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International Rice Research Institute January-March 2008, Vol. 7, No. 1

Pesticides, pests, and

Documenting drought

Bird’s-eye views of an
enduring rice culture
ISSN 1655-5422 US$5.00
Vol. 7, No. 1

Editorial . ............................................................... 4 The unsung heroes of the rice field .......... 30

Historic angles: pioneer interviews, arthropod surveys, Simply by growing rice, farmers cultivate a complex—
and bird’s-eye views and free—pest control system without doing a
single extra thing
News ......................................................................... 5
Farmers struggle after Bangladesh cyclone The pesticide paradox ..................................... 32
Pesticide use at the International Rice Research
Doomsday vault preparations Institute is down almost 90% in 14 years, while pests
Irrigated rice production system under pressure are less of a problem and biodiversity has increased
Rice traders predict prices to increase further
Into the unknown ............................................. 34
Every summer, the World Food Prize Foundation sends
People ...................................................................... 8 high school students from the United States to
Relevance of rice researchers recognized international agricultural research institutes to work
Keeping up with IRRI staff with leading scientists and learn about agricultural
Moving on development

Recipe ....................................................................... 9 Rice Facts .............................................................. 36

Pea and mint risotto A closer view of Ifugao .................................. 22 The true price of rice. Rising rice prices will negate
rice agriculture progress in poverty reduction

The IRRI pioneer interviews . .......................... 10 African rice research expands . .................. 23
Peter Jennings: luck is the residue of design Grain of Truth . .................................................. 38
Four new countries have become members of the Balancing fertilizer use and profit
Africa Rice Center, signaling increased investment
Maps ....................................................................... 12 in rice research and the growing importance of rice
Cartograms: distortion for a better view in Africa
On the cover:
A close overhead view of wet
bird’s-eye views of an enduring .................. 14 Out with the wet, in with the dry ................ 24 stone-walled rice fields
rice culture How a farmer achieved a better life by using dry- ready for transplanting near
season rice technology Mayawyaw town (location 1 on
Rice Today fulfills its promise to publish more the map on page 14) in Ifugao
spectacular photography taken from above Ifugao Province in northern Luzon,
Province in the northern Philippines. What is the When the rain stops ......................................... 26 Philippines. For more stunning
significance culturally and scientifically? In August 2007, Rice Today visited drought-stricken aerial photography showing
the changes of an indigenous
areas in the northern Philippines to discover that
Snapshot .............................................................. 20 it takes more than a dry spell to dampen farmers’
people’s environment over the
View of Happaw, then and now years, see the feature article on
spirits pages 14-21.

cover photo Ariel Javellana 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, Meg Mondoñedo
Africa editor Savitri Mohapatra (Africa Rice Center – WARDA) 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 Print Town Group

Rice Today is published by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication
leading international rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with should not be construed as expressing IRRI policy or opinion on the legal status of any
offices in 13 other countries, IRRI is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on country, territory, city, or area, or its authorities, or the delimitation of its frontiers or
improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, boundaries.
particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of Rice Today welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. Potential contributors
15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research are encouraged to query first, rather than submit unsolicited materials. Rice Today
(CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. For more information, visit assumes no responsibility for loss of or damage to unsolicited submissions, which should
the CGIAR Web site ( be accompanied by sufficient return postage.

Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2008 NonCommercial: This work may not be used for commercial purposes.

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by IRRI or the author(s).

Farmers struggle after Bangladesh cyclone Doomsday vault preparation

C yclone Sidr smashed into the south-

ern coastal districts of Bangladesh
on 15 November, killing almost 4,000
T he Svalbard Global Seed Vault—
dubbed the Doomsday Vault by the
media—will be a subterranean gene-
people and leaving millions homeless bank built into the rock of Norway’s
and short of basic staples such as rice. Svalbard group of islands in the Arctic,
Based on initial estimates, about 1 mil- nearly 1,000 km north of mainland
lion hectares of rice are affected. Norway. The vault will store seed
The cyclone and two major floods samples of the world’s most important
earlier in 2007 have contributed to crops as protection against extinction
major food shortages in the South Asian and disaster.
country, which was added to a list of 37 As part of a project to document
countries facing a food crisis and re- preparation for the vault, Cary Fowler,
quiring external assistance, published executive director of the Global Crop
on 17 December 2007 by the Food and Diversity Trust—which aims to safe-
Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the guard and conserve the diversity of
United Nations. BANGLADESHI FARMER all major food crops—visited IRRI on
According to the FAO, the liveli- Nasiruddin Khan shows 6-7 December, together with Laurent
his damaged harvest
hood of more than 8.5 million people after Cyclone Sidr hit Cibien and Alain Guillon, a film crew

Adam Barclay
has been adversely affected by the his village of Purbo- from ARTE TV. They were in the Philip-
cyclone damage. Estimates of the rice hajipur. pines to film at IRRI and the National
shortfall caused by the cyclone and Genebank and to visit farmers in the
floods range from 1.4 million to 2 mil- within a few months. Besides, seeds southern Philippines.
lion tons. are of low quality and cannot be stored “What we’re trying to do is to pro-
The country’s food-grain imports— for the next transplanted aman [wet] vide an insurance policy for rice and
usually 2 million to 2.4 million tons— season.” other major crops—a plan B, a backup,”
are likely to rise to around 3.5 million Farmers were unsure of how they said Dr. Fowler. “Soon, IRRI will be
tons in 2008. Adding to the burden would meet their food needs up to their sending 70,000 rice accessions to the
for the millions of afflicted people, the next season’s harvest, 4–5 months away Svalbard Global Seed Vault, and that’s
increased imports combined with high at the earliest. Crops that were able to a remarkable contribution.”
global grain prices will probably lead to be harvested tended to produce small
higher prices for consumers. yields of poor-quality grain that, ac-
To see what role IRRI might play cording to farmers, tastes bitter. Many
both in response to this disaster and families lost everything—not only
to mitigate the effects of future cy- rice but also their houses, personal

Ariel javellana
clones—predicted to occur with greater belongings, vegetables, poultry, and
frequency and severity due to climate livestock.
change—Institute scientists Zainul With BRRI and FoSHoL collabo- Cary Fowler (second from left) and IRRI Ge-
Abedin, Abdelbagi Ismail, and David rators, the IRRI scientists developed netic Resources Center Head Ruaraidh Sackville
Johnson traveled to the affected areas preliminary recommendations for Hamilton (standing, right) inspect wild rice
varieties with research technician Nora Kuroda
of Bangladesh on 14-16 December. restoring farmers’ livelihoods. These (left), assistant scientist Soccie Almazan (cen-
They were joined by the Bangladesh included provision of seeds of suitable ter), and research technician Liza Yonzon.
Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and rice varieties in the short term and, in
several nongovernmental organizations the longer term, the development of Improve your English and help
working on the IRRI-coordinated Food new varieties and crop management end hunger
Security for Sustainable Household and intensification strategies to in-
Livelihoods (FoSHoL) project. crease the chances of crops surviving has two goals: provide
English vocabulary to everyone for free and
“Farmers in affected areas are in future severe weather events. help end world hunger by providing rice to
immediate need of relief efforts to cope On 17 December, Drs. Abedin, hungry people for free. The site offers an
with the current devastation,” said Dr. Ismail, and Johnson, along with IRRI addictive multiple-choice vocabulary quiz.
Ismail. “Short- and long-term measures liaison scientist Hamid Miah, discussed Every time a player gets a question correct,
are needed to ensure sufficient seed their observations at a series of meet- FreeRice, through sponsors who advertise
on the site, donates enough money for
supply for these farmers, particularly ings with the secretary of the Ministry 20 grains of rice. This was raised from the
for 2008. This is because most farmers of Agriculture, Md. Abdul Aziz, the initial 10 grains on 28 November 2007. As
lost their rice crop and the grain yield Bangladesh Agricultural Research of 31 December, 12,255,121,230 grains had
of the remaining crop is expected to be Council, and the Bangladesh Rural been donated. The rice is distributed by the
very low, and will mostly be consumed Advancement Committee. United Nations World Food Program.

Rice Today January-March 2008 


Seeing is believing
The Sub1 gene—identified by IRRI and University of California researchers—allows rice to
survive complete submergence for up to 17 days (see From genes to farmers’ fields, on pages
28-31 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 4). The photo at left shows the end-result harvest of a plot
on 16 October 2007, which yielded the equivalent of 3.8 tons per hectare for IR64+Sub1
and 1.4 tons per hectare for IR64. A striking time-lapse video showing the entire 127-day
Jerby Aguihon

cropping season of this particular experiment of IR64 with and without Sub1—standing side
by side and subject to 10 days of submergence—is available at
Links to this and other IRRI videos on YouTube are available at this Web location.

Irrigated rice production system under pressure

I n the face of grow ing pressure

on one of Asia’s most important
food production systems, experts are
and the increasing costs of production
and inputs. In Vietnam alone, industrial
development has caused the loss of
warning that farmers must get more 300,000 hectares of irrigated rice land
help to make them more efficient. in the past 5 years.
Irrigated rice production provides On a positive note, research
approximately three-quar ters of efforts to help rice farmers boost
the world’s rice needs, and has a their production efficiency and rein
particularly important role to play in their costs are being helped by new
now, with international rice prices at a scientific knowledge in several key
10-year high and global stocks at a 30- areas, including new technologies
year low. However, at the 3rd Steering to optimize the use of fertilizers and
Committee meeting of the IRR I- reduce water use.
coordinated Irrigated Rice Research The IRRC, with major support

amping personal collection

Consortium (IRRC), more than 50 rice from the Swiss Agency for Development
scientists from 13 countries highlighted a nd C ooperat ion, promotes and
the problems facing farmers of irrigated s u s t a i n s pa r t ner sh ip s b e t we en
rice. The meeting, held on 8-9 October national agricultural research and
2007, was hosted in Hanoi by the extension systems and IRRI to help
Vietnamese Academy of Agricultural farmers achieve increased profitability,
Sciences. food security, and environmental member Faiga Amping poses wearing her Rice
Major issues discussed included sustainability. The Consortium operates Today T-shirt at the Statue of Liberty in New York.
competition for land and water from in the Philippines, Bangladesh, China, Readers who send in a photo of themselves hold-
ing a copy of the magazine in front of a famous
industrial development, the increased Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, landmark will receive a free T-shirt (email to
migration of farm laborers to cities, the Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and; post to Adam Barclay, IRRI,
reemergence of rice pests and diseases, Vietnam. DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines).

Key factor in high yields cumulative mean temperature and vaccine. Rice was chosen because it is
Longer grain-filling duration in tropical cumulative solar radiation throughout a staple in many developing countries
irrigated rice is a major factor in higher the grain-filling period, leading to where HBV causes severe problems
yields. This was a key conclusion of higher grain weight per unit area. The and large numbers of people do not
a study reported in the 26 November study also found that grain-filling rate have access to existing vaccines. The
2007 issue of Field Crops Research. and duration were highly genetically research team introduced to rice a
The paper, Grain-filling duration, variable traits, that grain weight was gene known as SS1, which codes for an
a crucial determinant of genotypic negatively or not significantly associated HBV surface protein. When given to
variation of grain yield in field-grown with grain-filling rate, and that grain- mice, the SS1 protein stimulated the
tropical irrigated rice, authored by filling rate and duration were negatively production of antibodies that provided
the Korean National Institute of Crop correlated with each other. protection against hepatitis infection.
Science’s Woonho Yang et al, was based The researchers, who reported the
on research by a team that included Rice vaccine for hepatitis? study in the 20 September 2007 issue of
several IRRI crop scientists. The team A group of Chinese scientists has Transgenic Research, hope to develop
determined that longer grain-filling developed a transgenic rice line that an oral vaccine for preventing hepatitis
duration provided rice plants with more could offer a hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in humans.

 Rice Today January-March 2008

Export prices for rice

Rice traders predict prices to increase further


R ice prices will continue to increase,

according to participants at the
World Rice Commerce Conference
Pakistan. However, with the exception
of Cambodia and Myanmar, it appears
that the production increases in the
US 2/4%
Thai 100%B
Viet 5%
Pak Irri-25%
held in Bali 31 October–1 November deltas have reached a limit.
Thai A1 Super
2007. According to Randy Barker, head The current trade situation was 330
of IRRI’s Social Sciences Division, brought to a head by India’s 9 October
who represented the Institute along decision to ban exports, suggesting
with Development Director Duncan a desire to maintain domestic stocks
Macintosh, “No one was selling and it and stable rice prices. Whether and
seemed generally assumed that the new when India will again become a major 230
crop was already sold.” exporter is uncertain.
Jeremy Swinger, from Farm and “The conclusion is that prices will
Trade Inc., in his presentation on rise—how far, how fast, and for how
General trends in the commodity long is anyone’s guess,” said Dr. Barker. 0



markets, looked at the tight situation for

“Then the question is how the price rise
all food stocks, especially rice, wheat, will affect supply response in Asia. Sub-
and maize. Mr. Swinger sees the current Saharan Africa is likely to experience Source: FAO Rice Price Update December 2007
price increases as not just a short-term the sharpest reduction in imports. It is
phenomenon but a fundamental shift in difficult to ship to Africa because of high There was speculation on whether
the grains markets. freight costs and poor port facilities, the situation could be reversed if India
Bob Papanos, who publishes The and India and Pakistan have been two were to again export in 2008 or China
Rice Trader, focused on the near term, of the main suppliers. Adding to the were to draw down stocks. The sentiment
projecting export supplies for the woes of the African importers is the very was that this may stave off higher prices
coming year. He suggested that prices sharp rise in Pak Irri and Thai A1 Super for 2008 but not in the long run, with no
would continue to rise steeply, peaking (see figure) low-quality grades favored clear sign of where future increases in
in February to March 2008. by most African countries.” supply will come from.
Delegate s noted t hat rec ent
increases in production have been Rice Today cover inspires musician: Jay Maclean, a freelance writer,
highest in the delta areas of South information specialist, and musician, was struck by the cover photo in
and Southeast A sia—par ticularly the April-June 2007 issue of Rice Today, which depicts the Mekong River
Bangladesh, a major importer, and as it winds through Yunnan Province in China. He writes: “I was sitting
at my piano, looking at the cover, seeing the rugged landscape rolling
Thailand, Vietnam, and India, which down onto a narrow river, a temple, shoals, and mud; nevertheless, the
have been a source of major exports. same river that later calms down on its voyage through Cambodia and
Exports have been rising with the beyond. So, I began to play an impression of the scene. After an hour
increase in exports to sub-Saharan I had a piece that runs for nearly 4 1/2 minutes.” He calls it, naturally,
Africa coming largely from India and River of Rice. To listen to the melody, go to

Rice diseases as bio-weapons created to keep infectious diseases out varieties of rice for several thousand
Microbiologists in the United States of the hands of would-be terrorists. years before the start of the slave trade
are, according to a story in the 29 with the colonies.
November 2007 issue of Nat ure, Slaves brought U.S. rice?
expressing concern about a government Preliminary research reported in IRRI-China office turns 10
proposal to limit research on several National Geographic News suggests The IRRI-China Office celebrated its
plant pathogens because of their that a rice variety grown successfully 10th anniversary on 28 November at the
potential to be used as bio-weapons. by many colonial plantation owners was Institute of Crop Science, on the Chinese
The researchers say that the plan to brought to the United States from West Academy of Agricultural Sciences campus.
subject rice and citrus disease agents to Africa. If confirmed, the finding suggests China-IRRI collaboration has resulted
the same restrictions as Ebola virus and that African slaves are responsible for in the release of 46 IRRI germplasm
anthrax are ill conceived and will limit not only working the farms and bringing accessions as varieties in China; more
the response to a natural outbreak. The the knowledge to grow rice but also for than 800 IRRI alumni, many of whom
U.S. Department of Agriculture plans supplying the variety itself, which was are now leading their institutions in rice
to add four plant pathogens to the one of the most lucrative crops in early research; and an increasing number of
government’s list of “select agents,” American history. West Africans grew collaborative projects.

Rice Today January-March 2008 

Relevance of rice researchers recognized

T he work of rice researchers received

major encouragement in 2007, with
staff at the International Rice Research
on International Agricultural Research
(CGI A R). At the early December
meeting in Beijing, China, Dr. Brar
Institute (IRRI) and their colleagues was honored with the Outstanding
receiving widespread recognition and S c ient i s t Aw a r d , wh ic h honor s
several major awards. original work by a senior scientist
“These awards and the recognition whose contributions have actual or
t hat comes w it h t hem are clear potential regional or international
confirmation of the world-class rice significance that furthers CGIAR

research being conducted today in goals. Dr. Heong picked up the COM+
Asia and elsewhere,” IRRI’s Director K.L. Heong (left) receives the Academy of Sciences Award for Communicating Science
for the Developing World (TWAS) Prize for Agri-
General Robert S. Zeigler said. “More culture from TWAS President Professor J. Palis.
for People and the Planet, honoring
people rely on rice for their sustenance the Environmental Soap Opera for
than any other type of food. Millions, Rural Vietnam, an entertainment-
if not billions, of these people live in to a multicultural society in the Asia education initiative led by Dr. Heong
poor communities throughout the Pacific region.” to help farmers improve their crop
developing world. Research that helps Further validating the Institute’s management systems.
rice farmers boost their production and env ironmental credentials, IR R I A team of scientists led by IRRI
income, or helps reduce prices to make entomologist K.L. Heong received the plant breeder David Mackill, in
rice more affordable, has the capacity Academy of Sciences for the Developing collaboration with colleagues from the
to pull vast numbers of people out of World (TWAS) Prize for Agriculture, University of California (Riverside and
poverty and, therefore, does nothing recognizing his pioneering work in Davis), won the Outstanding Scientific
short of offering them better lives.” ecology and integrating biological and Article Award, also presented at the
Outgoing IRRI Board of Trustees social sciences to promote integrated AGM. The winning paper, “Sub1A is
Chair Keijiro Otsuka accepted the pest management, which has helped an ethylene response factor-like gene
Iue Asia Pacific Culture Prize on behalf millions of rice farmers reduce their that confers submergence tolerance to
of IRRI at a 12 October ceremony pesticide use. Dr. Heong rice,” appeared in the
during the Asia Pacific Forum of the rec eived t he pr i ze, 10 August 2006 issue

Ariel javellana
Awaji Conference in Kobe, Japan. This which included a plaque of the journal Nature.
prestigious award was established and US$10,000, at the Authors K. Xu, X. Xia,
in 2001 to recognize individuals and 18th T WAS General T. Fukao, P. Canlas, R.
organizations pursuing cultural and Meeting held in Trieste, Mag hirang-Rod-
social activities within the Asia Pacific Italy, 13-14 November riguez, S. Heuer,
region that have made outstanding 2007. A. Ismail, J. Bailey-
contributions to the promotion of Rice breeder Dar- Serres, P.C. Ronald,
international exchange and/or regional shan Brar (pictured, a nd D r. M ac k i l l
development. According to the Prize right) was one of two described their dis-
organizers, IRRI has “made many great winners of the 2007 cover y of a gene
contributions to reduce poverty and K o sh i h i k a r i I nte r - (Sub1A) that confers
solve environmental problems, and, national Rice Prize, submergence tole -
through your efforts, we expect that in 30 October in Fukui rance to rice, and the
the future you will further lead the way Prefecture, Japan. Dr. consequent breed-
Brar, who does wide ing of this gene into a
crosse s to t ra nsfer popular commercial
desirable characteristics of wild rice var iet y. The resultant var iet y is
species to commercial rice varieties, identical to the popular cultivar but
shared the award—named for a prized is able to withstand up to 17 days of
Japanese rice variety—with co-winner severe flooding. Since the paper was
Tantawi A. Badawi, president of the published, the IRRI team has bred
Duncan Macintosh

Agricultural Research Center, Cairo, Sub1A into several other popular

Egypt. They each received 500,000 varieties, which have undergone
Japanese yen (US$4,630). successful on-farm trials and are
Keijiro Otsuka (left) receives the Iue Asia Pacific IRRI scientists also received several poised to make a big impact on flood-
Culture Prize on behalf of IRRI from Satoshi Iue,
representative director of the Asia Pacific Forum awards at the 2007 Annual General prone farms in countries such as
and son of the founder of the Sanyo Corporation, Meeting (AGM) of the Institute’s parent Bangladesh and India. See Seeing is
which sponsors the prize. organization, the Consultative Group believing on page 6.

 Rice Today January-March 2008

Keeping up with IRRI staff • Gene Hettel, head of Communi-
cation and Publications Services,

O ther IRRI staff receiving awards in

2007 included
• Director General Robert Zeigler,
received the 2007 International Award
of Excellence from the Association
for Communication Excellence in
who was a lso feat ured in TIME Agriculture, Natural Resources, and
Magazine’s Innovators series, was Life and Human Sciences (ACE) at its
awarded the distinction of Fellow annual meeting in Albuquerque, New
of the A merican A ssociation for Mexico, USA.
the Advancement of Science, “For In other news, water scientist
distinguished contributions in plant Bas Bouman was appointed Crop
pathology, plant breeding, and microbial and Environmental Sciences Division
biology covering a range of food crops (CESD) head, effective 1 Januar y
and microorganisms, and for leadership 2008, with an initial appointment

in international agriculture.” for 5 years. Geographic information
• Soil scientist Roland Buresh was systems specialist Yann Chemin and
awarded the 2007 International Soil • Gurdev Khush (pictured above biochemist Dilantha Gunawardana
Science Award by the Soil Science with H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri began work as postdoctoral fellows in
Societ y of A merica at its annual Sirindhorn of Thailand), former the Social Sciences Division and CESD,
meeting on 5 November in New Orleans, IRRI breeder and World Food Prize respectively.
Louisiana, USA. Dr. Buresh received the laureate, and Susan McCouch,
honor for his leadership in formulating former IRRI geneticist, shared the Moving on
and disseminating improved practices Golden Sickle Award presented during
of site-specific nutrient management. the BioAsia 2007 Conference in early Rene Villanueva, Filipino playwright
Another IRRI soil scientist, Achim November in Bangkok. They were and author of IRRI’s children’s book
Dobermann, received the Agronomic cited for outstanding research that has Graindell, passed away on 5 December.
Achievement Award from the American contributed significantly to propelling Mr. Villanueva was a leading figure in
Society of Agronomy. rice research into the future. children’s literature in the Philippines.


Jose Raymond Panaligan

Pea and mint
Risotto is a traditional
Italian rice dish. This recipe
serves 4 as an appetizer.

60 ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
200 g risotto rice (e.g., arborio or
1 liter warm vegetable stock
120 g frozen baby peas
¼ cup loosely packed mint leaves
Finely grated parmesan to serve over medium heat for 5 minutes, then freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle
add a little stock and stir until stock risotto with parmesan and serve
Preparation is absorbed. Continue to add stock, immediately.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan, add stirring until rice is al dente (firm but
onion and garlic, and sauté over low not hard). Next, add peas and mint and Source: Gourmet Traveller, modified by Melissa
heat for 8 minutes or until onion is soft cook for 2 minutes or until peas are Fitzgerald, head of IRRI’s Grain Quality, Nutrition,
and translucent. Add rice and sauté tender. Season to taste with salt and and Postharvest Center.

Rice Today January-March 2008 

The irri pioneer interviews
Conducted by Gene Hettel
Gene Hettel (3)

Luck is the residue of design

Peter Jennings, the International Rice Research Institute’s first rice breeder (1961-67), with a long career in
Latin America after his work in Asia, kicks off this historic series with a singular wit. He played a major role in
the development of IR8, the rice variety that would ultimately change the face of agriculture across Asia (see
Breeding History on pages 34-38 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 4). He reminisced on a warm, muggy day (20 July
2007) at his home in Gainesville, Florida. Here are edited highlights of the interview.

A matter of 5 minutes by. He said, “Peter, what are you morning at Purdue in the dean’s
started graduate school at Purdue going to do?” I said, “Well, Dean, office, I would not have crossed paths
University in 1953. I was there I’m going to go to Wisconsin.” He with Dean Young, there would have
almost 3½ years for my master’s responded, “Didn’t you want to work been no phone conversations with
and doctorate. During my with Rockefeller?” I said, “Yes.” He Harrar, and I would have had a career
second year, a Mexican kid—Ignacio said, “Wait a minute.” The dean as a forage pathologist in the U.S.
Narvaez—was in the office adjacent to walked into his office, picked up the
mine. Ignacio was a wheat breeder for phone, and called George Harrar George Harrar—he
the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture [then RF’s director for agriculture was magnificent!
associated with the [Nobel Laureate and later RF president, 1961-72]. So, I got a job with the Rockefeller
Norman] Borlaug group and he He left the door open so I could Foundation in 1957. Terrific! What’s
talked about Mexico and his work. hear. He said, “George, I’ve got a the significance of this? Bob [IRRI’s
I said to myself, “I want to work in kid here. He set some sort of an first director general, Robert F.]
international agriculture.” I was academic record here at Purdue Chandler’s book [An Adventure
consumed by this. But everything I and he wants to work for you and in Applied Science] cites the year
tried to become affiliated with the what are you going to do about it?” 1958—about a year and a half after my
Rockefeller Foundation was useless. So, I had two phone conversa- telephone calls with Harrar—as the
Nothing happened. Rockefeller didn’t tions with George Harrar. During time when the Rockefeller and Ford
need another plant pathologist. those conversations, he said Foundations first connected to thrash
So, I finished in 1957. Jobs were something I never forgot, “Would out the concept of IRRI. Harrar had
scarce. There was one job available you want to live in the Philippines?” “IRRI” on his mind when he talked to
in Madison, Wisconsin—a forage I said, “Of course!” That night, I had me much earlier on the phone about
pathologist for the U.S. Department to look in my atlas to see exactly rice and the Philippines. You don’t see
of Agriculture, which I was about where in the Pacific the Philippines that in Chandler’s book. The driving
to accept. At Purdue, I lacked one were. He said, “Well, we’re going force behind IRRI was George Harrar.
form for my doctoral thesis. I went to do something there. It’s going to He was magnificent, a giant!
to the dean’s office in the School of take 3 or 4 years to get organized.
Agriculture to pick it up. While I was Meanwhile, we’ll have to find Getting germplasm
talking to the secretary, Dean Ernest something for you to do [ultimately, in the early days
C. Young—also a consultant to the brief stints in Mexico and Colombia].” When I finally got to IRRI in October
Rockefeller Foundation who knew me I have a profound belief in 1961—as a breeder, not a pathologist—
because of my frustrated attempts predestination, fate, and luck. Had I the first challenge was to assemble
to get into the Foundation—walked been 5 minutes earlier or later that a comprehensive world collection of

10 Rice Today January-March 2008

rice varieties. For germplasm, IRRI They were shaded by tall things. They plants. Essentially, the ratio of tall to
had only some 300 odd varieties. I were sterile and miserable, but short! short was 3 to 1—obviously a single
spent a lot of time wandering back We grew out the F1s [first gene recessive for shortness! It may
and forth in the mud trying to look generation]—38 combinations, sound something like arrogance,
at these plants. I wrote a letter, co- which is ridiculous by today’s but I contend that I knew, at that
signed by T.T. Chang [IRRI geneticist, standards. Thirty-eight crosses in moment, the significance of this.
1961-91], requesting any germplasm a year—absurd! But that’s what we
in small seed samples, and sent it to had. So, we grew out the F1s; they Mixing good science with luck
rice workers or experiment stations were terrible. They were worse When I was a little boy, I was a fan
in some 60 countries. These were than the parents themselves. They of an American baseball team, the
the days when it was pretty easy to were gigantic—6–7 feet tall. We Brooklyn Dodgers. Their famous
move germplasm from one country to harvested the seed from each of the general manager was Branch Rickey.
another. The response was wonderful. single crosses—38 populations. And This wizard said, “Luck is the residue
Within months, boxes and boxes for not having anything else, we of design.” I think he was right. Some
of seed packages were coming in. had a large F2 [second generation] people are lucky, some people are not
I guess within 2 or 3 years we had population—4,000–6,000 lucky. Luck does appear on its own
several thousand accessions. plants from each single cross. volition, I know, from time to time.
Maybe a month after trans- But luck is a consequence of putting a
Increasing rice yields planting, one day we looked out lot of mental observational evidence
Another challenge was more com- there. The plants from the first cross all together and all of a sudden it
plicated. Chandler kept preaching: were tall—terrible. It was a jungle. happens, it works. There is always
increase yield! Okay, that’s easy to It was bad. Then, we came onto the luck. But sometimes you earn your
say, but how do you do it? I spent a lot plants from one of the crosses that luck. You influence your luck for sure.
of time talking with Akira Tanaka, involved one of the three Taiwan
head of IRRI’s Plant Physiology short-statured varieties. We looked
Department [1962-66]. We tried to down the rows. Something had Go to to read the full
develop a mental image in our minds happened! It was an epiphany! I never transcript of the Peter Jennings interview
of what the leaves, stems, culms, and had an experience like that in my in which he discusses more of his version
general architecture would look like life—before or since. There were tall of the IR8 story, distributing IR8 in the
on an ideal rice plant that would yield plants and there were short plants, Philippines, his impressions of Bob Chandler
more. We determined that, if we were but there were no intermediate and other colleagues during the early days,
going to make any progress, we had to plants! The short ones were erect, his rice work in Latin America including
dramatically change the plant type. darker green, and had sturdy stems genetic versus agronomic advances, and his
The first seminar I gave at IRRI and a high number of tillers. We view on what are the challenges for IRRI
was on what an ideal plant type had counted the tall plants and short as it approaches its 50th anniversary.
to look like if we were going to get
higher yield. I wrote that up and
sent it to Crop Science [Plant type
as a rice breeding objective, 4:13-15,
1964]. There were no data, it was
just philosophy. For some reason,
Crop Science published it. Years
later, I reread that paper, long after
IR8 came out [in late 1966]. And it
just seems to me that IR8 looks very
much like what we were theorizing.

An epiphany
Well, the rest is history and just sheer
luck. And it goes back to that first set
of 38 crosses [that ultimately led to
IR8] we made in late 1962. About half
of them involved the three famous
Urbito Ongleo

Taiwan short-statured varieties [Dee-

geo-woo-gen, Taichung Native 1, and
I-geo-tze]. They looked terrible under
Philippine conditions. They were IRRI’s first rice breeder, Peter Jennings, briefs visitors on IR8 in April 1966 just 7 months before its
official release.
riddled with bacterial leaf blight.

Rice Today January-March 2008 11


Cartograms: distortion for a better view

by Robert Hijmans
Geographer, IRRI Social Sciences Division

artograms are maps on against their use in navigation! These maps show how rice
which areas are altered to Figure 1 shows cartograms1 production is concentrated in
reflect the subject of interest. of the domestic production of South, Southeast, and East Asia.
They accentuate patterns, the three main grain crops—rice, Maize production is particularly
making it easier to understand wheat, and maize—and of root and high in North America and China,
them. Because these maps violate tuber crops (including cassava, but it is relatively evenly spread
most rules of cartography, we advise potato, sweet potato, and yams).2 across countries. Wheat is a crop

Fig. 1. Annual production of selected grain crops and all root and tuber crops by country.

Production (million tons) Roots/tubers

There are different types of cartograms. Here we use “area-cartograms”
produced with the algorithm of Gaster and Newman (Diffusion-based
method for producing density equalizing maps. 2004. Proc. Natl. Acad.
Sci. USA 101:7499-7504), implemented by Rachel O’Brien.
Data for Figures 1 and 2 are from the FAO Web site:

12 Rice Today January-March 2008

of temperate and subtropical cartograms of daily per person in mega-producer United States. This
climates, including being a winter consumption of these crops.3 These is because, as in Asia, most maize
crop in northern India, but it is maps account for the number of is consumed indirectly, as it is used
mostly absent in tropical countries. people in a country, but they are also for animal feed and sweeteners.
Root and tuber crops are relatively influenced by international trade Some of it is used for biofuel and
important in sub-Saharan Africa and the degree to which the crop not consumed at all. Wheat is the
(particularly cassava), China (sweet is used for (direct) consumption. prime energy source for people in
potato), and Central Europe (potato). Rice consumption per person in North Africa, Europe, and Central
The amounts produced in a West and East Africa is higher than Asia. Roots and tubers are a very
country in part reflect the number of you would expect from the production important source of energy in Africa.
people living there. To some extent, cartograms. This is in part because Have these maps whetted your
that explains why China, the world’s of rice imports. Particularly striking appetite for cartograms? A very
most populous country, is a large is the importance of maize in Africa, good source of other cartograms
producer of all crops mapped. Central America, and southeast is the WorldMapper Web site
The maps of Figure 2 show Europe. It is not consumed as much at

Fig. 2. Daily per-person consumption of selected grain crops and all root and tuber crops, by country.

Roots/tubers Consumption (calories/person/day)

Note that here we are mapping a rate rather than an amount. Daily
energy requirements depend on various factors, including age and
activity level, but are about 2,000 calories per person for an adult.

Rice Today January-March 2008 13

Bird’s-eye views of an

2 1 Alfonso Lista
Banaue Mayoyao
3 5 6 Aguinaldo

4 Hingyon


it R


7 Riv
Asipulo er


Ifugao Province
Eleven municipalities and photo locations
Municipality town center
14 Rice Today January-March 2008
enduring rice culture
An Overhead view of the central part of Batad By Gene Hettel
District with its famous ampitheater-like terraces Color photography by Ariel Javellana

rising to the mountaintops (about 16 km from
Banaue town center; location 2 on map). Getting
there requires hiking over a steep ridge into the
n early 2006, Rice Today editors
bowl-shaped valley. decided to begin featuring a
breathtaking photo in each
centerfold, starting with
the April-June 2006 issue.
We anticipated that this would
normally be a visually stimulating
rice landscape. But coming up with
something particularly spectacular
for the inaugural centerfold
was easier said than done.
Then, fortuitously, Harold
C. Conklin, the renowned
anthropologist, linguist,
ethnobiologist, and preeminent
authority on the Ifugao people of
northern Luzon in the Philippines,
approached staff photographer Ariel
“Biggs” Javellana with a proposition.
He offered to take him on a couple of
unforgettable rides in a small airplane
if he would bring along his camera
equipment. The expedition would
document some 40 years of both
change and stability across Ifugao
Province’s topography encompassing
rice terraces, rivers, and forests.
Mr. Javellana accepted. Dr.
Conklin located a hard-to-find
but suitable small plane with an
experienced pilot for the journey.
The unpredictable cloud cover in
the region cleared for two rare
back-to-back glorious days. And
the rest is history. Rice Today got
its first stunning centerfold photo
(see Claiming rice fields from
wild rivers on pages 19-21 of Rice
Today Vol. 5, No. 2), award winning
no less. And Dr. Conklin got his
treasure trove of 1,000 photos to
pore over and evaluate, capping
more than 40 years of study he
has made of the Ifugao people’s

Rice Today January-March 2008 15

environment, culture, and society. culturally and scientifically?
Rice Today is also fulfilling a Dr. Conklin, now professor
promise to publish more spectacular emeritus at Yale University,
photography from this collection. Connecticut, began his research
These images have the same on the Ifugao people in 1961 and
incredible detail as the first centerfold has since devoted half a lifetime
of a bird’s-eye view of the winding to studying these architects of the
Alimit River in northeastern Ifugao famous Banaue rice terraces. In
Province. As stated by the judge, addition to the Ifugao’s well-known
who awarded that image the Silver magnificent skills in agricultural

© h.c. Conklin collection

Medal in the feature photo category terracing, he has observed and
of the 2007 photography competition examined their intricate ritual
sponsored by the Association for and legal systems; their distinctive
Communications Excellence (ACE), patterns of social organization, sex,
“The oxbows create a stunning and warfare; their rich oral literature;
graphic. The photo is sharp, bold, and and their artistic achievements
interesting. Readers will take time to in wood carving and basketry. mapping of a significant part of
stop and look. When they do, they’ll For more about the Ifugao, see the region. During those years, I
spot the rice fields in the lower right. Contours of change, on pages 8- also took many photos of Ifugao
It’s fun to look at the buildings, the 13 of Rice Today Vol. 3, No. 1). rice agriculture at ground level (see
rapids, the steeply forested banks, “I took my first aerial photo- page 22).” Many of these photos
and other details.” Many of these graphs of the Ifugao area from a and resulting maps appear in his
details show up in the photos of this small plane in the summer of 1961,” Ethnographic atlas of Ifugao (see
article. This undoubtedly leads to says Dr. Conklin. “I also arranged box on the next page) published in
a very important question: What for concentrated photographic 1980, some of which are reproduced
observations does Dr. Conklin make efforts in 1962, 1963, 1968, and 1969. in this article with permission from
from the photographs and, apart Additionally, I had vertical aerial Yale University Press for comparison
from being a magazine editor’s pictures taken, which facilitated with those taken during the March
dream, what is their significance, the photogrammetric plotting and 2006 Conklin-Javellana foray.

This bird’s-eye view of central

Hingyon District (location 4 on map)
shows hamlets, fields, and woodlots.
A new road can be seen alongside
the ritual field (circular field in the
center) when compared to the inset
photo at right, taken on 24 April
16 Rice Today January-March 2008
This overhead shows a central section of
Bannawol District (location 3 on map), which
can be compared to the photo inset at left
taken on 23 April 1963. After 43 years, nothing
much has changed, even the shape of the
terraces. Compare this with the development
activities in the Banaue town center in the
photo on page 19.

“Unfortunately,” says Dr. Conklin,

“during the 1960s, I never had the Pictures then and now
chance to survey the whole area
from the air at the same time. But,
thanks to the unusual break in the
A lthough officially out of print, Harold Conklin’s
Ethnographic atlas of Ifugao: a study of
environment, culture, and society in northern Luzon
often dense cloud cover, Biggs and I (Yale University Press, 1980) can still be found
were able to do this over most of the in little out-of-the-way bookshops in Manila and

gene Hettel (2)

140+ traditional Ifugao agricultural through itself, which warned at this
writing that “only two copies are left in stock but
districts (within 9 of the province’s 11 more are on the way.” Pricey at $296, strategically
municipalities; see map on page 14) sized at 18 1/4 × 16 × 1 inches to show the photo-
spread across a vast area of rugged grammetric plotting and mapping to scale, and weighing 6.5 pounds, this atlas has been
terrain.” Up until then, he had walked called a work of art and a Philippine national treasure by one reviewer, who adds, “Rarely in
through some of the valleys only once this world do we find individuals as dedicated to their scholarly work as Dr. Conklin.”
Another reviewer writes, “There are books that are fine and attractive volumes, books that
or knew of them only from reputation. are valuable for their purview of other cultures, books that stand alone as art. This atlas, in
truth a working volume and nothing to be set aside in some sterile cabinet, is all of those
and then some. There are a couple of books that joust for the title of the most beautiful and
well-conceived in late 20th century bookmaking—without a doubt this would be one of the
very few.” Read more reviewer comments at
In the photo above right, Dr. Conklin shows long-time Ifugao friend Aurora Ammayao and
her daughter Maria Hettel some of the 40-year-old aerial images of the terraced landscapes
appearing in his atlas. He says these landscapes have both delighted and baffled him over
the years. How have these and similar tropical upland agricultural systems developed? And
what are their long-term effects on soils, terrain,
vegetation, and animal life as well as on human
activities? The atlas is at least a partial report of
his first 20 years of investigations.
In the photo at left, Dr. Conklin and Rice
Today photographer Ariel Javellana inspect more
© h.c. Conklin collection

than 1,000 new aerial photos taken over Ifugao

Province in March 2006. These exquisite images
may add more pieces to the puzzle or perhaps,
in some cases, raise even more questions than
provide immediate answers.

Rice Today January-March 2008 17

An oxbow rice field created roadway networks and population One thing that truly surprised
by diversion of the Alimit growth, especially along these and impressed Dr. Conklin is the
River in Banaw District
(location 6 on map). routes,” he says. “The town centers amount of forest land in Ifugao
of Banaue (photo at top of page 19) today. “Looking at any early picture
and Lagawe are now tremendous of an Ifugao agricultural district (as
little cities instead of small crossroad a whole) will show considerably less
hamlets.” However, when flying over forest cover than was revealed by our
most of the districts, they found that recent survey,” he says. “In terms of
the agricultural centers—the places luxuriousness, density, and height,
where the largest pond fields are the forest landscape is remarkable,
located—have not been affected by the a situation not at all the case in most
urban sprawl or the roadway system. of the rest of the Philippines.”
The photos show that no valleys Why is this? Dr. Conklin surmises
where agricultural activities were that, as in many other parts of the
under way in the early 1960s have Philippines, Ifugao overseas workers
been abandoned since then. Dr. are sending back remittances, which
Conklin pointed out that Ifugao have allowed many Ifugao remaining
Province is blessed with abundant at home to buy imported food and be
rainfall and irrigated fields are kept able to eat rice more than once a day.
inundated during all seasons. “Certainly, the amount of rice
“Cement has been the greatest being produced on the terraces has
According to Dr. Conklin, his additional ‘concrete’ input,” he says also increased tremendously,” he says,
very preliminary inspection of the with a smile. “It did not exist before— “but unquestionably the Ifugao diet is
photos has yielded some fantastic at all. The cement does not go into now less dependent on sweet potato
and perhaps surprising findings. the pond fields or into agricultural than before. Previously, most Ifugao
“Of course, the greatest changes landscape. It stays along the roads, didn’t eat rice two or three times a
across Ifugao have been in the vast which are usually above the terraces day throughout the year. They often
improvement and expansion of and the agricultural land below.” depended on sweet potato tubers

This area in Hu’yu district (location 7 on map)

shows one of the few areas in Ifugao where new
terracing has occurred. Many Japanese soldiers
died here in the final stages of World War II.

18 Rice Today January-March 2008

As of the 2000 census,
the municipality of Banaue
had a population of 20,563
people in 3,952 households.
The town center of Banaue
depicted here lies within
the agricultural district of
Bannawol (location 3 on
the map).

cultivated in temporary slopeland is in the hands of others outside of rice? How do they feel it, taste it, live
fields that did not have access to Ifugao. Land tenure and land usage in with it, use it, classify it, sample it,
sufficient water for rice field terracing. Ifugao have traditionally been tightly and use all of its by-products? This
The area devoted to these shifting managed and integrated culturally. will be a culmination of my, to date,
cultivation plots has very greatly Some other ecological obser- 47-year study of the Ifugao people.
diminished and has grown back as vations that can be made from The body of information is very great.
second growth forest and woodlots.” comparing photos from the 1960s I’ve written and given papers and now
Dr. Conklin speculates why there with those taken in 2006 show I’m trying to put all of it together.”
are so many Ifugao overseas workers that many partially terraced areas He anticipates that many of
who have directly made it possible have expanded a little. However, the aerial photos will certainly
for local forests in the province to significant new terraces can be have a place in his book, but
flourish by putting less pressure on detected in only about three or four surmises that it might be worth
the land. “The Ifugao were among the districts, such as shown in Hu’yu doing something separate on the
first Cordilleran pioneers to venture (see photo at left). “They are very photos themselves as well. “One
far from home, initially in-country important for these people who have really good aerial picture can tell
and then around the world,” he says. not had much land before,” says Dr. researchers a tremendous amount
One unique cultural quirk Conklin, “but I don’t think these if they know what’s truly happening
contributing to so much out- new terraces are very economic.” on the ground. A collection of such
migration from the province is the At the spry age of 82, Dr. Conklin photos showing the variation of
Ifugao custom of primogeniture, is working on yet another book to landscapes and places—which we now
that is, inherited fields are not split complement his ethnographic atlas. have—can tell us a very rich story.”
up. Explains Dr. Conklin: “If there Featuring Ifugao rice specifically, it
are seven children in a family (and will show the staple from a traditional
even today, there often are), only Ifugao view. “I am tapping into a large Editor’s note: The photos featured in
the oldest will get the ‘lion’s share’ body of information that is shared by this article and other magnificent scenes
of the landholdings. The rest of the the people living in the agricultural shot during the March 2006 Conklin-
siblings have to seek their livelihoods districts and doing the agricultural Javellana expedition can be accessed
elsewhere.” Also, there are no work in the pond fields all year long,” and downloaded on the Rice Today
absentee landlords. Very little land he says. “What do they know about Web site at

Rice Today January-March 2008 19

Ariel Javellana

© H.C. Conklin collection (R.F. Barton photo)

Rice Today January-March 2008, Vol. 7, No. 1

This view of Happaw, Du’ligan (Dukligan) District (location 5 on map), shows no substantial change since 1913 (inset).
At ground level...

A closer view of Ifugao

rice agriculture

An elder chooses the best rice panicles containing the next

season’s seed for planting (1963).
© H.C. Conklin collection (4)

Bringing in the rice harvest to the drying ground (1963).

Terrace maintenance and dike repair are backbreaking work


gene Hettel

Removing rice seedlings from a seedbed for transplanting. Remaining seedlings A traditional Ifugao priest sacrifices a pig to the rice gods
will be carried to other pond-field plots (1963). during a harvest ritual in Lugo near location 3 on map (1995).

22 Rice Today January-March 2008

African rice research
by Savitri Mohapatra

Four new countries have become members of the Africa

Rice Center, signaling increased investment in rice
Member states of the
research and the growing importance of rice in Africa Africa Rice Center (WARDA),
with new members in red.

he 26th session of the Council traditionally known
of Ministers of the Africa Rice for rice cultivation.”
Center (WARDA), held in Abuja, “With the success of WARDA’s
Nigeria, 27-28 September 2007, technologies, particularly the
signaled a historic change for rice New Rice for Africa (NERICA®),
research in sub-Saharan Africa. Central and East African countries
The expansion of the geographic are seeing for themselves the create the next generation of rice
mandate of WARDA, which is benefits of investing in rice researchers in sub-Saharan Africa.
primarily based in West Africa, was research,” Dr. Seck said. The Council urged WARDA to
formally approved and four East In his opening address, His strengthen links with subregional
and Central African countries were Excellency Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and regional bodies and reiterated
admitted as WARDA members. president of the Federal Republic its commitment that WARDA,
The new member states are of Nigeria (represented by the vice- while remaining one of the 15
Uganda—the first East African president, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, international centers supported
country to be admitted to WARDA— who delivered the message) men- by the Consultative Group on
the Central African Republic, the tioned that, aside from NERICA, International Agricultural Research
Democratic Republic of Congo, another major contribution from (CGIAR), be recognized as a Center
and the Republic of Congo. These WARDA to Nigeria was in the of Excellence of the African Union.
additions take the number of WARDA area of rice policy research. As the shortage of seed of
member states from 17 to 21. The Council of Ministers improved varieties continues to be a
“This is the first time since thanked Dr. Seck for his strong major constraint to rice production
1987 that new members have joined advocacy for rice research and in sub-Saharan Africa, the Council
WARDA,” stated WARDA Director development, which has led encouraged WARDA’s involvement,
General Papa Abdoulaye Seck. “But to tangible improvements in in association with national
what is more important is that contributions from member states programs, in seed production and
the new member states are from —including Nigeria, which has urged it to help in the development
East and Central Africa—regions fulfilled its financial obligations and harmonization of seed
that, unlike West Africa, were not to WARDA to date. legislation at the regional level.
“The contribution received One of the highlights of this
from member states in 2007 is session was the presence of invitees
A woman threshes rice in Benin.
equivalent to that of the last 10 from the Network of Farmers’
years,” the Council affirmed. and Agricultural Producers’
The Council strongly backed Organizations of West Africa. The
a new pan-African Rice Initiative Council resolved to invite farmers’
that will be launched in 2008 by associations as observers to the
Benin President Yayi Boni with WARDA National Experts Committee
WARDA, as part of advocacy efforts meetings on a regular basis.
to support Africa’s rice sector. The 26th session was held
Dr. Seck’s vision and strategy under the chairmanship of Abba
for a more competitive, diversified, Sayyadi Ruma, Nigeria’s minister
and sustainable Africa Rice of agriculture and water resources.
Center were fully endorsed by the Before concluding its historic

Council, particularly the post-M.Sc. session, the Council approved

internship program for young Togo’s assumption of the Council
educated Africans designed to chairmanship for the next 2 years.

Rice Today January-March 2008 23

with the wet,

with the dry
Irrigation technology,
such as low-lift pumps,
How a farmer achieved a better life helps farmers like Rajib
Neog to grow dry-season
by using dry-season rice technology rice in Assam, India.


By Nivedita Deka, Kabindra Borkakati, and Zahirul Islam

anakabari is a small village boro rice cropping, the Assam Agricultural University (AAU) at
with 87 households in state government started providing Jorhat initiated efforts to intensify
Jorhat District of the Indian subsidies for low-lift pumps in the boro cropping at Ganakabari, in
state of Assam. Every year, year 2000. Five farms began boro cooperation with the International
the low-lying area is subject to deep rice cropping for the first time during Fund for Agricultural Development
flooding due to monsoons that cause the 2002-03 season, irrigating about (IFAD)-funded project TAG 634:
the overflow of the Brahmaputra 2.5 hectares of land using the pumps Accelerating technology adoption
and Bhogdai rivers. For centuries, to lift water from the Bhogdai River. to improve rural livelihoods in the
rice has been the major crop of Although they had water for rainfed eastern Gangetic Plains. The
the area, the staple of the local irrigation, the farmers lacked an AAU research team provided farmers
population. During the kharif (wet) appropriate variety of boro rice. In with modern boro varieties developed
season, farmers monocrop sali rice; their first boro season, they grew by AAU—Kanaklata, Joymati,
their next crop consists of seasonal an unknown variety, the so-called and Jyotiprasad—and offered
vegetables, oilseeds, and pulses. No. 9, and two sali varieties—Luit information and technical support.
Most farmers in the village are and Lachit. No. 9 yielded about 5 In the 2003-04 season, 24
either marginal, having less than 1 tons per hectare; the sali varieties farmers cropped boro rice in a
hectare of farmland, or small, with yielded about half that. 27.5-hectare area. The AAU team
a farm size of 1–2 hectares. Most From 2003 to 2004, Assam promoted biofertilizer-based
farmers have a primary education. integrated nutrient management
The average yield of sali rice (BINM), which reduces the use of
is only about 2 tons per hectare. inorganic fertilizers and thus lowers
The combination of small farms production costs and water pollution.
and poor yields is a formula for In the 2004-05 season, 33
poverty in this area. Compounding farmers grew boro rice on 39 hectares
this, the Brahmaputra and Bhogdai and, in the 2005-06 season, 25
often cause flood damage to the sali farmers cropped boro rice on 20
rice, contributing further to food hectares. The decrease in 2005-
insecurity and poverty for the local 06 was caused by severe drought,
farmers. To improve livelihoods in which raised the cost of fuel and,
such areas, farmers wanted to grow consequently, irrigation. Most
rice during the dry (boro) season. farmers who grew these modern
Monsoons bring too much varieties harvested more than 5
water but the dry season brings Rajib and his wife, Pranita, share the responsi- tons per hectare, compared with the
too little. Therefore, irrigation is a bilities of farming and taking care of Rajib’s father 2-tons-per-hectare yield of sali rice,
and mother, Rameswar and Maloti Neog.
must for boro rice. To encourage which was often damaged by floods.

24 Rice Today January-March 2008

Most farmers have not aban- more rice than Rajib stands in front of his seed stock for
doned sali rice; rather, they have he needs and the boro rice variety Kanaklata. Just before
each boro season, he sells the seeds from
adopted a boro–sali system. Boro he has become the previous season’s crop.
rice is currently grown on about 30% a relatively
of rice lands in Ganakabari. About wealthy farmer.
70% of the land is now under the Occasionally, his
sali–boro system; the other 30% is brother collects
planted to boro only. Among the three rice from Rajib
introduced boro varieties, Kanaklata for his family’s
has become the most popular. consumption.
Rajib Neog is a young farmer Higher yields
from Ganakabari village. With a also mean that
secondary education, he has more Rajib has become
schooling than many farmers. a grower of
His brother, a school teacher, has Kanaklata seeds.
settled with his family in the nearby He stores most of his product until from the NGO Jeuti a certificate of
suburban town of Dergaon. His just before the next planting season appreciation. Jeuti—which means
three sisters are all married and and then sells it at a good price. “light”—advocates and promotes the
have settled in other villages with In 2005, Rajib earned about use of improved farming practices
their families. Rajib, the youngest 24,000 rupees (US$600) by selling by poor farmers in Assam.
sibling, remained at the family 4 tons of rice seeds, and in 2006 By presenting the certificate,
house in Ganakabari village to he earned 36,000 rupees ($900) representatives from Jeuti recognized
look after his elderly parents and by selling 6 tons. In addition Rajib’s achievements in growing
their 2-hectare farm. Cultivating to income from rice farming, Kanaklata. Since the training
mostly rice and seasonal vegetables, Rajib earns supplementary course, as a way of sharing his
his family’s life was difficult. income by growing vegetables knowledge with other farmers,
A receptive and technology-savvy and raising goats and ducks. Rajib helped organize a self-help
farmer, Rajib saw the potential of People who know Rajib can group for resource-poor farmers in
boro cropping. In 2002-03, he was see physical proof of his improved his village. In recognition of Rajib’s
one of five farmers who cultivated livelihood. In 2005, in preparation for accomplishments, members of the
boro rice for the first time in the starting his own family, Rajib used group, named Bhogdaiporia, selected
village. In 2003-04, he adopted the the additional income to construct an him to be the secretary—a position
Kanaklata and Joymati varieties, improved mud-walled tin-roof house. that confers higher social status.
and BINM, on 1.2 hectares. Later, In July 2006, he married Pranita Only a few years previously,
he increased the coverage to 1.5 (Munu), who has become his constant Rajib was a struggling farmer.
hectares—75% of his land. companion. Rajib also bought a Now, neighboring farmers ask him
In the 2004-05 season, Rajib single-burner gas stove for cooking, for seeds and seek his advice on
had stunning success with his first which saves his family the time and modern cultivation practices.
attempt at growing Kanaklata. He labor of finding firewood for cooking.
reaped 6.25 tons per hectare, while In Ganakabari and beyond,
yields of the sali varieties averaged people quickly figure out who the
2.3 tons per hectare. Rajib’s yield prosperous farmers are. Successful Dr. Deka is an agricultural economist
was the highest in his village. In the boro cropping with record high and Prof. Borkakati is an agronomist
2005-06 season, Rajib also harvested yields has brought a degree of fame at Assam Agricultural University.
an excellent crop that yielded 6.3 to Rajib. Many seek his counsel: Dr. Islam worked as an international
tons per hectare. In 2004-05, his neighbors in his farming community, research fellow at the International
total harvest was 8.5 tons; in 2005- scientists at development agencies Rice Research Institute. This article
06, his total harvest was 9.95 tons. and nongovernmental organizations, was adapted from Rajib finds a better
Rajib expected another bumper and agricultural extension life by using dry-season (boro) rice
crop in the 2006-07 boro season. specialists at the state government’s technology: a case study in Jorhat District
In addition to the higher yields of Department of Agriculture. of the Indian state of Assam, a chapter
Kanaklata, Rajib grows the variety In April 2006, Rajib achieved in Technologies for improving rural
for its finer grain quality, good formal recognition as a successful livelihoods in rainfed systems in South
eating quality, and high market farmer. Participating in a training Asia, edited by Zahirul Islam, Mahabub
price. Currently, he is growing course on seed selection and storage, Hossain, Thelma Paris, Bill Hardy, and
mostly Kanaklata and No. 9. presented at AAU by experts from the Joyce Gorsuch, and published by the
By adopting the new technology International Rice Research Institute International Rice Research Institute
package, Rajib has been able to grow and Bangladesh, Rajib received and online at

Rice Today January-March 2008 25

When the R ain
Story by Meg Mondoñedo
Photographs by Ariel Javellana

In August 2007, Rice Today

visited drought-stricken areas

in the northern Philippines

to discover that it takes

more than a dry spell to

dampen farmers’ spirits

right oranges, rich This was the scene in late August for the farmers mixed with fears
yellows, piles of husks in 2007 throughout towns on the that our attempt to document the
wheat-colored hues—all Philippine island of Luzon in the effects of drought would be futile.
maize, no rice. Central Region, Cagayan Valley, and Fortunately—or unfortunately—after
the Ilocos Region (see brown-shaded several interviews with farmers and
area of map). Drought hit these areas farm workers, we discovered that
in July, forcing most rice farmers to the absence of dry rice fields was
plant maize, vegetables, and other not because the reports of drought
dry-season crops instead of rice. had been exaggerated, but because
Venturing north from its Los many farmers had simply ceased
Baños headquarters, Rice Today their planting operations altogether
expected to see parched land studded due to the absence of rain.
with dry rice plants, but there were “Most of the farmers here did
none. Our first reaction was relief not plant rice anymore when we

26 Rice Today January-March 2008

Despite attempts to bring rain
through cloud seeding, rice fields
throughout central and northern
Luzon remained bone dry during

the usual planting period.

Luzon (green)

Los Baños


A lack of rain in the northern

Philippines in July and August
2007 meant that many farmers’
rice fields—such as these in Isa-
bela Province—remained empty.

Rolando Diego, from Allacapan, Cagayan Province,

knew there was a drought,” explains had a very small harvest because of the drought.
Marlon Ortilla, 34, a rice farmer in
Sinait, Ilocos Sur. “I planted rice
seeds on 24 June but was able to
transplant the seedlings only on 25
August due to drought. The 2-month
delay caused yellowing of the rice
seedlings, which is no good.”
Like many other rice farmers
in the area, Marlon Cabato, 42,
from Amulog, Cagayan, planted
maize instead of rice. “We should
have started planting rice in
June,” he laments, “but because

Rice Today January-March 2008 27

Little and late rain meant that instead of
transplanting rice seedlings in late July 2007,
farmers had to wait until late August.

Angel Parayo’s rice crop in Candaba, Pampanga,

was hit by not only drought but also a typhoon.

maize planted on another 288,311

hectares. The DA noted that, of the
total area planted, 85,741 hectares
of land planted to rice and 128,543
hectares of land planted to maize
were affected by the dry spell.
In early August, the DA started
giving aid to small farmers reeling
there has been no rain, we planted some maize. It hardly rains from the dry spell, in efforts to boost
maize just now [late August]. My here. This October, I’m hoping yields and help put agricultural
rice seedlings are short and small for a good harvest, because my growth on track despite the adverse
because of the lack of water.” last harvest was in 2006!” climate. Aid provided several means
“My harvest was very small According to the Philippine of assistance including cloud-
because of the drought,” relates Department of Agriculture (DA), seeding, shallow tube wells, seeds,
Rolando Diego, 52, of Allacapan, when the dry spell struck, farmers and water-impounding projects.
Cagayan. “Our planting was had already planted rice on 1.071 But, for most farmers, help came
delayed for 4 months, but I planted million hectares of land, with too late to save their crops.

Marlon Ortilla from Sinait,

Ilocos Sur, had to delay his
transplanting by 2 months.

28 Rice Today January-March 2008

insufficent water for healthy
rice seedlings meant that Marlon
Cabato from Amulog, Cagayan,
planted maize instead of rice.

“Because of the drought, planting for many rice farmers, this year much last year due to strong
was delayed for 2 months, and, has been disappointing in terms typhoons; this year, it’s because of
when we were finally able to plant, a of harvest and income. This, in the drought. The farmers have no
typhoon hit us,” says Angel Parayo, turn, had a negative impact on more money; the money lenders are
68, who lives in Candaba, Pampanga. business in general in this region. now broke because farmers cannot
“All my seedlings were submerged “Business is suffering,” says pay them. All the farmers here are
in water for 5 days; the seedlings a gas station owner in Tumawini, having a difficult time. Business
recovered but the palay [rice] became Isabela. “All the businesses here is bad because of the drought.”
soft, which could cause losses.” are dependent on farmers’ produce. With little to look forward
The weather has meant that, Farmers were not able to harvest to, the farmers can only pray
for rain to come. Although the
Despite the poor future looks bleak, some—such
cropping season, as Rizal Laforga, 44, of Lalo,
Rizal Laforga of Lalo, Cagayan—are still hopeful.
Cagayan, remains
hopeful. “Because of the drought, my rice
field just grew weeds and grass, and
my rice plants didn’t grow,” says Mr.
Laforga. “The tillers became really
short; planting was delayed by one
month. We waited for the rain to
come; we would have started planting
in June, but there was still no rain in
May, so we were able to plant only late
in July. Our fields are just rainfed;
without rain, our plants will die.”
“It doesn’t help to be sad,” he
adds with a smile that belies his
fortunes. “We should still smile
so others won’t notice we are
suffering. There is always hope.”

Rice Today January-March 2008 29

The unsung
Predators of rice pests, such
as this meadow grasshopper
(Conocephalus longicornis) and
the orb-weaver spider (Argiope

heroes of
sp.; bottom), offer farmers a free,
natural pest control system.

the rice field

by Yolanda Chen

Simply by growing rice, farmers cultivate a complex—and free—pest control

system without doing a single extra thing

© 2007 Greg Fanslow (2)

ropical irrigated rice populations mostly feed on the sucking pest populations. Leaffolder
fields are ecosystems of emerging aquatic insects early in the moth damage also increases when
extraordinary biological season, and then switch to feed on the fertilizer is overused. Therefore,
diversity and a high level terrestrial insect pests as the canopy excess fertilizer makes the entire
of natural biological pest closes and aquatic insect populations system more vulnerable to pests.
control. A wide-ranging assemblage fall. Thus, the predators benefit from If biological control is so
of predatory spiders, beetles, bugs, an early flush of food that helps to effective, what causes insect pest
and wasps hunts insect pests build up their populations before outbreaks? The two most important
throughout the growing season. insect pests become abundant. insect pests of rice throughout Asia
This highly effective pest control Many modern rice production are the yellow stem borer and the
is much greater than that of most practices actually favor pest BPH. Found every season throughout
temperate agroecosystems, and outbreaks. For instance, populations the rice-growing regions of Asia, the
rice agroecosytems are arguably of sucking insect pests such as the yellow stem borer’s ubiquity has given
some of the most diverse in the brown planthopper (BPH), green it a reputation as a major pest—yet
world. Both the diversity and leafhopper, and aphids are actually it causes only 2–5% yield loss. Stem
complexity of species interactions limited by the amount of available borer damage during the vegetative
contribute to the robustness of protein. When too much nitrogenous stage of rice plant growth does not
natural pest control—a free service fertilizer is added, plants have cause yield loss because the plant
provided by the ecosystem. an excess of amino acids in their can compensate by growing more
Why is the biological control sap, which favors the buildup of vigorously. Only stem borer moth
of irrigated rice so unique among damage during the reproductive stage
agroecosystems? Early in the results in yield loss, and research has
cropping season, flooding of the field documented that there is a strong
stimulates the activity of aquatic tendency to overestimate such loss
insects, such as midge larvae, which because the white, unfilled panicles
feed on decaying plant material. look particularly bad to farmers.
These species are harmless to the In truth, the yellow stem borer is
crop, but have a beneficial role for not really a significant pest that
pest control. When the aquatic insects warrants serious interventions.
emerge out of the water to fly away, The BPH, however, was
they are consumed by hungry spiders responsible for huge and devastating
and predatory insects. The predator outbreaks throughout Asia in

30 Rice Today January-March 2008

the 1970s, and is considered the
preeminent pest of the Green
Revolution. Some of the key factors
that facilitated BPH outbreaks
during the 1970s were year-round
cropping of rice, increased use of
nitrogenous fertilizer, and the use
of insecticides known as synthetic
pyrethroids. These pesticides kill
off the natural enemies (known as
predators and parasitoids) of BPH,
allowing subsequent cohorts of BPH

Jose Raymond Panaligan (2)

a predator-free period to develop.
Because their populations develop Dr. Chen (right) surveys
pests and predators with
more quickly than the predators, BPH assistant scientist Carmen
populations can result in an outbreak, Bernal (rear) and research
causing devastating losses. Repeated technician Alberto Naredo.
pesticide overuse over large areas can
reduce the ability of natural enemies
to recolonize and establish natural and pesticides are cheap, there have by these positive pest control
biological control (see The pesticide been sizable BPH outbreaks. In 2005, measures, which appear to boost
paradox on pages 32-33). In areas about 2.7 million tons of rice were natural biological control without
throughout Asia where pesticide lost in China alone. In 2006, Vietnam causing negative side effects.
subsidies have been terminated, BPH suffered enough rice crop losses due Animal wastes are a growing
outbreaks have largely stopped. But to BPH and secondary viral outbreaks source of pollution in developing
in countries where there has been to threaten the country’s rice exports. countries, and a real public
an increase in pesticide production Are there ways to boost and health issue. If done properly,
retain the natural biological control channeling animal manure into rice
services in the rice field? In his 1996 production could lead to myriad
publication in the journal Ecology,1 benefits, including better water
William Settle and colleagues quality, better pest control, and
reported that adding manure to reduced reliance on pesticides. If
rice fields boosts natural control. we focus on irrigated rice as an
At the International Rice Research ecosystem, we can appreciate how
Institute, my team is studying the the system works together as a
relationship between manure inputs whole, and focus on how we can
and rice variety on natural biological subtly manipulate it in our favor.
control. We have found that 2 tons One of the most difficult
of composted manure added at the challenges ahead will be convincing
beginning of the season significantly researchers, policymakers, farmers,
lowers stem borer damage during and extension agents of the efficacy
the reproductive phase—the period and robustness of natural biological
when pest damage is the most control, underpinned by the amazing
difficult to manage. It also appears wealth of biodiversity, in the rice
that some plant varieties show field. Given the many conflicting
slightly higher levels of damage than political, social, and economic
others. Currently, we are evaluating pressures on pest management
manure as a pest-management tool by practitioners at the local, regional,
determining whether more manure and national level, we hope that
further increases pest control. This the science will speak for itself.
will allow us to make simple pest-
management recommendations for Dr. Chen worked as an entomologist
boosting natural control in farmers’ in IRRI’s Crop and Environmental
fields. So far, we are encouraged Sciences Division, 2004-07.
Dr. Chen prepares
to get her feet
muddy in an IRRI 1
William H. Settle, Hartjahyo Ariawan, Endah Tri Astuti, Widyastama Cahyana, Arief Lukman Hakim,
experimental field.
Dadan Hindayana, and Alifah Sri Lestari. Managing Tropical Rice Pests Through Conservation of Generalist
Natural Enemies and Alternative Prey. Ecology, Vol. 77, No. 7 (Oct., 1996), p 1975-1988.

Rice Today January-March 2008 31

Entomologist K.L. Heong
is a strong advocate of
integrated pest management,
which can dramatically reduce
pesticide use.

Pesticide use at the
International Rice Research
Institute is down almost 90%
in 14 years, while pests are
less of a problem and
biodiversity has increased
Ariel Javellana

when pest densities in a field reached Detritivores eat detritus in the field.
by Henry Sackville Hamilton
a certain level. Dr. Heong writes Arthropods on the farm were

that “in most seasons, insect pest surveyed in 1989, well before the
f pesticides are supposed to populations did not reach threshold introduction of the spraying scheme
control pests, why does an levels and thus no insecticides in 1993, and in 2005, well after it.
enormous reduction in use were used.” After 14 years of the Comparing those two surveys reveals
actually lower their numbers? program, pesticide use on the farm some telling figures. In 1989, 46.2%
Tests performed on the has decreased by a staggering of the arthropod population on the
research farm at the Philippines- 87.5%. Insecticides, which are the farm was herbivores. In 2005, when
based International Rice Research main type of pesticides used on the arthropods were next counted, only
Institute (IRRI) have shown that, farm, have fallen in use by 95.8%. 11.2% was herbivores. The number of
if pesticides are used less and less, The study focuses on arthropods: predators had risen from 40% in 1989
then nature itself, in the forms of invertebrates with a tough external to 58% in 2005. Detritivores in 2005
predators and parasitoids, will join protective layer (called a chitinous formed 26.1% of the total arthropod
the fight on the farmers’ side. exoskeleton) and segmented bodies, density, up from 8.1% in 1989.
The research, performed by a and which make up more than Parasitoids experienced a smaller
team led by IRRI entomologist K.L. 80% of all living animal species. change: 5.6% in 1989 to 4.3% in 2005.
Heong,1 describes how, when IRRI For the paper, the arthropods were The reason for these swings
farm operations were centralized separated into four functional groups: is the unintended effects of
in 1993, a new scheme for spraying herbivores, predators, detritivores, pesticides. Pesticides can affect all
pesticides was introduced. Instead and parasitoids. Herbivores attack creatures. Predators, parasitoids,
of routine spraying once a week, rice plants. Predators and parasitoids and detritivores can be killed
pesticides would be sprayed only attack herbivores and detritivores. along with herbivores. In fact,
because of their superior mobility,
K.L. Heong, A. Manza, J. Catindig, S. Villareal, and T. Jacobsen. Changes in pesticide use and arthropod predators are more likely to come
biodiversity in the IRRI research farm. Outlooks on Pest Management, October 2007, p 1-5. into contact with the poison and

32 Rice Today January-March 2008

thus are often more exposed to pesticides, yield can be increased. key role. In Vietnam, for instance,
the toxins than herbivores. And, if However, Dr. Heong suggests that the national government and
predators are killed off, they can’t many poor farmers do not benefit IRRI cooperated on a large-scale
help suppress herbivore numbers. financially from using pesticides. For information campaign called Ba
As well as killing nontarget example, a study in the Philippines Giam Ba Tang (Three Reductions,
arthropods, heavy pesticide use can showed that farmers overestimated Three Gains). One of those
help “secondary pests”—which are their potential loss of profit due to reductions was in pesticide use.
favored when predator numbers stem borer infestation by ten times The campaign has contributed
are lowered—to rise to power. In a (see The unsung heroes of the rice to decreasing pesticide use in
balanced ecosystem, the numbers of field on pages 30-31). The money Vietnam, and ongoing economic
secondary pests stay relatively low. they were spending on pesticides analyses by IRRI are positive.
But, if large numbers of predators was more than double their actual Ideally, Dr. Heong wants to
have been killed, secondary loss. On top of that, the low-quality go even further than significant
pests face less competition from sprayers that poor farmers use reductions in pesticide use. He firmly
primary pests and can thrive. often result in less than 10% of believes that “pesticide does more
Reducing pesticide use lets the pesticide reaching its target. harm than good in rice ecosystems.”
both the predator and parasitoid For poor farmers, then, the cost For rice, he says, insecticides need
populations recover, thereby keeping of spraying pesticides can outweigh not be used at all in most cases. A
secondary pest populations low. Also, the benefit. To lower pest numbers, rice plant, for example, can lose
because fewer predators are being improve diversity, and increase half of its leaves without yield being
killed through pesticides, their food profits, many farmers should steadily significantly affected. Pesticides won’t
sources—pests and detritivores— cut down on the pesticide they use. be disappearing quite yet, though.
remain abundant and their numbers The challenge is to persuade them to Farmers need to adapt to using
can swell. This is natural pest control. reduce their pesticide use in the first fewer toxins. Only when farmers are
Dr. Heong’s team also compared place. Poor farmers, who have too confident that lowering their pesticide
the arthropod diversity before and narrow a profit margin to experiment use will not lower their profit will the
after the introduction of the low- with production techniques to ecosystem be able to recover.
pesticide regime. Sure enough, the improve yield, tend to be loss-averse—
2005 survey showed that the diversity if the crop fails, they go hungry.
of all four types of arthropods has This is where advertising and Mr. Sackville Hamilton is a science
increased significantly. According national governments can play a communication intern for Rice Today.
to the paper, “there were twice as
many species of herbivores, about
48 more species of predators and
parasitoids, and greater than 5 times
more species of detritivores.”
More species of herbivores may
not seem good for rice, but such an
across-the-board increase in diversity
is a sign of a healthy ecosystem,
especially as many of the species
that survive under low-pesticide
conditions are unimportant pests.
For an ecosystem to thrive, the
organisms in it must be diverse and
adaptable. In particular, a diverse
range of predators helps prevent
pest invasions or outbreaks, which
can often be caused by abnormal
© 2007 Greg Fanslow

climatic conditions. Thus, a

balanced ecosystem with adequate
functional biodiversity will also
have reduced vulnerability to
Reducing pesticide applications
adverse effects of climate change. can allow predators of rice pests,
For poor farmers, the key part in such as this orb-weaver spider
the question of pesticide use remains (Argiope sp.), to help farmers
keep pests under control.
the debate of “yield versus profit.”
With intelligent and focused use of

Rice Today January-March 2008 33

Into the
unknown by Anna Johnson

Every summer, the World Food Prize

Foundation sends high school
students from the United States to
international agricultural research
institutes to work with leading
scientists and learn about agricul-
tural development. Here, 2007
intern Anna Johnson tells her story.

hen I learned that boost agricultural production in international nongovernmental
I had been selected the 1950s and 1960s, thus spurring organizations also played signi-
to travel to the the Green Revolution and helping ficant roles.
Philippines and to avert mass starvation at a time With around 150 million people
Bangladesh to work of dramatic population growth and one of the highest population
at the International Rice Research and stagnating crop yields. densities in the world, Bangladesh
Institute (IRRI) as a World Food Based in IRRI’s Social Sciences must overcome a lot of obstacles to
Prize Foundation intern, I was both Division under the supervision of feed its people. The population of
ecstatic and apprehensive. My closest Mahabub Hossain (then division Bangladesh increases by about 2
encounter with rice farming had head, now executive director of the million people each year, meaning
been the steaming bowl of rice that Bangladesh Rural Advancement rice production must increase
came with my orange chicken at Committee), I spent the first few around 300,000 tons annually if
the local Chinese restaurant in my weeks of my internship reading books everybody is to be fed. SHIP taught
hometown of Iowa City. I had never and articles relating to the Seed farmers improved seed selection
been to Asia or seen a rice field. Health Improvement Project (SHIP). and storage practices designed to
The Foundation, like the World SHIP was conducted in increase rice yield and prevent losses.
Food Prize, was founded by Norman Bangladesh in 1999–2004 under More than 90% of the seeds
Borlaug, who received the 1970 the Poverty Elimination Through planted each year in Bangladesh
Nobel Peace Prize for his work to Rice Research Assistance project are retained from the farmers’ own
funded by the harvest, and most are of poor quality.
UK Department Many farmers simply save some of
A SHIP participant takes
a break from interviewing for International their harvest, dry it on the ground,
to milk her family’s cow. Development. and store it in open containers or
Coordinated by IRRI bags. This means that the seed they
plant pathologist Tom plant each year is often infested
Mew, SHIP involved with insects and contaminated
collaboration between with soil and other plant matter.
the Bangladesh Rice Planting good-quality seed can
Research Institute, increase yield up to 12%; SHIP
Anna Johnson

IRRI, and CABI technologies and training sought to

Bioscience (UK). help farmers achieve this increase.
Several local and SHIP introduced several

34 Rice Today January-March 2008

A s Salahar ushers us into her home, I glance at a poster hanging on the wall that reads
“The female of the species is more deadly than the male.” I am struck by this bold
statement, hung so prominently in a rural Bangladeshi household.
Married at the age of 13 without any formal education, Salahar speaks knowledgably about
her farming system. She explains that, before SHIP, her family did not use any special seed
management practices. They merely took seed from their grain supply to plant the following
season. Often, they would need to buy seed, but would not have enough money. Now, they
sell 30–40 kilograms of seed in the market each season for nearly twice the price of paddy.
Salahar not only continues to use SHIP technologies, but she is improving on them. She
was able to start producing vegetables from the extra profit from seed production. Now, she sells
spinach seeds in the market and has applied SHIP technologies to her spinach production.
When Salahar and her family first began SHIP, they spent an entire 3 days sorting 250
grams of seed. The neighbors teased them for all the time they spent sitting and sorting
the seeds one by one, but Salahar said that her life started to change with that 250 grams,
which yielded 35 kilograms of rice. Before SHIP, her rice production met only 4 months
of the family’s need and she and her husband both worked in other households to earn
money. Now, they not only meet all of their own food need, they also have excess income
to invest in vegetable production, livestock, and
the education of their eldest son.
Salahar, who manages many aspects of
the household and farming system, is very
enthusiastic about the impact of SHIP on her
life. It has stabilized her family and allowed
them to weather life’s unexpected storms, such
as when a farming accident cut off some of her
The author (far right) sits with a husband’s fingers last year. They had to take a
group of villagers who have gathered 500 taka (US$7.40) loan and sell a goat to pay
to observe an interview. for treatment, but they were able to do this and
The author with Salahar, who demon-
recover much easier because of their stable income strates the airtight container she uses to
Shanta Foyjunessa (2) from seed and vegetable production. store her seeds.

simple methods for improving airport. “What have I gotten myself two villages in rural Bangladesh
seed health, including roguing into?” I wondered nervously as and interviewed 17 women
(removing undesirable plants from the Philippines became a speck (see box, above), both project
the field) before harvest, selecting in the ocean behind me. participants and nonparticipants.
good panicles for seed, drying The answer, it turned out, was In trying to synthesize my data
seed, and storing seed in airtight that I had gotten myself into the and information, I had to accept
containers with additives such experience of a lifetime. While it is the fact that isolating SHIP as a
as naphthalene and neem leaves true that Bangladeshis eat only with development factor is impossible.
to prevent insect infestation. their right hand, almost all of my The world in which we live is
One unique aspect of SHIP preconceptions about the country extremely complex, and no single
was its participatory approach to were completely vanquished. I spent factor can be isolated from the rest.
training women from resource-poor a lot of time with very bold women, Perhaps the most important
households. Farmers’ knowledge and even more time listening to the element of SHIP was its intentional
and input were used at each step, Bangla language float around my head inclusion of women. By deliberately
and this had a profound impact as the room broke out in laughter. including both men and women in
on the success of the project. Although we had very different the training, SHIP enabled better
Having equipped myself with as cultural practices and understand- communication between couples.
much knowledge about seed health ings, my Bangladeshi friends and It not only empowered the women,
as I could gather, I nervously boarded co-workers graciously overlooked but it also demonstrated to the men
the plane that would take me to my clumsiness in their culture. the value of the women’s work.
Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. From my supervisors in the IRRI The importance of involving
I had read that Bangladeshis never office to the vendors on the street, farmers in every level of training
smile, that they eat only with everyone I met tried to make me is summed up in two phrases
their right hand, and that women as comfortable as possible. found throughout SHIP literature:
were hardly ever seen in public. After the incredible hospitality, “learning by doing” and “seeing is
Adding to my disquiet, massive what struck me most was the believing.” By including farmers
floods had swept the Chittagong poverty. From the beggars on the in both the research and the
region of Bangladesh, causing streets of Dhaka to the farmers implementation of the project, SHIP
mudslides that killed more than toiling to eke a living out of ensured that its technologies will
90 people, only days before. All their land, extreme poverty was not only continue to be used by the
of this raced through my mind as evident throughout the country. original farmer participants, but
I sat on the tarmac of the Manila I conducted my research in by surrounding farmers as well.

Rice Today January-March 2008 35


The true price of rice

by Sushil Pandey, IRRI program leader, Rice Policy and Impact

Rising rice prices will negate progress in poverty reduction

Price (US$ per ton), production (million tons)
f the world’s 1.1 billion poor 700
people, almost 700 million
people with income of less 600 World production
than a dollar a day reside in
rice-growing countries of Asia. Rice 500
is a staple food in Asia and accounts
for more than 40% of the calorie 400
consumption of most Asians. Poor Price of rice
people spend a large proportion of 300
their income for buying rice. The level
of rice production and prices is thus 200
an important factor in determining
the progress that can be made in 100
reducing poverty in Asia. Keeping
the price of rice low and affordable 0
to the poor is crucial to poverty 1976 1979 1982 1985 1988 1991 1994 1997 2000 2003 2006
reduction. Given this, the current Year
sustained upward trend in rice Fig. 1. World production and real price of rice, 1976-2006.
Production: Data source: FAOSTAT electronic database. FAO, December 2007.
price is a major cause for concern. Rice price:
The Green Revolution in Asia • The price of rice was computed based on the nominal price of Thai rice 5%-broken deflated by G-5 MUV index deflator.
• Data source: World Bank quarterly review of commodity markets and
led to a rapid rise in rice yield and
production. This contributed to
Price (US$ per ton)
poverty reduction directly through
increased income of rice farmers and
indirectly through a lower price of 350
rice, which benefited poor consumers
in both rural and urban areas (Figure 300
1). This long-term decline in rice
price, however, seems to have come 250 The price of rice has more than
to an end in 2001, with the rice price doubled over the last 6 years.
taking a sustained upward turn over 200
the past six years. The rice price
continued to increase during 2007 150
and this upward trend seems unlikely
to reverse anytime soon (Figure
2). Although a part of the increase 0
in price can be explained by the










continued depreciation of the U.S.

dollar, there are other fundamental Year
underlying causes of this rise in price. Fig. 2. Monthly export price (US$ per ton free on board) of rice (white rice, Thai 100% B
A rise in the price of rice second grade f.o.b. Bangkok (Friday closing time)), 1998-2007 (March 1998 to December
basically indicates that we have been Data source: FAO electronic database ( FAO, December 2007.

consuming more than what we have

been producing. This imbalance 1988 (Figure 3). This depletion in influence in the future and increases
between demand and production stock has moderated the rise in the risk of a sharp rise in price.
is partly corrected by reducing price that would have occurred There is a saying in economics
the stock. In fact, rice stocks are otherwise. A current low level of that “the solution to a high price is
being rapidly depleted, with the stock, however, compromises the a high price.” High prices provide
current stock being the lowest since ability to have such a moderating incentives to producers to increase

36 Rice Today January-March 2008

Rice stock (million tons)
production, which will ultimately 140
contribute to a price reduction.
This traditional solution, however, 120 All major countries
is morally and economically
unacceptable in the case of rice 100
because any rise in price will affect
the poor disproportionately and 80 China
will lead to an increase in hunger
and poverty. Indonesia provides a 60
case in point: the number of poor
people increased by several million 40
as a result of a steep rise in the price
of rice that occurred in the wake of 20 India
the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
There is no doubt that the economic 0
and political turmoil Indonesia 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006
went through was compounded by Year
the dramatic jump in rice price.
Fig. 3. Year-ending rice stock, 1990-2006.
Demand for rice in Asia is Data source: PSD online database ( USDA, 2007.
expected to continue to rise in the
future as its population expands. Yield (tons per hectare)
Even after allowing for some decrease 7
in per capita consumption in Asian China
countries that have higher income 6
levels, the projected demand for
Asia is an additional 38 million tons 5
of rough rice by 2015. Additional
demand is likely to arise from 4 Asia

Africa, where rice is becoming an

increasingly important food crop. 3 India

The worldwide increase in demand

by 2015 is estimated to be 50 2
million tons of rough rice per year.
The best strategy for keeping 1
the price of rice low is to increase its
production at a higher rate than the 0
1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006
increase in demand. Rice production Year
can be increased by expanding the
Fig. 4. Rice yield trend in Asia, 1996-2006.
area, by increasing the yield per Data source: FAOSTAT electronic database. FAO, December 2007.
unit area, or by a combination of
the two. The opportunity for further
increasing the rice area in Asia is additional production will have to preventing rapid increases in rice
now quite limited. Rice production be yield growth. Unfortunately, the prices. A second Green Revolution
is facing increasing competition for current rate of yield growth is too to reverse the rising trend in rice
land, labor, and water from other low to generate the required supply. prices and to keep prices low is
economic activities and the recent In the major rice-growing countries needed now as much as the first
growth in biofuel production is of Asia, yield growth during the Green Revolution was needed
likely to exert additional pressure. past 5–6 years has been almost nil earlier to avoid famine and mass
China provides an example—rice (Figure 4). The problem is likely to be starvation. The task is equally
area decreased by almost 3 million compounded by increased production challenging but not insurmountable,
ha between 1997 and 2006 because risks arising from global warming provided a substantial boost is
of this economic pressure. Although by adversely affecting rice yield given to agricultural research,
there may be some potential for and by increasing the frequency of which continues to remain highly
expansion of rice area in other events such as drought and flood. underinvested. Increased research
countries, the total rice area in Asia Productivity growth through investments together with policy
will unlikely increase much beyond the development and dissemination reforms that make rice markets more
the current estimate of 136 million ha. of improved technologies is the efficient will ultimately help keep
Given this, the main source of only long-term viable solution for rice prices low and reduce poverty.

Rice Today January-March 2008 37

grain of truth

Balancing fertilizer
use and profit
by Roland Buresh

s fertilizer prices increase, research and extension such simple guidelines, extension workers and farmers can
often send farmers a message of “reduce fertilizer quickly evaluate current practices, thereby determining
use to save money.” But, crop yield is directly whether more or less N fertilizer is required. The required
related to the amount of nutrient taken up by the N fertilizer should be split into about three applications
crop. At some point, less fertilizer use means lower crop during the growing season based on SSNM principles for
yield and less profit for farmers. How much fertilizer use is optimally “feeding” the needs of the crop for N at critical
just right for high profit? growth stages.
The answer can come from site-specific nutrient The needs of rice for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K)
management (SSNM). This approach to farming enables are directly related to grain yield.
farmers to optimize their use of fertilizer by matching P in fertilizer is expressed on the basis of its oxide
the amount and timing of each added form—P2O5. For each ton of grain yield,
nutrient (nitrogen, phosphorus, and a mature crop of modern high-yielding
potassium) with the needs of the crop rice typically contains the equivalent
for each nutrient. Less fertilizer of about 6 kg P2O5 within its biomass.
Nitrogen (N) is t y pically t he Hence, a 6-tons-per-hectare crop
nutrient that most limits rice yields contains about 36 kg P2O5 at maturity.
and hence the nutrient needed in largest
quantity from fertilizer. Much of the N use can mean Two-thirds of this P is in the grain.
Therefore, with the harvest of grain
in a mature rice plant comes from the and removal of some straw, about 5 kg
soil. On a typical rice soil in the Asian P2O5 per hectare is removed from a rice
tropics, the yield of irrigated rice often
reaches about 4 tons per hectare without
lower crop yield field for each ton of grain yield. Hence,
for a 6-tons-per-hectare crop, about
application of N fertilizer, as long as crop 30 kg P2O5 must be replaced using P
management uses best practices and fertilizer.
water is sufficient. But, markedly higher and less profit As a general principle, irrigated rice
yields of irrigated rice are required to with a history of P fertilizer use requires
meet food needs and achieve higher about 4 to 5 kg P2O5 per hectare from
profit for farmers. fertilizer—depending on the amount of
How much N is needed from fertilizer to increase rice straw retained—for each ton of grain yield to maintain soil
yield from a baseline—in which the crop obtains its entire fertility and achieve high profit.
N from soil—to a yield that provides the highest profit for a The need for K fertilizer depends upon the management
farmer? Based on SSNM, about 40 kg N from fertilizer must of rice straw—which contains most of the K in a rice crop.
be added to increase grain yield by 1 ton per hectare in a It also depends on K contained in irrigation water and the
high-yielding season (typically the dry season) and about K-supplying capacity of the soil, which are typically not
50 to 60 kg N is needed to increase grain yield by 1 ton in a known by farmers. SSNM provides farmers with a simple
low-yielding season (typically the wet season). field plot technique for tailoring K fertilization to field-
Assume, for example, that a farmer can typically specific needs.
achieve a rice grain yield of 5 tons per hectare in the lower The capacity of soil to supply nutrients and promote yield
yielding season during the year. Achieving this yield would can vary markedly among fields of rice farmers. The SSNM
then require sufficient N from fertilizer to increase yield by approach helps farmers determine the needs for nutrients in
about 1 ton from the baseline of about 4 tons per hectare. their specific fields based on simple observations.
This requires about 50 to 60 kg fertilizer N per hectare.
Assume that the farmer can typically achieve a rice yield of
7 tons per hectare in the higher-yielding season. Achieving For more information, see For
this yield would require sufficient N from fertilizer to information on how SSNM is helping Asian rice farmers, see
increase yield by about 3 tons from the baseline of about 4
tons per hectare. This corresponds to three times 40 kg or Dr. Buresh is a senior soil scientist at the International Rice
about 120 kg fertilizer N per hectare. Through the use of Research Institute.

38 Rice Today January-March 2008