an edible vaccine produced
in genetically modified rice that prevented
the immune response that triggers allergies.
The study, by Japanese researchers from the
National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences
and the University of Tokyo, was published
in the 1 November issue of the Proceedings

Ariel Javellana
of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team created the vaccine using
parts of allergy-related proteins found in
Japanese cedar pollen, a trigger of hay fever. IRRI hosted 300 local farmers on 27 September. The farmers, seen here examining IRRI’s rice mill, also
Genetic material that coded for the allergen toured the IRRI farm, the Agricultural Engineering Unit, and the breeding warehouse.
proteins was inserted into the rice genome.
The resultant rice grains then carried the
proteins, thereby exposing the rats to small
Keeping up with IRRI staff

F
amounts of the allergy-causing agent—the angming Xie, former director of line Michael Thomson joined CSWS as post-
same idea behind injected vaccinations. The development and hybrid rice breeder of doctoral fellows. Endang Septiningshi
Guardian explains that the team “fed the RiceTec, Inc., USA, recently joined Plant of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural
rice to a group of mice allergic to the pollen Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology (PBGB) Research and Development joined PBGB as a
for four weeks. Compared with mice not as a senior scientist. postdoctoral fellow.
receiving therapy, they sneezed less and had Grant Singleton, previously at Austra- New Philippine Department of Agri-
lia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial culture Secretary Domingo Flores Pan-
fewer antibodies to the cedar pollen.”
Research Organisation (CSIRO), Sustainable ganiban has replaced Arthur C. Yap as an
Senior author Fumio Takaiwa was cited Ecosystems, joined the Entomology and Plant ex officio member of IRRI’s Board of Trustees.
as claiming that as well as being potentially Pathology Division (EPPD) as coordinator for Panganiban was also secretary of the Depart-
cheaper, food-based allergy treatments the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium. ment of Agriculture (DA) from January to
would be more efficient and avoid the Cristine Kreye joined Crop, Soil, and March 2001, and undersecretary of the DA
chance of anaphylactic shock. Takaiwa was Water Sciences (CSWS) as an international from in 1996-2001.
further cited as saying that a human ver- research fellow after serving as a junior re- Edith Yalong, who worked as executive
sion of the rice vaccine had been developed search fellow at the University of Kiel in secretary to IRRI’s directors general from 1974
and should be ready for safety testing in a Germany. to 1985, died on 20 August after a battle with
few years. Xiaochun Lu, Yuka Sasaki, and cancer. She was 62.

and institutional trends—in August in its was quoted as saying that, “The government to the pesticide reduction due to using the
effort to develop a clear perspective of the is serious about examining GMO rice safety GM rice.
challenges and opportunities over the next issues or the impact on the environment and
10–20 years. From these workshops, man- they want to make sure everything is fine. Human gene in rice plant
agement will produce a new strategic plan, a Given this situation, I personally think it [a A study, conducted by a team of Japanese
business plan, and a new medium-term plan decision in November] is not very likely.” scientists and published in the 20 October
for presentation to the Board of Trustees at issue of the Journal of Agricultural and
its April 2006 meeting. GM rice study questioned Food Chemistry, showed that transgenic
In a 14 October letter to Science, IRRI rice plants carrying a human cytochrome
GM rice commercialization? Scientists K.L. Heong et al. questioned the P450 gene become more tolerant of various
A 29 September Reuters report suggested methodology of Insect-resistant GM rice herbicides than nontransgenic plants of
that China could become the first country to in farmers’ fields: assessing productivity the same variety. Cytochrome P450 genes
approve large-scale planting of genetically and health effects in China, published in the produce proteins involved in breaking down
modified (GM) rice. The State Agricultural journal’s 29 April issue. The study claimed toxins in the body. The team contained
GMO (genetically modified organisms) Crop “farmers growing insect-resistant GM rice scientists from the Plant Biotechnology
Biosafety Committee, the technical body obtained higher yields with less use of insec- Department, National Institute of Agro-
that evaluates GM rice for research and ticides than farmers growing conventional biological Sciences, Fukuyama University,
marketing, would likely meet in November varieties.” The IRRI letter suggested that and Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries
with four varieties of GM rice on the agenda, farmers might have been using less pesti- Research Council Secretariat.
the report said, adding that three varieties cide for the GM rice crops because they had
resistant to insects and one variety resistant decided beforehand that they would need Gates grant for Philippine rice
to bacterial blight had been under produc- fewer chemicals, not because they saw fewer The Philippine Rice Research Institute
tion safety evaluation since last December. insects. The authors of the original paper, (PhilRice) has received a US$800,000
The committee’s decision would determine Huang et al., responded by saying that they grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates
their commercialization. Jikun Huang, a had taken into account the effects of farmer Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global
scientist at the China Academy of Sciences, perception and that this was small relative Health program to develop multinutrient

Rice Today January-March 2006 11


NEWS
Achievements Agricultural leader to retire After leaving IRRI, O’Toole spent four
years as a professor at Texas A&M Univer-

H ei Leung, IRRI plant pathologist, is


this year one of 376 members of the
American Association for the Advancement
J
ohn O’Toole,
who joined
IRRI in 1974 as
sity before joining The Rockefeller Founda-
tion. He was posted to Asia with the aim of
bringing ten South and Southeast Asian
of Science (AAAS) to be awarded the distinc- an agronomist, is countries into the foundation’s Interna-
tion of Fellow. Leung received the honor set to retire this tional Program on Rice Biotechnology. Dr.
in the Agriculture, Food, and Renewable year, capping a O’Toole helped to design and implement the
Resources section for “distinguished con- stellar career of international competitive grants program
tributions leading to improvement of rice John O'Toole as he was more than 30 that provided training for more than 400
at IRRI in 1978.

IRRI
varieties, including the dissection of rice years in inter- Asian rice scientists.
disease resistance, and to understanding national agricul- In 1998, he began work on the Resilient
rice-pathogen interactions and pathogen tural research. In his ten years at IRRI, Crops for Water-Limited Environments
population biology.” O’Toole investigated soil and plant water program that focused on genetic improve-
Former IRRI agronomist Ken Cass- relations of the rice crop with a focus on ment of drought tolerance of rice in Asia
man, now at the University of Nebraska– genetic improvement for drought-prone and maize in Africa. From 2000, he helped
Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural environments. His original and influential oversee the program, which invested more
Resources, also became an AAAS Fellow for research on upland and drought-prone than $20 million in the generation of new
his work in crop ecophysiology and agro- rainfed lowland rice laid the foundation for knowledge, capacity building in plant breed-
ecology and research in natural resource understanding the ecophysiology of water ing, and development of drought-tolerant
conservation and global food security. deficits in rice cultivation. rice and maize varieties.
The Yunnan Academy of Agricultural
Sciences (YAAS) conferred the title of Visit-
ing Professor in Agricultural Economics on Dying crop diversity?
Sushil Pandey, IRRI senior scientist, ag-
ricultural economics. He received the award
at a 9 October ceremony in Kunming, Yun- T he International Herald Tribune (IHT) in
its 18 August issue reports that “The loss of
food plant species is directly related to the 20th
millions of people avoid starvation, were well
aware of this problem and had the foresight
to collect samples of many of the old varieties
nan. The title recognizes Pandey’s contribu-
century Green Revolution, in which farmers before they completely vanished. These samples
tion to the development of close partnership adopted streamlined agricultural techniques are now conserved in ‘gene banks,’ where they
between YAAS and IRRI on the assessment to increase production of food.” are carefully kept alive and available for use by
of economic and environmental impacts of IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler, current and future generations.”
upland rice technologies in Yunnan. in a response letter to the IHT on 22 August, Zeigler adds that ”The judicious use of
IRRI Board of Trustees member pointed out that, although it is true that the crop biodiversity will contribute to a reliable,
Emerlinda R. Roman was conferred the widespread adoption of modern crop varieties environmentally sustainable agriculture that
2005 Outstanding Citizen of Los Baños caused many traditional varieties to disappear can help the poor feed themselves with a nu-
Award by the Municipal Government of Los from farms, “it is also true that the instigators tritionally rich diet and offer a light at the end
of the green revolution, which helped many of the tunnel of poverty.”
Baños, Philippines, on 16 September.

rice through conventional breeding and basmati), mainly to Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, of imported rice annually. The country is
genetic transformation. PhilRice acquired South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, and other confident of this year reaching 14.47–14.5
the grant by collaborating with a team of African countries. million tons of rice production nationwide,
German scientists working on improving against last year’s target of 14 million tons.
the nutritional quality of rice. Part of the U.S. rice shipments to Cuba fall Meanwhile, Oryza.com reported in August
grant will be used to upgrade the institute’s A 26 August report on Oryza.com stated that that the Philippine National Food Author-
biotech laboratories, establish a bioisotope American rice shipments to Cuba declined ity is intensifying its campaign to promote
laboratory, and improve screenhouses for by about 50%, from 172,000 metric tons hybrid rice in Mindanao to ensure rice suf-
testing genetically modified rice. in 2004 to 90,000 metric tons in 2005, ficiency in the region over the next decade.
because of stringent U.S. export restrictions. Increased planting of hybrid rice is viewed
Robust Indian rice exports Cuba buys the bulk of its rice from Asian as the most viable option for reducing the
Indian newspaper the Financial Express countries. The report added that the USA Philippines’ rice imports.
reported on 6 September that India’s rice Rice Federation signed a memorandum
exports are expected to increase to 4.5 mil- of understanding with Alimport, a Cuban Vietnamese rice exports
lion tons in 2005. Official statistics showed food import firm, to lobby for an end to U.S. Oryza.com reported in August that Vietnam
that exports reached 2.5 million tons for sanctions against Cuba and the resumption expects to increase its rice export earnings in
the period January through May. Ship- of two-way trade. 2005 to $1.15 billion due to increased world
ment data from private sources indicated demand and higher prices. Farmers in the
large exports in June and July, mostly to Philippine rice self-sufficiency Mekong Delta expect to harvest between 8
African countries and Saudi Arabia, with The Philippines Department of Agriculture and 9 million tons of paddy on more than
likely exports to Bangladesh in the coming is confident of meeting a 95% rice self-suf- 1.47 million hectares under this summer-
months. Also, trade data showed strong ficiency target for 2005 as the government autumn rice crop. The price of high-quality
exports in May at 425,000 tons (100,000 adopts measures to limit rice importation. rice has increased 15% over the same period
tons of basmati and 325,000 tons of non- The Philippines needs about 900,000 tons last year.

12 Rice Today January-March 2006


DONORS CORNER

A strong supporter of
agricultural research
by Anne Germain and Barbara Shaw

CIDA
I
Ms. Germain (right) is policy analyst and senior
development officer, Multilateral Development
n April 2005, the government of ticularly as it relates to trade, are stra- Institutions, in the Canadian International Devel-
Canada launched an integrated tegically important for all countries. opment Agency (CIDA). Ms. Shaw (left) is policy
International Policy Statement We should also not forget that adviser on CIDA’s Agricultural Team.
(IPS) in an attempt to bring increased income from rural liveli-
together the various components of its hoods directly affects children’s
international relations, including de- ability to access and benefit from Research (CGIAR) and has remained
velopment. The IPS provides the pol- basic education and, conversely, a strong supporter of the group’s 15
icy framework for Canada’s interna- that better basic education helps international agricultural research
tional development assistance, includ- farmers become more productive. centers—including IRRI—since their
ing the work of the Canadian Interna- Promoting gender equality in the creation. CIDA has been a strong
tional Development Agency (CIDA). agricultural sector is both a condition proponent of core funding to the
This framework focuses Canada’s for and an element of success. Any CGIAR, as a means to ensure ongoing
contribution to poverty reduction on policy or intervention should recog- resources for long-term scientific un-
the Millennium Development Goals nize from the onset the large number dertakings. In addition to its regular
and articulates five priority sectors of women involved in agriculture, contribution, over the course of the
for Canadian development assis- particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, past three years, CIDA has provided
tance: promoting good governance, and the gender-based nature of agri- CAD$40,000,000 (US$34,000,000)
private-sector development, health, cultural production. In many cultures, in core funds to the CGIAR through
basic education, and environmen- there are “men’s crops” and “women’s the Canada Fund for Africa to sup-
tal sustainability. Gender equality crops”—each with consequent spe- port specific research. We are very
will be systematically and explicitly cialized knowledge, practices, and pleased with IRRI’s recent decision
integrated across all programming rituals. Certain roles, such as seed to augment its activities in Africa,
within each of the five sectors. preservation and food processing, in close collaboration with the West
Agriculture is regarded as an marketing, and preparation, are often Africa Rice Development Association
important means to achieve develop- traditionally performed by women. (WARDA, also called the Africa Rice
ment results in four of the five priority Additional factors, such as the Center) and other CGIAR centers.
sectors in the IPS. Food security is devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in A small grant fund, the Canada-
identified as a target outcome under many African societies (and projected CGIAR Linkage Fund, managed
the health priority. Because small elsewhere), are resulting in a rapid through CIDA, was created ten years
farmers should be recognized as en- increase in the number of farms man- ago to contribute to the CGIAR’s
trepreneurs and their associations as aged by older women and orphans in goals of reducing poverty and food
key economic players, rural entrepre- rural areas, and have strong implica- insecurity through strengthened
neurship and market issues are areas tions for agricultural productivity. Yet, collaboration between the CGIAR
for support under the private-sector in several countries, women’s access system and Canada’s university and
development component. Natural to and ownership of land—to name science community. Under the Link-
resource management challenges un- a key challenge—remain an issue. It age Fund, IRRI has most recently
derpinning agriculture, such as water is thus imperative that support for been working with Montréal-based
scarcity and land degradation, are agriculture, from policy to extension, McGill University, advancing the
highlighted under the environmental take these realities into account. application of bioinformatics to plant
sustainability component. Good gov- This imperative also holds for ag- genetics, in the hope of accelerating
ernance also plays a role in facilitating ricultural research if it is to continue the development of drought toler-
agricultural growth—the presence of to play its role in contributing to food ance in rice. CIDA is proud to con-
strong national agricultural research security, poverty reduction, and envi- tribute to this research and looks
systems, appropriate policy frame- ronmental sustainability. Canada is a forward to agricultural research
works, and the ability to play an active founding member of the Consultative helping to further improve the lives
role on the international scene, par- Group on International Agricultural of the poor in developing countries.

Rice Today January-March 2006 13


gene
The

by Duncan Macintosh,
photography by Ariel Javellana

IRRI SENIOR plant pathologist


Hei Leung, seen here examining
gene markers linked to disease
resistance, says the rice genome
sequence will help researchers
find useful genes in not only rice
but also related cereals such as
maize
14and wheat. Rice Today January-March 2006
revolution
The recent sequencing

of the rice genome

ushers in an exciting

new era in public

rice research

D
espite the historic significance of
this year’s “final” sequencing of the
rice genome, few in the international
rice industry—excepting rice
researchers—could be expected to
fully understand the huge potential impact
of this major scientific breakthrough.
The news was confusing to the layperson
for several reasons. First, this latest rice
genome sequencing was just the most
recent of a series of rice sequencing
announcements since the first one
by the agricultural corporation
Monsanto in 2000. In each case,
the published sequence was more
and more precise, culminating
with the 2005 announcement in
the 11 August issue of the journal
Nature by the International Rice
Genome Sequencing Project
(IRGSP) of the most detailed,
complete sequence yet.
Second, while many agreed
the sequencing breakthrough
had major implications for rice
production—especially exciting in the
context of rice being the staple food
for almost half the planet’s population—

Rice Today January-March 2006 15


Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research Center
most also agreed that it would be and cordless power tools. In the together to assign meanings to these
several years before there were any world of rice research, though, the strings of characters—the ‘words.’”
tangible benefits for rice farmers or implications of the sequencing of One of the most important
consumers and especially in helping the rice genome are perhaps more implications of the sequencing
the poor improve their lives. clearly foreseen. Like the ripples effort is for public rice research.
In short, it was a little like the from a stone dropped into a pond, Not only did large multinationals
Apollo space missions that put the impact will spread far and wide. such as Monsanto and Syngenta
humans on the moon—the science “The rice-growing world will decide for the first time to share
and technology were brilliant benefit from this international their sequencing data publicly, but
and exciting, but had little impact scientific undertaking because it the idea of keeping such information
on the life of ordinary people. provides a ‘dictionary’ for future freely available in the public domain
The research and technology understanding of rice genes and using also became increasingly accepted.
development, however, led to many them in rice improvement,” explains Monsanto launched its rice-
new consumer products and benefits, IRRI Senior Plant Pathologist Dr. Hei research.org public database in
including medical techniques such Leung. “I say ‘future’ because what we June of 2000 to provide access to
as computer-aided tomography have now is a dictionary with accurate its draft rice genome sequences to
(CAT) scans, magnetic resonance spelling. The huge task ahead is publicly funded, public researchers.
imaging (MRI), kidney dialysis, for the world community to work Almost 800 researchers registered

THIS CARABAO can’t understand all the fuss about


the new sequence as it carries a farmer through a
rice field in Camarines Norte, Philippines. But farm-
ers—like Ahd and Saboo Sriwong from Thailand (top
left)—will ultimately benefit from the new tools and
technologies that emerge from the encyclopedia of
genetic information held in the genome, including
improved varieties such as disease-resistant jasmine
rice (top center). The finalized sequence will also
help scientists like Sheila Quilloy (top right), from
IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology
Division, find useful genes in range of different rice
varieties (opposite).

16 Rice Today January-March 2006


Facts and figures
to use these data. When more than

T
90% of the sequences contained in he analysis of the rice genome by the
the Monsanto draft rice genome International Rice Genome Sequencing Project
sequence data could also be (IRGSP; http://rgp.dna.affrc.go.jp/IRGSP),
found in the public databases, reported in the 11 August issue of the journal Nature,
revealed the location and sequence of over 37,500
the company closed the site. protein-encoding genes in 389 million base pairs
Another important outcome of DNA. (Each base pair is represented by a pair of
from the availability of the private- the “letters”—A, T, C, and G—that make up a DNA
sector data was the formation of sequence; C pairs with G and A pairs with T.) It was
another international effort, which finished three years ahead of schedule.
Rice now holds the distinction of being the
also included the private sector, to first crop plant whose genome has been sequenced.
turn the available sequence into all freely available to the public— Scientists around the world will use this wealth of new
thousands of new useful molecular provides an indispensable road map information in efforts to improve yields in not only
markers—segments of DNA that are to agricultural researchers using rice but also other closely related grass crops such as
linked to an allele (version of a gene) both biotechnology and conventional barley, maize, rye, sugarcane, and wheat.
The IRGSP used the japonica subspecies of rice,
that controls an important trait and breeding to develop hardier rice which is cultivated in temperate countries such as
are easily detected in the lab—and varieties. This new genetic map Japan, Korea, and the United States.
to ensure that these important tools of the world’s most important Established in 1998, the Japanese-led IRGSP
remain available to public research. cereal is already accelerating the consortium includes the United States, China, Korea,
“It’s very important that we hunt for genes that increase yield, India, Thailand, France, Brazil, and the United
Kingdom.
keep such information in the protect against diseases and pests, The group made public a draft sequence of the
public domain,” says IRRI Director or provide drought tolerance in japonica genome in late 2002. Since then, IRGSP
General Dr. Robert Zeigler. “In that rice and other cereal crops. scientists have increased the quality of the sequence
way, research that is conducted in A very useful side benefit of to 95% complete at greater than 99% accuracy. By
developed countries and in countries all this is that rice is genetically comparison, the 3-billion-base-pair human genome,
with its 25,000 genes, reached that quality level in
where gene patents are recognized similar to other important crops 2004, some three years after its draft sequence was
is opened up to researchers in such as maize, wheat, barley, rye, completed.
poorer developing nations.” sorghum, and sugarcane. Hence, The IRGSP used a time-consuming procedure
The IRGSP sequence—which is the rice genome can be used as a in which the researchers created libraries of small
base for genomics studies, being bits of rice DNA and then sequenced them piece by
piece. Science magazine reported that this “map-
largely colinear with these other based” approach came under fire a few years ago
genomes. In other words, similar after two teams not in the consortium published draft
genes in the other plant species sequences of the rice genome based on a different
should pop up in roughly the same technique. That approach, called whole-genome
spots as their rice counterparts. shotgun sequencing, busts the entire genome into
different-sized bits, sequences them, and then uses
With the finished sequence, rice supercomputers to put the data in order.
researchers gain a kind of genetic IRGSP researchers feared that their funding
street directory, while other cereal agencies would assume the job was done and pull
researchers inherit a hand-drawn the plug. But IRGSP leaders successfully argued that
map with some important landmarks. the drafts had too many gaps and errors to do justice
to the world’s most important cereal. There has been
According to Leung, the high- no complete estimate of the total project cost, but
quality sequence is exactly what Japan spent roughly US$100 million to sequence 55%
researchers of functional genomics— of the genome.
the science of discovering genetic The group finished ahead of its 2008 target
structure, variation, and function, date because of help from the U.S.-based agricultural
corporation Monsanto, which had announced in 2000
and the interrelationships among that it would make its rice sequence data available to
these—were waiting for, in that it acts researchers. Syngenta, an agribusiness firm based in
as a template for related sequences. Switzerland that had published a draft rice sequence
“This ‘gold standard sequence’ in 2002 based upon the whole-genome shotgun
will let us efficiently determine approach, also contributed its data to the IRGSP.
The other draft rice genome was of indica, a
the sequence of other genomes in strain widely cultivated in tropical regions and China.
many other rice varieties used by The Beijing Genomics Institute, a publicly funded
farmers,” he says. “Knowing the Chinese institution that also published its draft
variation in many varieties will be genome in Science, says it is now finishing a second
the key to using them in breeding. indica variety. These two are the parental strains of
a hybrid rice variety increasingly important in China.
This is exactly what people do with The data will help identify which genes are dominant
the human genome sequence. They in the first-generation crosses, which produce from
look for variation in many people, 15 to 30% more grain than either parent.

Rice Today January-March 2006 17


based on the first template, and then and promote sharing of the new
associate the variation with diseases genetic and genomics knowledge,
or behavior. One can imagine similar tools, and resources of functional
applications to find genes useful genomics; and gain efficiency and
for disease resistance or drought accelerate application of functional
tolerance, for example, in rice as genomics to rice improvement.
well as in other related plants.” “There’s no doubt the private
Zeigler describes the formation sector has a very important role to
of the IRGSP in 1998 as a major play in this exciting new era of rice
milestone in international research,” Zeigler stresses. “But
collaboration to accelerate the the role of this consortium, and the
discovery of important genes in the way it has been set up, means the
rice plant. Both the public and private gains achieved will be available to
sector contributed substantially those who need them most—poor
complete draft sequences from 10 countries and two international rice farmers and consumers.”
two rice subspecies—japonica and agricultural research centers. Leung concurs that the
indica—in 2002 but it took the IRGSP The goals of the original working public nature of the sequencing
to complete the job and to make group—which essentially aimed to will ultimately be a huge boon
sure that all of the important genetic enhance rice functional genomics by to those who most need help.
information was publicly available. building a global research community “The publication of the high-
The international rice and sharing new knowledge, tools, quality sequence—making it fully
research community realized that and resources—were consolidated public—is not only scientifically
a dedicated group would be vital by the consortium objectives. Along significant but symbolic of
in the postsequencing “functional with the development of specific international collaboration,” he
genomics” era of rice research. genomics tools, these include an says, “although we shouldn’t jump
Thus, following completion of integrated online global network to the conclusion that it will solve all
the draft sequence in 2002, an of rice functional genomics problems in rice production. I think
International Rice Functional databases by the end of 2006, and the ‘harvest’ will come later when we
Genomics Consortium (www.iris.irri. characterization of the function use the information to discover gene
org/IRFGC) grew out of the existing of 60% of rice genes by 2010. function. But having an important
IRRI-coordinated International The goals of the original agricultural crop like rice as a model
Rice Functional Genomics Working working group were to build for international collaboration
Group. The consortium, formed a research community with a is a boost to agriculture.”
in 2003, featured an interim shared vision of rice functional
steering committee of scientists genomics; create a common resource Duncan Macintosh is the spokesperson
representing 18 institutions from platform to broaden access to for IRRI and publisher of Rice Today.

RUARAIDH SACKVILLE HAMILTON, head of


IRRI’s Genetic Resources Center, peers through
shelves of some of the more than 100,000
types of rice stored in the institute’s Interna-
tional Rice Genebank. The genetic treasures
held therein will be easier to find with the
new sequence information. An IRRI scientist
crushes rice leaves to extract DNA (top).

18 Rice Today January-March 2006


SURAPONG and Saneh
Rurkwiree, former director of
the Ratchaburi Rice Research
Station, examine rice plants in
a screenhouse at the Thailand
Rice Research Institute’s
headquarters in Bangkok.

All in the
genes
Bob Hill

by Bob Hill

Like the plants they produce, plant breeders seem to be strong, healthy, and

productive. Thailand’s renowned rice breeder Surapong Sarkarung confirms

that it takes more than retirement to keep a good breeder down

T
here seems to be something about plant breeding Now, one of Thailand’s most renowned rice breeders,
that leads to a long and productive life. Dr. Norman Dr. Surapong Sarkarung, is having second thoughts about
Borlaug, wheat breeder and Nobel Peace Prize his own retirement, despite a lifetime working to improve
laureate, is still working in his 90s. Dr. Gurdev rice varieties for the difficult and vastly variable rainfed
Khush, rice breeder and World Food Prize laureate, is lowlands.
traveling the world long after his “retirement.” Whatever He packed his bags as the International Rice Research
the secret, plant breeders just keep on going. Institute’s (IRRI) resident plant breeder in Thailand in

Rice Today January-March 2006 19


2002, content in the knowledge that experience of ordinary farmers, and in Thailand’s northeast, how to
his last big project would provide an the consequent years of wasted effort. improve the purity of their crops by
important boost for rice production It was his closeness to farmers culling off-type plants from their
in his native country—a new variety that led Surapong to begin the fields and rejecting poor-quality
of the famously fragrant Thai jasmine breeding program seven years seeds before planting. He’s also
rice resistant to a fungal disease ago that resulted in the new blast- teaching them how to make organic
known as blast. Capable of badly resistant variety Khao Dawk Mali fertilizer. Using these techniques, he
damaging Thai rice crops, a blast (KDML), the Thai name for jasmine hopes they’ll make a better living.
attack leaves farmers little choice but rice (see Improving the sacred on “We’re very close,” he says.
to use pesticide on one of the world’s pages 24-29). He wanted to reduce “They’re like my friends. We have
most popular rice varieties or simply farmers’ risks by giving them lunch and dinner together. I listen to
accept the loss of their livelihood. alternative varieties and he knew what they have to say as much as they
However, after an impressive they wouldn’t accept anything of listen to me. No matter what we do,
career that left its mark in rice lesser quality than their traditional we’ve got to get farmers involved.”
fields around the world—from variety, known as KDML105. He hopes the farmers he trains
West Africa to the plains of Latin Following that success, Surapong will pass their new knowledge
America—Surapong is, at just 60 has remained concerned with on to their neighbors and, in this
years old, feeling restless and in helping small-scale poor farmers to way, his lessons will eventually
need of a new challenge. He regularly garner a better standard of living reach more than 100,000 rice
laments what he calls the “tragic from their inadequate plots of land. growers in the area.
mistake” of agricultural scientists in He’s teaching about 50 farmers Surapong, whose parents owned
failing for decades to learn from the at Chaiyaphum,
Surapong private collection

20 Rice Today January-March 2006


a rubber plantation in Thailand’s environment and the tidiness and living conditions, Surapong claims
eastern province of Rayong, order of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the research was to have a very
was the oldest of six children. made his first career appointment strong influence over the rest
He gained a bachelor’s degree in something of a culture shock, of his career. The leader of the
agronomy from the University of taking him literally and figuratively institute’s cereal improvement
the Philippines, Los Baños, before to the other side of the world. program was a legendary figure
returning to work for three years in He accepted a postdoctoral in agricultural research, Dr. Ivan
the Thai Agriculture Ministry’s Rice position with the International Buddenhagen, who was involved
Department. It was there that he Institute of Tropical Agriculture in introducing disease resistance
met his wife, Prat, an entomologist in Nigeria, West Africa. Surapong genes from native rice varieties
working for the department in the remembers being reassured about into high-yielding IRRI varieties.
northeastern city of Khon Kaen. any trepidation he might have had on After three years working for
They were married in 1973. moving to Africa. He and his family Buddenhagen’s team, Surapong’s next
Surapong gained his Ph.D. in nevertheless found the shift very move was to Cali, Colombia, as a plant
agronomy, specializing in plant difficult, confined as they were to the breeder for the International Center
breeding, at the University of institute complex for security reasons. for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT by its
Arkansas in the U.S., where his final Despite the difficulty of the Spanish acronym).
years of study coincided with the
emergence of molecular breeding.
His only son, Patrick, was born in
his last year at university. But the
excitement of the academic

Surapong (second from left) visits


a field of upland rice in Thailand’s
Chiang Mai Province in 1995. With
him are then-IRRI Director General
George Rothschild (third from right)
and Kwanchai Gomez (third from
left), then an IRRI consultant and
now executive director of the Asia
Rice Foundation.

Rice Today January-March 2006 21


Surapong private collection (2)
SURAPONG (above, at center) with his team of research assistants and field workers at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1981.
Ten years later (right) in Colombia at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Surapong opens a gift presented by current IRRI Director General Robert
Zeigler (then head of CIAT’s rice improvement program) upon winning the institute’s Best Scientist Award in 1991. Surapong chats with workers tending experimental
rice fields at the Thailand Rice Research Institute’s Bang Khen station in Bangkok (below) where, 35 years earlier, he began his career in rice breeding.

Far from abandoning his earlier and he has one enduring conviction, “Thailand was looking for grain
work in Africa, he took much of the arising from his years with upland quality, India wanted higher yields,
breeding material with him, and rice: “I believe it will be very difficult and Bangladesh wanted higher yields
was the first scientist to introduce to breed improved, high-yielding and pest resistance, although they
African rice varieties into South varieties of upland rice. The only were all keen on pest resistance,”
America. He was to work for ten chance of increasing productivity is he says. “And the rice-growing
years on upland rice varieties grown to improve agronomic practices.” environment was hugely diverse.”
on the vast acid-soil plains of Latin In the course of his efforts in So he concentrated on
America and Brazil, under the Latin America, Surapong also began setting up and strengthening
leadership of Dr. Robert Zeigler, to realize the value of closeness what soon became known as the
who is now IRRI’s director general. to farmers. Unlike many of his shuttle breeding program.
Surapong recalls that rice crops colleagues, he moved out of the “We brought in breeding
in Latin America were grown like scientific enclave in Cali to live in a materials from all the countries,
wheat, without standing water, and small village and learned to speak crossed them with IRRI varieties
were harvested mechanically. “They Spanish so he could communicate having resistances to pests and
had quite good yields, maybe two or directly with the people on the land. diseases as well as good grain
three tons per hectare,” he says, “but In 1991, Surapong joined the quality, and sent them back,” he
the eating quality was awful, and world’s premier rice breeding explains. The good sense of bringing
the plants were prone to disease.” team at IRRI headquarters in the national breeding programs together
New upland rice plants developed Philippines to concentrate on the in a common purpose, and a
by Surapong came to cover much of awesome task of breeding improved thorough sharing of newly
the rice-cropping land of Colombia, varieties for the multitude of rainfed developed plant lines showing
and spread into other countries. lowland environments from India desirable characteristics,
They have both good eating quality and Bangladesh through Thailand to soon became obvious.
and disease resistance. But they’re Vietnam and the Philippines. Once “Before that, there
chronically low-yielding varieties again, he was under the leadership was no interaction, no
of Zeigler, who interchange,” he adds.
at the time was Surapong organized
leader of IRRI’s meetings and visits among
rainfed lowland breeders from different
program. countries to enlist involvement
With the in the new international
majority of the process. Shuttle breeding was
world’s rainfed not a hard concept to sell. Despite
lowland rice early difficulties in financing the
grown in India, program, national programs soon
Bangladesh, and swung their support behind it. The
Thailand, that’s entire effort was held together by
where Surapong’s the IRRI rainfed lowland team. The
Bob Hill

emphasis fell. program is now broadly accepted as

22 Rice Today January-March 2006


having been a major contributor to a traditional breeding program, how chemicals that were constantly
rice improvement in many countries. are they going to select the correct drifting in the air. She couldn’t live
Because his rainfed lowland lines? How will they know that the at Chiang Saen, and they had to
research concentrated on India, genes are doing what they hope? And move back to suburban Bangkok.
Bangladesh, and Thailand, Surapong how will they get farmers involved?” Early retirement has therefore
found himself constantly traveling. In 1999, in a new atmosphere come too early for a man whose
In 1995, he was able to convince IRRI of farmer involvement, Surapong career has taken him around the
that he should be based in Thailand launched his backcrossing program world. Surapong is restless.
and, after working abroad for 15 to perfect the new blast-resistant “I still need a challenge,” he says
years, he at last returned home. jasmine rice variety that will be at his home in the Bangkok suburb
Having seen the failure of earlier introduced to farmers’ fields in of Min Buri. Thoughtfully, he adds:
efforts to breed new varieties for Thai 2006. He is gratified that, in this “I would like to try again in Africa.
rice farmers, Surapong was among project, he was able to deliver There are a lot of poor people there.
the first of Thailand’s rice scientists a potentially big benefit to the A lot of people are dying of hunger.
to urge the participation of farmers in farmers of his native Thailand. I would like to try to help them.”
the breeding and selection processes. Following his retirement,
“We would develop new varieties Surapong was determined that Bob Hill is a Thailand-based writer
and, at the experiment station, they he, too, would become a farmer. specializing in science and technology.
would look beautiful,” he recalls. He turned his full attention to
“But the farmers would reject developing 300 hectares of rolling
them all, for reasons that hadn’t uplands overlooking the Mekong
even been considered. Scientists River at Chiang Saen, in Thailand’s
were getting the selection process far north. He concentrated on
wrong; they weren’t recognizing orchards of oranges, lychees,
the desirable traits. Entire pomelo, and dragon fruit, as
breeding programs were wasted. well as organic cropping of baby
“So we had the idea of taking corn for the European export
new varieties out and letting the market. The farm also had
farmers judge them. That was the 16 hectares of ginger, along
start of farmer participation.” with other herbs and medicinal
The experience left Surapong plants, intercropped with pomelo
with a clear feeling for the trees. One hundred cattle provided
limitations of biotechnology in manure for organic fertilizer.
efforts to breed new rice varieties. However, the dream fell apart
“Scientists will make a in the most unexpected fashion.
big mistake if they depend on The Chiang Saen farm was
biotechnology without the support in the middle of an area of
of traditional breeding because intensive citrus production,
they’ll fall into the same old trap,” particularly of mandarins,
he says. “Molecular markers and where orchardists use huge
related technologies are wonderful quantities of chemical
tools. But it’s all very well being able sprays. Surapong’s wife
to say, ‘Yes, the genes are there.’ discovered she had
The selection process is perhaps the a serious allergy
most important aspect of purpose- to the
oriented plant breeding and, without

SURAPONG at his desk in


the Thai-IRRI Office in
Bangkok in 1996.
Ariel Javellana

Rice Today January-March 2006 23


THE NEW blast-resistant jasmine rice
shortly before harvest and (opposite) piles
of traditional jasmine rice ready for milling
in Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok.

24 Rice Today January-March 2006


Who says the

sacred can’t get

any better? Thai

scientists show

that even their

revered jasmine

rice can benefit

from an occasional

Improving
helping hand

the
sacred
by Bob Hill
Ariel Javellana

R
ice improvement efforts supported by the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have recently proven
their worth in what is virtually sacred territory: they
have led to the development of a new disease-resistant
Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research Center

variety of Thailand’s famous long-grained jasmine rice—


arguably the finest and most popular rice in the world.
Thai jasmine rice comes from a traditional plant
that is commercially viable only when it is grown in its
home soil, on the poor rainfed farms of Thailand’s north
and northeast. It goes by the name KDML105, short for
Khao Dawk Mali—in Thai, “jasmine flower rice.”
It is a tall, weak-strawed risks of growing a weak monocrop THIRTY-FIVE DAYS
after having been
plant that is prone to lodging, is in an environment laden with
sprayed with a normally
vulnerable to climatic stresses in an threats. Since the 1970s, the vast lethal dose of the blast
environment notorious for both flood majority of farmers have grown fungus, seedlings of
and drought, and falls easy victim to only two other varieties of rice, the new jasmine rice
pests and diseases. It is particularly RD6, a glutinous variety that they variety thrive while
seedlings of the
vulnerable to the destructive fungal use for home consumption, and
traditional variety,
disease blast, which is an endemic RD15, another jasmine variety KDML105 (right),
problem in Thailand (and many of slightly lesser quality than are devastated.
other countries; see Beating blast KDML105. All are equally prone
on pages 36-37). On top of all to climatic stresses and diseases.
this, it is a low-yielding variety. The new variety will do away bound marketing system, have
Yet, its long translucent with much of the risk because it complained that their orders are
grains, incomparable fragrance, has strong resistance to blast—the based solely on the name KDML105.
and distinctive cooking quality bane of Thai rice farmers. They say nothing else should take
make it one of the world’s most But the “sacred” nature of the its place or the country will risk
sought-after varieties. traditional crop and the prospect of a squandering its reputation for
It was first offered to Thai successful newcomer have sparked an quality on the world rice market.
farmers in 1959 after a research intriguing controversy in a country Their reaction comes at a
effort in the mid-1950s to find the where the government has announced time when Thailand’s Commerce
“best” of the country’s jasmine rice wide-ranging plans to modernize Ministry has warned the country’s
varieties. For almost half a century, both its farm production and the rice marketers against “blending”
small farmers with plots averaging marketing of agricultural produce. the premium KDML105 with grain
little more than 1.5 hectares have Millers and exporters, the of lesser quality. The ministry was
fatalistically shouldered the huge middlemen in Thailand’s tradition- referring to a known practice of

AFTER ARRIVING direct from


the farm, traditional jasmine
rice is unloaded by a mill
worker in Ayutthaya.
Ariel Javellana (2)

26 Rice Today January-March 2006


and the governors of the northern and Rice in Thailand: the facts
northeastern provinces have all been

R
urging farmers to lift their production ice is the most important crop in Thailand,
of KDML105. The mounting pressure occupying about 55% of the arable land in
to force poor farmers to accept 2001. The country’s northeast is the main
the risks of monocropping what rice-growing region and home of the famous
Thai jasmine rice. The
is now a potentially lesser species
main surplus production
has scientists deeply worried.

Bob Hill (2)


is from the central region
“They can’t realize what they’re and the north, where
suggesting,” one senior scientist the average farm size is
said recently. “They have no idea three times larger than
in the northeast, and the
adding a percentage of irrigated rice, of the dangers involved. They’ve
production environment
such as Pathum Thani 1, to shipments learned nothing from the past.” more favorable. Rice is
of jasmine rice, to boost financial In October 1993, just as the the staple food of the
returns. Pathum Thani 1 has grain country’s jasmine rice crop was entire population regardless of income. Average
almost identical in appearance to flowering, the weather suddenly per capita rice consumption, which has been
declining since the mid-1980s, was around 100
KDML105, but with an inferior produced optimum conditions
kilograms per year in 1999.
fragrance. The Commerce Ministry for the blast fungus. It was a few Over the first two decades of the Green
has threatened to revoke exporters’ degrees cooler than usual, but the Revolution, area planted to rice grew rapidly
licenses if they’re caught blending. humidity was high. It rained just from 6.9 million hectares in 1968 to 9.9 million
The related clamor over the new a little—enough to keep the rice hectares in 1988, and has remained around
9.0 to 10.0 million hectares depending on the
blast-resistant jasmine variety means leaves wet for maybe 10 days—but
relative price of rice in the world market. Rice
it has not yet been given a name. there was no standing water in the production increased from around 12.4 million
Millers and exporters suggested that fields. Carried in the air, the blast tons in 1968 to 21.2 million tons in 1988. Over
it should also be called KDML105 spores settled and grew in countless the past five years, production has settled at
to overcome marketing problems, billions. Because the entire area around 26 million tons.
Rice yields have increased slower than
but this is impractical from the was growing just one main variety,
in other Asian countries—from 1.79 tons per
viewpoint of researchers and farmers. the disease was unstoppable. It hectare in 1968 to 2.15 tons per hectare in
Researchers, who fear the millers raced like wildfire through nearly 1988. The slow increase is largely due to the
will offer a lower price for grain from 200,000 hectares of rice. Within a predominance of the rainfed (versus irrigated)
the new variety, thereby dissuading few short weeks, more than 100,000 rice ecosystem and farmers’ preference to
grow high-quality but low-yielding traditional
farmers from growing it, say the farming families had lost their
varieties that fetch a premium price in the
official naming may have to wait entire crop, and were destitute. domestic and world markets. The 2004 average
upon the Department of Agriculture. Had the disease struck at the rice yield of 2.57 tons per hectare remains
Agriculture Minister Khunying seedling stage, or even later, the relatively low.
Sudarat Keyuraphan announced farmers might have been able to
in June 2005 that the government replant and salvage something from
wanted the country’s jasmine rice the disastrous season. But their
crop to have a new brand name to crops were flowering, and nothing the genes on pages 19-23), crossed
boost its reputation and value on the could be done to save the rice. KDML105 with a rice variety drawn
export market. Her proposal was part The 1993 disaster was not an from the institute’s huge genebank in
of a range of government initiatives to unusual event. It is commonplace the Philippines. The “international”
modernize agricultural production, for blast to destroy 5% to 10% of variety was chosen for its strong
including a heavy emphasis on the Thai jasmine rice crop, and resistance to blast disease.
organic farming methods, which, losses can sometimes climb to 60% From that first cross came a
the minister says, will give priority and more in individual fields. rice variety that was blast-resistant,
to the interests of farmers. Apart from the determination but had lost a lot of KDML105’s
Meanwhile, the new variety, of a handful of Thailand’s top rice quality characteristics. So, Surapong
which is in its final season scientists, little work has been done to embarked upon a lengthy and
of experimental trials at the overcome the problem. The farmers painstaking process known as
Department of Agriculture’s Ubon are poor, and are reluctant to spray backcrossing. This involved crossing
Ratchathani Rice Research Center in expensive fungicides as a preventive and re-crossing the developing
the country’s northeast, languishes measure onto crops that don’t already variety with its own KDML105
under its awkward development exhibit the symptoms of blast attack. parent, so that, as well as holding
label, IR77924-62-71-1-2. Development of the new variety onto the blast resistance, the
Highlighting the pressing need began in 1999 when IRRI’s resident jasmine rice quality was regained.
for an alternative variety, the Thai plant breeder in Thailand, Dr. Joining the effort were
government, millers and exporters, Surapong Sarkarung (see It’s all in Thailand’s leading expert on blast,

Rice Today January-March 2006 27


plant pathologist Dr. Poonsak the grain from all plants that survived
Mekwatanakarn, and senior rice the blast trial. In charge of the quality
breeder Dr. Boonrat Jongdee, who evaluation side of the project was Dr.
would take over leadership of the Duangjai Suriya-aroonroj. Eventually,
project after Surapong’s retirement after about five years, a small
in 2002. Both work at the Ubon selection of varieties was proving its

Ariel Javellana (2)


Ratchathani Rice Research Center. quality in the field and performing
Poonsak says that, to ensure the well in laboratory testing. It was time
developing variety would have the to take the testing a step further.
broadest possible resistance to blast, But Thailand’s development
researchers set about gathering as seedling stage, then inoculated of new rice varieties has been
many pathotypes of the blast fungus by spraying the plants with a historically hobbled by a distinct
as they could find. Their search blast fungus “soup” containing lack of contact between scientists
revealed that, of all rice-growing most of the blast pathotypes. The and farmers. Many varieties have
countries, Thailand had one of the surviving plants, having proven their been developed at high cost, only
most complex blast populations resistance to the disease, were then to be totally rejected by farmers.
in the world. They gathered 1,766 transplanted and grown to maturity Over the past five years, Thai
samples of the disease and later and their grain was tested for the scientists have accepted the error of
classified them into no fewer than precious qualities of KDML105. ignoring the opinions of farmers and,
485 pathotypes. Of these, 145 were The qualities of Thai jasmine these days, selected groups of farmers
regarded as common, 340 as rare. rice, once intangible, can today be participate at all levels of research
“The fungus mutates very easily,” accurately measured. Its grain should and development. In particular, a
Poonsak explains. “We get different be long and thin and its amylose procedure developed by IRRI and
pathotypes every season, so we had content should be low—from 12% to adapted to Thai conditions is being
to equip our new variety with genes 18%—making the cooked rice slightly used to answer the ultimate question
to resist as many as possible.” sticky and soft. The temperature at in a farming community known to
This took three backcrossing which its starch gelatinizes should be obsessive in its regard for quality:
procedures, involving literally also be low—from 55 to 69 degrees “Do you like this new rice, or not?”
hundreds of thousands of plants. Celsius—and its cooking time The researchers organize
Surapong modified normal breeding should be from 12 to 18 minutes. meetings of farmers, both men and
and selection procedures to suit On top of this, its characteristic women, in the communities they
the purpose of the project because fragrance should register a clear hope will adopt the new variety.
cooking and eating quality is not superiority over all other varieties. The farmers are asked to judge
normally a principal consideration During the development of the three unnamed varieties of rice.
in developing new plants. Every new variety, an abbreviated analysis Although they are not told this, the
new generation was grown to the of these characteristics was applied to three include their most popular
variety and the new variety, plus
one other. They first handle, smell,
PLANT BREEDER Boonrat Jongdee (center), plant physiologist Poonsak Mekwatanakarn (right), and a field
worker examine specimens of the new jasmine rice variety growing on the experimental farm at the Ubon and crack open the unmilled grain
Ratchathani Rice Research Center. Traditional jasmine rice (top) is unloaded in preparation for drying at a from each. Then they examine the
rice mill in Ayutthaya. milled grain, cupping it to their noses
to measure its fragrance. Finally,
they taste samples of each variety
after it has been expertly cooked.
Tasting is performed on both hot
and cold samples. At each of the four
stages, farmers vote by choosing a
round piece of paper showing either
a smiling face or a frowning face.
The votes are placed in a ballot box,
Ubon Ratchathani Rice Research Center

blue faces for men and pink faces


for women. After casting their votes,
they are asked to explain why they
voted as they did on each occasion.
The new blast-resistant variety
of jasmine rice has won its way
through this exacting process.
As well, Poonsak says proudly

28 Rice Today January-March 2006


RICE FIELDS stretch out into
the distance at Kanchana Buri,
northwest of Bangkok.

that it has resistance to more KDML105, allowing farmers to once again, is at the heart of the
than 90% of the blast pathogens harvest varying rice crops without issue, and the new blast-resistant
he dumped on the new plants. paying for additional labor. jasmine rice variety seems to have
It has also performed better Boonrat says the aim of the helped bring the matter to a head.
than the old KDML105 in field breeding program was not to “Thailand should be selling
trials. Although the new variety is replace KDML105. Rather, it rice on the basis of its quality, and
not a heavy yielder, its resistance to sought to reduce farmers’ risks and not according to the name of one
blast means that farmers can use give them a range of varieties of well-known variety,” says Boonrat.
nitrogenous fertilizer to boost its jasmine rice from which to choose, “We will soon have three varieties
performance. Such is KDML105’s according to their own priorities. capable of delivering premium
weakness to blast that farmers He adds that the new variety has jasmine rice, as well as KDML105,
are advised not to use nitrogenous two sister varieties that emerged from and nobody in the marketing
fertilizer because the subsequent the seven-year backcrossing project. chain without a quality evaluation
boost in growth leaves the tissues Both were being developed for laboratory is capable of saying
of the plant softer than normal, release to farmers. One is identical to ‘yes, that’s top stuff,’ or, ‘no, this is
increasing its vulnerability KDML105 in all respects—including not good enough.’ The millers and
to blast attack. This is not a its photoperiod sensitivity—but it has exporters test for physical qualities,
problem with the new variety. the blast resistance of the new variety and not for eating quality. They
In field trials so far, the new and it matures a couple of weeks can’t judge the quality that they’re
variety has produced 3.75 tons per earlier. The other is also an identical demanding from farmers. They
hectare without fertilizer—about match for KDML105, including its simply demand KDML105 because
the same as the potential yield photoperiod sensitivity and its time to they’ve come to depend upon it.”
of KDML105. But, when boosted maturity, but it has blast resistance. Boonrat is in a good position
with fertilizer, it has delivered Boonrat says researchers at to know the importance of
more than 5 tons per hectare, Ubon Ratchathani were in the late quality. Not only has the issue
a significantly higher yield. stages of field testing new jasmine dominated his research for the
The new variety has two other rice varieties with tolerance of both past decade, his wife, Supanee, is
advantages for farmers. Unlike soil salinity and submergence, and a quality evaluation specialist at
KDML105, it is photoperiod- a blast-resistant matching variety Ubon Ratchathani. And now that
insensitive, meaning it can be was being developed for RD6, the Thailand’s researchers and farmers
planted just about any time and it most popular glutinous (sticky) have forged a fledgling working
will grow and yield without concern variety among the country’s northern relationship, he sees an urgent need
for the length of the day and the and northeastern farmers. to involve the rest of the industry.
amount of daylight. KDML105, Rice science in the world’s “Something has got to come
on the other hand, flowers around leading rice-exporting country now out of the hat,” he says. “We want
October, according to a specific looks to all links in the chain of the an exchange of ideas among
daily exposure to sunshine. The rice production industry in an effort millers, farmers, and researchers,
new variety also matures in to achieve a common purpose, from and we want to involve the
about two weeks’ less time than farms to export shippers. Quality, country’s policymakers.”

Rice Today January-March 2006 29


Hidden among the hillsides
of China’s Yunnan Province,
a new green revolution is
taking place as farmers
and researchers prove
that, despite long-held
pessimism, upland rice
farming can reap rewards
Peter Fredenburg

by Bob Hill

L
i Kan is a warm, convivial man. He welcomes
guests with a genuine pleasure, shooing the dogs
and chickens from the concrete courtyard of the
neat collection of brick-and-tile buildings that
make up his home before offering chairs in the

30 Rice Today January-March 2006


IRRI

Bob Hill (2)

RICE TERRACES and patchwork fields


constitute a typically stunning Yunnan
vista, which now—thanks to new
high-yielding rice varieties that produce
more rice on less land—increasingly
includes the forest that for decades
fought a losing battle with slash-and-
burn agriculture (inset). Farmer Zhao
a-Chi (above right) shows part of the
rice surplus from his upland terraces
while farmer Li Kan (below right) points
to an area near his farm once cleared
to grow upland rice, but which has now
been returned to forest.

It wasn’t always like this. A mere


decade ago, Li Kan’s family huddled
in straw-thatched poverty, barely
able to grow enough rice to feed
themselves. They were completely
without cash, without a future, and
without hope, and the memories
are too recent for comfort.
warm morning sun. At 52 years old, wife bustles happily about, pouring Li Kan’s roller-coaster farm of
he is a thin, wiry figure with a lined glasses of green tea for the guests, 2 hectares lies at an elevation of
face betraying both his years and the and his father, a tiny gnome of a 1,340 meters, in Lancang County,
harshness of his youth. But it’s a face man, hovers about with a toothless Simao Prefecture, in the endless
that lights easily with laughter. His grin and clear, twinkling eyes. mountains of China’s Yunnan

Rice Today January-March 2006 31


Province. He was one of the first to be rest of the region’s teeming humanity.
caught up in a new green revolution Most efforts to create socially
that is spreading across Yunnan’s and environmentally sustainable
fragile mountain uplands, where an agricultural systems in the Asian
estimated 1 million people depend uplands have been unsuccessful. The
upon upland rice as a staple food. incidence of poverty in the uplands
The revolution comes in the form of Lao PDR, Vietnam, and Nepal
of a new farming system, the key is much higher than the respective
component of which is a collection national averages. In remote parts
of new upland rice varieties that of many countries, inadequate
have tripled yields, and more. production can leave up to one third
Already, the new system has of the people short of rice, although

Peter Fredenburg
lifted hundreds of thousands of their countries may be rice exporters.
farmers and their families out of HIGH-YIELDING upland rice (foreground) Li Kan’s example is typical. Ten
poverty. Even more extraordinary sits next to other crops in the new—and years ago, he struggled to harvest
more diverse—agricultural system.
is the fact that changes to upland enough upland rice from 4 hectares
farming systems on the scale to feed his family. There was no room
being witnessed in Yunnan have the need for food was limited by a for other crops, no cash for the many
rarely, if ever, been achieved small population and cleared fields needs of a growing family, and no
before. The theory behind the were able to lie idle for long enough hope for a better future. Today, the
transformation has long existed, to recover. But the population grew area of his farm is halved. Some of
but its practical application has rapidly. Vast forested mountainsides the land has been allocated to others,
frustrated agricultural authorities were stripped bare with the need to some has been returned to forest.
and scientists alike in many grow more food and nature was not Yet the harvest he reaped in October
countries of the Asia Pacific region. given enough time to rejuvenate them gave him enough rice for his family of
For thousands of years, the from the depletion wrought by food six as well as a surplus of 6.4 tons of
farmers of minority ethnic groups crops and tropical sun and rain. unmilled rice that he will sell. He also
living in the highlands of countries As this “slash-and-burn” grows maize, buckwheat, soybeans,
such as China, India, Myanmar, agriculture deprived the soil of its and peas, and he owns cattle, pigs,
Thailand, Lao People’s Democratic ability to deliver enough food, vast and goats. Life is good. Better, in fact,
Republic (Lao PDR), and Vietnam and increasing numbers of people than he ever dreamed it might be.
have grown traditional varieties of were unable to feed themselves. Lancang, Li Kan’s home county,
upland rice in shifting cultivation The majestic forested mountains of is where it all began. Only about
systems. They cleared forest from the Asian uplands became endless 6% of Yunnan Province is flat, and
mountainsides, grew their rice vistas of patchwork fields, rising Lancang is typically mountainous.
and other crops until the soil was from muddy ribbons of rivers. More than 106,000 farmers live in
exhausted or competition from Reversing the situation became the county, and agricultural extension
weeds became intolerable, and a universal imperative when the workers—the people responsible for
then they cleared a new plot and environmental devastation made moving improved technologies from
moved, leaving the old one fallow. itself felt downstream—because the the research institute to farmers’
This system was sustainable while uplands of Asia provide water for the fields—estimate that about 60% of

32 Rice Today January-March 2006


THE BUMPER rice crop of October
them already practice the new system, 2005 seen here allowed farmers
with many more joining each season. to plant more land to other crops,
Yunnan’s quest for sustainable such as maize (below). Prof. Tao
agriculture in its uplands began (below left) contemplates the the
nearly 20 years ago. After decades new green revolution; IRRI Director
General Robert Zeigler (second from
of frustrating effort, it had become a bottom) shakes hands with a happy
common belief among rice breeders Yunnan farmer.
that traditional varieties of upland
rice, or rice grown on dry soil like
wheat and maize, were unable to be
“improved.” Nevertheless, a team
from the Food Crops Research
Institute at the Yunnan Academy
of Agricultural Sciences (YAAS)
set about finding and creating new
plants for the upland environment.
The Institute’s deputy director,
Professor Dayun Tao, says that in
the late 1980s it was decided the new
plants had to be shorter and more
robust, developing more tillers and
panicles than traditional varieties,
and they had to be responsive to
fertilizer and resistant to the fungal
disease known as blast. Significantly,

Peter Fredenburg
because of the vast diversity of
the upland environments, the
Sushil Pandey (3)

search was for a range of new


varieties, and not just one.
The breeding process for the
first new variety began in 1989.
Named Yunlu 29, its parents were Africa by scientists from the French
local upland varieties. The first Agricultural Research Center for
crosses for a sister variety, Yunlu 52, International Development. The
were made in 1991. The painstaking second, B6144F-MR-6, which became
breeding process took 11 years for known in Yunnan as Luyin 46, was
Yunlu 29 and 13 years for Yunlu 52. bred in Indonesia and supplied to
At the same time, two suitable, YAAS by the International Network
newly developed upland varieties for Genetic Evaluation of Rice
were found in other countries. (INGER), based at the International
The first, IRAT104, was created in Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

participants in a 2003 study


tour survey a Yunnan farm.
YUeh Kwong Leong

Rice Today January-March 2006 33


Prof. Tao now proclaims a new recent report Upland rice systems
scientific regard for dry-soil upland and farmer livelihoods in Yunnan:
rice: “People should no longer regard recent changes and impact, points
rice in the uplands as a low-yielding, out that the environmental benefits
hopeless crop. It is a high-yielding are also significant. Cropping
crop with the ability to change the has been concentrated in pockets
livelihoods of whole communities.” of good land, and many of the
“Smart” farmers—those most unfavorable patches have been set
likely to succeed—were chosen at aside for forest regeneration.

Bob Hill (3)


the beginning. They were given seed “It’s really made a big difference
for one of the varieties as well as to the government policy of
enough fertilizer to support their returning steep, sloping agricultural
first few seasons of production. lands to forest,” he says.
Importantly, the government not into maize, sugarcane, buckwheat, IRRI Director General Dr. Robert
only granted them long-term leases soybeans, peanuts, oil-seed crops, Zeigler, who visited the Yunnan
for their land but also promoted and, if they had enough water, uplands in October 2005, came
and financially supported the vegetables. They were soon able to away convinced that something
construction of cropping terraces on manage their own cropping systems momentous is taking place. “I really
sloping uplands. Then, with extension and buy their own fertilizers and think the Yunnan experience can
workers carefully guiding the efforts herbicides. Li Kan, for example, serve as a model for other upland
of the early participants, all involved uses three judicious applications of areas in the region,” he says.
encouraged other farmers to join. nitrogenous fertilizer—along with Zeigler emphasizes that YAAS
Within the first or second season, around 20 tons of organic fertilizer has shown that the pessimism
farmers were harvesting an average of (mainly animal manure)—on his regarding technological progress
300 kilograms per mu, or 4.5 tons per upland rice crops each year. The in the uplands is unwarranted. He
hectare (15 mu make up 1 hectare), of farmers are also buying chickens, hopes that the academy will join IRRI
rice from fields that earlier struggled goats, pigs, cattle, and buffaloes. in promoting the new approach.
to produce less than one-third of that More recently, they’ve been able Meanwhile, in Lancang’s
with the old traditional varieties. to build new houses and buy tractors, neighboring Menglian County,
Suddenly, food security was no longer motorcycles, home appliances— the new farming system is not
an issue. The burden of the constant, luxuries that were unthinkable just only widespread; it is sprouting
debilitating struggle by farmers a decade ago. However, lifting entire its first farming entrepreneurs.
to feed their families was lifted. communities out of poverty was not Zhao a-Chi, at just 30 years
With the guiding advice the authorities’ singular purpose. of age, is head of Man Nou village,
of extension workers and with Prof. Tao says the fundamental which nestles in a wooded valley not
transportation and marketing aim was to feed more people from far from Menglian City. Although
assured by government agencies, less land—precisely the motive that he is not yet married, Zhao a-Chi
the farmers began to diversify. Since drove the original Green Revolution supports a family of four. His farm
their staple crop could be grown on in the world’s lowlands—and to stop covers 6 mu, less than half a hectare.
much less land, they branched out encroachment into the few remaining Rather than selling his recent rice
forested areas. In surpluses, he has traded the grain
the area currently with other village families for the
covered by the new right to use some of their land
farming system, allocations to grow more rice and
the figures speak cash crops in the following season.
for themselves. Zhao a-Chi’s harvest in October
Ten years ago, 10 2005 left him with a surplus of
mu (two-thirds of 2 tons of unmilled rice. He is
1 hectare) of land also growing maize, soybeans,
was needed to feed and peanuts as cash crops.
one person. Now, He remembers when there was
that area is down not enough rice in Man Nou village
to a mere 2 to 3 to feed most of the people, when
mu per person. he labored all day to carry home 10
IRRI senior kilograms of rice in the evening,
economist Dr. when 80% of his neighbors had no
Sushil Pandey, money at all. Twenty of the village’s
lead author of the 26 families have recently built new

34 Rice Today January-March 2006


INCREASED INCOME brought by the new agricultural
system has helped 20 of the 26 resident families in Zhao
a Chi’s village of Man Nou build new houses. Zhao a-Chi
himself (opposite, top) threshes the last rice from the
October 2005 harvest while Li Yanqing (opposite, bot-
tom) rakes drying rice in the newly established village of
Huilong in Lancang County. Last year, 87 scattered farm-
ing families, all of whom have adopted the new system,
moved into new houses in the village.

houses and, working together, they to help China’s neighbors tackle their and administrators in proving
have bought a rice-milling machine own upland agricultural problems. the new farming system. Is it
and another machine for making feed In this light, IRRI is now leading sufficiently sustainable to hold on
for the growing number of livestock. a project that aims to achieve similar to the next generation of farmers,
Despite the growing success results in Lao PDR. Project leader or will their new affluence see
of the new system, Prof. Tao Pandey agrees that the Yunnan them scatter to the cities?
says his team is not yet ready to experience has rejuvenated efforts to Li Kan’s son, Kai, aged
rest on its laurels. The breeding improve agriculture in the notoriously 24, dreamed of becoming a
effort continues, particularly to difficult upland environments of the driver—any kind of driver—when
produce better varieties for higher Greater Mekong Subregion, which he was younger, and the family
altitudes. Suitability for elevation comprises Cambodia, Lao PDR, had nothing. Now, he’s Li Kan’s
tends to be a limiting factor for Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, enthusiastic right hand, driving
the new plants. Some are good as well as Yunnan Province. their own farm vehicle and happy
only up to 1,200 meters. Others “Now,” he says, “IRRI is with a future on the family farm.
begin to fade at 1,500 meters. playing the role of catalyst by Zhao a-Chi’s nephew, 20-year-old
“We want to continue to establishing a platform on which Zhao a-Jiao, however, has a different
reduce the land needed per the range of collaborators involved, view. Despite the new affluence of
person,” he says. “We’re breeding which include the Lao Ministry his father and uncle, Zhao a-Jiao has
new generations of upland rice of Agriculture, the International a rather blunt vision for his future.
varieties in the hope of reaching a Fund for Agricultural Development, “We [young people in his age
yield of 500 to 600 kilograms per provincial governments, and group] now feel that we can do
mu (7.5 to 9 tons per hectare).” YAAS, can come together.” anything we want,” he says. “I want
The senior scientists and Already, the high-yielding to do anything but work on a farm.”
extension workers in Yunnan readily varieties being tested in Lao PDR look Potential loss of its younger
concede that China’s approach to promising. Initial yields are much farming generation is far from
land ownership and communal higher than those of the farmers’ being a problem unique to
responsibility have contributed traditional varieties, even in the Yunnan, but Prof. Tao is upbeat.
significantly to the success of the new absence of fertilizer—and even in the “This system can support a
system. Nevertheless, the concept least favorable environments where new generation of farmers,” he says.
behind high-yielding upland rice people are most in need of help. “When farmers, both young and old,
varieties is equally applicable to There’s perhaps one final see the hope that this is bringing for
other countries, and YAAS is ready test for Yunnan’s scientists their future, I think they’ll stay.”

Rice Today January-March 2006 35


Beating
blast
nancy Castilla
by K.K. Jena

Combining tr aditional and modern breeding techniques, researchers in

Korea have succeeded in the perilously difficult task of making Korean

rice varieties resistant to one of the crop’s most destructive diseases

T
he rice fungal disease “South Korea suffered serious of the South Korean Rural
known as blast is a scourge yield loss due to blast in the 1990s, Development Administration (RDA).
to farmers across the primarily because of a lack of In this light, a team at the
rice-growing world. It has resistant rice varieties,” says Dr. International Rice Research Institute
been estimated that, each year, the Moon Huhn-Pal, chairman of the (IRRI)–Korea Office began in
disease kills enough rice to feed Agricultural Advisory Committee 2002 the search for a rice gene
60 million people. An outbreak that offered blast resistance and
of blast can devastate rice fields, A RICE CROP devastated by could be used to develop japonica
completely destroying crops in the neck blast is a depressing rice varieties resistant to a range of
sight for farmers, while a
most extreme cases. And, although blast types. (Japonica rice is largely
closer look at neck blast
it thrives in the humid tropics (see (top) shows how the fungal grown in temperate regions, as
Improving the sacred on pages 24- disease cripples its victim. opposed to indica varieties, which
29), blast is also a major problem in tend to be grown in the tropics.)
K.K. Jena (2)

temperate countries such as Korea The researchers knew from


and Japan, and those in central Asia. the outset that the project would

36 Rice Today January-March 2006


be a great challenge. Japonica rice then perform a technique known
germplasm (seeds and the genetic as marker-assisted selection (see
material they contain) has very On your mark, get set, select! in
narrow genetic diversity—finding a Rice Today Vol. 3, No. 3, pages 28-
reliable genetic source of resistance 29), which allows rapid screening
to different types of the blast of large numbers of plants. After
fungus Pyricularia grisea would characteristics. Finding a source several hundred crosses were
prove difficult. Moreover, the of blast resistance is hard enough; made between the Korean japonica
complex life cycle of the fungus putting it into the genome of Korean variety and the donor indica variety,
makes it necessary to develop rice varieties multiplies the difficulty marker-assisted selection was used
varieties with durable resistance again. In many cases, japonica to identify which of the crosses had
to blast that are appropriate for genomes will reject a gene from inherited the blast resistance gene.
commercial cultivation but won’t an indica genome because the The researchers then studied
damage the environment. combination causes hybrid sterility. the most resistant new japonica
Rice blast occurs in two forms: The solution is to find a plants in more detail, evaluating
leaf blast and neck (or panicle) suitable japonica and donor indica their agronomic traits, grain
blast (photos). The first phase of combination. The researchers quality traits, and the durability of
the project was to find suitable approached the challenge with their resistance. Suitable japonica
germplasm that could donate reliable both conventional breeding breeding lines with strong blast
resistance genes into the resistance- (crossing different varieties) and resistance are now in the pipeline.
gene-deficient japonica varieties. molecular breeding (examining and Although these will initially be most
The researchers began by exposing a manipulating specific parts of the useful in the temperate regions
number of rice varieties—including genome in the laboratory—although where japonica rice grows best, the
traditional Korean varieties, breeding this can include genetic engineering, prized new germplasm can also help
lines that had had genes from wild the IRRI-Korea team did not employ researchers in tropical countries
rice species bred into them, and genetic engineering techniques). In where rice blast is a problem.
other japonica varieties—to 15 this way, they introduced the gene Ultimately, the new breeding
types of blast that cause the disease
frequently in japonica varieties.
Initially, the scientists inoculated
20-day-old seedlings with different
blast types and, after seven days,
studied the resultant blast-caused
lesions. One indica rice variety was
not affected by any of the types of
blast, ultimately showing strong
resistance to more than 30 Korean
blast types and ten Philippine blast
types and so proving itself the
leading candidate as a new source of
blast resistance. Next, the challenge
IRRI-Korea Office

was to get the blast resistance


gene from the indica variety into
Korean japonica rice varieties—
something easier said than done. EXAMINING THE REACTION to blast of newly developed resistant rice lines are (from left) Korean National
“While incorporating the new Institute of Crop Science rice pathologist S.S. Han, IRRI plant pathologist C. Vera Cruz, IRRI plant breeder
K.K. Jena, and IRRI–Korea Office scientist J.U. Jeung. A rice leaf (top) exhibits dreaded leaf blast symptoms.
gene for blast resistance into the
Korean cultivars, we need to retain
the grain quality characteristics into several japonica varieties and lines will allow the production of
of japonica rice that Korean rice were able to pinpoint the gene’s commercial rice varieties that give
consumers demand,” explains position in the rice genome. farmers the chance to cultivate high-
Dr. Choi Hae-Chun, senior rice One of the most important and yielding rice with good grain quality
breeder at the RDA’s National difficult tasks is to link the resistance and remain confident that they can
Institute of Crop Science. gene with a DNA marker—a segment keep the scourge of rice blast at bay.
The task, therefore, was to of DNA that is linked to an allele
introduce a new blast resistance (version of a gene) that controls an Dr. Jena, IRRI country representative for
Korea and senior scientist, plant breeding,
gene into a Korean rice variety and important trait and can easily be led the IRRI-Korea team that developed the
retain all the desirable japonica detected in the lab. Researchers can new blast-resistant japonica rice varieties.

Rice Today January-March 2006 37


research!
It’s not all about the

by Mark Bell

The International Rice Research Institute is, as its

name suggests, renowned for its research. But, for

more than 40 years, it has also trained scientists

to make sure that research has impact

W
iping the sweat from this to the thousands of in-country latest techniques; group training
his eyes, the trainee participants and the extent of IRRI courses, including study tours; and
thought, “Why have training has been remarkable. But collaborative in-country courses.
I come all this way to do these numbers really represent A key concept in IRRI training is
IRRI to plod through impact? Anecdotal analysis, for a that it is integrated with research, not
the mud in the name of training?” start, suggests there is little doubt done as an activity on the side. In this
When training first started at the as to the impact of IRRI training. way, the topics emerge from IRRI’s
International Rice Research Institute Leaders of national agricultural collaborative research with national
(IRRI) in 1964, it aimed to meet the research and extension systems partners and, as a result, remain
basic rice production knowledge (NARES)—often previous recipients focused and relevant. Indeed, most
needs. At that time, national of IRRI training themselves— participants come from collaborative
agricultural research programs had regularly call for the continuation of projects. One great advantage in
few trained scientists. There was training and highlight the importance this is that these participants can
an urgent need for a combination of of IRRI training in helping them return home and immediately
both scientific method and, in the achieve their national rice production apply the skills they have learned.
face of rapidly increasing populations and environmental goals. This integrated approach
and an urgent need to increase IRRI offers four basic types to course identification and
rice yields, practical expertise. A of programs: degree scholarships development ensures that IRRI’s
generation of researchers had to be (M.Sc. and Ph.D.); on-the-job training topics are diverse and
developed and developed quickly. training fellowships that allow dynamic. Courses range from the
Key to success at that time was participants to work alongside two-week Rice Production Course to
an understanding of the needs and IRRI scientists and learn the courses on molecular engineering.
a consequent clear focus. Research
skills had to be developed but they
had to be grounded in the reality of
rice production. As a result, many if
not most of the early courses involved
considerable hands-on rice farming.
Jump ahead four decades to the
present and you can see the impact
that training has had. In the past 41
years, IRRI has seen trainees attend
Teresa Clabita

just short of 15,000 courses at its


headquarters in Los Baños alone. Add

38 Rice Today January-March 2006


be measured at different levels. Sowing seeds, reaping rewards
For example, several IRRI alumni

D
r. Achmad M. Fagi
have gone on to become high- first arrived at IRRI
ranking agricultural officials in in 1971 for three

Ariel Javellana (2)


their countries such as ministers, months as a 30-year-old
secretaries, and directors, as well rice field experimentation
as leading scientists and influential trainee. He returned in
1974 to embark on two
figures. In general, though, the years as a Masters’ student enrolled at the
value of training is reflected in the University of the Philippines, Los Baños, and
development of NARES capacity, the once more in 1977 for three years as a Ph.D.
consequent increase in rice yields student, working under IRRI agronomist Dr.
over time, and the continued ability S.K. De Datta. Now, 25 years later, he sits on
the institute’s board of trustees. Following
of IRRI trainees to respond to new his time at IRRI, the Indonesian national
challenges. It is also clear that, with followed a steadily rising career path. His work
the emergence of many top-class subsequently took him from junior through
universities, especially in Asia, IRRI’s senior research positions to his current role as
role in training continues to evolve. senior researcher for the Agency for Agricultural
PARTICIPANTS in IRRI’s rice production Research and Development in the Indonesian
course learn how to prepare a seedling
Today, IRRI’s core training Ministry of Agriculture. His research efforts,
nursery, while trainees (below) share a joke objectives are to develop competent especially on water reservoirs for the rainfed
Lauro Atienza

in the Leadership Course for Asian Women in rice professionals that make lowlands, the rice-fish system, and effective
Research, Development, and Extension. use of current best practices; to and efficient use of fertilizer, have made major
provide needs-driven training contributions to integrated crop management,
which now has national support in Indonesia.
that is timely, is relevant, and uses Dr. Siene Sapanthong is
appropriate teaching methodologies; another IRRI alumnus who has
Training at IRRI centers around and to collaborate with NARES gone on to play an influential
the Training Center team, which has to support and strengthen role in Asian agriculture.
several roles: facilitating, providing their training programs. After spending almost a year
at the institute in 1973 as
management support, providing An effective training organization a nondegree scholar, also under De Datta,
training method consultation, and is able to position itself to benefit he became head of the Soil Division at the
capturing materials in an appropriate from new technologies and ideas. Vientiane College of Agriculture. From there,
educational form. As part of this The emergence of information and Siene progressed steadily to his current position
process, the Training Center employs communication technology was as minister for agriculture and forestry in Lao
PDR, and he too sat on IRRI’s board, serving two
innovative participatory learning hailed as offering a revolution in terms from 1996 to 2001. In his earlier role as
methodologies and approaches. training. IRRI was quick to see the vice minister, Siene strongly supported the Lao-
To keep trainees engaged, the possibilities of the technology and IRRI Rice Research and Training Project in its
Training Center team ensures moved to capture the benefits. The early stages—a big factor in the project gaining
that courses are interactive and result of this, IRRI’s Rice Knowledge momentum and ultimately having a huge impact
on rice farming in Lao PDR.
that participants have a say in the Bank (www.knowledgebank.irri.org),
day-to-day course organization. was launched in 2002 and offered
IRRI’s training philosophy can be what many were simply talking and this is increasingly the case in
summed up by the old saying “Tell about—a repository of up-to-date developing, as well as developed,
me and I forget, teach me and I information for practical solutions countries. IRRI’s approach is to
learn, engage me and I remember.” to the farming and research needs balance face-to-face approaches
NARES partners continually of the rice farmers, researchers, with online approaches. While the
provide information on their needs. and extension agents of Asia. Internet is often excellent for finding
These requests are integrated with The Rice Knowledge Bank specific answers to specific questions,
the perceptions of the individual rapidly established itself as a source more intensive education requires
IRRI scientists to produce an annual of credible, focused, demand-driven socialization and interaction. Thus,
training plan. This plan builds on material. It covered the entire rice blended approaches that combine
the traditionally strong courses spectrum, from “What is golden online media with person-to-person
while allowing flexibility to respond rice?” to “How to transplant and methods will play an increasing
to new demands. For example, harvest your crop.” Furthermore, all role in IRRI’s training agenda.
issues such as grain quality and of IRRI’s training course materials
intellectual property rights have are captured and made available Dr. Bell is a consultant to IRRI and former
emerged as major new topics. through the Rice Knowledge Bank. head, IRRI International Programs
The impact of IRRI training The Internet is already playing Management Office and Training Center.
is currently undergoing formal a critical role in the timely delivery For more on training, see Training
documentation, but impact can of knowledge to its target audience— for greater impact on page 42.

Rice Today January-March 2006 39


A challenge...
Helping Africa
produce more rice

40 Rice Today January-March 2006


RICE FACTS

Rice in Africa
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by Mahabub Hossain
Head, IRRI Social Sciences Division ���

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Can rice help reduce hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa? ���
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frica is labeled as a “poverty demand is increasingly out-

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able progress has been made per capita rice consumption in Figure 2. Trend in rice yield, Africa, 1970-2004.
Source: FAO, 2005
in reducing poverty in other regions Asia is declining, it is growing
of the developing world, the number in sub-Saharan Africa—where, in
of African people living on less than 1990-2003, rice consumption grew greatly to food security in Asia with
one dollar per day has increased, 3.2% per year compared with annual minimal expansion of cultivated area.
especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The production growth of only 2.4%. Average yield increased margin-
region, which includes countries in As a result, rice imports have ally from 1.33 t/ha in 1970 to 1.64
central, eastern, western, and south- grown rapidly. The share of imported t/ha in 1990, but in many areas has
ern Africa, is now the main focus of rice relative to total rice consumed since stagnated or even declined
overseas development assistance. grew from 32% in 1990 to 45% in (Figure 2). Nigeria’s dramatic yield
Rice is grown on 8.5 million 2003, and the volume of imports decline, from 1.75 t/ha in 1996 to
hectares in sub-Saharan Africa increased 5.6% per year. Sub-Sa- 0.96 t/ha in 2004, occurred de-
(Figure 1), equal to 5.5% of global haran Africa now accounts for a spite the successful release of the
rice area. Almost all of the region’s quarter of the global import market drought- and weed-tolerant NERICA
38 countries grow rice, but two and hosts some of the world’s largest (New Rice for Africa) varieties.
countries, Nigeria and Madagascar, rice-importing countries. In 2003, The main constraint to increasing
account for 60% of the rice land. 11 sub-Saharan countries imported rice productivity in Africa is the dom-
Nine other countries grow rice on more than 200,000 tons of rice, with inance of unfavorable rice-growing
over 100,000 hectares, including Nigeria importing 1.64 million tons, environments. Just over half of Asia’s
Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire. In most up from 224,000 tons in 1990. rice is grown in irrigated conditions,
of these countries, more than 40% The consequently large expen- whereas only 10% of Africa’s rice
of the population lives in poverty. diture on rice removes financial area is irrigated. In African countries
A shift in consumer prefer- resources that could otherwise be where rice is grown mostly in irri-
ences—driven by rapid urbanization used to fund much-needed infra- gated lowlands, yields, at more than
and women’s growing participa- structure development. Therefore, 4.5 t/ha, are comparable with those
tion in the formal labor force—away many African governments are now of Asia. But the predominant ecosys-
from traditional staples of cassava, looking to increase rice production, tem in Africa comprises uplands with
sorghum, millet, and maize toward to both enhance food security and infertile and toxic soils—an ecosys-
rice and wheat, combined with high save foreign exchange (or currency). tem in which Asia, too, has failed to
population growth, means that rice However, efforts to increase rice significantly increase productivity.
production and productiv- Rice is uniquely adapted to
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ity have had limited success, flooded lowland ecosystems where
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lion hectares in 1970 to 8.5 gies should therefore be a central
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million hectares in 2004, but element in increasing African
����� the average rice yield remains rice productivity and production.
����� low at 1.5 tons per hectare (t/ There is vast potential for expan-
ha)—40% of the average yield sion of lowland rice cultivation in

in Asia. Yields have barely inland river valleys in sub-Saharan
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increased over the past three Africa. This should be explored


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decades—a period when the if rice is to contribute to reduc-
Figure 1. Trend in rice area, Africa, 1970-2004. Green Revolution contributed ing African hunger and poverty.
Source: FAO, 2005

Rice Today January-March 2006 41


grain of truth
Training
for greater
David Shires impact
R
ice research can play a major role in achieving many of that includes the necessary personal, management, and com-
the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals munication skills in concert with the requisite technical skills.
(MDGs), particularly those that call for the eradication of Only when these skills are learned together—and in the context
poverty and hunger, and for environmental sustainability. The In- of farmers’ needs and community circumstances—can we be sure
ternational Rice Research Institute (IRRI) conducts research that of effective, sustainable implementation.
regularly leads to validated technologies that have the potential to This type of encompassing approach can only be achieved by
improve rice farming and so contribute to the MDGs. a new and enhanced relationship between the IRRI science com-
The argument for rice research goes something like this: munity and the available training expertise. We need to develop
as more farmers use improved technologies, their communities approaches that allow training participants to interact with the
achieve better food security while their income increases, thereby technical content and discuss, debate, and discover ways to in-
improving the livelihoods of those farmers corporate it into their own environments.
and their communities. A sound argument Once participants have determined how
indeed, but to realize the potential of the
Researchers and trainers who the new knowledge fits into their environ-
research, the effective transfer of these ment, additional training and support can
new technologies onto farms is vital. “Ef-
implement new technologies provide the detailed technical and general
fective,” in this sense, means that farmers skills required for implementation.
understand both the new technology and
should teach management and This does not mean that the existing
the technology’s effect on their farms. range of technical seminars and training
Crucially, farmers must feel compelled
communication skills as well as events are not useful—on the contrary,
and sufficiently skilled to implement they will continue to give NARES scien-
the technology. At this point, a training
technical knowledge. Only when these tists the opportunity to dip into the pool
agenda—as opposed to a research agen- of scientific knowledge within the IRRI
da—becomes key to the successful transfer
are learned together and in context scientific community. But, when a new
of the new technologies and a requirement technology needs to be delivered to farm-
for maximizing their impact.
can we be sure of effective and ers, a different form of training is required
To obtain sustainable impact from if it is to achieve its potential impact. This
the results of a research agenda, tech-
sustainable adoption of technology training is based on the learning theory of
nical knowledge, although vital, is not constructivism, which allows learners to
enough. “Training for greater impact” integrate new information into their own
must incorporate not only technical knowledge but also the range existing framework of knowledge, in their own time.
of associated skills needed for implementing the new technolo- As a research institute, IRRI is expected by its donors to do
gies. These skills include personal attitudes, project design and just that—research. IRRI does not have a mandate to focus on the
management, time management, and effective communication. extension process of training farmers to incorporate new technolo-
Often, these additional skills are overlooked or forgotten because gies into their farming systems. This is a job for the NARES, whose
science communities such as IRRI’s—where such skills are part staff understand the issues on the ground in their own countries.
and parcel of everyday life—sometimes take them for granted. But Where IRRI can play a role, however, is in training the people who
these attitudes and skills form a “hidden” agenda that should be will themselves carry out the extension and training.
incorporated into technology transfer. By rigorously addressing the form and structure of training,
Validated scientific content, which forms the basis of new IRRI can increase the impact of its vast store of research results
technologies, is created by IRRI scientists working with their and further justify an expanding research agenda.
partners from the national agricultural research and extension
systems (NARES). The challenge of “training for greater impact” David Shires is a training consultant for IRRI’s Training Center and
is to expand training from individual technical events to training International Programs Management Office.

42 Rice Today January-March 2006


Rice Today January-March 2006 43
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44 Rice Today January-March 2006


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