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International Rice Research Institute July-September 2006, Vol. 5, No. 3 e

Rice trade liberalization

Examining a tricky issue

New environment section

Can high food production
and biodiversity coexist?

The future of rice in Asia

Inspiring youth to stay in the industry

ISSN 1655-5422
Vol. 5, No. 3

Editorial ................................................................. 4 Korea-IRRI collaboration multiplies

Fighting climate change benefits ............................................................. 15
The Top Rice Project, launched in 2005, aims
to develop and popularize high-quality
News . ........................................................................ 5 rice in Korea
Climate Change initiative ramps up
Rice Knowledge Bank recognized Tricks of the trade ............................................ 16
OSCAR vs. weeds In Asia, the question of whether or not to liberalize
Postharvest training goes digital rice trade is a vexing one. If liberalization is to
occur at all, it needs to happen gradually and with
Bangladeshi food security an understanding of how people—especially the
China protects new plant varieties poor—will be affected
Archaeological finds in China and Japan
Reducing grain shattering Snapshot ..........................................................20-21
Managing sheath blight A different kind of rice landscape
African rice news
Trade perspectives ............................................ 22
Opportunities beyond growing rice—a farmer’s
People ...................................................................... 9 perspective
Rice genetics pioneer passes away
Trade liberalization—an agricultural economist’s
Keeping up with IRRI staff perspective
Achievements Environment ........................................................ 34
Balanced on a wing. Although seemingly at odds, rice
A rice future for Asia ....................................... 25 production and biodiversity conservation can exist
News features ..................................................... 10 Thai and Filipino high school students come together together—the trick is to find the right balance
Setting the rice agenda to help ensure the rice industry’s future in Asia,
Breeding rice for rainfed ecosystems sparking new friendships—and friendly rivalries—
along the way Rice Facts . ............................................................. 37
Do rice prices affect malnutrition in the poor? Cheaper
Virtual Challenges ........................................... 12 rice can help break the cycle of poverty and
In the fast-changing world of the digital era, the Steinbeck and a calling ................................... 28 malnutrition
world’s foremost collection of information on rice Noel Magor’s focus on marginal farmers in Bangladesh
and rice research is moving with the times derives from his childhood on a modest Australian
farm, his experience of famine in Ethiopia, and a Grain of Truth . ................................................... 38
classic tale of dust bowl America Are we at risk from metal contamination in rice?
Maps . ...................................................................... 14
False color gives a true impression
Pest by pest, step by step .................................. 30
Cambodian researchers are set to increase their
understanding of rice diseases as part of a project
that could help lift the country off the lower rungs
of Asia’s rice yield ladder

Diagnosing drought . ....................................... 32

Improved methods of measuring how rice plants
On the cover:
Leenlada "Oom" Monpo, a
respond to drought in the field are helping Thai high school student,
scientists discover how and why some varieties learns how to prepare a
tolerate water shortages better than others— ricefield for transplanting
knowledge that will ultimately help farmers at IRRI headquarters.
withstand the cruel vagaries of the weather See page 25.

cover photo Jose Raymond Panaligan International Rice Research Institute

publisher Duncan Macintosh DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
editor Adam Barclay Web (IRRI):
art director Juan Lazaro IV Web (Library):
designer and production supervisor George Reyes Web (Rice Knowledge Bank):
contributing editors Gene Hettel, Bill Hardy
news editor Juanito Goloyugo Rice Today editorial
photo editor Ariel Javellana telephone (+63-2) 580-5600 or (+63-2) 844-3351 to 53, ext 2725;
photo researcher Jose Raymond Panaligan fax: (+63-2) 580-5699 or (+63-2) 845-0606; email:
circulation Chrisanto Quintana
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 13 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
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the CGIAR Web site (
Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2006
Climate Change initiative ramps up

N ew evidence is emerging that climate

change could reduce not only the
world’s ability to produce food but also in-
confirmed that global warming will make
rice crops less productive, with increasing
temperatures decreasing yields.
ternational efforts to cut poverty. However, “Clearly, climate change is going to
the recent sequencing of the rice genome is have a major impact on our ability to grow
already providing researchers with some of rice,” IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler
the tools they need to help poor rice farm- said. “We can’t afford to sit back and be
ers and consumers avoid the worst effects complacent about this because rice produc-
of the problem. tion feeds almost half the world’s population
The new knowledge generated by the while providing vital employment to mil-
sequencing effort is allowing scientists to lions as well, with most of them being very
develop new rice varieties faster and with poor and vulnerable.”
the specific characteristics needed to deal Dr. Zeigler announced at the workshop
with climate change, such as tolerance of that IRRI was ready to put up US$2 million

Ariel Javellana
higher temperatures. However, scientists of its own research funds as part of an effort
are calling for more research to fully under- to raise $25 million for a major five-year
stand the impact of climate change—espe- project to mitigate the effects of climate
cially the extreme weather it may cause—on change on rice production. “We need to start
international efforts to reduce poverty and developing rice varieties that can tolerate research and policy directions and priori-
ensure food security. higher temperatures and other aspects of ties.
A Climate Change and Rice planning climate change right now,” he said. IRRI’s senior climate change re-
workshop in March 2006 at the Interna- “Fortunately, the recent sequencing of searcher, John Sheehy, told the workshop
tional Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the the rice genome will allow us to do this much that poor farmers need help in several chal-
Philippines was told that climate change is faster than we could have in the past,” Dr. lenging new areas. “We need to develop rice
already affecting Asia’s ability to produce Zeigler added. “But, in addition to new rice varieties tolerant of higher temperatures
rice, and that this could eventually slow ef- varieties, we must develop other technolo- that can maintain yield and quality when
forts to reduce poverty in the region, where gies that will help poor rice farmers deal extreme temperatures occur,” Dr. Sheehy
most of the world’s poor live. with climate change.” said. “We also need rice varieties that can
The workshop was informed that, to The proposal plans include three sites take advantage of higher levels of CO2 in the
overcome many of the climate change-re- on at-risk rice lands in the Philippines, atmosphere, rice that is vigorous enough
lated problems facing rice production in southern China, and northern India. Re- to recover quickly from extreme weather
Asia—and continue to meet the demand searchers will use data from these sites to events and disasters, and very high-yielding
for rice in the region—yields will have to construct models designed to predict the rice that will provide a supply buffer for poor
double over the next 50 years. Research has effects of climate change and help develop communities during periods of change.”

Rice Knowledge Bank recognized OSCAR vs. weeds

I RRI’s digital extension ser-

vice, the Rice Knowledge Bank
(RKB; www.knowledgebank.irri.
A new technology called OSCAR—Open-
Source Simple Computer for Agriculture
in Rural Areas—promises to help farmers
org), was selected as a finalist in the Indo-Gangetic Plains identify and
in the 2006 Stockholm Challenge Awards. eliminate weeds in their fields. The soft-
The awards, in their sixth year, recognize ware, which has a database of 50 different
some of the world’s best information and weed species found in the Indo-Gangetic
communication technology (ICT) projects Plains, was set to be updated with 250 more
for social and economic development. The varieties of such unwanted plants found in
awards aim to find examples of ICT projects the region.
that show clear benefits to people and their “The project builds an open-source
communities, wide impact, and sustainable weed identification system for major weed
Ma. Angie Maghuyop
Gina Zarsadias

business models. The RKB, entered in the species for rice-wheat cropping systems of
demonstrates the RKB
Economic Development category, was one on board an ICT Road Indo-Gangetic Plains covering India, Paki-
of 151 finalists chosen from 1,155 entries. Show bus. stan, Nepal, and Bangladesh,” Rice-Wheat
The eventual winner in the RKB’s category Consortium for the Indo-Gangetic Plains
was India’s “ITC eChoupal,” which uses ence and Technology’s (DOST) Mobile Head Raj Gupta said. The French Institute
ICT to help improve the competitiveness of Information Technology Classroom—a bus of Pondicherry initiated the project in
small-farmer agriculture and enhance rural that in March and April toured the Philip- collaboration with the consortium, Inter-
prosperity. Information about all finalists pines as part of the K-AgriNet ICT Road national Centre for Agricultural Research
is available at http://event.stockholmchal- Show. The Road Show is promoting the and Development (CIRAD by its French use of computers and the Internet to local acronym) of France, and the Netherlands-
IRRI training staff also took the RKB government officials, agricultural extension based Wageningen University.
aboard the Philippine Department of Sci- workers, and farmers.

Rice Today July-September 2006 

Postharvest training goes digital China protects new plant
Participants were enthusiastic about
the computer-based e-learning, which was
part of the overall course on improving
postharvest management and technology
T he Chinese Ministry of Agriculture
(MOA) announced in Beijing that China
today ranks fourth in the world in applica-
to increase grain quality and reduce post- tions for protecting new agricultural plant
harvest losses, hence increasing income. varieties as it tightens its regulations against
In developing countries, inadequate post- counterfeit goods and new plant varieties as
harvest practices are estimated to result in part of the country’s intellectual property
Martin Gummert

a 10–15% loss in quantity and a 25–50% rights protection strategy. According to a

loss in value. report carried by the Xinhua news agency
The participants—23 in Myanmar on 24 April 2006, China has received 3,207
and 18 in Laos—included extension work- applications for protecting new plant variet-

F or the first time ever, electronic learn-

ing (e-learning) has featured in an IRRI
postharvest training course. Postharvest
ers, researchers, manufacturers, and rice
millers. The course included hands-on
exercises on drying and milling systems and
ies, including 114 applications from foreign
entities. The MOA said more than 700 ap-
plications have been approved.
management for improved quality of rice demonstrations of how to set up hermetic China signed the International Conven-
grain and seed, conducted by Martin Gum- storage. Gummert also trained participants tion for the Protection of New Varieties of
mert of IRRI’s Agricultural Engineering to analyze rice seed and grain quality with Plants in 1999, becoming the 39th member
Unit and Geert Claessens of IRRI’s Training simple tools such as a weighing scale, a of the International Union for the Protection
Center, was held in Myanmar on 24-26 April thermometer, and a low-cost IRRI-designed of New Varieties of Plants. China refers to
and Laos on 10-12 May. moisture meter. a new plant variety as a cultivated or de-
veloped new plant variety based on a wild
Bangladeshi food security In light of PETRRA’s success, the plant, which is new, distinct, uniform, and
European Union is funding the Food Secu- stable, with a designated name. No one is

P overty Elimination Through Rice Re-

search Assistance (PETRRA), a five-
year project funded by the Department for
rity for Sustainable Household Livelihoods
(FoSHoL) project—coordinated by IRRI and
key NGOs—to deliver PETRRA technologies
allowed to grow or sell these new varieties
without the owner’s permission.
In the last 7 years, the government has
International Development of the United across Bangladesh, where around half the organized more than 30 training programs
Kingdom and managed by IRRI in close population lives below the poverty line of to increase the public’s knowledge on plant
partnership with the Bangladesh Rice Re- US$1 per day, most of them in rural areas. breeders’ rights, and issued laws and regula-
search Institute (BRRI), the Bangladesh The project target is to reach at least 50,000 tions to fight against illegal cases violating
Ministry of Agriculture, and the resource- food-insecure households. For more infor- those rights. More than 800 violation cases
poor rice farmers of Bangladesh, ended in mation, visit the recently launched FoSHoL have been investigated, 460 of which were
August 2004. at taken to court.

No to rice futures trading sutom, head of Thailand’s Foreign Trade to emergency cases occurring in member
The Japanese agriculture ministry has Department under the Trade Ministry, said countries.
disapproved plans by the Tokyo Grain Ex- the bilateral cooperation would include
change and Kansai Commodities Exchange support by Thailand to improve the quality Forbidden seeds
to list rice futures contracts for trading on of Vietnamese rice in aspects of harvesting, The trading of any strain of genetically
an experimental basis, saying this would storing, selling, and transportation. The two modified (GM) rice is strictly prohibited
gravely affect rice production and distribu- nations are creating and applying a general in China until it has passed a safety as-
tion. Japan initiated rice futures trading marketing strategy on a trial basis, which sessment, Director Fang Xiangdong of the
in the 18th century and terminated it in could later be applied by the world’s top Ministry of Agriculture’s Biosafety Office
1939. five exporters, including China, Pakistan, said in reaction to Greenpeace China’s al-
and India. legations of illegal commercialization of
Highest Cambodian production pest-resistant GM rice cultivated and sold
Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Cam- Emergency rice in Central China’s Hubei Province over the
bodia’s nearly 6 million metric tons of rice Vietnam has contributed 14,000 tons of rice past two years.
harvest in 2005, the best harvest in 27 years, to the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve
representing a 43% increase over 2004 and (EAERR), a regional cooperation program Mice, rice enemy number 1
a surplus of more than 2 million metric among China, Republic of Korea, and Japan, Scientists from Vietnam, Australia, and
tons above the needed rice for domestic which aims to assist member countries cope IRRI recently held a meeting to implement
consumption, reported. with difficulties caused by natural disasters a US$556,500 project, funded by the Aus-
and disease. Of the 337,000 tons of rice tralian Centre for International Agricultural
Joint forces in rice exports reserved so far, 87,000 tons come from Research, to control mice in the Cuu Long reported on 18 April 2006 that countries of the Association of Southeast (Mekong) Delta, Vietnam’s central-coastal
Vietnam and Thailand agreed to strengthen Asian Nations and 250,000 tons from region, and southern Sulawesi in Indonesia.
their rice exports to stabilize rice prices in Japan. EAERR is now formulating regula- Mice destroy 15% of the rice produced annu-
the international market. Rachane Potjana- tions on rice aid action to quickly respond ally in the Southeast Asian region. The proj-

 Rice Today July-September 2006

Archaeological finds in China and Japan Managing sheath blight

L arge quantities of rice said to be more

than 3,000 years old have been un-
earthed in Zhongshui town in Guizhou
into the evolution of rice strains.
Meanwhile, archaeologists in Japan
have unearthed an ancient wooden strip
S cientists from
the Tamil
Nadu Agricul-
Province by archaeologists in China. Xin- at the Shimoda Higashi archaeological re- tural University,
hua news agency quoted researcher Zhao mains bearing inscriptions of rice growing India, are under-
Zhijun of the Archaeology Institute of the from seed to harvest. The archaeological taking a study on
Chinese Academy of Social Science saying, find, measuring 36.8 centimeters long and managing sheath
“The rice was found in numerous pits and 11.1 centimeters wide, dates back to the early blight disease in
it’s believed to be upland rice, since the rice 9th century and bears characters written rice through ge-
grains are much smaller and rice shoots are in Chinese ink. Ancient history professor netic engineering.
much shorter than those of paddy rice.” The Takehiko Yoshimura of Meiji University The authors of the
discovery, which showed the systematic said the strip indicated the role of women study, Engineer-
cultivation of rice in China more than 3,000 in growing rice and seedlings, the Yomiuri ing sheath blight
years ago, would provide valuable insights Shimbun reported. resistance in elite
indica rice culti-
vars using genes

Reducing grain shattering encoding defense
proteins, which appeared in the journal

S cientists from Michigan State Uni- determined rice chromosome 4 as being Plant Science, aim to develop rice cultivars
versity led by plant biology associate responsible for the reduced shattering. with enhanced resistance to sheath blight
professor Tao Sang, while undertaking Then, plant biology research associate by genetically transforming high-yielding
rice domestication research, have identi- Changbao Li invented a process that al- indica rice cultivars with a rice gene that
fied for the first time the genetic mutation lowed researchers to efficiently complete encodes a protein. Pathogenesis-related
that reduces grain shattering, a feat that the screening of 12,000 seedlings. proteins can enhance plant resistance to
could help improve rice production. The Science Express quoted Rich pathogens when overexpressed.
researchers pinpointed a mutation in Triemer, chairperson of the Department The researchers, led by Krishnan
DNA causing an amino acid change in a of Plant Biology: “By tracing the breed- Kalpana, revealed that the engineered rice
protein responsible for the nonshattering ing of rice and identifying the genetic had increased resistance to the rice fungus
of rice varieties. mutations, the researchers have opened Rhizoctonia solani when compared with
According to the electronic publica- new doors to the science community nontransformed plants. In addition to
tion Science Express, which published that benefit the world through a more sheath blight resistance, they found that
the article Rice domestication by re- effective use of the land and water used the transgenic lines were also resistant to
ducing shattering, the researchers first to grow rice.” the rice sheath rot pathogen, Sarocladium

ect, to be completed in 2009, will be carried rice production. Speaking at a workshop on tant. One can take out the groundwater
out jointly by the Australian Commonwealth scaling up of technologies to improve rural and use it for irrigation. Even if the water
Scientific and Industrial Research Organisa- livelihood organized by the Birsa Agricul- dries up, the rain, which comes for a short
tion, IRRI, and the Vietnamese Department ture University, in collaboration with IRRI period, can replenish the groundwater stock
for Plant Protection, the Vietnam News and the state’s agriculture department, Dr. for further use.”
Agency said. Hossain told The Telegraph: “Jharkhand
is mainly dependent on rains for irrigation Clean boots for good crops
Irrigation rehab purposes. Even the Philippines has similar Farmers in the Cordilleras in northern Lu-
Restoration work on the Philippines’ na- problems. The farmers depend on rains or zon, Philippines, were advised to regularly
tional and communal irrigation systems is canals that often dry up during summer. wash their boots because their soles and
in full blast in response to President Gloria Therefore, groundwater becomes impor- edges could transport pathogens or disease-
Macapagal Arroyo’s goal of attaining rice causing organisms to their crops. Rhodesia
self-sufficiency by year 2009. The project Celoy-Manzan, an IRRI assistant scientist
is expected to restore the productiveness of who specializes in molecular genetics, ex-
some 12,475 hectares of agricultural lands plained to farmers gathered at the Benguet
and benefit 21,500 farmers nationwide. State University that rubber boots, when
Agriculture Secretary Domingo Panganiban soiled and muddy, could become potentially
said that the nationwide rehabilitation will hazardous in moving potent organisms from
result in “the efficient delivery and distribu- farm to farm and affect the natural balance
tion of irrigation water.” between pathogenic (disease-causing) and
beneficial organisms on farmlands. Her
Groundwater for rice production advice also goes to some 300,000 farmers
Mahabub Hossain, head of IRRI’s Social Sci- in 13 towns of the province, according to a
Gene Hettel

ences Division, has advised the Jharkhand report from online news agency
government in India to tap groundwater for on 21 April 2006.

Rice Today July-September 2006 

Gambia’s Central River Divi- Ugandan farmers with NERICA seeds
sion by building a tidal ir- and necessary training at a Farmers’ Field
rigation system in the area to School, an FAO training system to raise the
enable farmers to grow rice technical knowledge of farmers.
and other crops throughout A Japanese government statement
the year. About 4,000 farmers said, “In concrete terms, NERICA IV, whose
will benefit from the project, unit crop yields are 30% higher than local
enabling each to cultivate 24 rice and whose growth to harvest is 20–30%
to 26 hectares of land, the faster, will be cultivated on a total of 1,000
Daily Observer reported on hectares of fields in the eastern, central,
16 February 2006. and western parts of the country. Farmers
of 6,000 households will be provided with
Conserving dollar the seed, fertilizer, and pedal threshers.
reserves They will also receive training in sowing and

T he governor of Nigeria’s
Osun State, Prince Olagun-
fertilizing for cultivation and postharvest
techniques after threshing. Farmers will also

soye Oyinlola, has advocated learn about self production of seed and the
African rice news a stop to rice importation to distribution system.”
conserve and harness much-needed foreign Meanwhile, NERICA has taken its
Nutrition revolution for Africa reserves during the inauguration of two roots in The Gambia because of its wider

A bout 100 leading scientists and poli-

cymakers from Africa met in Kenya
to discuss new technologies for fighting
committees on the Presidential Initiative on
Rice Production. Prince Olagunsoye assured
government support for rice processors in
range of adoption in most Gambian soils,
especially on loamy clay soil, with good
vigorous growth. Its importance is also at-
malnutrition and improving health. The sourcing modern processing equipment tributed to increased consumption due to
Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa by linking them to areas to obtain credit. rapid population growth and the low level
and HarvestPlus cohosted a workshop on Meanwhile, committee chair and deputy of production, the Daily Observer reported
biofortification on 4-5 May in Mombasa. governor Erelu Olusola Obada announced on 27 May 2006.
The workshop discussed the latest the release by the government, through the Famara Badjie, an agriculture exten-
research on biofortification (developing State Agricultural Development Board, of sion worker in the Kombo North, said that
crops with higher levels of nutrients), and funds to purchase equipment and 13 tons Nerica fits very well with The Gambia’s
identified strategies to develop biofortified of rice seedlings, including upland and erratic rainfall pattern, adding that the
crops, including rice, in Africa and integrate lowland seeds. 2005-06 Nerica rice harvest in Jambur is
them into national agricultural and health three times more than that in 2004-05.
policy agendas. Low production in Ghana
HarvestPlus Director Howarth Bouis,
speaking to reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, said
that “addressing micronutrient malnutri-
G hana is experiencing low levels of do-
mestic rice production and the loss of
thousands of jobs due to rice imports. The
Agricultural boost for Sierra Leone

T he Chinese government donated tractors

and other agricultural implements to the
tion requires a paradigm shift. Agricultural extent of Ghana’s rice import surge was government of Sierra Leone, the Awareness
research needs to move beyond increasing discussed during a recent workshop on Times Newspaper reported on 29 March
productivity to improving food quality as Agro-import surge study: the case of rice 2006. The equipment was formally handed
well. In this way, biofortification can play a in Ghana. Deputy Minister for Local Gov- over by the Ambassador of the People’s
critical role in improving health.” ernment and Rural Development Abraham Republic of China to Sierra Leone, His
According to Professor Ruth Oniang’o, Dwuma Odoom said the government is con- Excellency Cheng Wenju, to Minister of
professor of food science and nutrition at sidering how the promotion of the produc- Agriculture, Forestry, and Food Security,
the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture tion and consumption of locally produced Sama Mondeh.
and Technology and IRRI Board of Trustees rice could be achieved by incorporating it China’s assistance to Sierra Leone
member, “Until now, the solution to micro- into the National School Feeding Program, started in 2002 by providing professional
nutrient deficiency among the poor has fo- according to a report at Ghanaian online training to 50 Sierra Leonean technicians in
cused on vitamin and mineral supplements, news service China on rice cultivation, sending two expert
dietary diversity, and commercial food missions in 2002 and 2005 to examine the
fortification. While these approaches have New rice in Uganda and The Gambia possibility of establishing a technical hybrid
attained some success, they have not been
able to reach all those in need, particularly
people in remote rural areas. By targeting
T he Japanese government is extending
the Grant Assistance for Underprivi-
leged Farmers, through the FAO, for the
rice research and production team in the
country, and sending eight experts to the Bo
Agricultural Station to enhance large-scale
staple food crops grown and consumed by dissemination of the New Rice for Africa production and processing of hybrid rice.
the rural poor, biofortification can reach (NERICA) and improvement of rice pro- China is also this year providing 18
large numbers of people in a cost-effective duction systems in the Republic of Uganda. technicians for a food security program
and sustained manner.” Japanese Ambassador to Italy His Excel- under the South-South Cooperation Scheme
lency Yuji Nakamura and FAO Deputy of the Food and Agriculture Organization
Tidal irrigation in The Gambia Director General David Harcharik signed (FAO) of the United Nations, and sending

A Taiwanese technical mission that spe-

cializes in rice cultivation has extended
its operations in the northern part of The
an implementing agreement in Rome early
this year.
The project is intended to provide
three senior Chinese scientists to train min-
istry officials and senior university students
on modern rice production for 6 months.

 Rice Today July-September 2006

Rice genetics pioneer Over the years, Dr. Chang had shared and the University of Minnesota, respec-
passes away his expertise in genetic conservation with tively. He was a fellow of the American So-
national agricultural research centers in ciety of Agronomy, the Institute of Biology
China and India as they established gene of the UK, the Crop Science Society of the
banks for other crop species. Philippines, and the Crop Science Society
A native of Shanghai, China, Dr. Chang of America. Among his many awards were
completed his undergraduate degree at the the 1988 Rank Prize for Nutrition and
University of Nanking and earned masters the 1999 Tyler Prize for Environmental
and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University Achievement.

Keeping up with IRRI staff

Z ahirul Islam, international research

fellow, has joined IRRI’s Social Sciences
Division (SSD) to coordinate the IRRI-In-
Appointed heads of Organizational
Units as part of IRRI’s new strategic plan
are David Mackill, Plant Breeding, Genet-
ternational Fund for Agricultural Develop- ics, and Biotechnology (PBGB) Division,
ment project on accelerating technologies including current PBGB staff and the plant
and adoption to improve livelihoods on the pathology research groups of the former
rainfed Indo-Gangetic Plains at seven sites Entomology and Plant Pathology Division
Jesse Victolero

in India and Bangladesh. Hari Gurung (EPPD); T.P. Tuong, CES, including staff
also joined SSD as an international research of the former Crop, Soil, and Water Sciences
fellow. Division and the entomology and ecology
Yuichiro Furukawa, Ruben Lam- research groups of the former EPPD; Ma-

T e-Tzu (T.T.) Chang, 79, passed away in

Taiwan on 24 March 2006. Dr. Chang,
IRRI’s principal geneticist for more than
payan, and Rachid Serraj joined the Crop
and Environmental Sciences (CES) Division
as a project scientist, postdoctoral fellow, and
habub Hossain, SSD, including current
staff and units of SSD; Ruaraidh Sack-
ville Hamilton, the T.T. Chang Genetic
30 years and head of the International senior crop physiologist, respectively. Resources Center (GRC), including current
Rice Germplasm Center when he retired Inez Slamet-Loedin joined the staff of GRC; Graham McLaren, the
in December 1991, was considered a world Golden Rice Network as a shuttle scientist IRRI-CIMMYT Crop Research Informatics
authority on rice genetics and conservation. responsible for developing the non-event- Laboratory (CRIL), including current staff
His research on the evolution and variation specific regulatory dossier for Golden Rice of the former Biometrics and Bioinformatics
of rice led to major advances in plant breed- SGR2, while Florencia Palis is a new Unit; and Melissa Fitzgerald, the Grain
ing, productivity, and disease resistance postdoctoral fellow with the CES Division Quality, Nutrition, and Postharvest Center,
with a profound impact on agricultural pro- responsible for coordinating projects under including current staff of the former Grain
ductivity throughout much of Asia, Africa, the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium Quality and Nutrition Research Center
and South America. (IRRC), among others. Trina Mendoza and the agricultural engineering and post
Dr. Chang introduced Dee-geo-woo- also joined IRRC as an associate in com- harvest research groups of the former Ag-
gen, a Chinese dwarf rice, to IRRI’s breeding munication and extension. ricultural Engineering Unit.
program in 1962. That led to the develop-
ment of the first high-yielding semidwarf Achievements drought in Asia delivers heartbreak and rips
rice varieties. IR8, the first such variety to communities apart among the rural poor,
be widely grown in the tropics, was released but also how promising new research is
late in 1966. It was followed by a succession helping rice farmers avoid devastation.
of improved, early-maturing varieties with Anthropologist Florencia Palis of
genetic resistance to many of the major IRRI’s Social Sciences Division received
insect pests and diseases of rice. the Nationally Recruited Staff Award for
Faced with the peril of losing genetic Outstanding Scientific Achievement at the
resources that hold the key to the future recent Board of Trustees meeting at the
development of newer and better rice crops,
Dr. Chang perceived the danger and put
great effort into saving unimproved varieties
A dam Barclay, Rice Today editor, won
a Gold Award (1st place) in the Writ-
ing for Magazines Category for the article,
institute’s Philippine headquarters. Dr.
Palis was chosen for her independent eth-
nographic research that encompassed many
and their wild relatives. Dreams beyond drought that appeared on community settings and IRRI projects,
He mobilized international and multi- pages 14-21 of Vol. 4, No. 2 of Rice Today. including her research for the advancement
agency resources in 14 Asian nations and The award was presented by the Associa- of knowledge.
several African nations to undertake mas- tion for Communications Excellence (ACE) Yuan Longping, director general of
sive field collections of nearly 40,000 speci- during its annual meeting in Quebec City, the China National Hybrid Rice Research
mens, many on the brink of extinction. This Canada, 2-6 June 2006. ACE is an interna- and Development Center, in April joined
effort made IRRI’s rice gene bank holdings tional organization of communicators and the elite U.S. National Academy of Sciences
the largest collection in the world for a single information technologists that develops as a foreign associate, one of the highest
crop plant. Desirable genes from this invalu- the professional skills of its members to honors in American science and engineer-
able resource continue to sustain advances extend knowledge about agriculture, natural ing. Professor Longping, 76, is known as the
in global rice production. resources and life and human sciences to “Father of Hybrid Rice” for his contribution
people worldwide. The article explored how in developing high-yield rice in China.

Rice Today July-September 2006 


Setting the rice agenda

lobal rice production “Growth reflected relatively
hit a world-record 628 favorable weather conditions in
million tons in 2005, Asia, western Africa, and South
after increasing for the America, and the positive effects
third consecutive season. The all- of high prices in 2004, which
time high was announced in the had fostered a general increase in
April 2006 issue of the Rice Market plantings,” according to the report.
Monitor, published by the Food and However, tight domestic
Agriculture Organization (FAO) of supplies and rising populations
the United Nations, ahead of the 21st left a number of countries facing
session of the International Rice production shortfalls in 2004,
Commission (IRC) on 3-5 May 2006. leading to a spike in global imports
in 2005 of 29 million tons—another
What next? record, but a figure that is expected
to drop slightly in 2006.

Aileen del rosario-rondilla

K ey recommendations to come out of the 21st
session of the International Rice Commission
The IRC session, held in
Chiclayo, Peru, brought together
nearly 100 participants, including
• Member countries, fund donors, FAO, partner officials from 61 countries, IRC
institutions, and all other stakeholders members, and partner institutions,
should increase collaborative efforts and
funding support for a sustainable increase
to discuss ways and means to
in rice production. promote international action on
• T h e p a r t n e r s h i p i n r i c e r e s e a r c h the production, preservation, systems. The session also helps
and development among national and distribution, and consumption of rice. member countries develop their
international institutions, nongovernmental Organized by the Ministry of national rice programs, and promotes
organizations, and the private sector should
be strengthened and broadened.
Agriculture of Peru and the FAO, the interaction and collaboration
• Strategies and policies for sustainable rice theme of the 21st session was Rice among national, regional, and
production should aim to help rice farmers is life—bringing the implementation international institutions.
efficiently manage resources—especially of the International Year of Rice to Rice, the main staple of
water—and reduce the environmental impact farmers’ fields. The United Nations around half the world’s population,
of farming.
declared 2004 as the International constitutes one-fifth of the total food
• Support should increase for initiatives to
promote the development, dissemination, Year of Rice to underline the need energy intake of everyone on the
and adoption of rice varieties with high to coordinate efforts to combat planet. In Asia alone, more than 2
nutrient content (especially iron, zinc, and poverty, improve food security, billion people obtain around two-
vitamin A). and achieve the United Nations thirds of their daily dietary energy
• New rice varieties should combine high Millennium Development Goals from rice and its by-products.
yield with increased nutritional value
and improved tolerance of salinity, high in the poor rice-producing areas But rice is not the preserve of
temperature, drought, and flood. of the world, which are home to Asian countries alone. According
• Rice production should be viewed as an close to half of all humanity. to FAO, almost a billion households
integrated system, from selection of seed Country representatives in Asia, Africa, and the Americas
through to food on the table, encompassing
the interactions and relationships among
presented and analyzed their depend on rice systems for their main
rice plants and other organisms in rice national rice research and source of employment and livelihood,
ecosystems. development programs, discussing and rice production in sub-Saharan
• To increase returns and employment from strategies for sustainable increases Africa is now expanding faster than
rice production, support should increase for in rice production, reducing any other crop but continues to be
small and medium enterprises that use rice
and its by-products (such as bran and husks)
rice production’s environmental outpaced by consumption. Further,
to manufacture value-added products. impact, and reducing hunger in 26 countries in Latin America
The IRC Secretariat also recommended a poor rice-producing populations. and the Caribbean cultivate rice,
Global Expert Consultation, to be held before The IRC holds a session every 4 although the region’s production
the 22nd session in 2010, to review progress years to review emerging issues and is only 4.3% of the world total. In
and to identify strategies for up-scaling the
transfer of integrated crop management systems
recent achievements in scientific, Peru itself, rice consumption—about
for increasing yield and profit, and reducing technical, and socioeconomic 50 kg of milled rice per person
environmental degradation in rice production. matters relating to sustainable rice each year—is higher than in other
production and rice-based farming Latin American countries.

10 Rice Today July-September 2006

irrigated ecosystems are running deepwater rice varieties because the
out of steam, with near complete effect on yield has been marginal.
adoption of improved varieties Rather, farmers in the flood-prone
and narrowing of yield gaps. ecosystem have abandoned deepwater
Compared with this success, food rice in favor of growing shorter-
insecurity and poverty are extensive duration high-yielding rice varieties
in rainfed ecosystems and the (often raising two rice crops in the
demand for food is growing fast. same year) developed for the irrigated
Rainfed ecosystems ecosystem, thereby
are characterized by substantially
severe abiotic stresses Progress in breeding increasing rice
such as drought, production and
submergence, problem rice for rainfed income. This
soils, and strong winds. development started
These factors must
be considered, along
ecosystems is essential in the Mekong Delta
of South Vietnam
with high yield and and subsequently
pest resistance, in any
if poor farmers are to spread to the
breeding strategies for Ganges delta in
improved varieties for improve both their Bangladesh and
rainfed systems. To West Bengal,
develop high-yielding productivity and India, where it
varieties appropriate was augmented
for these ecosystems, their livelihood by pumping
rice breeders from the groundwater
national agricultural through small-

Breeding rice research systems of the rice-

producing countries of Asia seek to
scale irrigation. This approach is
now proceeding rapidly in the Chao

for rainfed
combine local traditional varieties Phraya delta of central Thailand.
that possess abiotic stress tolerance Progress in developing varieties

with elite lines obtained from for rainfed lowlands has been
international research centers. relatively slow. In India, for example,
Such research involves complex 18 varieties were released per
by Mahabub Hossain breeding procedures and often has million hectares in 1970-2000 for
Head, Social Sciences Division, a low probability of success, and, the irrigated ecosystem, compared
International Rice Research Institute when a variety is released, farmers with only 9 for the rainfed lowland
and consumers may not accept it. ecosystem. But there has been

We have seen promising progress considerable spillover of varieties
sia has made remarkable in developing varieties for the rainfed released for the irrigated system
progress in boosting rice upland ecosystem but many farmers into the rainfed lowland system.
production and productivity continue to grow traditional varieties. However, data on the effect of
over the last 4 decades. Most The only major success has been in adoption show that rice yield has
of this increase has been achieved China’s Yunnan Province, where the remained low because farmers
through the adoption of improved adoption of improved varieties was are reluctant to invest in adequate
rice varieties. But the progress facilitated by investment in terracing inputs—such as fertilizer—because
has remained uneven—countries the sloping uplands and thereby of the risks of crop failure from
that rely predominantly on rainfed modifying the growing environment. drought and submergence.
ecosystems continue to lag behind. Substantial efforts have also Recent efforts in using modern
Rainfed ecosystems—sloping been made in improving varieties biotechnology tools to incorporate
and plateau uplands, medium to for the flood-prone ecosystem by drought and submergence tolerance
deeply flooded monsoon-dependent changing the rice plant’s capacity to into popularly grown modern
lowlands, and salt-affected coastal elongate with rising floodwaters and varieties may help increase rice
areas—still account for about 45% developing kneeing ability—the ability production in the rainfed lowlands.
of total rice lands in Asia. These of a plant that has been flattened by
ecosystems therefore remain floodwaters to grow upright again Adapted from a paper presented at
crucial to sustaining future growth when the water recedes. However, the 21st Session of the International
in rice production, especially as farm-level data from Thailand Rice Commission, held in Chiclayo,
improvements in rice production in show limited adoption of improved Peru, 3-5 May 2006.

Rice Today July-September 2006 11

Virtual challenges most comprehensive repository of
information on rice, rising to her cur-
rent position of chief librarian. Along
by Johnny Goloyugo
with former LDS Head Ian Wallace
(1993-99), Ramos has helped lead the
In the fast-changing world of the digital era, the library into the digital era. In 2001,
the LDS received the Outstanding Ac-
world’s foremost collection of information on ademic and Research Library Award
from the Philippine Association of
rice and rice research is moving with the times Academic and Research Librarians.
The LDS’s staff of 14—smaller
than that of most comparable or-
At the helm of the IRRI
scientists in developing countries ganizations—handles admirably
Library—chief librarian any articles that they were unable the challenges that come with
Mila Ramos. to get in the libraries of the institu- being responsible for such an im-
tions where they were working.” portant body of information.
Now, almost 50 years later, the “The big challenge,” explains
progress of rice research is available Ramos, “is being able to provide
for all to see in the world’s largest instant and easy access to electronic
repository of rice literature—IRRI’s sources of information, journals
Library and Documentation Services especially. But the costs of e-re-
(LDS). sources are rising and we can provide
The institute’s first chief librarian only a fraction of what our scientists
was Lina Manalo, who, in the words would like. The IRRI librarians need
of Dr. Chandler, “built the best library to be persistent and resourceful to
among the network of international be able to look for needed research
agricultural research centers.” articles for free or at the least cost.”
Today, the LDS houses a total bib- The emergence of new informa-
liography of more than 230,000 ref- tion and communication technologies
erences, including more than 138,000 (ICT) poses another big challenge.
books and monographs, and over “With the new ICTs,” says Ramos,
1,400 journals. There are also doc- “the role of the library will get bigger
Jose raymond Panaligan

toral theses, conference proceedings, as the amount of knowledge available

and comprehensive reference, audio- on the Web increases at an exponen-
visual, and map collections. These tial rate. The task of the library is to
publications are accessible not only to navigate this maze, evaluate and se-
the library’s average 70 daily walk- lect materials that would benefit rice
in clients, but also online at http:// scientists, keep users aware of what’s

n 1960, the founding fathers of the The library available, and ensure quick access.”
International Rice Research Insti- also houses documents in around Meanwhile, assistant chief
tute (IRRI) recognized the need, 80 languages—English accounts for librarian and rice bibliographer
especially in the developing world, just over half, Japanese almost one Carmelita Austria points out that
for accessible knowledge and infor- fifth, and Chinese 6%. The entire print publications remain as impor-
mation in the field of rice research. bibliography is available in print, on tant as ever. “Computers will not
In his book, An adventure in CD, and online, and is updated daily. replace books,” she says. “We do
applied science: a history of the In- The library also offers elec- not simply replace old technologies
ternational Rice Research Institute, tronic alerts, computerized lit- with new ones. Print and electronic
IRRI’s first director general, Robert erature searches, and electronic resources have their own strengths.”
Chandler, wrote that an essential ele- and print document delivery. Just Making the ever-increasing
ment of the institute “would be a good as important, the LDS trains libra- knowledge available to the people
library that would contain the world rians from other organizations, who need it is indeed a great chal-
collection of important rice literature and trains IRRI staff on database lenge for librarians. Failure means
and such other reference materials creation and management. that all those print and electronic
as would be needed by a group of At the helm of the LDS is Mila resources are consigned to gather
natural and social scientists engaged Ramos. A graduate of the University dust—both real and virtual— in the
in an active research and training of the Philippines, Ramos began at archives. With Ramos and her staff in
program. Furthermore, the facility the library in 1965. Over the ensuing charge, the needs of rice researchers
should be able to make available to 41 years, she has served at the world’s across the globe are in safe hands.

12 Rice Today July-September 2006


False color gives a

true impression
by Greg Fanslow

or this issue’s article on bird diversity and
wetland conversion (see Balanced on a wing False color images of Candaba marsh on 17 March 1976 and 3 April
on pages 34–36), Rice Today needed a land- 2002. While there were small differences in the infrared data collected
cover map of Candaba marsh to compare historical between the two years, this comparison gives an immediate sense of
the magnitude of change that has occurred to the landscape due to
and current conditions and plan a field visit. The
construction of agricultural fields and, to a lesser extent, fish ponds.
only available maps weren’t detailed enough and
hadn’t been updated since the mid-1970s, so the
IRRI Geographic Information Systems lab used 17 March 1976
freely available LandSat data from the Global Land
Cover Facility (
shtml) at the University of Maryland in the USA.
Because of our interest in vegetation cover, satellite
data were reprocessed into false color images that
exploit the high infrared reflectance of chlorophyll—the
green pigment in plants—to render vegetation patterns.
The image is termed “false color” because the
imaging process displays the intensities of red,
green, and infrared radiation recorded by satellite
sensors as shades of, respectively, green, blue, and
red instead (see
tutorial/Landsat%20Tutorial-V1.html). In the resulting
image, vegetation is in varying shades of red, water
is blue, and bare or fallow areas are light brown.

After field visits to several areas shown on the 2002 false

color map (bottom right), image-processing software was
used to characterize the spectral signature of areas under
rice cultivation (green on map below) and fish ponds (blue).
These signatures were then automatically applied to the
rest of the image to approximate the extent of these types
of land cover. While significant work on the ground would
be needed to fully validate these results, they give a general 3 April 2002
impression of the extent of fish ponds and agricultural
fields and illustrate the power of remote-sensing analysis
to facilitate studies of landscape-scale phenomena.

Image Processed by Aileen Maunahan (3)

14 Rice Today July-September 2006

Korea-IRRI collaboration
multiplies benefits
s part of the “Top Rice IRRI Senior Scientist Hung-Goo Hwang (center),
Project” of the Republic of Visiting Research Fellow Kyu-Seong Lee (right), and
Korea’s Rural Development IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler inspect one of
Administration (RDA), 25 tons of the seed-laden trucks before its departure.
high-quality rice seed were harvested
in February-March at the Philippine
headquarters of the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
The seed was transported in a
fleet of trucks to the Ninoy Aquino
International Airport, Manila, on
31 March and has since made its
way to the RDA’s National Institute
of Crop Science in Suwon, Korea.
The Top Rice Project, launched
Ariel Javellana (2)

in 2005, aims to develop and

popularize high-quality rice in Korea.
As part of this drive, RDA and IRRI
initiated the Large-Scale Korean Seed
Multiplication Project in 2005-06.
Through this seed multiplication of rice self-sufficiency through the the Philippine-grown winter crop
project, newly developed premium- Green Revolution of the 1970s was to gain time in a “gene rotation”
quality varieties—known as made possible through similar past program to retain blast resistance
Gopumbyeo and Unkwangbyeo—are collaboration between IRRI and RDA. in Korea’s rice crop. In November
being multiplied at IRRI before The first Korean Seed Multiplication 1980, 305 kilograms of Korean seed
transport to Korea and distribution Project, for rapid dissemination of were multiplied at IRRI into 120.5
to Korean rice farmers. the popular Tongil variety, occurred tons. Once back in Korea, that seed
Multiplication of Korean rice seed in the 1969-70 dry season. was further multiplied on 2,544
at the IRRI farm in the Philippines Multiplication of Korean rice seed hectares during the Korean summer
has been an important part of Korea’s in the Philippines has also enabled of 1981. The following year, it was
rice production for almost four Korea to accelerate its research used to plant 130,000 hectares of
decades. The country’s achievement programs. Since 1970, Korea has Korea’s then 1.2 million hectares
sent its rice breeding nurseries and of rice land, so providing a genetic
advanced lines to the Philippines barrier to the spread of rice blast.
for seed multiplication during the The most recent Korean rice seed
winter, thus cutting years off the time multiplication was performed in a
required to develop new rice varieties. 14-hectare upland field at IRRI under
This practice has also helped the supervision of Hung-Goo Hwang,
Korea protect its farmers against a senior Korean scientist seconded
production threats. In 1980-81, for from RDA currently working in
example, Korean rice breeders used IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics,
and Biotechnology Division, and
Kyu-Seong Lee, visiting research
fellow and RDA senior rice breeder.
A fleet of trucks loaded with 25 tons
“I am very happy that we
of high-quality rice seed leaves IRRI
headquarters for Manila’s Ninoy Aquino reached our target production
International Airport on 31 March 2006 and we finished our project
enroute to Korea. successfully,” said Dr. Hwang.

Rice Today July-September 2006 15

by Gene Hettel
of the
In Asia, the question of whether or not to liberalize rice trade is a vexing one.
If liberalization is to occur at all, it needs to happen gradually and with an
understanding of how people—especially the poor—will be affected

16 Rice Today July-September 2006

he smattering of “But all countries,” says Dr. Dawe, like those in Thailand and
provocative headlines “including several rice exporters, Vietnam. The major traditional
(at left), appearing complain about these problems. exporters—Thailand, Vietnam,
in recent issues of Although some of these problems Cambodia, and Myanmar—are all
various Philippine daily are important, they do not explain on the Southeast Asian mainland,
newspapers, mirrors a basic issue on why the Philippines imports rice.” while the countries that have been
the minds of many Filipinos: Why But then what does explain it? consistently importing rice for
does the Philippines import rice, and In a word, it is geography. Says more than 100 years—Indonesia,
why can’t the country produce enough Dr. Dawe: “The Philippines imports the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Japan,
of its staple food to feed its people? rice because it is a nation of islands Korea, and Malaysia—are all islands
“Indeed, in a country where without any major river deltas or narrow peninsulas.” (See Rice
half-full rice bins are a cause for imports come with the territory on
great concern in a given household, page 37 of Rice Today Vol. 3, No. 2.)
having a sufficient rice supply Although the presence or absence
for all Filipinos’ consumption is of river deltas is the overriding
our government’s priority,” says factor in explaining why some Asian
Leocadio Sebastian, executive countries import rice and others
director of the Philippine Rice export it, other reasons are also at
Research Institute (PhilRice). work. In the Philippines, geography
To meet this moving target, is again the culprit. Located off the
the Philippines has needed to buy eastern edge of the Asian continent,
rice from other countries such the Philippines bears the brunt of
as Thailand, Vietnam, and even numerous typhoons, making rice
the United States for most of the production more difficult, risky,
past 130 years. “Rice is such an and often unpredictable. Thailand
integral part of history and culture and the Mekong and Red River
in the Philippines that, for some deltas are much less affected
Filipinos, this fact is a source of by such recurring disasters. In
national shame,” says David Dawe, addition, the Philippines’ rice sector
Bangkok-based economist for the has high labor costs that must be
Food and Agriculture Organization reduced—without reducing wages—in
(FAO) of the United Nations. order to increase productivity.
Many reasons are typically So, what would happen if rice
put forth to explain the failure to trade were liberalized? Would it mean
achieve rice self-sufficiency—faulty that the Philippines might end up
Jose Raymond Panaligan (2)

government policy, corruption, importing even more rice? To look

conversion of rice land to other at the consequences of such a policy
uses, backward rice farmers, decision in the Philippines—and other
deteriorating irrigation systems, and countries for that matter— PhilRice
lack of farm credit, among others. and the International Rice Research

Rice Today July-September 2006 17

Rice is an intregral part of life, history, and culture in the Philippines.

Institute (IRRI), with the support international borders, the domestic then, the very high prices received
of the Bureau of Agricultural price will naturally tend to equal the by Filipino farmers translate into
Research (BAR) of the Department world price unless the government very high rice prices paid by poor
of Agriculture of the Philippines, intervenes with trade restrictions. consumers. The large gap between
conducted a 3-year study of the issues If domestic prices are higher than world prices and domestic rice prices
involved. BAR’s support enabled world prices, private traders will not only harms consumers, it also
the research team of Dr. Dawe, try to profit by importing from creates opportunities for corruption
who was then still stationed in the abroad, buying low, and selling high. that would disappear if the price
Philippines as an IRRI economist, This process will continue until differential were much smaller.
Piedad Moya, senior associate the additional supply of imports During the past few years, the
scientist in IRRI’s Social Sciences lowers domestic prices and erases Philippines has imported about 10%
Division, and Cheryll Casiwan, those profits. The reverse will of its consumption requirements.
economist with the Socioeconomics happen if world prices are higher According to May 2006 press
Division of PhilRice, to bring together than domestic prices: private reports, the projected rice import
agricultural experts from many other traders will profit by exporting. total for 2006 will amount to around
Philippine organizations, such as the For rice in the Philippines, 1.4 million metric tons. Because
Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, only the government has the legal palay and rice prices are higher
the National Food Authority, and authority to arrange imports. in the Philippines than on world
state colleges and universities. “Because the government is markets (sometimes nearly double
Trade liberalization, although a currently limiting the quantity of world prices), the researchers’
term used widely today, is often not imports each year,” says Ms. Moya, analyses show that rice trade
properly understood. “It does not “the law of supply and demand liberalization would most likely
necessarily mean more imports for suggests that domestic prices will mean more rice imports than this.
all commodities in all situations,” rise, and, in fact, they have.” “Lower palay and rice prices
explains Ms. Moya. “What it does It is not widely known, even due to increased imports would, of
mean is that the price for a specific in the Philippines, that Filipino course, hurt palay farmers,” says Dr.
commodity inside the country farmers receive much higher prices Dawe, “especially those with large
(the domestic price) becomes the for their palay (rice at harvest surpluses to sell. Many palay farmers
same as the price for that same before the husk is removed) than do are poor, but many are not, and most
commodity outside the country (the farmers in neighboring developing of the benefits of high prices accrue
world price), after taking account countries. Further, farm prices to the larger, better-off farmers
of the exchange rate and any for rice have increased during the because they have the most surplus
necessary transportation costs.” past 10 years much faster than for to sell. However, there is no doubt
Generally speaking, for any other key agricultural commodities that some small, poor palay farmers
commodity that is tradable across such as corn. Not surprisingly would be hurt by trade liberalization.”

18 Rice Today July-September 2006

the government and private sector Indeed, in one recent story in the
will need to work together to reduce Philippine press, National Food
the effects of this risk on farmers.” Authority Administrator Gregorio
(See Opportunities beyond growing Tan Jr. is quoted as saying, “If we
rice on pages 22–23, for a farmer’s can be self-sufficient in a competitive
perspective on the role of crop manner, then well and good.”
diversification in the Philippines.) It is important that policymakers
Rice farmers who switch crops reach decisions with as much
will not lose their household rice information as possible. The
security. “They can still choose to PhilRice-IRRI research team
plant some rice if liberalization has endeavored to provide that
occurs,” says Ms. Casiwan. “Only a information so that decisions can
small portion of their land—about be made to help the millions of
0.15 hectare of double-cropped land Filipinos living in poverty—rice
for a family of five—is necessary producers and consumers alike.
to feed their own family.”
As the study found, trade
liberalization will have both positive Why Does the Philippines
and negative effects. So, PhilRice’s Import Rice? Meeting
Dr. Sebastian and IRRI Director the challenge of trade
Photography by Ariel Javellana, gene Hettel, and Jose Raymond Panaligan General Robert Zeigler urge that any liberalization
relaxation of government import A book edited by David C. Dawe, Piedad F.
restrictions that does occur in an Moya, and Cheryll B. Casiwan and published
On the other hand, the research effort, for example, to benefit poor by IRRI and PhilRice.

suggests that lower prices resulting consumers should be done gradually, manating
from increased imports would not all at once. In the foreword to the from a 3-
benefit the many poor consumers book that details the results of this year joint
who spend more than 20% of research, Why does the Philippines PhilRice-IRRI
their income on rice alone. “These import rice? (see box at right), they study, this book
attempts to answer
consumers consist of fishers, landless write that “Gradual changes make the question on
laborers, corn farmers, and the it easier for all members of society the cover, and
urban poor—in fact, most poor to adjust their lives to changed then proceeds to
people in the Philippines are not circumstances. Any analyst with a the even more
rice farmers,” Dr. Dawe points out. dose of humility must admit to being difficult issue of
what would happen
In a trade liberalization scenario less than perfect, and a gradual if rice trade were
that results in more rice imports, approach to reform would allow liberalized and
Filipino farmers would need to an assessment of changes before the Philippines began to import more rice.
either become more competitive full reform is implemented.” Although written by experts on the rice
in rice production or explore “In thinking about the future economy and some of the country’s young
economists, this book is intended for a
alternative crops. “One promising of rice policy in the Philippines general lay audience. The reader need not be
way to improve competitiveness is or any country for that matter, it familiar with complex concepts and jargon
through the use of hybrid rice, a new is important to keep a balanced in economics or mathematics in order to
technology that could increase yields perspective,” says Dr. Dawe. “Rice understand the arguments presented. All
and profits in areas and seasons that is what many farmers grow, but it that is necessary is an open mind and a
willingness to think carefully.
are suitable for its cultivation,” says is also what nearly all consumers The primary goal of this book is to be
Ms. Casiwan. “PhilRice is conducting eat. In many cases, farmers have educational. For example, the Philippines
considerable hybrid rice research more flexibility to switch crops imports rice because it is an island nation;
that will, we hope, provide farmers than consumers—especially poor Filipino farmers receive high rice prices; farm
with this additional option.” ones—do to switch their staple food.” laborers, not rice farmers, do the bulk of the
work producing the nation’s rice; and most
Progressive rice farmers can and Although self-sufficiency can be a of the poorest people in the Philippines are
are exploring growing other crops. laudable goal, it can cause great harm not rice farmers. If readers retain just some
“The choice of alternative crops will if it is pursued at all costs, without of these facts about the rice sector in the
vary from province to province and regard for the welfare of the poor. Philippines, and discuss them with friends
some of these alternatives are even Self-sufficiency pursued through and colleagues, then the publication will have
been successful.
more profitable than rice and would improvements in productivity For more information about purchasing
make farmers wealthier,” says Ms. and competitiveness is much less this book, access IRRI’s online publications
Casiwan. “But these crops are also likely to have negative side-effects, catalog at
often riskier to plant than rice, and and is a target worth pursuing.

Rice Today July-September 2006 19

Ariel Javellana

20 Rice Today July-September 2006

Rice Today July-September 2006, Vol. 5, No. 3
Rice Today July-September 2006 21
A different kind of rice landscape—hills and valleys of sacks waiting to be unloaded from a ship docked at Manila, Philippines.
Opportunities beyond growing
rice—a farmer’s perspective
f rice trade liberalization were a PhilRice farmer-consultant. The nongovernment agencies to augment
to occur and result in more rice Talavera, Nueva Ecija, native is his practical experience in farming.
imports, one potentially viable committed to proving that there The rice yield on his farm
option for rice farmers would is indeed money in farming. normally reaches 5.8 tons per
be to plant alternative crops. Soils, Santiago’s ambition has always hectare. Planting only rice will
climate, and the degree of economic been to become a professional give him an annual gross income
development vary throughout the farmer and a role model to the of about 150,000 Philippine pesos
different provinces of the Philippines. farming community. He felt a need to (US$2,900). With 300 mango trees
Because of these differences, rice influence traditional farmers when he planted along the dikes around his
production systems are different, realized their dire need for modern rice farm, he is earning an additional
and so are the alternative crops that technologies. He practices land-use income of $1,750 per year. Annual
could be grown if trade liberalization planning and uses every space on his profit from gabi is higher at $2,900.
made rice less profitable for farmers. farm to obtain higher income. Since Fish harvests give him an extra
Here, Florentino M. Santiago, a income from rice is not enough to $580, while his vegetable produce
progressive Filipino farmer from meet the basic needs of his family, adds $390 to his household income.
Central Luzon in the Philippines, he intercrops gabi (taro), vegetables, Thus, adopting an integrated farming
offers his thoughts on diversification. and mango trees on his 3.25-hectare system by devoting 2.25 hectares for
Growing up on a farm, Santiago, farm and has also ventured into fish rice cultivation and allocating small
Jr., 36, has always known the culture. To minimize his expenses portions of his land to fish and other
language of agriculture. As a young on chemical fertilizers, he uses crops more than doubled his annual
boy, he watched his father toil on indigenous materials available on the gross income to at least $6,600.
the farm so he could send him and farm—animal waste, rice straw, and Diversifying his farm increased
his eight siblings to school. The other organic materials. He attends his family income and reduced the
only child who studied agriculture training and seminars conducted risk in relying solely on rice farming.
in school, Santiago now works as by different government and Moreover, diversification benefits
the environment as it helps improve
soil conditions and forces farmers to
reduce their chemical applications on
the farm. However, “Diversification
does not mean abandoning rice,” he
says cautiously, “but simply using
prudent land-use planning.”
For rice farmers, Santiago
sees diversification as one safety
net for rice trade liberalization.
“Unfortunately, our farmers
have not been prepared well
for this possibility,” he says. “I
see capital, or lack of it, as one
deterrent to diversification for
most farmers. Usually, it is simply
because they are not aware of
where to get additional money or
they are afraid to take risks.”
Florentino M. Santiago tends In Nueva Ecija, where a distinct
some of the nonrice crops on his
dry season exists, pumps—which
farm in Central Luzon, Philippines,
PhilRice (2)

and (top opposite) feeds his pigs. may cost a farmer at least $680—are
needed to irrigate farms after the

22 Rice Today July-September 2006

wet season. Restructuring of land of farmers’ initiative in increasing
to suit other crops also seems to their household income through
be a stumbling block for farmers. diversification. “I firmly believe
Santiago quickly points out, however, that farmers themselves should
that municipal government offices make the first move in obtaining
have heavy equipment that can be their inputs and capital needs and
rented at a minimal fee to restructure not depend on the government to
lots. Farmers also need to invest supply them with those needs,” he
some time to learn about the crops says. “The role of the government
suited for cultivation considering and the extension service should
the soil type and climate. Because be in making sure technologies and
his farm soil is mostly heavy clay, opportunities reach farmers.”
Santiago is mindful that he cannot His competence as a skilled
plant onion, so he opted for other farmer manager was first recognized
vegetables such as sitao (cowpea), in 1998. From then on, Santiago has
talong (eggplant), and gabi. Another consistently been honored as one
important issue is the high labor of the outstanding rice farmers in dreams of expanding his farm
requirement for planting vegetables Central Luzon. Although focused on because he sees opportunities in
compared with planting rice alone. farming, he is active in community farming that would eventually
In cases in which farmers do affairs and development, serving make him a peso millionaire.
not diversify, Santiago asserts as chairman of a cooperative and
that farmers are either indolent or of an agrarian reform council in Adapted from Chapter 16 of Why Does
ignorant. He stresses the importance his barangay (district). He still the Philippines Import Rice?

Trade liberalization:
an agricultural economist’s perspective
Rice Today recently discussed the issue of rice trade liberalization with David
Dawe, Bangkok-based economist for the Food and Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations and former International Rice Research Institute economist.

Rice Today: What effects can trade gleaned from the studies described in Trade liberalization,
reforms have on reducing poverty? poverty and food security, a part of the new publication
from the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, The
Dr. Dawe: The effects of trade reforms on poverty and State of Food and Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific.
food security are complex and will vary depending on
social structure (e.g., the proportion of landlessness Rice Today: If any country decided to import more
in the rural population, inequality of land ownership), rice, in part, to benefit poor consumers, can today’s
infrastructure, the specific commodity involved (e.g., world market be trusted to provide those supplies?
whether it is preferentially consumed by the poor or well-
to-do, whether it is being imported or exported in any Dr. Dawe: In the mid-1970s, the answer was uncertain. Today,
particular country), and many other factors. This complexity however, the world rice market has fundamentally changed.
means that analyses of specific countries and commodities World rice production is more stable because of more irrigation
are highly valuable, although some generic lessons can be and high-yielding varieties with pest and disease resistance.

Rice Today July-September 2006 23

Ariel Javellana (2)

In addition, more exporting countries are commercially Dr. Dawe: First of all, rice is very different from oil in that
oriented—the health of their own domestic rice economies production comes from millions of small farmers acting
depends on being reliable suppliers to the world market. As independently, as opposed to a few oil wells controlled by a
proof, the world market has successfully weathered two recent government planner. This makes it difficult to control surplus
events that did not turn into crises—the massive El Niño of 1998 production if a cartel is successful in raising prices. Second,
and China’s rice imports in 2004 and 2005. Today, although rice is a perishable commodity, unlike oil. Thus, when surpluses
price fluctuations still occur on the world market, rice prices accumulate, and governments try to keep prices high by
are more stable than ever before, and they are more stable holding these surpluses off the market, they will suffer large
than world prices for other cereal grains. So, the world rice financial losses as the rice deteriorates in storage. Third, rice
market can be trusted once again, just as it could in the 1950s. exporters have been trying to form this cartel for many years
without success, as the interests of the exporters are very
Rice Today: What about price stability diverse. While some countries may try to increase world prices
when opening to external markets? on their own by holding back their rice stocks, other nations
are happy to provide more opportunities for their farmers to
Dr. Dawe: Trade can play an important role in ensuring export at any time. In other words, enforcement is a problem,
price stability, as in the case of Bangladesh during the “flood as with all cartels. Fourth, oil prices are high today because
of the century” in 1998 that caused a drop in rice production. of recent increases in demand and the prospects of further
The government eliminated tariffs on rice imports during increases in demand from India and China, as well as political
the crisis and the increased supplies brought in from India instability in the Middle East. In contrast, rice demand is
by private traders kept domestic prices stable. In addition increasing relatively slowly as wealthy and middle-class Asian
to trade, government storage also has a role to play in consumers diversify their diets away from staple foods in favor
ensuring price stability, but the costs of food reserves are of meats, dairy products, vegetable oils, and fruits. Because
often much higher than the benefits. Tariffs that vary in of all these factors, it will be difficult for a rice exporters’
response to changing world prices and domestic harvests cartel to increase prices by more than a small amount.
(either according to a predetermined schedule or on an
ad hoc basis) may be a more cost-effective mechanism for
stabilizing domestic prices. This is a more feasible option For more information on this topic, see Trade
today than it was in the 1970s, because of the increased
liberalization, poverty and food security in the new
stability in the world rice market mentioned earlier. Such
tariffs should be imposed only for key commodities, confined publication from the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the
to a low level, and used to moderate price fluctuations,
Pacific, The State of Food and Agriculture in Asia and the
not provide protection for an extended length of time.
Pacific. The publication can be obtained online at
Rice Today: What is your take on rice
exporters trying to form an organization of
rice-exporting countries that would lead to or by sending an email to
a cartel of rice exporters just like in oil?

24 Rice Today July-September 2006

A rice future
for Asia
Thai and Filipino high school students come together to help ensure the rice industry’s
future in Asia, sparking new friendships—and friendly rivalries—along the way

ice and agriculture rice science, despite its vital
are still fundamental importance to the region.
to the economic However, an innovative
development of most project launched in April
Asian nations, not to mention in Thailand and the
their cultural and social Philippines marks the start
identities. The rice industry of a major new effort to
has been a foundation of the encourage young Asians to
Asian way of life for generations. consider a future in rice.
In much of Asia, rice plays a “It’s a sad fact of life in
central role in politics, society, modern Asia that many young
and culture, and directly people in the region don’t think
or indirectly employs more of rice as offering an exciting
people than any other sector. or promising career, so they
A healthy rice industry, focus on other industries and
especially in Asia’s poorer other careers,” says Robert
countries, is crucial to the Zeigler, director general
Jose raymond Panaligan

livelihoods of rice producers of the International Rice

and consumers alike. Research Institute (IRRI).
Farmers need to achieve good On 24–28 April 2006,
yields without harming the IRRI, together with the
environment so that they Thai Rice Foundation
can make a good living while under Royal Patronage and
providing the rice-eating public to halt this progress: the young Philippine Rice Research
with a high-quality, affordable people of Asia don’t want to work Institute (PhilRice), hosted 19 high
staple. Underpinning this, a strong in the industry. And they have school students, aged 16–18, from
rice research sector can help reduce support—many existing rice farmers, Thailand and the Philippines at
costs, improve production, and having experienced for themselves a “rice camp,” designed to boost
ensure environmental sustainability. the unforgiving life that often defines their interest in rice and science.
Indeed, rice research has been a farming for a living, are encouraging The nine Filipinos and ten
key to productivity and livelihood their children to leave the land for Thais—all from rice-farming
gains over the last four decades. careers in burgeoning urban and families, they were selected because
But, in recent years, one major industrial sectors. Even fewer young of their interest in, or knowledge
problem has emerged that threatens Asians are choosing careers in of, rice—spent 5 days at IRRI’s

Rice Today July-September 2006 25

These photos show the Filipino and Thai students enjoying activities—not all of them centered on rice—at the rice camp.

Philippine headquarters learning international scientific activity,” he inserting a gene into the rice genome.
about the latest rice research and, says. “The recent sequencing of the It wasn’t all air-conditioned labs,
more importantly, how rice research rice genome attracted enormous though—they also had the chance
can provide a brighter future for international attention, especially to get their hands dirty, preparing
rice production and, consequently, among the scientific community, a field for rice transplanting.
peoples’ livelihoods in Asia. yet most young Asians still don’t One of the camp’s biggest
Dr. Zeigler emphasizes that, if the know it even happened, let alone successes was the camaraderie that
rice industry is to continue to develop understand its implications for blossomed among the students.
in Asia, the rice industry must attract the food they eat each day.” Despite sharing little language, the
the region’s best and brightest young During their 5 days at IRRI, the young Thais and Filipinos struck up
people. “We want them to understand students, who were accompanied by friendships that look set to last well
that rice research is not some sleepy their teachers, tried their hand at beyond the 5-day camp. IRRI has
little scientific backwater, but is, several laboratory techniques such as created a Web site where the students
in fact, right on the cutting edge of extracting DNA from a rice plant and can communicate and post photos.

26 Rice Today July-September 2006

The future of
rice in Asia?
The following students participated
in the rice camp at IRRI:

Supawan Fukkearw
Suwassa Semsil
Boontawee Kuhana
Leenlada Monpo
Narumol Nookong
Sasiwimon Saengaawang
Santad Klaithin
Weerasak Megwee
Preeda Lunlee
Anon Chaiyasatr

Faye Victoria Casimero
Joana Joyce Gadiano
Evelita Cara
Pamela Cunanan
Jeniffer Pascual
Romarc Corpuz
Mc Christian Julius Macaranas II
Michael John Albert Malig
Carlos Miguel Jr.
Photography by Jose raymond panaligan, Lauro Atienza, and chrisanto quintana

According to IRRI Spokesperson down his face as he guzzled water. director of the Thai Rice Foundation,
Duncan Macintosh, the chance to mix Meanwhile, the Thai student calmly expressed hope that the students
with people from different cultures ate his second, then third, then returned home with a new sense
also provided some comic moments. fourth, then fifth chili. The rest of of excitement about rice and its
“At dinner one night,” recounts the students were in stitches.” potential both in science and in
Macintosh, “one of the Filipino boys Macintosh added that the the future development of Asia.
boldly challenged one of the Thai Filipinos got their revenge later, “Rice has played a vital role in
boys to a chili-eating competition. when they challenged the Thais Thailand’s economic development,
After gulping down three chilies in to eat Filipino balut. While the not to mention its history and
the time it took the Thai lad to eat Filipinos savored the delicacy, culture,” says Dr. Gomez. “The
one, the Filipino proclaimed victory— the Thais gagged and spluttered challenge is to try to translate this
prematurely, as it turned out. Within on the fertilized duck egg with a into a sense of excitement and
a minute or so, the Filipino had nearly-developed embryo inside. interest amongst young people
turned red and tears were streaming Kwanchai Gomez, executive in Thailand and all over Asia.”

Rice Today July-September 2006 27

Noel Magor’s focus on marginal farmers Noel Magor, pictured here with wife
Rose and (below and opposite) in the
field in Bangladesh.
in Bangladesh derives from his childhood

on a modest Australian farm, his

experience of famine in Ethiopia, and

a classic tale of dust bowl America

and a calling
by Rebecca Khelseau-Carsky
ariel Javellana

rowing up on his father’s The Grapes of Wrath profoundly alive Steinbeck’s narrative on the
almond and poultry affected his thinking. Reading at struggles of the working class.
farm in Australia, Noel the age of 16 about indebted farmers “Some things affect you inside,” he
Magor knew from early in the American Midwest losing recalls. “I believe that my reflections
childhood that he would pursue a their land, and of the hardships on The Grapes of Wrath, and
career in agriculture. His father, suffered by migrant farm laborers, my growing awareness of social
one of 10 children, had grown up on sparked in him an interest in justice issues, prompted me to
the modest 3-hectare farm that his social justice—an interest that move into development work.”
grandfather had struggled to keep. later became a commitment. Measured by his achievements,
Yet, with the conviction that fair play Proof of that commitment Dr. Magor’s decision was an answer
and hard work lead to success, Noel’s began in 1974. Upon completing a to a calling. In 1977, simultaneously
father succeeded in expanding the bachelor’s degree in agricultural serving as agricultural service head,
family farm to 12 hectares. What science at Adelaide University, Noel
Dr. Magor remembers most clearly set off to Wollo Province in northern
today is how his father repeatedly Ethiopia, where a devastating
won competitions with his chickens famine had struck the year before.
and produced beautiful almonds As a volunteer, he assessed how
using green manure and irrigation. the famine affected village families
What young Noel probably did and sought ways to rehabilitate
not realize in his early childhood the most destitute by providing
was that other influences would grain through food-for-work
set him on a particular career path projects and by distributing seed.
leading to distant lands. From his Twelve months of living and
secondary school days, he felt an working under primitive conditions
Petrra (2)

awareness of social issues brewing left Noel determined to alleviate

within him. John Steinbeck’s novel hunger and poverty. It also brought

28 Rice Today July-September 2006

extension coordinator, and acting Eliminating poverty in Bangladesh
project director of the Kamalganj
Project of HEED Bangladesh, a
nongovernmental organization P overty Elimination Through Rice Research Assistance (PETRRA), a five-year project funded by the
Department for International Development of the United Kingdom and managed by IRRI in close
partnership with the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), the Bangladesh Ministry of Agriculture,
(NGO), he started working to
and—most importantly—the resource-poor rice farmers of Bangladesh, ended in August 2004.
empower marginal farmers. Never The project improved the well-being of resource-poor farm households by identifying, developing,
expecting to pursue graduate and validating improved technology and service delivery methods, so fostering the development of a
studies or maintain a long-term demand-led research system. PETRRA developed clear strategies and policy support documents that
connection with Bangladesh, he did enhanced the research and delivery methods used among the 45 partner organizations representing
national, international, private, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and universities. PETRRA
both to support his commitment to
projects were implemented in 551 villages throughout 38 districts with more than 11,000 farmers,
alleviating their plight. He returned of whom about 40% were women.
briefly to Australia to earn a master’s The PETRRA Web site ( makes available the experiences of researchers,
degree in tropical agronomy from extension persons, and farmers and so spreads awareness of agricultural development’s contribution to
Sydney University and a PhD in poverty reduction. The Bangladesh Rice Knowledge Bank ( gives extension
workers and farmers up-to-date information, in Bangla, on rice production and training.
politics from Adelaide University.
In light of PETRRA’s success, the European Union is funding the Food Security for Sustainable
Dr. Magor explains why he Household Livelihoods project (—coordinated by IRRI and key NGOs and now under
chose to enhance his scientific and way—to deliver PETRRA technologies across Bangladesh, where around half the population lives below
agricultural background with a the poverty line of US$1 per day, most of them in rural areas. The project target is to reach at least
degree in politics: “I was interested 50,000 food-insecure households.
in the importance of agriculture
for poverty reduction. I needed
to know what was happening to
marginal farmers, as they seemed Research (CGIAR).
to be a group missed by NGOs, Funded by the
who keep their focus on poor United Kingdom’s
households not dependent on Department for
agriculture, and by government, International
which concentrates on bigger Development,
farmers. The politics department PETRRA greatly
of the university provided the best enhanced
perspective for exploring that.” IRRI’s working
Choosing marginal farmers in partnership with
Bangladesh as his thesis topic, he the Bangladesh
demonstrated that marginal farm Rice Research
households—those able to grow Institute, the
enough rice to feed themselves for Ministry of
only 3–5 months of the year—were Agriculture,
rapidly becoming landless. On the and poor farm
other hand, small farm households— households in
those able to provision themselves Bangladesh. The
with rice for 6–8 months of the year— project also exemplified a philosophy and so spread awareness of
were very resilient and incrementally that Dr. Magor had nurtured agricultural development’s
increased their landholdings. over the years that combines a contribution to poverty reduction.
Establishing eight key principles for poverty focus, gender equity, “With a strong enough will, we
success in creating an environment participation, and partnership in a can relieve hunger by mobilizing
for uplifting and empowering poor regional, in-country framework. science, social organizations,
households, he pioneered a shift in On top of developing appropriate governments, and farmers,” he
research focus toward the farming technologies endorsed by farmers says. “I credit the CGIAR system
systems of marginal farmers. and new methods of extension and with helping to focus science and
Dr. Magor’s inclusive approach knowledge delivery, Dr. Magor technology on marshalling the
toward alleviating poverty found has found time to learn Bangla efforts of different organizations
eloquent expression in the project to facilitate his immersion in the to achieve poverty reduction. But
Poverty Elimination Through Rice world of Bangladeshi farmers. we’ll never really know the full
Research Assistance (PETRRA), That the PETRRA Web site and extent of what we’ve contributed.”
which he set up and managed for the newsletter appeared in both
International Rice Research Institute English and Bangla reflects his Reprinted from Scientists of the CGIAR,
(IRRI), a center of the Consultative determination to develop more published by the Consultative Group on
Group on International Agricultural effective means of communication International Agricultural Research.

Rice Today July-September 2006 29

Cambodian researchers are set to increase their understanding of rice diseases as part
of a project that could help lift the country off the lower rungs of Asia’s rice yield ladder

Pest by pest by
by Rowena McNaughton step
ambodia’s per hectare yields up to levels comparable with diagnostic interest in disease,
rice yield is one of the those of other countries in the region. with most scientific pest research
lowest in Asia. This is One of Cambodia’s few focusing exclusively on insects.
a significant problem plant pathologists, Ny Vuthy, “Most farmers can’t identify
in a country where adds that, until recently, there diseases, and therefore do not
more than 80% of the has been little technical and know how to treat and manage
population is reliant on agriculture
for its primary source of income and

Cardi (5)
where rice constitutes 90% of total
agricultural output. Rice is also by far
the country’s most important staple
food, with the average Cambodian
obtaining three-quarters of his or
her calories from rice and consuming
160 kg of the grain per year.
Within the problem of low yields,
however, lies a great opportunity.
In November 2005, the Cambodian
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and
Fisheries reported that the national
average rice yield was 2.1 tons per
hectare—an improvement on previous
years but, according to researchers
from the Cambodian Agricultural
Research and Development
Institute (CARDI), simply not high
enough. In neighboring Vietnam,
for example, the average yield
stands at 4.1 tons per hectare.
“There is no doubt that, in
Cambodia, diseases of rice contribute
to low productivity by reducing yield
and grain quality,” Preap Visarto,
head of CARDI’s Plant Protection
Hin Sarith, research assistant in CARDI’s Soil and Water Department, and a field worker check on plants in
Program, explains. Improved a CARDI greenhouse. Thun Vathany (top left), research assistant in CARDI’s Plant Breeding Department, tests
understanding and management of the disease resistance of CARDI-developed orchard germplasm. Top right, a Cambodian Agricultural University
pests can help pull Cambodia’s low student performs fieldwork at CARDI.

30 Rice Today July-September 2006

the increasing outbreaks that are
occurring,” says Dr. Vuthy. “They
don’t understand why their rice
crops are dying, and many falsely
believe that, because of Cambodia’s
tropical climate, disease is a
problem of other countries.”
But, since farmers have
adopted modern techniques,
both fertilizer and irrigation
rates have increased. Dr. Visarto
explains that inappropriate use
of both has raised nitrogen levels
and therefore contributed to
increased outbreaks of disease.
“It is a critical time in rice
research,” he says. “Previously
unseen diseases and pests are
now becoming a problem. Blast
in particular has been striking at
alarming rates throughout Cambodia. Farmers participate at a work-
In some areas, 65% of the rice crops shop in Kompong Cham Province.
CARDI plant pathologist Ny Vuthy
have been damaged by blast. The (below) at his desk.
outbreak has been quick and farmers
do not know how to respond.”
To date, general plant pathology
issues have been overlooked mainly
because of the lack of local expertise. first-ever disease herbarium (a
Without the required knowledge and collection of diseased plants) and
consequent correct identification collection of rice pathogens.
of diseases, “an understanding of “One of the goals of the new
their importance and, ultimately, project is to train Cambodian
their management in rice are researchers to create and develop
impossible,” explains Dr. Vuthy. local knowledge and expertise
To develop Cambodia’s in general plant pathology and
expertise in rice diseases and their rice pathology in particular,”
management, researchers at CARDI says Dr. Vuthy, who adds that
are collaborating with Australian being the only plant pathologist
researchers at the New South Wales at CARDI and one of the few in
Department of Primary Industries Cambodia “has been difficult.”
and Charles Sturt University in a Drs. Vuthy and Visarto are
project funded by the Australian scheduled to travel to Australia
Centre for International Agricultural throughout 2006 to undertake
Research, Improving understanding intensive pathology training on
and management of rice pathogens the identification of important
in Cambodia. The project will also Cambodian diseases and pathogens. costs. However, very little is known
help the Australian rice industry Under the project aims, development about the distribution, prevalence,
through better understanding of the Cambodian agricultural and importance of these diseases
of exotic diseases that could research system is as important in Cambodian conditions. An
threaten Australian crops. as the research itself. In this light, increased understanding of rice
Several past projects in CARDI staff will be trained in not disease and management—especially
Cambodia have looked at disease only plant pathology techniques but among Cambodian researchers
identification, but the new project also research design and reporting. themselves—is a significant step
is the first to adopt a diagnostic There are more than 50 toward improved rice production.
approach to disease prevention— important diseases of rice in Asia
running tests to, step by step, rule and other tropical and temperate Rowena McNaughton worked at
out possible disease causes—and rice-growing areas, all of which can CARDI in 2005-06 as an Australian
will also help set up Cambodia’s lower yields and increase production Youth Ambassador for Development.

Rice Today July-September 2006 31

drought by Rachid Serraj and Jill Cairns

Hamlyn Jones takes a thermal image of

drought-stressed rice while Mauro Centritto
(below) measures the photosynthesis rate
of plants in the same field.
ariel Javellana

Improved methods of measuring how rice plants respond to drought in the field are helping scientists
discover how and why some varieties tolerate water shortages better than others—knowledge that will
ultimately help farmers withstand the cruel vagaries of the weather

he International Rice emergence of new information and page 33), scientists can investigate
Research Institute technologies is making it quicker, drought-resistant traits and genes
(IRRI) has highlighted easier, and cheaper to decipher the (or regions of the genome) and the
drought as one of the complex genetic networks of drought potential value of different varieties.
major challenges to be tackled resistance in rice. However, the In the 2006 dry season alone, IRRI
in its future research. Drought physiological characterization, or scientists examined the drought
is a more complex phenomenon phenotyping, of plants has not, until response of more than 14,500
than most other stresses, such now, advanced at the same pace. If rice lines and varieties—including
as salinity, submergence, pests, scientists are to better understand traditional and exotic rice varieties
and diseases. It can occur at any and exploit the wealth of available that potentially harbor a wealth of
point during crop production and genetic information, they need valuable genes—at the institute’s
for any length of time, affecting detailed knowledge of the biological Philippine headquarters. Each line
a large array of physiological, effects of drought stress at both the needed to be carefully monitored
biochemical, and molecular cellular and whole-plant levels. for its response to drought in the
processes. These complexities, along By subjecting plants to different field, so that the resultant data could
with the uncertainty in drought irrigation regimes and thus different be combined with existing genetic
timing, intensity, and duration, levels and intensities of drought information, allowing researchers to
have posed a major challenge for stress (see Playing rain-god on ultimately select the best candidates
agricultural scientists. Despite for breeding programs for drought
Jose raymond Panaligan (3)

drought having been a focus of resistance. It is a daunting task. Even

agricultural research for several a simple 1-minute description of each
decades, progress in delivering line would take 14,500 minutes—
drought-adapted rice varieties and more than 30 work days, and only a
technologies has been relatively slow. fraction of what is required to obtain
The past few years have sufficient data for an in-depth study.
seen something of a revolution Researchers are developing new
in genomics—the science of methods that allow many lines to
understanding DNA sequence be quickly but reliably evaluated.
structure, variation, and function, For example, infrared thermal
and the relationships among these. imaging—using an infrared camera
Rice research, in particular, has to measure plant temperature—is an
benefited from the sequencing of innovative method of gaining precise
the entire rice genome (see The information on the stress experienced
gene revolution on pages 14–18 by plants and their subsequent
of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 1). The response or adaptation. Leaf

32 Rice Today July-September 2006

temperature is a sensitive indicator 40.1 °C
Playing rain-god
of plant stress level. Plants cool down
by losing water through small pores,
known as stomata, on their leaves. 35
T o investigate how rice varieties respond to
drought conditions, scientists subject plants
to different irrigation regimes and thus different
In dry periods, plants conserve levels and intensities of drought stress. Methods

Hamlyn JONes
water by closing their stomata, which of irrigation include:
consequently raises internal plant 30.5 °C Soil drying. By exposing drained paddy fields
temperature. Leaf temperature is thus to soil drying periods during both dry and wet
A thermal image of drought-stressed
seasons, researchers can simulate intermittent
related to the stress level of the plant. rice (right; mostly yellow) and irrigated rice
(left) in an IRRI field. dry-spells in rainfed lowlands. This system has
Infrared thermometer guns been used by IRRI drought breeder Gary Atlin
have long been used to measure the to screen large collections of breeding lines and
temperature of individual leaves. be used to detect whole-plant, or rice hybrids and to identify several donor parents
As early as the 1980s, former IRRI even whole-plot, temperature within for drought resistance breeding.
Sprinkler irrigation. This is used in upland
crop physiologist John O’Toole seconds. While this technique can
fields to compare plant performance under
used this method to screen rice be applied very quickly on a large well-watered aerobic conditions and drought
varieties for reproductive-stage scale, more detailed measurements conditions. It also allows drought of varying
drought avoidance. He found are required to fully understand severity to be simulated at specific plant growth
that mean canopy temperatures the effect of drought stress. stages.
Drip irrigation. This uses drip tapes to apply
increased dramatically from 28 to As part of a project funded by
water to individual rice plots, thus allowing
37 degrees Celsius during a drought the Rockefeller Foundation, Hamlyn variable drought stress periods. Drip irrigation
stress period, and that the lines Jones, from Dundee University in is the preferred method for screening varieties
that had previously responded Scotland, and Mauro Centritto, with major differences in flowering time—by
best to drought consistently from the Consiglio Nazionale delle initiating the stress period at different times,
researchers can target a specific growth stage
remained coolest under stress. Ricerche (National Research Council)
for each variety.
Despite these promising results, in Rome, recently worked with IRRI’s Line-source sprinkler irrigation. This is used to
using an infrared gun on single drought physiology group on scaling generate a differential gradient of soil moisture
plants can result in high plant- up field screening procedures from varying from well watered to extremely dry, thus
to-plant variation and thus have single plants or leaves to plot and allowing comparisons of the effects of different
levels of drought stress on the same plots at
limited scope as an efficient and field levels. While taking a series of
the same time.
reproducible screening method. infrared thermal images from atop
However, recent technological a 6-meter scaffolding tower placed
progress in infrared thermal imagery above rice plants under various reduce yield, the researchers also
has revived interest in using canopy drought stress treatments (see took measurements during and
temperature as a screening tool, photo below), the team of scientists after flowering to understand what
especially if scaled up to plot or field measured other indicators of drought the exact cause of this reduction
levels. Infrared cameras can now stress such as above-ground biomass is, and to determine what causes
production, plant certain varieties to yield more than
water status, others under drought stress. Early
photosynthesis, results are gradually revealing the
Hamlyn JONes (atop
tower) takes a thermal and leaf gas physiological processes that underpin
image while Rachid Serraj exchange the rice plant’s response to drought.
(right), Gary Atlin (cen- through stomata. Further improving the efficiency
ter), and Ranee Mabesa
discuss their research. Combining this and accuracy of screening will
information with allow enhanced integration of
temperature newly developed genomics tools
measurements with corresponding methods of
will provide a phenotyping. Such advances will
more detailed help scientists unravel the mysteries
picture of the of drought and ultimately develop
effects of stress rice varieties that can withstand
on individual severe water shortage, thus helping
lines. the millions of farmers who are
As periods afflicted each and every season.
of water shortage
during a plant’s Drs. Serraj and Cairns are senior
reproductive crop physiologist and postdoctoral
stage can fellow, respectively, in IRRI’s Crop and
severely Environmental Sciences Division.

flies over rice fields.


on a

Although seemingly at odds,

rice production and biodiversity

conservation can exist together—

Story and photos by Greg Fanslow
the trick is to find the right balance

ou might see something fickle resources for enhanced food land leveling, and bunding, radically
strange if you go bird production. And, satellite imagery alter the ecology of the system and
watching near the small shows us that, over the past 30 years, tend to eliminate nonproductive
town of Candaba in the human ingenuity has been hard at native vegetation. From a wildlife
middle of the Philippine work converting Candaba marsh conservation perspective, converting
island of Luzon—next to rice fields into a homogeneous landscape of wetlands to agricultural fields too
and a dusty road, with no water in agricultural terrain (see maps on often represents habitat simplification
sight, are houses perched on stilts page 14). to favor the needs of just one
with boats stored underneath. This Bringing floodplain wetlands species—the crop—and creates
area is a cultivated floodplain and into agricultural production generally nonoptimal circumstances for other
it’s the quintessential place between requires flood control and drainage to species and ecosystem functions.
land and water—an area defined manage water levels. These hydrologic While at first the arguments over
by its potential both in terms of modifications, along with plowing, high levels of food production versus
agricultural productivity and as a
habitat for a profusion of wildlife.
At the edge of Candaba marsh,
Almost every wet season, about near the Pampanga River, a
a third of Candaba’s 18,000 hectares truck drives past a flood gauge
of farmland are flooded up to several designed to measure depths
meters by the Pampanga River. This more than 4 meters above
is in some ways a vestige of floodplain ground level.
landscapes that used to be much
more widespread in Asia. However, as
demand for rice has increased, many
areas like this—with soils that are
potentially good for agriculture, but
usually too wet—have gradually been
appropriated for rice production.
It is a scene repeated again and
again in the planet’s rice-producing
areas. From an agronomist’s
perspective, wetland conversion
exemplifies the application of human
ingenuity to optimize nature’s

34 Rice Today July-September 2006

maintaining biodiversity may seem accompanies the development of calculus of conservation, page 36,
hopelessly at odds, International Rice homogeneous agricultural areas. for more on the response of birds to
Research Institute (IRRI) ecologist While there can be large numbers specific environmental changes.)
K.L. Heong maintains that these of birds in rice fields, there generally The streaked reed-warbler
debates are mainly a problem of aren’t nearly as many species as exist (Acrocephalus sorghophilus)
semantics and the scale at which we in undisturbed wetlands. According is a rare species seen as quite
think about agricultural systems. to Fisher, “The very abundant sensitive to wetland conversion.
“If we say that our goal is to species we see tend to be the ones Breeding in China and wintering
optimize natural resources to that are lucky enough to have an in reed-beds in the Philippines,
maximize only grain production ecological niche that overlaps with this small bird is now rarely
or only the number of bird species, some aspect of the rice system. Such observed in Candaba marsh and is
for example,” says Dr. Heong, “we species might do extraordinarily well generally regarded as in decline.
perceive the world quite differently because the system has essentially On the other hand, changing
than if we say we want to optimize been optimized for them as well.” conditions can favor species that were
the totality of services that humanity However, Fisher warns that previously alien to the landscape.
derives from an ecosystem over many “while rice fields provide excellent The Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer
generations. Once the discussion feeding habitat for many of the montanus), for example, is a
expands to include a larger basket seasonal migrants to the region, ubiquitous rice pest that can eat
of environmental services over there are very limited breeding large amounts of grain, and which
long time scales, there is usually opportunities for resident species now thrives in extraordinarily high
much less misunderstanding.” on field margins and almost no numbers in rice-growing areas
Understanding the “totality” birds actually breed in rice fields.” throughout the Philippines.
of almost anything is a daunting As well as being affected by Despite these examples, much
undertaking, particularly the totality the amount of land that is brought can be done. Take Candaba, for
of a landscape, but Dr. Heong into cultivation, local bird species instance. Candaba City Mayor Jerry
points out the value of indicator are also affected by the amount of Pelayo has established a 72-hectare
organisms for this kind of task— time during the year that the land is bird sanctuary adjacent to Candaba
particularly the kind with feathers. cultivated. “Early in the conversion marsh. The sanctuary attracts some
According to Dr. Heong, there process,” says Fisher, “there is 500 local and foreign visitors each
are two compelling things about usually just one crop per year with year, boosting the local economy
birds that make them useful for a long fallow period when native through increased employment
understanding how human activities vegetation can recover and birds and tourism. Although an isolated
influence ecosystems. First, birds may be able to breed in overgrown sanctuary is unlikely to significantly
are widely cherished and, compared areas. However, as water control help species that require very
with less cherished groups of becomes more effective and cropping large areas, a number of species do
organisms (such as insects), many cycles are added, the periods when appear to have benefited from the
people have some knowledge about native vegetation can recover are mayor’s efforts. Perhaps the most
how the abundance and species drastically reduced.” (See The notable is the Philippine swamphen
composition of birds have changed
with time. Second, birds are a In the heart of Candaba marsh, about
very diverse group, with many 8 meters above the fields they work in,
species that specialize on particular farm workers camp on one of the major
resources within the overall levees that holds back seasonal floods.
environment. This specialization
means that changes in abundance
of a particular species can give us
clues to specific things that have
changed in the overall environment.
Tim Fisher, a prominent
Philippines-based naturalist and
co-author of the authoritative Guide
to Birds of the Philippines, has
observed declining numbers of bird
species in Candaba and other parts
of the Philippines for nearly 30 years.
Fisher points out that the major
threat to bird abundance seems to
be the loss of native vegetation that

Rice Today July-September 2006 35

(Porphyrio pulverulentus). Common A PURPLE HERON prowls
in the past, the swamphen became the bund of a rice field in
rare as wetlands were lost, but now a once-marshy area.
breeds successfully and is a familiar
site in the Candaba sanctuary.
In addition to preserving
biodiversity for bird lovers, there are
myriad other human benefits from
wetlands. According to the secretariat
of the Ramsar Convention on
Wetlands, other services provided by
healthy wetlands include protecting
downstream areas by storing
floodwaters during the wet season,
recharging aquifers, and releasing the
stored water during the dry season.
Wetlands also act as biological filters receive benefits from wetlands, along with biodiversity? “Why not?”
by retaining and processing nutrients the wetlands must be managed asks Ruaraidh Sackville Hamilton,
and pollutants. Wetlands are also appropriately by humans. leader of the T.T. Chang Genetic
critical habitat for many fisheries. “While we must restore wetland Resources Center at IRRI. “Although
For a complete list of environmental habitat to effectively conserve bird agricultural intensification during the
services, see Barbier et al 1997 (www. biodiversity,” explains Dr. Brooks, 20th century was based on reducing “this alone won’t be effective biodiversity, it is not at all clear
According to Thomas Brooks, unless the rice systems in the same that increasing biodiversity per se
senior director of the Center for landscape are managed in a manner would reduce productivity. In theory,
Applied Biodiversity Science at that maintains appropriate flow judicious selection of the appropriate
Conservation International in of water into the areas within the components of a biodiverse system
Washington, D.C., in the U.S., it system that are important to wildlife.” can increase productivity by
works both ways—while humans Can high food production coexist enhancing beneficial processes like
the activity of natural enemies of
diseases and pests, and increase the
The calculus of conservation stability of production by buffering
by Jonas Rune
the impacts of climatic uncertainty.”

he figure to the right shows a theoretical model �
“It’s a false dichotomy,”
of species richness (for birds, for example) as says Thomas Brooks. “The most
a function of landscape homogeneity (the ������ authoritative study on this (Balmford
variation of types of habitat in the landscape). ����������

The more intense the farming, usually the more et al 2002, Science Vol. 297, p 950–
homogeneous the landscape and the fewer native 953) shows that, if the value of all
species can be expected. This does not necessarily ��� �
environmental services is considered,
mean that the number of birds will be lower, as conservation areas are generally
we may see a rise in the abundance of invasive ��� ����
worth 100 times the opportunity
species (species that expand rapidly when they ���������������������
are introduced from another region or when costs of establishing them.”
Potential relationships between degree of landscape
environmental conditions change). homogeneity (variation of types of habitat in the land-
Further highlighting the
The shape of the curve depends on what scape) and the number of species able to use an area. potential for a win-win solution,
species and habitats make up the ecosystem. Sackville Hamilton turns the issue
The more specific environmental demands a
on its head and adds that “when you
species has, the sooner it will disappear when its is shaped by many factors, so it is difficult to
environment changes. determine the exact shape of the curve, but this look at very extensive wetlands, they
Case A presents an example where most conceptual model provides an idea of how much are actually rather homogeneous
native species disappear quite early in the land effort is needed to restore biodiversity. Case A, for at the landscape level and it’s quite
conversion process. An example of this would be example, would require the system to be restored possible that when agriculture is
converting forest to rice fields, where most of the to close to its original condition—a very large
introduced to the landscape in
forest species are lost very quickly because their effort. In case B, however, even small measures
niches don’t overlap with the rice system. In case can have significant positive effects. patches, it can actually increase the
B, species richness is sustained much longer. An An understanding of how species react to overall biodiversity of the system.”
example here could be rice farming in an existing land use gives us a clearer idea about which areas The real issue, it seems, is to
wetland, where more species may be able to use are likely to experience the maximum benefit from carefully find the right balance.
the new habitat and patches of natural habitat our restorative efforts.
still remain.
The relationship between wetlands and birds Jonas Rune is a Philippines-based biologist. Greg Fanslow is an environmental
consultant at IRRI.

36 Rice Today July-September 2006


Do rice prices affect

malnutrition in the poor?
by Debbie Templeton
Economic impact specialist, IRRI Social Sciences Division

Cheaper rice can help break the cycle of poverty and malnutrition

t least 840 million people of the rice grain (developing varieties
worldwide do not have enough that contain increased levels of
food to meet their daily energy micronutrients) are well documented,
needs. In addition, more than three little research has explicitly examined
times this number—including many the link between the price of rice and
who do have enough food to avert day- the nutritional status of rice produc-
to-day hunger—suffer from micronu- ers and consumers.

ariel Javellana (2)

trient deficiencies because their staple We know that the decline in the
foods contain negligible amounts of inflation-adjusted price of rice due to
essential micronutrients such as zinc, productivity gains was the major
iron, iodine, and vitamin A. contributing factor behind the
Micronutrient deficiency results progress in poverty reduction in Asia
in low cognitive development and over the last two decades (see Do household rice expenditure and child
increased susceptibility to disease, lower rice prices help the poor? on nutritional status.1 An analysis of the
and contributes to maternal mortality page 37 of Rice Today Vol. 4, No. 2). relationship between the price of rice
during childbirth. The enormity of We also know that a large share of the and the number of children found to
this problem is staggering, with large income of poor households in Asia is be underweight indicated that, while
numbers of women and children in used to purchase food, with the rice consumption remained fairly
sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, greatest proportion going toward the static, expenditure on rice increased
and South and Southeast Asia at high purchase of rice. The ability of a with price rises, leaving less income
risk. For example, over half of all household to purchase food depends to purchase the nonrice foods that
women and children in South and on income and on the price of food. would deliver the vitamins and
Southeast Asia suffer from anemia, to Therefore, if households respond to a minerals essential for healthy growth.
which iron deficiency is a major change in the price of rice by reducing Furthermore, higher rice prices are
contributor, and malnutrition-based the quantity or changing the compo- correlated with the number of
disease contributes to more than half sition of their total food basket, the underweight children aged 6–59
the deaths of children below pre- household’s nutritional status could months.
school age. be affected. The major implication of this
The basic cause of malnutrition is Between 1992 and 2000, the study is that factors that lead to a fall
poverty because the poor lack the Nutritional Surveillance Project in the price of rice can have a positive
resources to produce or purchase collected data on more than 81,000 impact on both poverty levels and the
nutrient-dense foods such as meat, rural Bangladeshi children aged 6–59 nutritional well-being of children
fruit, and vegetables. In turn, malnu- months. These data were used to because not only will they have more
trition perpetuates poverty as it examine the association between to eat, their diets will also contain a
directly reduces the productive ability higher proportion of nutrient-rich
of those afflicted. foods. At the same time, lower rice
Rice is the staple food of around prices must be accompanied by
half the world’s population, providing strategies to help rice-farming
50–80% of the energy intake of the families who may be adversely
poor in South and Southeast Asian affected (also see Do lower rice prices
countries. Rice therefore offers a help the poor?).
tremendous opportunity for breaking
the savage poverty-malnutrition 1
Torlesse H, Kiess L, Bloem MW. 2003. Association
cycle. While the relative benefits of of household rice expenditure with child nutritional
nutritional supplement and fortifica- status indicates a role for macroeconomic food policy
tion programs and of biofortification in combating malnutrition. J. Nutr. 133:1320-1325.

Rice Today July-September 2006 37

grain of truth

Are we at risk from metal

contamination in rice?
Sarah Johnson

he simple answer to the question posed by the title is “no”— cases of arsenic poisoning have been caused by consumption of
because most rice is not dangerous. On closer inspection, contaminated drinking water, not food.
though, we find that some rice-cropping systems are more Cadmium, which chemically mimics the plant micronutrient
likely than others to take up metals that are toxic to humans. Such zinc, is less likely to be found in rice grain than in other grains
metals may be a natural part of the local environment or present because it is less available to plants under flooded conditions.
in industrial pollution. However, because cadmium is very toxic, it is important to monitor
Who is most at risk from contaminated rice? Nutritionally any effects that trends in rice production may have on grain
deficient people are more likely than well-nourished people to cadmium content. In water-scarce areas, for example, water-saving
experience harmful effects from eating rice containing higher- irrigation strategies may increase cadmium uptake. Sources of
than-average levels of metals. As the most impoverished people cadmium in rice fields include urban sewage sludge applied to
are the most likely to be malnourished, they too are the most soil, runoff from mining operations, and, to a much lesser extent,
vulnerable. phosphate fertilizer.
Which metals are dangerous? The risk of long-term exposure What are scientists doing? Researchers have a four-pronged
to low levels of metals is difficult to confirm. All of the potentially approach to minimizing the content of metals in rice grains:
toxic metals are naturally present in the environment in trace identifying which geographical areas have elevated risk and
amounts and are ingested with food, testing soil and plant samples; identifying
water, and air. Human bodies have the the rice varieties that take up the least
ability to deal with these background metal or convert the toxin to less toxic
levels. The World Health Organization
The most impoverished forms when grown in high-risk areas;
has established guidelines on allowable developing irrigation, fertilization, and
consumption of various toxins. people—and hence residue management strategies that help
How important is food in exposure to minimize metal uptake by plants; and
to metals? Some toxic metals, such the most likely to be recommending growth of nonrice crops
as chromium, mercury, and lead, are where the risk is too high for rice.
considered very low risk as plant food malnourished—are What can farmers do? Farmers
contaminants because plants can’t absorb who think their farm may be in a high-
them. Other metals, such as copper and the most at risk risk category should contact their local
zinc, are needed in small quantities by extension office and arrange to have soil
plants and humans, and become toxic to and grain samples tested. If a contaminant
plants before they reach high enough concentrations to be toxic is present, there may be a recommended approach for their area—
to humans. The metals that pose the biggest risk are those that more suitable varieties or irrigation techniques, for example.
chemically mimic plant nutrients and can therefore be absorbed What can policymakers do? As well as determining allowable
by plants at high enough concentrations to threaten human levels of contaminants in food, policymakers can implement food
consumers. and soil-testing programs in suspected risk areas, monitor land
Is rice riskier than other food? Arsenic is of more concern use and cleanup of contaminated sites, and build capacity for
in rice than in other grain crops because flooded soil conditions monitoring and solving contamination problems.
make arsenate, which mimics the plant nutrient phosphate, more How do I know my rice is safe? Most people are extremely
available to plants. However, far more arsenic accumulates in unlikely to consume sufficient contaminated rice to cause
leaves than in grain, and experiments have so far failed to measure health problems. The people most at risk are those who live on
arsenic concentrations above published safe limits in rice grain, contaminated sites and eat primarily the rice produced on their
even in very contaminated soil. own land, those who have additional sources of contamination
Sources of arsenic contamination in rice fields include geologic besides rice, and those who are nutritionally deficient. Many of
soil materials that are naturally high in arsenic, irrigation with these people do not have access to the necessary information. It
contaminated water, residual arsenical pesticides used on cotton, is our job to identify and inform them.
or application of poultry manure from chickens treated with
arsenical antiparasite food additives. In Bangladesh, which has Sarah Johnson is a soil scientist in IRRI’s Crop and Environmental
widespread geologic arsenic contamination, the many documented Sciences Division.

38 Rice Today July-September 2006

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