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International Rice Research Institute April-June 2008, Vol. 7, No. 2

Trade troubles in Thailand

Less water, more rice,
happy farmers
Preparing for doomsday
After the storm
Bangladeshi farmers pick themselves up

Are high prices here to stay?

ISSN 1655-5422 US$5.00
Vol. 7, No. 2

Editorial . ............................................................... 4 Illuminating the gap . ...................................... 38

Weathering the perfect storm The new science of metabolomics is shining a light into
the dark space between a rice plant’s genes and the
resultant qualities we appreciate when we eat rice
News ......................................................................... 5
Rice prices spiral upward; no end in sight
Quiet genes for better rice The IRRI pioneer interviews . .......................... 40
Carolyn Moomaw Wilhelm: reflections of a rice widow
Funding paradox for IRRI
Gates Foundation steps up to support rice research
New books ............................................................ 43
Rice, water, and forests
People ...................................................................... 8 Rice black bugs
New research director at IRRI
Descriptors for wild and cultivated rice
Global rice and agricultural trade liberalisation
Moving on
Science, technology, and trade for peace and prosperity
Keeping up with IRRI staff
Improving agricultural productivity in rice-based
systems of the High Barind Tract of Bangladesh
The ultimate backup ......................................... 10
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, designed as a last-
resort backup for Earth’s most important crops, The big squeeze .................................................. 26 Rice Facts .............................................................. 44
has accepted its first samples, including more than As well as improving farmers’ incomes and The power of policy
70,000 different types of rice productivity, water-saving technologies can also Safer and more effective pesticide use by Philippine
help to ease social tensions—but not without local farmers provides a striking example of the impact of
experts who champion the cause good policy, but good research must be a starting
Rice forum examines key policy issues ..... 12 point
Hungry for knowledge .................................. 32
Troubling trade ................................................ 13 Every year in Bangladesh, millions of rural families
It would be easy to think that the escalating price Grain of Truth . .................................................. 46
suffer the privations of monga, the period after the The revolution keeps rolling
of rice is a boon for exporters—but, in a Thailand previous season’s food has run out and before the
exclusive, Rice Today reports on the chaos that has next season’s harvest. Now, several technologies are
Thai traders reeling helping to close the window of hardship.

After the storm ................................................. 18 Maps ....................................................................... 34

In the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr, the rice farmers of The Asian exception: irrigation
southern Bangladesh are struggling to get back on
their feet. Immediate relief is needed, but science
The rice AIDS of Africa . ................................... 36 On the cover:
can provide technologies that help minimize the A rice market in Los
damage caused by the next disaster. Poor farmers in Africa call it the “rice AIDS” because Baños, Philippines,
of its potential for devastation. But a strategy displays prices that
blending cutting-edge biotechnology with regional are continuing to rise,
Snapshot .............................................................. 24 knowledge may yet stifle the impact of rice yellow stirring up turmoil
Rising rice prices put clouds on the horizon mottle virus. around the world.

cover photo Jose Raymond Panaligan International Rice Research Institute

publisher Duncan Macintosh DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
editor Adam Barclay Web (IRRI):;
art director Juan Lazaro IV Web (Library):
designer and production supervisor George Reyes Web (Rice Knowledge Bank):
contributing editors Gene Hettel, Bill Hardy, 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
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Rice prices spiral upward; no end in sight Export prices for rice

A s global rice stocks dwindle and

prices rise to levels not seen since
the 1970s food crisis, governments of
imports more than 2 million tons of rice
annually—is pushing up prices; many
African countries face difficulties in

580 US 2/4%
Thai 100%B
rice-dependent countries are becoming securing adequate supplies.
Viet 5%
increasingly anxious. Amid growing Weather- and pest-related prob- 530
Pak Irri-25%
signs of civil unrest due to rising food lems have also helped force prices Thai A1 Super
prices in general, national leaders are up. Insect and disease outbreaks in 480
hustling to ensure rice supplies for their Vietnam, flooding and a major cyclone
populations. in Bangladesh, flooding in Indonesia, 430
To guarantee domestic supplies drought in the Philippines and Austra-
and keep local prices down, the world’s lia, and record-breaking cold weather 380
two largest rice exporters, Thailand in Vietnam and China—events that are
and Vietnam, have capped exports expected to increase in frequency and 330
below previous years’ levels. India has severity with climate change—have all
set a $1,000-per-ton minimum export affected global production. Higher oil 280
price—effectively limiting exports to prices are both increasing the cost of
premium basmati varieties—and China food production and prompting many 230
is taxing grain exports in an effort to farmers to switch to biofuel crops,
keep staple foods in the country. further reducing the area planted to 0





In February, Philippine President food crops.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took the “The [rice] price will have to rise
unprecedented step of asking Vietnam to the point where rice can compete, Source: FAO Rice Price Update March 2008
to ensure rice supplies. In March, financially, with fuel crops,” said Vichai
Thailand and Vietnam agreed to let Sriprasert, former president of the Thai International Rice Research Institute
the Philippines draw from their stocks Rice Exporters’ Association. “I believe (IRRI). “Longer term demand-supply
in the Association of Southeast Asian the domestic price of rice will triple, imbalance is clearly indicated by deple-
Nations’ emergency reserve. Thailand and will reach $1,000 per ton on the tion of stock that has been going on for
announced in late March that it would export market, just to catch up with several years—we have been consuming
reserve some of its stockpile to be sold oil prices.” more than we have been producing.”
to consumers at cost price. The Philip- The price increase is also hitting The current price rise is set against
pine government has even asked fast- aid agencies, such as the United Nations a background of ever-increasing pop-
food restaurants to offer half portions World Food Program (WFP), which are ulation sizes and stagnating yield
of rice to prevent wastage. being forced to scale down their opera- growth, compounded by a long-term
Several factors are conspiring to tions at a time when—because of the withdrawal of government and donor
amplify the rise in prices. As rice land high prices—the people they help are support for public-sector agricultural
and irrigation water continue to be lost most in need of support. WFP officials research.
to industrialization and urbanization, warned in February that climbing food “Ultimately, however, achieving a
Asia’s burgeoning urban middle class, prices were pushing up the agency’s supply-demand balance at a reasonable
especially in India and China, is de- budget requirements by several million rice price will require a steady invest-
manding more meat and dairy, which is dollars a week. ment in development and dissemina-
diverting production from food grains Although hoarding by traders may tion of new technologies and improved
to animal feed. Growing demand from have contributed to the problem, “this management practices to raise rice
Africa, where rice is an increasingly is not all about speculation,” said Sushil yields and lower the unit cost of produc-
important staple—Nigeria alone now Pandey, agricultural economist at the tion,” said Randy Barker, head of IRRI’s
Social Sciences Division.
Rising prices at a market IRRI Director General Robert Zei-
in Los Baños, Philippines. gler noted that, when the food crisis of
the 1970s struck, new high-yielding rice
varieties—products of the Institute’s
research after it was created in the
1960s—were already being distrib-
uted. “That success may have made
Jose Raymond Panaligan

governments complacent,” said Dr.

Zeigler. “Now, we’re paying the price
for decades of neglect of agricultural

Rice Today April-June 2008 


Quiet genes for better rice Funding paradox for IRRI

A new tool that allows scientists to

inactivate individual genes could
help researchers develop improved rice
messenger R NAs—molecules that
correspond to genes and are involved
in the synthesis of enzymes, regulatory
S everal major donors have recently
pledged support to IRRI at the same
time that some traditional donors are
varieties with favorable characteristics factors, or other proteins. By degrading withdrawing funding. The cuts will
such as increased nutritional value and the messenger RNA, miRNAs prevent hit hard at a time when steeply rising
pest resistance. the expression of the gene in question. prices and major production challenges
With IRRI colleagues, scientists at This is also a natural process in plants; are threatening food security for many
the Max Planck Institute for Develop- the new technique allows researchers to of the world’s poorest people.
mental Biology in in Tübingen, Germa- easily target genes of interest. Significant grants have recently
ny, published their findings in March As well as helping breeders to come from the government of Japan ($5
2008 in the online journal PLoS ONE determine the function of genes, silenc- million for flood tolerance in Southeast
( ing can in itself also produce desirable Asia), Germany’s Federal Ministry for
For crop breeders, “gene silencing,” traits. For example, it took the IRRI Economic Cooperation and Develop-
as the technique is known, is a key tool team just a few weeks to generate rice ment in combination with the Eiselen
in the development of new varieties. The with a deactivated Eui1 gene. Such Foundation ($1.6 million for salinity
approach enables breeders to rapidly plants have a taller top section, which tolerance), the International Fund for
investigate the role of individual genes facilitates the fertilization of neighbor- Agricultural Development ($1.5 million
without having to perform lengthy ing plants and thus helps in hybrid for sub-Saharan Africa, in partnership
cross-breeding experiments. rice production. Introducing the trait with the Africa Rice Center), and the
The new technique uses so-called into other varieties using conventional Biotechnology and Biological Sciences
microRNAs (miRNAs), short RNA breeding techniques originally took Research Council and UK Department
molecules involved in regulating gene several years. for International Development ($1.5
activity in both animals and plants According to the researchers, million to develop rice resistant to
(RNA is a form of nucleic acid, like the technique will allow breeders to climatic stresses, in partnership with
DNA). The scientists constructed inactivate genes of interest with un- the National Institute of Agricultural
artificial miRNAs with sequences that precedented specificity. The team also Botany.
correspond to a particular gene. The anticipates that the method can be ap- In March, however, the U.S. Agency
miRNAs degrade the rice plant’s own plied to other crops. for International Development warned
that it may cut funding to the network
Rats wreak havoc of Consultative Group of International
Around 1 million people in Mizoram, in northeastern India, are facing fam- Agricultural Research centers, includ-
ine following a rat plague that destroyed much of the state’s rice crop. The ing IRRI. Despite the new funding,
rat population boomed after the flowering of a native species of bamboo—
an event that occurs once each 50 years or so (for more, see Preparing for
support for public agricultural research
the rat race on pages 34-35 of Rice Today Vol. 6, No. 3). After exhausting has steadily declined over the past few
the feast of bamboo seeds, the rats turned to the rice crop. Aid agencies decades—perhaps due to complacency

have reported that many people have been forced onto a diet of wild roots,
yam, and sweet potatoes. Only one-fifth of the state’s monthly rice requirement is currently available.
after research investment in the 1960s
Worse, in early 2008, the rat plague moved into bordering areas of Bangladesh and Myanmar, increasing and 1970s underpinned lower prices
fears of widespread food shortages. throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

High-protein rice of poor and malnourished people in ing more than US$10 million in sales,
By crossing cultivated rice, Oryza developing countries who depend on was “Mice love rice.” Unfortunately,
sativa, with a wild species, scientists staple food for most of their nutrition. IRRI rodent experts confirm that this
in the U.S. and India have developed is all too true.
high-protein rice, according to a study Rodent ringtones
reported in the 23 January issue of the Former IRRI information technology Euro import regulation eased
American Chemical Society’s Journal head Paul O’Nolan has alerted Rice The European Union (EU) no longer
of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Today to an article in the 2 February requires member states to test upon
Crossing IR64, a popular cultivated issue of The Economist. The story, arrival all imports of U.S. long-grain
variety, with wild O. nivara resulted about the Internet in China, discusses rice for the presence of the genetically
in rice with a protein content of 12.4%. the prevalence of mobile phones and modified Liberty Link (LL) Rice601
This is 18% and 24% more protein, the profits being made by selling ring trait. The new regulation requires only
respectively, than the parents. Protein tones and jokes for a few cents each to that the rice be tested prior to ship-
enrichment in rice could help millions millions of people. A recent hit, generat- ment from the U.S. Only rice that tests

 Rice Today April-June 2008

Gates Foundation steps up to support rice research

T he Bill & Melinda Gates Founda-

tion has awarded US$19.8 million
to IRRI to develop technologies that
$306 million package of agricultural
development grants announced on 25
January 2008 by Bill Gates, co-chair of
can reach 18 million households with the foundation, at the World Economic
improved rice varieties and increase Forum in Davos.
yields by 50% within 10 years. IRRI will work closely with other

Jose Raymond Panaligan

The funding, to be granted over 3 national and international agricultural
years, aims to harness major scientific research centers, including the Africa
advances and address some of the big- Rice Center (WARDA), which will be
gest unsolved problems in agriculture. IRRI’s main partner in implementing
The project, Stress-tolerant rice for the project’s African component. The
poor farmers in Africa and South project will also build the capacity IRRI senior scientist Edilberto Redoña (right) shows
seed packets to David Bergvinson, Bill & Melinda Gates
Asia, will help develop and distribute of researchers and seed producers in Foundation program officer for global development,
improved varieties of rice that can be poor rice-dependent countries. The during his visit to IRRI in December 2007.
grown in rainfed ecosystems—where new funding comes at a vital time
farmers have little or no access to irri- for rice farmers, who are now facing and environmental disasters.
gation—and withstand environmental major production pressures and rising IRRI Director General Robert S.
stresses such as drought, flooding, and prices that threaten Asia’s continued Zeigler emphasized that, with climate
salinity. economic growth. change threatening to worsen the
Within 3 years, the project aims to “If we are serious about ending frequency and severity of these prob-
have 300,000 farmers in South Asia extreme hunger and poverty around the lems, the need for insurance—in the
and 100,000 farmers in sub-Saharan world, we must be serious about trans- form of stress-tolerant crops such as
Africa adopt the initial set of improved forming agriculture for small farmers,” flood-tolerant rice recently developed
varieties. The grant was part of a said Mr. Gates. at the Institute—is growing increas-
IRRI’s project will target the poor- ingly urgent.
est rice farmers in Africa and South “Scientists have been confounded
Asia, who have little or no access to by the challenges of stress tolerance
irrigation and who are totally reliant for decades,” said Dr. Zeigler. “But the
on sufficient, timely rains. These farm- rice-science community in general and
ers are regularly exposed to drought, IRRI in particular have recently taken
flooding, or salinity—conditions that significant steps forward through preci-
reduce yields, harm livelihoods, and sion breeding to develop stress-tolerant
foster hunger and malnutrition. With varieties.”
minimal access to irrigation and fertil- The project was officially launched
izer, these farmers, who own small plots in March at meetings at WARDA, in

on marginal land, are inevitably most Cotonou, Benin, and at the National
Participants at the launch of the Africa component exposed—and most vulnerable—to Agricultural Science Center in New
of the Gates Foundation project. poor soils, too much or too little rain, Delhi, India.

negative at the 0.01% level of detection New journal molecular breeding, and comparative
is permitted to be shipped. U.S. rice Japan’s National Institute of Agrobio- biology.
exporters hope that the change will help logical Sciences (NIAS), in collabora-
them re-establish the EU market. tion with Springer Publishing Co., Aroma boost patented
recently announced a new international Researchers who identified a compound
Chinese honor for IRRI scientific journal, RICE, which aims to responsible for aroma in rice have been
IRRI has been named as a recipient of fill a glaring void in basic and applied awarded a U.S. patent for a method they
the Chinese International Award for plant science publishing. The journal, subsequently developed for increasing
Science and Technology. The award, due to be launched in mid-2008, will fragrance. The team, from Thailand’s
recommended jointly by the Chinese be the world’s only high-quality serial Kasetsart University, was granted the
Ministry of Agriculture and hybrid rice publication for reporting advances in patent—also filed in Australia, China,
expert Yuan Longping, recognizes the rice genetics, structural and functional Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam,
Institute’s efforts in scientific research genomics, comparative genomics, India, France, and the European Patent
and training for Chinese agriculture. molecular biology and physiology, Office—in November 2007.

Rice Today April-June 2008 

New research director at IRRI Achievements

A chim Dobermann, an
inter nat iona lly recognized
agricultural research scientist with
national and international awards.
Dr. Dober mann received his
Ph.D. from the Institute of Tropical
F ormer IRRI principal scientist Sant
Virmani has won a Padma Award,
given to Indian citizens to recognize
many years’ experience working with Agriculture, University of Leipzig, distinguished public contributions. Dr.
rice in Asia and Europe, has been Germany. A f ter working at IRR I Virmani, recognized in the science and
appointed as IRRI’s new deputy director from 1992 to 2000, he moved to the engineering category, was among 71
general for research. Already at IRRI as University of Nebraska (Lincoln) in the eminent Indians who received Padma
leader of the Institute’s program on U.S. and rapidly rose to the rank of full Awards on 25 January 2008.
Sustaining productivity in intensive professor. During his time in Nebraska, Niranjan Baisakh, former IRRI
rice-based systems: rice and the he maintained strong research linkages Ph.D. scholar and postdoctoral fellow in
environment, Dr. Dobermann began with East, Southeast, and South Asian PBGB, has won a Tipton Team Research
his new role on 1 April 2008. colleagues. Award from the Louisiana State
After beginning his career as a soil T.P. Tuong, who served as interim University Agricultural Center, along
scientist, Dr. Dobermann expanded deputy director general for research with his colleagues from the Center’s
his research interests to cover a rich following the departure of previous School of Plant, Environmental, and
array of crop and social sciences. He deputy director general for research Soil Sciences. The team was recognized
is a Fellow of the American Society of Ren Wang, returns to a senior research in December 2007 for its work in
Agronomy and Soil Science Society of role in IRRI’s Crop and Environmental developing coastal plants to aid in
America, and recipient of numerous Sciences Division. coastal reclamation projects.

Moving on
biotechnology to develop high-yielding production specialist at IRRI (1974-

R ay Wu, professor at Cornell

University in New York and one
of the fathers of genetic engineering,
rice varieties resistant to pests and
tolerant of drought, salinity, and
temperature stresses. Born in Beijing,
85), died on 4 January at the age of 81
in Logan, Utah. Rosendo Palis, who
served as IRRI’s agronomist and liaison
passed away in Ithaca, New York, at Prof. Wu moved to the United States scientist to Burma (now Myanmar)
the age of 79. A professor of molecular in 1948. from 1980 to 1993, died on 21 February
biology and genetics, Prof. Wu used L. Dale Haws, a former crop in Sacramento, California, at age 73.

Mike Jackson, IRRI director for program

planning and communications, with his
submergence-tolerant Rice Today T-shirt
at Anilao, Philippines.

Standing with Rice Today in front of the 111-year- Glenn Gregorio, IRRI
old Faidherbe bridge in Saint Louis, Senegal, are rice breeder for Africa,
(left to right) Timothy Krupnik, Matty Demont, and takes Rice Today up Mt.
Koen Dillen, all working at the Africa Rice Center’s Cameroon, the highest
Sahel Research Station. mountain in West Africa
at about 4,000 meters.

 Rice Today April-June 2008

Michael Bosch, senior
advisor for Germany’s
Advisory Service on
Agricultural Research
for Development, with
Rice Today in front of
Swayambhunath stupa,
one of the most ancient
and holiest Buddhist
sites of the Kathmandu
Valley in Nepal.

Rice Today reader Daniel Acquah,

of Ghana, with the magazine in Maria Hettel, seen here in front
front of a statue of Ghana’s first of Tower Bridge, takes Rice Today to
president, Kwame Nkrumah. London, England.

Keeping up with IRRI staff In March 2008, IRRI bade farewell plant resistance in rice stem borer
to Philippe Hervé, molecular biologist management, also left in December.

S amarendu (Sam) Mohant y

has been appointed head of IRRI’s
Social Sciences Division (SSD), ef-
in the Plant Breeding, Genetics,
and Biotechnology Division (2005-
08). Dr. Hervé played a key role in
In February 2008, the Institute
welcomed new staff members Martin
Senger, who will work as bioinformatics
fective 1 June 2008. Dr. Mohanty, an upgrading the Institute’s facilities for software project manager in the Crop
agricultural economist, moves from his rice biotechnology and established Research Informatics Laboratory,
position as associate professor in the collaborative ties w ith advanced and postdoctoral fellow Jacob van
Department of Agricultural and Ap- research institutes. Et ten, who joins the geographic
plied Economics at Texas Tech Univer- A lso departing in March was information systems unit of SSD.
sity in the U.S. Before moving to Texas, D e b o r a h Te mp le t o n , i mpac t Digna Manzanilla joined SSD in
he worked for 5 years at the Center for assessment specialist in SSD (2005- January as a postdoctoral fellow under
Agricultural and Rural Development at 08). Dr. Templeton helped IR R I the Japan-IRRI Submergence Project.
Iowa State University. scientists develop impact-focused Bas Bouman became the new
Elizabeth Woods, Australia, research projects and undertook impact division head of Crop and Environ-
became chair of the IRRI Board of assessments of IRRI projects. mental Sciences Division on 1 January
Trustees (BOT) on 1 January 2008, Senior molecular biologist John 2008, with an initial appointment for
replacing outgoing Chair Keijiro Ot- Bennett left IRRI in December 2007 5 years. Edwin Javier, former coor-
suka, Japan, who had served on the (find out more about Dr. Bennett in dinator of the International Network
Board since 2002. Also joining the BOT Where science meets art on pages for Genetic Evaluation of Rice at IRRI
on 1 January were new members Mut- 17 to 19 of Rice Today Vol. 6, No. (1999-2006), became international
suo Iwamoto (Japan), Seong-Hee 4). Entomologist Yolanda Chen, variety development coordinator at the
Lee (Korea), and Achmad Suryana who performed innovative research Asian Vegetable Research and Develop-
(Indonesia). to i nte g r ate e c olog y a nd ho s t- ment Center in March.

Rice Today April-June 2008 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built into
mountain rock, will remain below freezing even in
the event of a power failure.

The ultimate backup

Global Crop Diversity Trust

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, designed as a last-resort backup for Earth’s most important crops, has
accepted its first samples, including more than 70,000 different types of rice

n Monday 21 January 2008, collections maintained by centers He added, “For long-term
flight LH3134 left Manila, of the Consultative Group on survival, seeds need to be stored
Philippines, for Oslo, Norway, International Agricultural Research at low temperature. This is most
counting more than 35 million (CGIAR)—were shipped to Svalbard. economical in a place like Svalbard,
grains of rice among its cargo. IRRI’s contribution included where the ambient temperature is
Headed not for Scandinavian dinner the first box placed in storage by low and the insulation is high.”
plates, these grains would continue on Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Further, he said, the risks
to the Norwegian island of Svalbard, Stoltenberg and 2004 Nobel Peace faced by IRRI and Svalbard are
north of the Arctic Circle, only 1,000 Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai not just independent but almost
kilometers from the North Pole. during the vault’s opening ceremony mutually exclusive. It is almost
The seeds, from the International on 26 February 2008. Prime inconceivable that any risk could
Rice Genebank of the International Minister Stoltenberg described simultaneously destroy the
Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the vault, which cost around US$9 two copies of the collection.
represented 70,180 samples of million to build, as “a Noah’s Ark
traditional and modern rice varieties for our biological heritage.” Svalbard Global Seed Vault:
and their wild relatives bound for The facility—dubbed the the numbers

the newly constructed Svalbard “doomsday vault” by the world’s he vault is located 120 meters into the
Global Seed Vault. In total, more media—is owned and administered rock, ensuring that the vault rooms
than 200,000 crop varieties from by the Ministry of Agriculture and will remain naturally frozen even if the
Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Food on behalf of the Kingdom of mechanical cooling system fails or if
external air temperatures rise because of
the Middle East—drawn from seed Norway and was established as a climate change.
service to the world community. The distance from the front door of the
The Nordic Gene Bank will operate portal building to the back of the vault is
the facility and maintain a public 145.9 meters. The width of each vault is
online database of samples. 9.5–10 meters and the height is 6 meters.
Each vault is approximately 27 meters
Constructed in the permafrost long.
of the Svalbard mountains, the The vault has the capacity to store 4.5
vault is designed to store duplicates million seed samples. Each sample contains
of seeds from seed collections an average of 500 seeds, so a maximum of
around the globe. Ruaraidh 2.25 billion seeds can be stored. The seeds
will be stored at minus 18 degrees Celsius
Sackville Hamilton, head of the in specially-designed four-ply foil packages
International Rice Genebank, said that will be placed in sealed boxes. The

Attending the opening of the Svalbard vault

that the new vault provides the low temperature and low moisture level
were (left to right) Dr. Zeigler, International Potato “ultimate safety backup, located will ensure that the seeds stay viable for
Center Board Chair Jim Godfrey, and Global Crop where all risks—political, geological, decades, centuries, or even thousands of
Diversity Trust Executive Director Cary Fowler. years.
climatic—are extremely low.”

10 Rice Today April-June 2008

IRRI itself holds the world’s Arctic and will provide support for Making it happen
largest and most diverse collection ongoing operations. “They include
of rice: nearly 110,000 accessions
from 123 countries—around 20% of
the world’s largest and most diverse
collections of rice, wheat, maize, and
P reparing for the Svalbard opening
involved an enormous amount of hard
work by many people for many months. IRRI
the total holdings of rice conserved beans. Many traditional landraces staff who made the shipment possible are
listed below.
in all genebanks around the world. of these crops would have been
Rice agriculture depends on lost had they not been collected Flora de Guzman Melencio Lalap
Lydia Angeles Alicia Lapis
the vast diversity seen in the rice and stored in the genebanks.”
Imelda Boncajes Juan Lazaro IV
genebank. If a new rice disease IRRI Director General Robert Nerissa Boonggaling Wilma Lumaybay
appears, researchers can search the Zeigler, who attended the vault Priscila Cabral Yolanda Malatag
genebank for resistant varieties. The opening, pointed out that Svalbard Jane Carandang Gilbert Mamiit
genes required to make rice more was neither built to make up Isabelita De Mesa Veronica Mangubat
Minerva Eloria Violeta Manila
tolerant of drought, for example, for low standards nor an excuse
Aurelio Gamba Bernardo Mercado
exist within the varieties contained to lower existing standards. Evangeline Gonzales Bogs Panaligan
in the collection. The genebank “If we assemble all the world’s Patria Gonzales Roniella Prantilla
contains the genetic diversity we crop diversity in Svalbard and use Minerva Gulde Jacqueline Ragudo
need to respond to changes in that as an excuse to stop conserving Emerlinda Hernandez Renato Reaño
Carlos Huelma Digna Salisi
climate, consumer expectations, it elsewhere, we’d be in an even worse
Jose Ibabao Teresita Santos
agricultural technologies, and situation, since then all available Ariel Javellana Anthony Telosa
government priorities. diversity could be destroyed by Nora Kuroda Liza Yonzon
“Any new rice research project a single event,” said Dr. Zeigler.
or rice breeding program typically “Moreover, the seeds in Svalbard are Hamilton cautioned that it is
starts with a scientist asking the not accessible to anyone except the impossible to protect against all
seed bank to supply the types of depositor. To realize the potential threats, which is why Svalbard is
rice required for their research,” benefits of crop diversity, our farmers, one—but only one—of the essential
said Dr. Sackville Hamilton. scientists, and breeders must be able elements of a global system for the
The immeasurable value of seed to use the seed easily. Seed banks efficient and effective conservation
banks has been seen many times such as IRRI’s must therefore be and use of crop diversity.
in the past. One notable example maintained at locations around the “For such an important collection,
is the use of Cambodian rice world where they are most needed.” we have to take all risks, no matter
varieties stored in IRRI’s genebank IRRI’s collection is itself how remote, into account,” he said.
to re-establish Cambodia’s rice protected to the highest possible “For example, news of political
industry after it was devastated standards. The facility is raised unrest is common in the capital
during years of civil strife in the above flood levels and is designed city Manila, and in the southern
1970s, when a starving population to withstand an earthquake of up to island group Mindanao. Might this
ate the nation’s seed stocks. 7 on the Richter scale or a nuclear political activity one day escalate
“The CGIAR collections are accident in a warship in Manila to threaten IRRI? It is unlikely
the ‘crown jewels’ of international harbor 60 km away. IRRI has two but who knows? We are close to an
agriculture,” said Cary Fowler, levels of electricity backup—one set inactive volcano, Makiling. Might
executive director of the Global Crop of generators for the whole Institute this volcano one day erupt again?
Diversity Trust, which covered the and one specifically for the genebank. Might we suffer a force-10 earthquake
costs of preparing, packaging, and To address the risk of equipment one day? The evidence suggests not
transporting CGIAR seeds to the failure, the Institute maintains in the near future, but even expert
backup systems, for example, using volcanologists and seismologists
two compressors for cooling, so that, cannot guarantee zero risk, and they
if one fails, the second takes over. cannot make long-term predictions.”
Spare parts of all key operational Among the VIPs and dignitaries
components are kept on-site. at the vault’s opening, Eulogio “Tay
“The high standard of Gipo” Sasi Jr., a 64-year-old Filipino
construction and protection was rice farmer, represented the people
confirmed during the devastating without whom all the seeds in the
Typhoon Milenyo of October 2006, world would be of little use. “I hope
which caused severe damage to that the knowledge that goes with
Jose Raymond Panaligan

the Philippine national seed bank the seeds will not just be stored
Dr. Sackville Hamilton situated a few kilometers away in ice,” said Tay Gipo, addressing
helps load IRRI seeds in but left our facility unscathed,” the international audience,
preparation for the flight said Dr. Sackville Hamilton. “but further enriched by giving
to Svalbard.
Despite this, Dr. Sackville support to the work of farmers.”

Rice Today April-June 2008 11

Rice forum examines key policy issues
policy issues Program, prices are likely to
varied among continue to rise for some time.
countries “Longer term demand-supply
depending imbalance is clearly indicated by
on national depletion of stock that has been going
incomes and the on for several years,” said Dr. Pandey.
Jose Raymond Panaligan

performance of “We have been consuming more than

the rise of rice prices the rice industry. what we have been producing and
was a key item on the
agenda of the rice policy
Most countries research to increase rice productivity
forum at IRRI viewed the is needed to address this imbalance.”
world market The importance of research into

as “thin and unstable,” meaning technologies that boost productivity
ncreasing rice productivity is that a relatively small percentage of was underscored by Randy Barker,
the only long-term solution total rice produced is bought and head of IRRI’s Social Sciences
that can provide high returns sold internationally, and that export Division. “Even before the spike
to farmers while keeping prices are prone to large swings. of prices in the 1970s, high-yield
the price of rice low for poor Thus, governments mostly seek a variety technology was well under
consumers. This was the consensus high degree of self-sufficiency. way to widespread adoption,” said
of participants at the Forum on Given this broad scenario, Dr. Barker, who emphasized that
rice policy research: key issues policy tools to promote the rice effective research and development
from national perspectives, held industry in different countries were requires long-term planning.
at the International Rice Research discussed. The policy research One implication of this, according
Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, agenda identified during the forum to Leo Sebastian, executive director
Philippines, on 18-19 February 2008. included assessment of allocation of the Philippine Rice Research
The forum, held in the midst of of resources for research and Institute, is the need for increased
rice-price rises not seen since the development, analysis of comparative investment in agricultural research.
1970s, aimed to identify key policy advantage in rice production in “Impact of technologies is a
issues relevant to the rice industry different countries and rice-growing driver of increased rice production,
from the perspective of national environments, policies to provide whether a country exports or
systems, prioritize the identified adequate returns to farmers while imports,” said Dr. Sebastian.
policy issues for research, establish keeping the rice price low for “But everybody is saying that
a network of rice policy researchers, consumers, provision of safety nets investment in agricultural research
and develop a collaborative for the poor, and reorganization of is small or limited—and something
arrangement for conducting policy agriculture for greater efficiency. needs to be done about this.”
research on high-priority issues. Although the current rising Dr. Pandey said that the
Senior policy researchers from rice price was seen as beneficial Institute has identified technological
Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, for farmers who grow a reasonable and policy opportunities and
Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, surplus that they can sell on the challenges for addressing the
Thailand, and Vietnam) and Africa market, poor farmers with small rising rice prices. “We are tackling
(Mozambique and Tanzania) or no surplus and poor urban the issue head-on by developing
attended the forum along with consumers will continue to lose and promoting interventions
representatives of the Africa Rice out if the price continues to rise. to increase the productivity of
Center (WARDA), the Food and Mahabub Hossain, executive the rice industry,” he said.
Agriculture Organization of the director of the Bangladesh Rural The forum participants agreed
United Nations, and the private Advancement Committee, pointed to establish a network of rice
sector. Sixteen papers were presented out that marginal farmers—who policy researchers to facilitate
on various aspects of rice policy, and are net buyers of rice—are also rapid exchange of ideas and
a panel discussion on the implications hurt by increasing fertilizer and information. The network will
of rising rice prices was held. pesticide costs, which are climbing develop linkages with the existing
The participants largely agreed in line with rising energy costs. agricultural policy networks in
that rice is seen by most governments According to forum organizer Asia and Africa. Proceedings
as a “political” commodity although Sushil Pandey, who leads of the forum are expected to be
the national perspectives on rice IRRI’s Rice Policy and Impact published by the end of 2008.

12 Rice Today April-June 2008

Troubling trade
It would be easy to think that the escalating price of rice is a boon for exporters—but,
in a Thailand exclusive, Rice Today reports on the chaos that has Thai traders reeling

restricted their rice exports. So, 2008 practice that let them down, in a

Story and photos by Bob Hill amounted to a one-horse race, and, sellers’ market the likes of which
nternational rice trading is not a as the 2007 harvest began to roll in they had never experienced before.
business for the faint-hearted. from the fields, Thailand’s exporters Local and export prices were soaring,
Thailand’s exporters knew began their wheeling and dealing, even as they struck their deals to
that well. They also knew, when with buyers clamoring at the door. deliver in three or four months’ time,
they prepared in November “You can only make money if when they still had to buy the rice
2007 for what was supposed to be a you speculate properly,” says veteran they had just sold. In some cases,
boom year ahead, that prices were exporter and former president of the the small profit margins they were
likely to rise. Little did they realize Thai Rice Exporters’ Association happy to accept disappeared within
how steep that rise would be. Vichai Sriprasert. “At the time of a few hours. Then, they could only
Poor weather and domestic the deal, we expect to make $5 watch in despair as the spiraling
supply concerns had severely a ton. Nobody has 100% of the prices battered at their solvency. In
restricted competition on the world’s stock in hand. We hope to buy the order to honor their commitments,
markets from Vietnam and India, rest. If I end up making $1 per some were forced to buy milled rice
Thailand’s main export rivals. ton, then I’m happy with that.” at a ruinous US$200 per ton more
China, Egypt, and Australia had also It was their forward-orders than they had agreed to sell it.

Parboiled rice is loaded at a riverside dock in

Bangkok. It will be hauled down the Chao Phraya
River to the Gulf of Thailand, to be loaded aboard
cargo ships bound for Africa.

Rice Today April-June 2008 13

Thai Rice Exporters’ Association Secretary-
General Korbsook Iamsuri (right), who is
also chief executive of the Kamolkij Group
of companies, oversees the sealing of
bagged parboiled rice bound for Nigeria and
Benin in Kamolkij’s Bangkok plant.

In the few months from badly scared, many of Thailand’s developing countries such as China
November to February, 30 to 40 smaller exporters withdrew from are also a factor, with more land
exporters, many of them among the trading in March, to brood and needed to raise livestock to meet
country’s most experienced traders, wait for the second crop to come increasing demands for meat.
lost an estimated $128 million. in, later that month and in April. “The force of the technology that
Worse still, supplies of paddy Others cautiously accepted orders no created the Green Revolution has
(unmilled rice) all but dried up in more than one month in advance. run out,” says Mr. Vichai. “World
late February, leading to claims that Had they kept an eye on world stocks of rice have been falling
farmers and millers were hoarding food prices, they might have been for 4 or 5 years, and consumption
it to speculate on even higher forewarned. The price of wheat has of rice exceeds production. This
prices. The government ordered an doubled since April 2007 and the food is a very dangerous situation. We
official check of its own stocks after price index of the United Nations’ need a new level of technology
the discovery that 12,000 tons of Food and Agriculture Organization in the rice fields of the world, so
paddy had “disappeared” while in climbed by almost 40% in 2007. that we can meet the demand.”
the storage custody of millers, and Demand is outpacing supply and the In 2007, Thailand exported
exporters scoffed that 12,000 tons world’s stocks of cereals like rice are about 9.5 million tons of rice. In the
was the tip of a very large iceberg. dwindling to the point at which they 4 months from November 2007 to
The accusations rumbled back can no longer provide an effective February 2008, exports accelerated
and forth through a shell-shocked buffer in years of poor production. to 1 million tons per month—well
industry, bleeding on the one hand Although population growth above the expected monthly rate of
and profiting on the other. At the is the fundamental cause, the 800,000 tons. Some of Thailand’s
same time that many exporters production and pricing problems are biggest firms, such as CP Intertrade,
faced heavy losses, farmers, local also partly due to weather problems part of the giant Charoen Pokphand
paddy traders, and many millers linked to climate change as well as conglomerate, say that rice exports
profited like never before. rising oil prices boosting demand will bring them a bonanza. Other
Unable to find supplies and for biofuels. Changing diets in fast- big firms that bought rice at auction

14 Rice Today April-June 2008

from the Thailand government’s $606 to $771; parboiled 100% went who asked not to be named. “They
stocks and were still holding from $380 to $604; and broken A1 must wait and see what happens.
sizeable amounts also raked in super rose from $321 to $512. At last Meanwhile, there is speculation and
big profits in the early months of report, the pace of the escalation was hoarding. The exporters can’t buy
the year. Smaller exporters simply undiminished. (f.o.b. stands for “free rice, so this is a difficult time for
didn’t have the money to do that. on board,” which means the seller exporters and millers. The farmers
The Thailand government has bears the cost of loading goods onto think prices will continue to rise.”
set a target of 8.75 million tons a ship or other form of transport, at Normally, the annual crop
for rice exports this year, and a a given port or point of departure.) totals 18 to 19 million tons of
senior government official close Making the trading position milled rice. Nine million tons are
to the rice trade says he is “quite of Thai exporters much more consumed domestically, eight or
positive” the target will be reached. difficult is the need to conduct all nine million tons are exported,
The country has about 400 transactions in U.S. dollars. Not and the rest is held in stock.
licensed rice exporters. Of these, 185 only is the dollar growing weaker, “We don’t know where the 2007
belong to the Thai Rice Exporters’ but their home currency, the Thai harvest is,” complains Ms. Korbsook.
Association, and, according to its baht, is appreciating against the “At this time last year, I could buy
secretary-general, Korbsook Iamsuri, dollar and showing no signs of 100,000 bags per day without any
this group accounts for more than slowing down. In January 2006, trouble. Today, I’m lucky if I can get
80% of the country’s rice trade. one U.S. dollar bought 40.77 baht; 10,000 bags.” She accuses farmers
The association says that, in the 3 in January 2007, 35.55 baht; and in and millers of hoarding stocks to
months from 6 December 2007 to 12 mid-March 2008, just over 31 baht. speculate on higher prices. “They
March 2008, the f.o.b. prices of major As difficult as making a modest should be selling it now, if they’re
Thai export grades of rice rose way profit has become, it is often further going to sell it at all, because they’re
beyond expectations. The price of 5% eroded by a volatile exchange rate. getting a 500% markup. But nothing
white rice rose from $348 to $544 per “The exporters are scared,” is hitting the market. It’s madness!”
ton; Hom Mali 100% B climbed from admits the government official, Ms. Korbsook is also chief

Parboiled rice rolls out of the

Bangkok plant of the Kamolkij Group
of Companies, bound for Nigeria and
Benin, in Africa.

Rice Today April-June 2008 15

program has seen circumstances of Thailand.
the government Developed countries subsidize their
gather huge farmers directly, but we don’t have
stocks of up to that much money. We have 3.6 million
five million tons, farming families in rice alone, so we
spread around can’t afford subsidies. We don’t put
the country a lot of money into this intervention.
in countless We absorb some surplus quantities.”
warehouses, many “They keep the rice everywhere,”
of them privately says Mr. Vichai. “Private millers
owned. The stocks are holding a lot of it, and the
have then been millers sell the paddy belonging
sold from time to the government first. When the
to time by an government releases stocks, they
electronic auction scramble to replace it, and instead of
Ms. Korbsook is chief executive of the
Kamolkij Group of companies, which
system. In March, the price going down, it goes up!”
claims to be the world’s largest exporter the government’s The exporters are also quick, in
of parboiled rice. stocks were their current frustration, to refute
officially 2.1 the notion that middlemen have
million tons. consistently squeezed farmers dry.
executive of the Kamolkij Group The exporters’ association Mr. Vichai, whose company, Riceland
of Companies, having taken over warns that, if the new government International, began in the tough
the family firm from her father. uses the program to once again set times of the Great Depression of the
It claims to be the world’s largest high guaranteed prices, it will affect early 1930s and who took over from
exporter of parboiled rice (which is both local and export markets. his father after studying economics
soaked and steamed before milling), The intervention scheme has in the U.S., says that, even in the
shipping 400,000 tons per year to encountered many problems, the best of circumstances, the profit
markets such as Nigeria and India. least of which were claims that margins of rice exporters are figured
In an effort to shift the paddy rice entering the program had in fractions of 1%. Thai farmers, on
onto the market, the exporters’ been mixed, with lower-graded the other hand, often make 100%
association has urged the government rice mixed with premium grades. percent profits on their rice crops.
to set aside its controversial price This led not only to extensive “The truth is, they will still be
intervention program, a move it says accusations but also to widespread poor because they don’t have enough
would save Thailand billions of baht DNA testing to ensure that buyers land,” he says. “They will not earn
per year. The association suggests were getting what they paid for. enough for a good life. We have too
that, without a price guarantee as There have also been repeated many people and too little land.”
a psychological backstop, farmers claims that quantities of government The exporters claim that
may opt to sell, easing pressure on stocks being held in private producing paddy costs farmers about
domestic prices and dealing with storage have “gone missing.” 5,500 baht per rai (0.16 hectares),
the current supply shortage. Ms. Korbsook dismisses the which at a recent exchange rate is
The price intervention program program as riddled with corruption about $1,100 per hectare. Even if a
has existed for some years, but and losses, and says that quantities farmer plants 2.5 hectares—around
began to play a significant role in of rice have been sold, switched, the national average farm size—and
the country’s rice production and or mixed. “Maybe the politicians both his yield and selling price are
marketing system as one of the early have benefited,” she says, “but it optimum, his 100% profit will still
“populist” policies of the deposed means that the farmers don’t go be only about $172 per month.
Thaksin administration. Since the for quality. They can sell anything The price rises also came too
military takeover in September 2006, at all at the guaranteed price. It late for the poor rainfed farmers,
guaranteed prices have sunk far discourages improvement. The whose harvest was in October and
below market prices. But, since the farmers don’t care when the November. The main profiteers
election of the new government in market needs better quality.” have been the irrigated farmers
December last year, populism is once “In theory,” concedes the of Thailand’s central region,
more a driving force in Thai politics. government official, “it is not who plant three crops a year.
Under the scheme, farmers can good, because we should let supply In the midst of the turmoil,
opt to sell to the government at a and demand work. We shouldn’t Thailand’s rice industry has become
guaranteed price or sell to traders or intervene in the market. intensely introspective. Government
millers if they can make more money. “But realistically, the program departments feel that development
In years of low market prices, the is suitable for the character and of the country’s rice industry still

16 Rice Today April-June 2008

has a long way to go, particularly in
the effort to build yields and reduce Farmers
water use. There has been talk of
bringing the industry together to
discuss its future, in the hope of
achieving some kind of unity. Farmer Government price
Paddy traders Brokers
cooperatives intervention scheme
There’s also a plan to implement
a zoning system in which farmers
will be compelled to grow varieties
that perform well in their local
farming conditions and that are Millers
in market demand. The senior
government official said the plan
needed another 4 or 5 years to set
Exporters Brokers Wholesalers
up, but, once operating, it would
help overcome present problems
and assist in the marketing of
Thailand’s crop. The exporters Retailers
are skeptical, pointing out that
there’s not a farmer born who takes
kindly to any kind of compulsion. The stages through which the Thai rice crop
Export market passes on its way from farmers’ fields to export Domestic market
Whatever might happen, or domestic sales.
prices are still rising. Source: Thai Rice Exporters’ Association.
“It is purely a matter of supply
and demand,” Mr. Vichai says.
“Higher oil prices mean that farmers with fuel crops. I believe the domestic In one way, both Ms. Korbsook
are changing to fuel crops, and these price of rice will triple, and will reach and Mr. Vichai are typical of long-
crops will need more land and more $1,000 per ton on the export market, standing rice exporters in Thailand:
water. Rice prices have to go up, or just to catch up with oil prices. they come from family firms that
humanity will have nothing to eat. “Maybe, at some point, the have been operating for several
The price will have to rise to the point Thailand government will intervene generations. Their companies
where rice can compete, financially, to protect domestic consumers.” have diversified their businesses
The senior purely because of the huge risks
government and difficulties of rice trading on
official disagrees its own, and the businesses have
with the expected been kept within the family.
move to fuel crops. Ms. Korbsook believes a
“Shifting to fuel complete overhaul of the rules and
crops is not easy,” regulations surrounding Thailand’s
he says. “You need entire rice industry is long overdue,
suitable land and and she is scathing in her criticism
conditions. Our of what she claims is the industry’s
culture demands lack of ordinary integrity. “Rice
that we still must has so many steps to pass through
have rice as our and there’s fraud, theft, and
staple food. It mismanagement all along the way.”
is our soul and Mr. Vichai sees what is happening
our spirit. In the as a “disruptive situation.”
beginning, we “Too few people acknowledge that
grew rice for our it takes integrity—an integrity built
own consumption, up over generations of reliability—to
and we expanded survive in this kind of situation,”
to become world he says. “This is a crucial time.
leaders in rice It will tell the story of who will
production. No survive and who will not survive.”
matter what
Thai rice exporter Vichai Sriprasert. happens, we will Bob Hill is a Thailand-based writer
still grow rice.” specializing in science and technology.

Rice Today April-June 2008 17

After the

Nasiruddin Khan harvests what is left of his

rice crop after it was devastated by Cyclone Sidr
in November 2007.
Storm Story and photos by Adam Barclay

MODIS Rapid Response Project at NASA/GSFC

In the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr, the rice farmers of southern Bangladesh
are struggling to get back on their feet. Immediate relief is needed, but
science can provide technologies that help minimize the damage caused by Cyclone Sidr on 14 November 2007, a
day before it slammed into Bangladesh.
the next disaster.

he winds started to pick poor. People scrape by from season If you’ve never been to
up during the afternoon of to season, trying to grow enough Bangladesh, you may not know how
what should have been a rice to feed themselves and maybe flat the country is. Apart from hills
normal Thursday in southern sell a little if they’re lucky. It’s a in the southeast and northeast, the
Bangladesh. There had been warnings precipitous existence: one failed crop, land rarely gets more than a few
of a storm, somewhere out in the Bay one big flood, and it can send people meters above sea level. The country is
of Bengal, heading toward the coast. spiraling into destitution. And, at effectively an enormous delta formed
But the people of Chornajir Village this level of poverty, the channels by the confluence of the Ganges,
didn’t think things would get too bad. of communication, which should Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers
Besides, there was work to bring news of floods and storms, and their tributaries, which catch
be done in the fields and the don’t always work like they should. the Himalayan snowmelt and wend
nearest shelter was a long walk Cyclone Sidr, a category-4 their way toward the Bay of Bengal.
away, especially for the young brute with peak winds of 250 Hundreds of rivers and streams
children. If it rains, so be it. kilometers per hour, slammed into crisscross their way out to sea, the
Hopefully, the crops will be OK. the southern Bangladesh coast end result being an entire country
As evening approached, though, in the evening. By the time the that floods like a bathtub if it rains
it became clear that 15 November villagers of Chornajir, around 20 too much. Add to that a cyclone-
2007 would not be a normal kilometers inland, realized this was induced tidal surge and you start to
Thursday. Chornajir, like most of more than a common storm, it was understand how devastating a major
the villages in Patuakhali District, is too late to get to the shelter safely. storm can be here. In 1970, a cyclone
killed up to half a million people—one
of the largest single disasters in
Millions of southern Bangladeshis
human history. In 1991, another
were forced into makeshift huts after cyclone killed more than 130,000. In
Cyclone Sidr destroyed their homes. terms of the cost to human life, Sidr
was not as brutal, causing the deaths
of around 4,000 people (though still
a major disaster by any definition).
Fortunately, it struck at low tide, so
the surge was not as powerful as it
might have been. And, despite the
communication breakdowns that left
Chornajir residents in grave danger, a
great number of people made it to one
of the many cyclone shelters that have

Rice Today April-June 2008 19

million families did not produce grain.
comprising “Farmers’ chances of recovering
around 9 million some of the crop depended on a
people. More few days, really, in terms of crop
than 1.5 million development,” says Dr. Johnson.
homes were Sidr prompted millions of
destroyed. Just Bangladeshis to wonder how they
as distressing, would feed themselves until the
around 1 next harvest and, perhaps worse,
million hectares with so many farmers losing their
of crops— seed, they were unable to sow their
IRRI’s Zainul Abedin talks about Sidr’s predominantly boro crops, the seedling nurseries
impact with Mosammat Khadija Begum wet-season for which should have been planted
(far right) from Mushiliabad Village in
southern Bangladesh. (known as in November and December
transplanted for transplanting in January.
aman) rice— Compounding the problem was the
been built in the past three decades. were damaged or ruined. Across the destruction of boro seedbeds—in
As the wind strengthened and whole affected area (see map, below), Patuakhali, around 60% were
the rain hammered, the floodwaters average crop loss was 50%. Close to affected—and damage to irrigation
grew. First, the rice crops went rivers and the coast, though, farmers canals, which allowed highly saline
under, then the lower houses and suffered complete loss of their crops. water into the fresh water being
huts. Some people, such as Hasina International Rice Research stored for the dry season. Barring
and her husband, tried to make it Institute (IRRI)
to the nearest shelter. Soon after weed scientist
they set off, the water had risen David Johnson, Number of people affected by Cyclone Sidr.
This includes people and livestock killed or
above the level of the road. Hasina’s who visited the injured, and damaged or destroyed homes,
husband carried their 7-year-old Sidr-affected buildings, roads, and crops.
daughter. Just staying on the now- area in December
invisible road was almost impossible; 2007, points
holding onto a child at the same out that another
time proved too much. Amid the critical issue was
chaos, deafened by the screaming the stage of plant
wind, Hasina’s daughter was swept growth when
away. Like thousands of others, she the floods hit,
wasn’t found until it was too late. which happened
It was a sickening blow to a to be around the
family already doing it tough. There flowering period.
was precious little time to grieve, The effects on
though—in the wake of tragedy, the rice crop
Hasina and her husband were forced appeared to be
to turn their thoughts to finding food quite different,
and caring for their remaining family. depending on
Nazma Begum was luckier. Her whether it was
husband and son made it through at, before, or
unscathed. But her livelihood was after flowering,
swept away in the muddy water. which lasts about
The small hut in which she and her a week. Farmers
family lived was ruined. Her 0.8- recovered at
hectare rice field, from which she least some rice if
and her husband expected to harvest the crop was hit
the food that would prevent them before or after
from going hungry, was destroyed. flowering. If the
The seeds she had stored to use the floods and winds
following season were gone as well, hit a flowering
along with the family’s few chickens, crop, though, the
their vegetable crop, and almost plants became
all of their personal belongings. completely Source: Disaster Management Information Centre, Disaster Management Bureau,
Bangladesh Ministry of Food and Disaster Management
In all, Sidr affected around 2 sterile and

20 Rice Today April-June 2008

When Rice
The cyclone destroyed roads
throughout southern Bangladesh.
How can rice research help?
Today visited
In many cases, people
attempting to make their way
to safety drowned when the
embankments collapsed.
Purbohajipur in
December 2007, F ollowing their visit to southern Bangladesh
in December 2007 to assess the situation
in areas hit by Cyclone Sidr, IRRI scientists
Nasiruddin was
Abdelbagi Ismail, Zainul Abedin, David
harvesting what
Johnson, and M.A. Hamid Miah, along
muddy, flattened with their BRRI counterparts, developed
rice remained preliminary plans for research focused on
in his field. He mitigating this sort of disaster.
said he would T he re s e a rc he r s d i s c u s s e d t he i r
observations at a series of meetings with
use the straw for
the Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture
animal feed but Md. Abdul Aziz, the Bangladesh Agricultural
that much of the Research Council (including Executive
recoverable grain Director Nurul Alam), and the Bangladesh
further disasters, many farmers are had begun to rot and tasted bitter. Rural Advancement Committee (including
Executive Director Mahabub Hossain).
looking at a November-December Nasiruddin’s neighbor, Ali
Suggested intermediate-term plans to
2008 aman harvest or, at best, an Akbar, harvested 10 tons from protect and enhance farm productivity
aus crop (grown by some farmers his 4 hectares in 2006. In 2007, included
between the wet and dry seasons), he was expecting around 1 ton. It 1. New varieties with sufficient tolerance
to be harvested in mid-2008. was a story repeated over and over of submergence, salinity, and stagnant
But that’s only half the problem. across southern Bangladesh. flooding, but with higher yields than the
Each wet season, the farmers here A recent report issued by the current local varieties need to be tested
save their crop’s best seeds, with Centre for Policy Dialogue and and out-scaled in cyclone- and flood-
prone areas. These include flood-tolerant
which they plant the next wet Bangladesh Rural Advancement varieties already developed by IRRI and
season’s crop. Following Sidr, even Committee (BRAC) warns that, BRRI, and salt-tolerant varieties that are
though some farmers managed to following the cyclone and two currently being developed. Breeding lines
salvage some rice, it was of such poor major floods earlier in 2007, the with tolerance of submergence, stagnant
quality as to be useless for seed. country is now facing a shortage flooding, and salinity should also be
tested with farmers to select suitable
“Urgent short-term measures of at least 3 million tons of rice. lines for further evaluation and release.
are needed to ensure sufficient “We usually have a rice shortage
2. Crop management and crop intensification
seed supplies for these farmers, of 1–1.5 million tons a year, but, strategies could help raise productivity
particularly for 2008,” explained because of recurrent natural to ensure higher and more stable income
IRRI scientist Abdelbagi Ismail disasters, there will be an additional and food security. Increasing the options
during his visit to Patuakhali in shortage of 1.9 million tons,” for dry-season (boro and aus) rice as well
December 2007. “This is because Mahabub Hossain, BRAC executive as other upland crops (such as potato,
sweet potato, maize, and watermelon)
most farmers lost their rice crop director, said in January 2008. would help reduce reliance on the
and the grain yield of the remaining Adding to the burden for the vulnerable aman-season rice, whose
crop is expected to be very low, and millions afflicted, the shortages yields are often low and susceptible to
will mostly be consumed within harsh conditions. Diversification will
a few months. Besides, harvested help ensure sufficient food and income
for farmers if they lose most or some of
grain is likely to be unsuitable for their aman rice produce.
seed for the next transplanted aman
season because of low quality.”
Condemned to as much as a have come at a time of high and
year’s reliance on food aid, families rising global rice prices, resulting in
are left wondering how they’ll higher prices for consumers, many of
manage. Moreover, most of the whom have already lost everything.
crops grown in these areas are local The country’s dire situation
varieties adapted to saline and was recognized by the Food and
waterlogged conditions. Seeds of Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the
these varieties are hard to replace. United Nations, which in December
“It looks like I’ll get less than half 2007 added Bangladesh to a list
a ton from my 6 acres [2.4 hectares],” of 37 countries facing a food crisis
lamented Nasiruddin Khan, a rice and requiring external assistance.
farmer from Purbohajipur Village, To see what role IRRI might
Patuakhali. “Last year, I got 5 tons. play both in response to this disaster
I don’t know how we’ll get enough A girl from Mushiliabad Village, which was hard and to mitigate the effects of future
hit by Sidr.
food in the coming months.” cyclones—predicted to occur with

Rice Today April-June 2008 21

IRRI’s David Johnson and
Abdelbagi Ismail (right)
inspect cyclone-damaged
rice in Isladi Village.

BRRI’s Abu Saleque.

greater frequency because of climate others, including BRAC, are helping farmers to grow boro rice,” explains
change—Institute scientists Dr. affected families get back on their Dr. Saleque. “In Barisal District,
Ismail, Dr. Johnson, Zainul Abedin, feet. It is an enormous task. BRRI and only 40% of the rice area (107,000
and M.A. Hamid Miah traveled BRAC both jumped in immediately hectares) is planted to boro rice.”
to southern Bangladesh on 14-16 to distribute seeds, but getting hold One major constraint, says
December 2007. They were joined by of enough was proving difficult, with Dr. Saleque, is that farmers
representatives from the Bangladesh around 20,000 tons required to meet must be organized. For example,
Rice Research Institute (BRRI), the expected shortfall. Abu Saleque, water allocation is a problem,
the Department of Agricultural principal scientific officer and as is the practice of allowing
Extension, and two nongovernmental head of the BRRI Research Station livestock to graze on aman crop
organizations—Action Aid and in Barisal District just north of residue—farmers would need to
SPEED Trust—working on the Patuakhali, says that, to cover losses coordinate to ensure that animals
IRRI-coordinated Food Security due to Sidr, BRRI is helping farmers don’t eat newly planted boro rice.
for Sustainable Household to grow transplanted aus rice. If the coming rice seasons are
Livelihoods (FoSHoL) project. “BRRI is supplying boro seeds to to be successful, the bare minimum
All groups, along with several farmers and is also encouraging more needed by farmers is seeds, fertilizer,

Local residents Some things even a cyclone cannot stop—local

reported that the boys play cricket in front of large river barges
storm surge produced that were washed hundreds of meters inland by
by Sidr reached halfway the cyclone’s storm surge.
up this palm tree on the
southern Bangladesh

22 Rice Today April-June 2008

One month after the cyclone, reconstruction Even at the BRRI Research
efforts were well under way. Station in Barisal—100
kilometers inland—the storm
surge submerged rice crops to a
depth of 75 centimeters.

and help with land preparation. If storage facilities that can withstand Tolerant varieties will at least give
draft animals weren’t killed in the flooding, can buffer Bangladeshi a good start to the next season.”
cyclone, their feed was most likely farmers against future catastrophe. According to Dr. Johnson, an
lost. As a result, many farmers have “For this kind of disaster, it’s important role in IRRI’s research
either lost or ceased to keep animals. very difficult to design varieties is to reduce the vulnerability of
Although any rice crop hit that can withstand this kind of rice production systems and,
directly by a full-force cyclone is sure devastation—even human beings are through that, the vulnerability
to be damaged, new varieties with not able to do that,” says Dr. Ismail. of people’s livelihoods.
sufficient tolerance of submergence, “But you can develop certain traits “We saw a gradient from those
salinity, and flooding—but with that can mitigate the effects. We can areas that were seriously affected
higher yields than currently also see what varieties are available to areas that were less so,” he
grown local varieties—need to be that can be used immediately after says. “One hope is, if improved
developed, tested, and out-scaled the flood, because we expect to materials are available with greater
in southern Bangladesh and other see residual salinity, high iron, tolerance of some of the stresses
cyclone-prone areas. Subsequent and other changes in surface soil caused by an event like this, the
increased production, combined with due to debris brought by seawater. proportion of the area that is
seriously affected will be smaller.”
Dr. Hossain points out, however,
that the Sidr aftermath also
offers an opportunity to improve
livelihoods in the long run. “At times
of crisis, that’s the time to suggest
new ideas to farmers,” he says.
During the IRRI scientists’ visit
in December 2007, discussions were
predominantly about action—seed
distribution, next season’s crop
preparation, research to develop
technologies to minimize losses
after the next cyclone, and so on.
Importantly, says Dr. Abedin, these
are not the types of action that will
create dependence: they are ways
to not only get people back on their
Rice exposed to Sidr’s winds and feet, but also keep them there.
flooding was heavily damaged, like “Cash relief,” he says, “is
this example belonging to a farmer
(left) from Isladi Village. something people will use today. But
they need something for tomorrow.”

Rice Today April-June 2008 23

Ariel Javellana

Rice Today April-June 2008, Vol. 7, No. 2

Unloading rice at Manila Harbor: for the Philippines—the world's largest rice importer—high prices spell clouds on the horizon.
As well as improving farmers’ incomes and productivity, water-
saving technologies can also help to ease social tensions—but
not without local experts who champion the cause

The big
Story by Adam Barclay,
photos by Raymond Jose Panaligan

n 1998, the farming community higher-yielding, more reliable crops. As new members joined the
of Canarem, 120 kilometers Sure enough, P-38 did improve cooperative, enticed by P-38’s
north of Manila in the Philippine things. Farmers had access to promise, each farmer’s wait between
province of Tarlac, had reason more water and started growing an irrigations—which should have been
to celebrate. The Philippine additional dry-season rice crop each 7 days—grew to almost 2 weeks. In
National Irrigation Administration year. But the celebration was muted. the dry season, the interval became
(NIA) funded the construction of NIA paid in advance for the diesel so long that fields dried out and
a deep-well pump, designated P- that fueled the pump, with farmers the soil began to crack. Some of the
38, that would allow the farmers to repaying with a portion of their increasingly anxious farmers would
irrigate their rice fields. Previously harvest at the end of the season. With sneak out at night and divert water
dependent on rain or shallow a steady source of irrigation water into their own fields by placing holes
tubewell pumps, which often run dry, and no need to pay up-front fuel underneath their paddy dikes. Others
P-38 promised to help Canarem’s costs, farmers adopted a “too much turned to alcohol. Village officials
several dozen farmers produce is better than not enough” policy. were called in to resolve conflicts.

26 Rice Today April-June 2008

The main canal from IRRI’s Ruben Lampayan points at dry, fallow
Pantabangan Reservoir fields—a common sight in Central Luzon, where
irrigates around 90,000 water-saving technologies can help farmers grow
hectares in the Philippines’ dry-season crops.
Central Luzon region.

called controlled irrigation). ideal place to start but, according

Scientists at the International to Vic Vicmudo, manager of NIA’s
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Tarlac Groundwater Irrigation
and the Philippine Rice Research Systems Reactivation Project,
Institute (PhilRice) had established this was easier said than done.
that rice need not be continuously “For centuries, farming in the
flooded. It can be flooded to a lesser Philippines has been based on the
extent than usual (to a depth of idea that, the more water, the higher
3–5 centimeters instead of up to the yield,” says Dr. Vicmudo. “It’s
10 centimeters), allowed to dry not easy to reverse that belief.”
to a degree, then re-flooded, with But the plain fact is that, in many
this cycle repeated throughout the areas, rice farmers simply don’t
season if the soil remains flooded have enough water. Bas Bouman,
throughout the all-important water scientist and head of IRRI’s
flowering period. Up to a quarter Crop and Environmental Sciences
less water is needed and there is no Division, says that it was this
drop in yield. Importantly, farmers understanding that drove not only
don’t need to make any other major the initial collaboration but also the
changes to the way they manage participation of other organizations
their crop (see also The benefits of such as state colleges and universities.
a hole in the ground, on page 29). “It started in 2000 with NIA
The practice, confirmed in and PhilRice on a very small scale,”
experimental fields, needed to be recalls Dr. Bouman. “Step by step,
extended to real farms. So, IRRI more and more partners came on
and PhilRice initially teamed up board—now, we can barely count
with NIA staff to introduce AWD the number of partners involved.
to farmers. Canarem seemed the Many of these attended a training

Standing in front of the P-38 deep-well pump are

(left to right) Ramon Ganiban, Dario Antalan, and
Manuel Apolonio—president, treasurer, and secretary,
respectively, of the P-38 Irrigation Service Cooperative.
For 3 years after the construction
of P-38, tensions and distrust grew
among the families of Canarem.
Then, in 2002, two events
conspired to turn things around.
First, with the rising cost of fuel,
NIA announced it would no longer
pay for diesel, which had more
than quadrupled in price since
P-38 began operating. Second,
a team of researchers arrived,
hoping to introduce a water-saving
technology known as alternate
wetting and drying, or AWD (also

Rice Today April-June 2008 27

NIA’s Armilito Lactaoen. thought the crops would die. Now, Vic Vicmudo,
manager of NIA’s
they know that small cracks are OK.” Tarlac Groundwater
In a way, farmers were Irrigation Systems
practicing AWD before it was Reactivation
formally introduced. But it was an
uncontrolled AWD, forced onto
farmers by insufficient and poorly
managed irrigation. With the
knowledge of how to use water more
efficiently, the yields obtained by
Canarem’s farmers using AWD, at
5–6 tons per hectare, are the same
as when they tried to maintain
continuously flooded fields.
Ramon Ganiban, P-38
cooperative president and owner
of a 4-hectare farm, says that in the farmers’ mind-set and culture,”
course we ran in 2004, and took when the researchers and NIA says Mr. Ganiban. “Now, people
it from there on their own.” staff introduced them to AWD, know that, if they’re short of money
Dr. Bouman says the urgency many of the cooperative’s 61 for fuel, they can just flash-flood
stems from farmers’ lack of choice. farmers were skeptical. Now, the the crop and it will be OK. We don’t
“We often get asked, ‘How can you cooperative’s success has inspired need to prove AWD anymore: we’ve
convince farmers to save water?’ My neighboring communities. done it for 6 years and we know it
standard reply is that we don’t need Ironically, having farmers pay works. AWD has really strengthened
to convince them to save what they for their own fuel was a key to the the cooperative. There are no more
don’t have. These technologies are technology’s success, as it provided conflicts and farmers understand
really about helping farmers who a financial incentive to use less each other’s needs much better.”
are unable to keep fields flooded water. Before they learned about Armilito Lactaoen, one of
to get the best out of the limited AWD, farmers ran the pump for NIA’s senior technical staff, works
water they have,” he explains. 10–12 hours to irrigate a single with farmers in the nearby GP-125
Jump forward to the present, and hectare. That has been reduced by Irrigation Service Cooperative.
Canarem is a different place, says more than half, to 4–5 hours. He cautions that, although AWD
Manuel Apolonio, secretary of the AWD rice crops also require less can “solve the problem of greed in
P-38 Irrigation Service Cooperative labor and are 20–25% cheaper to irrigating,” it needs good people
and owner of a 2-hectare farm. manage than continuously flooded management. Some cooperatives
“There used to be so many crops, meaning higher profit for have failed to adopt AWD, he
conflicts between cooperative farmers. In fact, under AWD, some says, because of “human resource
members and managers,” Mr. Canarem farmers have gone from problems, such as a lack of strong
Apolonio recalls. “Now, the farmers barely breaking even from rice co-op leadership or management
know how to manage water. Before, farming to making a modest income. problems within the co-op.”
if the soil started to crack, people “There’s really been a big change NIA is working with farmer
groups at 72 irrigation systems across
Tarlac. Around 20% of the farmers
have adopted controlled AWD (as
opposed to uncontrolled AWD, which
has been forced onto Tarlac’s farmers
through a lack of water), but some
systems have seen 100% adoption.
Dissemination is now the main
challenge. Dr. Vicmudo is optimistic,
pointing out that, once farmers
are convinced, they themselves
become key disseminators.
“NIA, PhilRice, and IRRI have
Children play in the
outlet channel of deep-
held several harvest festivals,”
well pump P-38. he says. “Yields from farms
using traditional irrigation and
AWD were directly compared,

28 Rice Today April-June 2008

The benefits of a hole in
the ground
Malaya Irrigators’ Association
President Victorino Erese.

T o help farmers move to alternate wetting

and drying, IRRI devised a simple way to
check when a crop needs water. A pipe with
so farmers could see that there’s Not only were yields as high as holes drilled into it is pushed part way into
nothing hocus-pocus, no magic.” they had been under continuous the rice-field soil. Farmers can then observe
the water level, irrigating when it reaches
Just north of Tarlac in Nueva flooding, but 2007 was also the a certain distance—usually around 15
Ecija Province, IRRI, PhilRice, first year for many during which centimeters—below the surface. Anywhere
and NIA are working with farmer downstream farmers—those above that level, the plants’ roots will reach
groups that get their irrigation water farthest from Lateral F—didn’t the water and the crop will be fine. The
from subcanals running off the complain about a lack of water. tool is simple enough for farmers to easily
construct it from cheap local materials such
main canal of the Upper Pampanga The Malaya Irrigators’ as PVC or bamboo. After one or two seasons,
River Integrated Irrigation System Association (MIA), a group of 264 farmers no longer need the tube and are
(UPRIIS). Fed by Pantabangan farmers covering 265 hectares in able to judge when to irrigate simply by
Reservoir in the foothills of northern the municipality of Santo Domingo, looking at the crop. If a new technology
Nueva Ecija, UPRIIS irrigates an also adopted AWD in 2007. The relies on complex, difficult-to-make, or
expensive methods, it is bound to fail.
area of around 90,000 hectares in farmers here also agree that the Simple, adaptable tools—like a hole in the
Central Luzon, the region north of practice has reduced tensions ground—are crucial.
Manila (the area will soon undergo a and improved social harmony.
35,000-hectare expansion), and is the “With AWD, there’s better
country’s largest irrigation system. unity among MIA members,” Ms. Sibayan argues that
One of the biggest challenges of says MIA President Victorino farmers recognize and value the
managing UPRIIS is ensuring that Erese. “Before, people looked social benefits. “If downstream
the farms farthest from the reservoir out only for themselves.” farmers didn’t get water,” she
and the main canal receive their Prior to AWD’s introduction,
share of water, especially given that 60% of MIA farmers grew dry-season
those closest to the source tend to rice. Despite initial doubts, that
use more than they need. Evangeline figure has increased to 80% after
Sibayan, agricultural engineering only one year. An unanticipated
division head at PhilRice, likens the bonus is that lenders now have more
problem to 50 people sharing a 10- confidence in the MIA members’
liter bottle of water. “The people who ability to repay loans and thus
drink first need to take into account are happier to offer credit.
those who will drink later,” she says. One major difference between
Ms. Sibayan says that finding implementing AWD in an area
farmers to try AWD in 2007 serviced by a gravity-fed irrigation
was extremely difficult. It took a system like UPRIIS versus a deep-
demonstration trial at PhilRice well system like P-38 is direct
and, ultimately, a promise to economic incentive. In Canarem,
compensate farmers for any yield where farmers pay for their own fuel,
loss compared with 2006 production the less water they use, the higher
to convince a farmer group serviced their income. In Santo Domingo,
by a subcanal named Lateral F. farmers pay a flat fee, regardless
The result? Perhaps the best of how much water they use. So, if Danilo Esteban, vice president of the Malaya
evidence is the fact that PhilRice you’re an upstream farmer with good Irrigators’ Association, checks the water level in his
AWD rice field.
barely paid out any compensation. access to water, why conserve it?

Rice Today April-June 2008 29

without water-saving knowledge, PhilRice’s
PhilRice’s Evangeline Sibayan.
Jovino De Dios.
without good technology, farmers
tend to irrigate wastefully,” he says.
PhilRice and NIA aim to
convert the 50,000 or so rice
farmers in the UPRIIS area to AWD
by 2010. There are also plans to
spread the technology through the
neighboring Magat River Integrated
Irrigation System service area. It’s
an ambitious goal, but, if it can be
achieved, a quarter of the entire
Philippine irrigated rice system will
be under AWD. “Then,” says Ms.
says, “at night they would walk Sibayan, “hopefully, it will trickle that adoption of new technologies
upstream, armed with their bolos down to smaller systems too.” is almost always a challenge. “We
[traditional Philippine knives], Ruben Lampayan, IRRI need to understand what enables
and reposition the flow.” postdoctoral fellow and leader of the adoption,” she says. “What are the
In this light, Ms. Sibayan IRRC Water-Saving Work Group, social and cultural factors as well as
describes AWD as a “peace-making has been involved with the research economic factors, and what allows
technology.” And, as well as fostering and dissemination of AWD for the faster diffusion of the technology?”
camaraderie among farmers, AWD past 7 years. He says that AWD has The point is, even if a technology
is allowing downstream farmers to enormous potential not only in the works in experimental trials, it still
grow two rice crops per year and thus Philippines but also across Asia. may not succeed. For example, there
improve their income. Previously, “In many Asian countries, are areas where AWD has failed
many downstream farmers could we see the same problems, same because of “free riders”—farmers
grow rice only in the wet season. mind-set, same challenges,” who managed to obtain the water
“We need to make AWD part of explains Dr. Lampayan. “People without paying their share of the
the farmers’ culture,” says Jovino are aware of the problems but they cost. In this case, strong leadership
De Dios, supervising science are astonished when told of their from cooperative managers is the
research specialist at PhilRice. true extent. If we are successful, key to success. The decision by the
Mr. De Dios is confident that, UPRIIS can be a model that can P-38 leaders to make farmers pay
with wise water management, the be replicated throughout Asia.” for their own fuel not only provided
entire UPRIIS can be successfully To help AWD’s impact reach its incentive to use less water but also
irrigated, but he stresses the need to full potential, IRRI anthropologists eliminated the free-rider problem.
educate the farmers in the UPRIIS Flor Palis and Rica Flor are looking What happens, though, if farmers
expansion area before the system at how and why (or why not) AWD have access to neither gravity-fed
becomes operational. “If they farm is being adopted. Dr. Palis says nor pump irrigation? Such is the
case in many areas of Bulacan
Province, immediately north of
For the children of Canarem, Tarlac,
irrigation water means fun as much as Manila. At Bulacan Agricultural
it means rice. State College (BASC), researchers
believe the answer is “aerobic rice”—
growing rice in unflooded fields,
much like wheat or maize, instead
of transplanting seedlings into a
flooded field (for more on aerobic
rice, see High and dry on pages
28-33 of Rice Today Vol. 6, No. 4).
Junel Soriano, director for
research, extension, training, and
production at BASC, has led the
college’s aerobic rice project since it
began in 2004. He says that farming
life can be extremely difficult in an
area such as Bulacan, where farmers
are almost entirely reliant on rain.
“The benefit of aerobic rice,” says

30 Rice Today April-June 2008

A young boy crosses an irrigation canal near Ramos, Tarlac.

Dr. Soriano, “is that you can establish also stepped in and are currently 2008, organizations from Mindanao,
wet-season rice in early May, up to subsidizing seeds for farmers by 50%. in the southern Philippines, and
one-and-a-half months earlier—and In the Philippines, local northern Luzon, in the north, are
therefore harvest earlier—than government is responsible for set to join in. “We want to be the
transplanted rice, which needs much agricultural technology dissemination research-and-development center
more water before it can be planted. and training, so administrative or for aerobic rice in the Philippines,”
Then, following harvest in August financial support from mayors and says BASC president Josie Valdez.
or September, there’s still enough local extension officials is crucial In many ways, the burgeoning
rainfall to establish another crop.” if a new technology is to succeed. success of AWD and aerobic rice
Dr. Soriano says the ultimate BASC has also recruited is not a story about technologies.
goal of the project is to increase partners from other provinces. It’s a story about people, about
cropping intensity. Without aerobic Bataan Polytechnic State College and the local champions without
rice, Bulacan farmers manage a Palawan State University have already whom the best technologies in the
single rice crop per year. The project begun aerobic rice projects and, in world would languish on shelves
results so far suggest that as many and in academic journals.
as three-quarters of those farmers “We need these people who go
who adopt aerobic rice, which needs beyond the limits of their institution
irrigation only once a week or so, will and, really, beyond their own limits,”
be able to plant a second rice crop. says Dr. Lampayan. “IRRI did not
So far, farmers’ yields have assume that its partners would
been around 4.5 tons per hectare, champion the technology in the way
which is similar to what they they have. It was quite spontaneous.”
achieved with transplanted rice. Without people like Vic
One constraint is seed availability, Vicmudo, Evangeline Sibayan,
but two 1-million-peso (US$25,000) and Junel Soriano to provide the
projects, funded by Japan through sparks, promising technologies
the Philippine National Economic too often fail to ignite.
Development Authority and by the
Philippine Commission on Higher The development and dissemination of water-
Education, have enabled BASC to set saving technologies for rice as reported here
up a seed production business that are carried out through the Water-Saving
will also help raise revenue. Local Work Group of the Irrigated Rice Research
governments in the Norzagaray, Consortium and the Consultative Group
Doña Remedios Trinidad, and Bulacan Agricultural State College’s on International Agricultural Research
Junel Soriano.
San Rafael municipalities have Challenge Program on Water and Food.

Rice Today April-June 2008 31

Hungry for knowledge
by Trina Leah Mendoza
and David Johnson

Every year in Bangladesh,

millions of rural families suffer the

privations of monga, the period

after the previous season’s food

has run out and before the next

season’s harvest. Now, several

technologies are helping to BRRI’s M.A. Mazid (front, with glasses and beard)
and IRRI’s David Johnson (behind sign) discuss
close the window of hardship. direct seeding and monga mitigation.

ravel from the Bangladeshi often struggling to piece together 12-year-old children are sent to
capital of Dhaka to the a single decent meal. At this time work for landowners. Boys receive
district of Rangpur in of the year, most of the people who about US$28 and food for a year
the country’s northwest rely on farmwork—around 70% of in exchange for hard labor in
takes about 7 hours by an the adult population—in the greater the fields. The girls, restricted to
increasingly rough road. In the course Rangpur District are jobless, waiting household chores, receive only food.
of that long journey, you get a feel for for the harvest of transplanted It does not help that northwest
this largely flat, waterlogged nation, rice in December. By the time the Bangladesh is transected by 21 rivers
teeming with around 150 million monga season comes, they have that regularly overflow, leaving
people. Departing the crowded consumed all of their stored food and thousands of families homeless.
urban streets of Dhaka, you leave opportunities for work have dried up. Floods usually arrive in August
behind images of makeshift tents Most of the men migrate to and September, bringing with them
crammed between trees along the cities to find work pulling rickshaws, water-borne illnesses and hardship
highway. Nearing Rangpur, you can transporting bananas and logs, that are only intensified by the
see communities of tin houses. And or similar. But these prospects monga, which follows close behind.
in villages in neighboring Nilphamari are few and poorly paid. Often, To help ease the suffering
and Kurigram districts, families families buy livestock and poultry during monga and improve farm
live in thatch huts, most of them before monga and sell them during productivity, the International
without electricity or plumbing. These these trying months. Even 8- to Rice Research Institute (IRRI)-led
simple dwellings represent home for Irrigated Rice Research Consortium
millions of Bangladesh’s poor. About (IRRC), the Bangladesh Rice
one-fifth of the nation’s population— Research Institute (BRRI), and
around 30 million people—suffer local nongovernment organizations
from severe hunger each year. (NGOs) have teamed up. Together,
Life for the rural poor, hard they are developing the means
enough at any time, gets harder for earlier harvests through
in northern Bangladesh from late shorter-duration rice varieties
September to mid-November. It combined with direct seeding of
is at this time that the annual rice and weed control options.
famine known as monga bares its IRRI weed scientist David
teeth. During these months, many Johnson, of the IRRC Labor
cannot afford three meals a day, Dr. Johnson with local residents in Rangpur. Productivity Work Group, and M.A.

32 Rice Today April-June 2008

Mazid, head and sold. Almost all the lac rearers DAE has been promoting early-
of the BRRI in Bangladesh are women. maturing varieties since 2005,
Rangpur Direct seeding, too, is playing along with direct seeding by drum
station, have a key role. One Nilphamari rice seeder, although their efforts were
been working farmer’s direct-seeded crop yielded hampered by several floods in 2007.
closely with about a respectable 3 tons per The team also met with
farmers to test hectare. Also able to grow ginger, NGOs including Solidarity, Inter-
the potential of he described his situation as “a Cooperation, GAUS, Rangpur
direct seeding miracle.” With the introduction Dinajpur Rural Service, and the
as an alternative of direct seeding and the early- Bangladesh Rural Advancement
to transplanted maturing rice variety BRRI dhan 33, Committee (BRAC).
rice in different farmers can harvest 25 to 40 days “These two technologies,
cropping earlier, sell at a higher price, and early-maturing varieties and direct
systems. Direct earn extra income from cash crops seeding, can stagger employment
seeding allows or as laborers for other farmers. generation and, to some extent,
the rice to be IRRI agricultural economist combat monga,” says Mahabub
established Arelene Malabayabas trained Hossain, BRAC chief executive officer.
earlier and interviewers and conducted For GAUS members, this
raises the household surveys designed to collect project was a “dream come true”
chances for rice and other crop production data according to Matiur Rahman,
farmers to grow from 200 farmers. The preliminary GAUS executive director. “Before
an extra crop, results indicated that the most using direct seeding, the farmers
such as potato, effective ways of informing farmers were harvesting only 2.1 tons per
maize, mustard, about direct seeding are through hectare,” he says. “Upon using direct
wheat, chickpea, television (a village’s few sets are seeding with BRRI dhan 33 variety,
or vegetables. often watched by many farmers), and with good management and
The IRRC team traveled to demonstrations and training, training, they were able to harvest
Rangpur on 22-28 October 2007 to farmers’ field schools, other farmers’ about 4.7 tons per hectare.”
capture the impact of direct seeding influence, and extension technicians. There is still much work to be
on monga mitigation. IRRI socio- These data, along with those of done to relieve the problem of monga
cultural anthropologist Florencia Dr. Palis’s interviews, will give the by enabling farmers to harvest rice
Palis interviewed farmers and IRRC a better understanding of how earlier. Further farmer training
landless men and women in Rangpur, direct seeding and improved weed will be undertaken this year so that
Nilphamari, and Kurigram districts. management can be spread effectively farmers themselves can become
One grief-stricken widow in to help improve farmers’ harvests. trainers in the community. The IRRC
Nilphamari said that her “life was The team also discussed with team will travel the road to Rangpur
miserable and useless because she government and nongovernment again, and the tents and thatch huts
had no work and no land to work agencies the potential of direct- will probably still be there. But, by
on.” Left with two daughters to seeding technology as a way to helping farmers make more of their
take care of, remarrying was, in mitigate monga. They met with natural resources, simple, well-
Bangladeshi culture, not an option. officials of the Department of managed technologies can go a long
Another woman had descended Agriculture and Extension (DAE) way to easing the misery of monga.
into a spiral of debt, borrowing and the district commissioner of
successively from several NGOs Kurigram, who agree that planting Ms. Mendoza is a communication
to pay for each previous debt. early-maturing varieties is vital in specialist with the IRRC. Dr. Johnson is
Despite this misery, such mitigating monga, but also stressed a senior weed scientist in IRRI’s Crop
landless women refused to lie down. a need for more seeds and training. and Environmental Sciences Division.
Some formed groups to develop
incomes during the monga period. In Rangpur, Bangladesh, direct-seeded rice can
Others borrowed money from help people avoid the hungry monga months.
NGOs to hire a teacher for their
young children. Some sold poultry
and livestock and also took on lac
production, supported by the NGO
Grameen Artto Unnayan Sangstha
Trina Mendoza (3)

(GAUS). Lac (Laccifer lacca) is a

scale-insect that secretes a resinous
product, which can be harvested

Rice Today April-June 2008 33

The Asian exception:
by Robert Hijmans
Geographer, IRRI Social Sciences Division

he availability of water is a fundamental
requirement for crop growth. In many
places, rainfall is scant or erratic and this
can diminish crop yield and strongly affect
the livelihoods of farming households. To
cope with this problem, farmers can use irrigation, the
artificial supply of water to increase crop production.
Because irrigation takes away some of farming’s
climate risk, farmers who irrigate are more likely to
further invest in their agricultural production—by
using more fertilizer, for example. It is therefore
particularly in irrigated areas where we find the intensive
agriculture associated with the Green Revolution.
There are striking regional differences in the use
of irrigation (map). According to the data sources
used for this map,1 India and China each have about
20% of the world’s irrigated lands, and about 68%
of the world’s irrigated area is in Asia. Although
determining exact figures on this scale is impossible,
there is agreement about Asia's large share of global
irrigation. For example, the recent Comprehensive
Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture2
states that “over 60%” of the world’s irrigated land is in
Asia, and that about half of this land is used for rice. continent, and whether Green-Revolution-type
According to the Comprehensive Assessment, there intensification could take place there without it.
are currently about 300 million hectares of irrigated land There are many very dry areas in the world (less
worldwide—double the area in 1960. About 80 million than 250 mm of annual precipitation), but only a small
hectares (27%) of this irrigated land is used for rice proportion of this land is used for crop production. Where
production. Because rice receives more water than other it is used to grow crops, it tends to be irrigated. For
crops, it uses some 39% of the world’s irrigation water. example, in Egypt, more than 90% of agricultural land
Asia also has a large share—about 48%—of the is irrigated. However, only 30% of the world’s irrigated
world’s crop land. But this alone does not explain the area is in areas with less than 500 mm of rain per year
difference in the extent of irrigated areas: about 28% of (Figure 1). Another 30% is in areas with between 500 and
Asia’s crop land is irrigated, versus 9% for the rest of the 1,000 mm per year. The remainder is in areas with higher
world. Only 5% of the crop land in Africa is irrigated. rainfall. The majority of irrigated rice land in Asia receives
Much of this is in very dry areas such as the lower Nile more than 750 mm of rain per year. In these areas,
Valley; unlike in Asia, there is very little irrigation irrigation provides either additional water during the
in zones with 500 to 1,000 mm annual irrigation. rainy season and the opportunity for dry-season crops.
The low level of irrigation in Africa raises Detailed geographic data on the extent of crop land
the questions of whether there should be more and irrigation are an important source of information
investment in irrigating the crop lands of that for studies of agriculture and development. Here, we

Sources: Crop land: GLC2000 (; Wood et al, IFPRI Agricultural extent v2, IFPRI. Irrigation: Siebert et al 2005. Global map of
irrigated areas version 3. University of Frankfurt and FAO; Thenkabail et al 2006. An Irrigated Area Map of the World (1999) derived from Remote
Sensing. Research Report 105. IWMI. Precipitation: Hijmans et al 2005. International Journal of Climatology 25:1965-1978;
Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. 2007. Water for Food, Water for Life: A Comprehensive
Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. Earthscan and IWMI.

34 Rice Today April-June 2008

The extent of crop land and irrigation

combined the two most recent satellite data (Thenkabail et al). currently available or will be in the
global irrigation data sources The relative strengths and future. This is important because
available. One is based on maps weaknesses of these two sources the future of irrigation is uncertain
of irrigation schemes (Siebert et are open to debate, but they have at in many areas. Groundwater is being
al), which may include areas that least one limitation in common: they depleted in many important rice-
could be, but may in fact not be, show only the presence or absence growing areas such as the Punjab in
irrigated, the other is based on of irrigation, not how much water is India. Tube-well irrigation, which has
boomed in India and Bangladesh,
has become much less profitable
because of the increased cost of
fuel. Demand is also growing for
nonagricultural water use, such as for
clean drinking water from wealthier
and larger urban populations (see
the Comprehensive Assessment
for a recent in-depth analysis).
So, we need to know more.
More importantly, though, we need
rice production technologies that
enable farmers to use water more
efficiently and rice varieties that are
more tolerant of drought—not only in
Figure 1. The percentage of global crop land that is irrigated, and the distribution Africa, where irrigation is scarce, but
of the world's irrigated crop land by annual rainfall. also in more heavily irrigated Asia.

Rice Today April-June 2008 35


The Rice AIDS of Africa

Poor farmers in Africa call it the “rice AIDS” because of its potential for devastation. But a strategy blending
cutting-edge biotechnology with regional knowledge may yet stifle the impact of rice yellow mottle virus.

by Savitri Mohapatra Rice farmers in the region have reducing the impact of RYMV lies

been worried ever since severe in the use of resistant varieties in
nique to Africa, rice yellow RYMV epidemics broke out in complement with measures such as
mottle virus (RYMV) has West Africa—the main rice belt in direct sowing, removal of alternative
become the continent’s most sub-Saharan Africa—in the 1990s, hosts on which virus populations
rapidly spreading disease primarily because of the adoption of can survive during the off-season,
of rice since it was first discovered intensive rice cultivation methods, and control of the insect vectors.
in Kenya in 1966. It has the potential including irrigation, monocropping, In response to strong demand
to devastate lowland and irrigated and high-yielding but highly from West African countries that
rice throughout Africa, contributing susceptible Asian rice varieties. were badly affected by the RYMV
to food scarcity in areas where The disease is transmitted by epidemic, WARDA took the lead in
rice is an important staple food. insect vectors, such as beetles and the mid-1990s to conduct research
“Unfortunately, all rice varieties grasshoppers, or mechanically on the disease on a regional basis,
traditionally grown in irrigated through injury to plants during building on the RYMV resistance
conditions and in lowland areas of hoe-weeding or transplanting in screening work of the International
Africa are susceptible to RYMV,” the presence of virus particles. Institute of Tropical Research.
says Africa Rice Center (WARDA) The symptoms of RYMV-affected As a result, a regional research
plant pathologist Yacouba Séré. plants are stunted growth, mottled strategy to address RYMV was
“It is therefore a major threat to yellow leaves, reduced number developed and implemented with
more than 3 million hectares of of tillers, and sterile grains. support from the UK Department for
rice in sub-Saharan Africa.” The best hope for significantly International Development, using

The reaction of different rice varieties to a

highly virulent form of RYMV collected at Parakou,
Yacouba SÉrÉ

Benin. Although some lines were killed, others

showed only typical symptoms on their leaves.

36 Rice Today April-June 2008

an integrated pest management Ken Bugul Jaiteh (right), research technician at the National Agricul-
tural Research Institute, The Gambia, receives a certificate for completing
(IPM) approach. The main objectives a training course on molecular biology techniques at WARDA as part of
of this strategy were to identify the USAID-funded project on RYMV.
rice varieties resistant to RYMV
to replace susceptible varieties
grown by farmers; identify and
characterize sources of resistance for
use in breeding programs to develop
resistant varieties; and understand
better the disease epidemiology.
The high variability of the
RYMV virus—meaning that virus
strains vary from location to
location—proved a major challenge
for scientists because a rice variety
that is resistant in one location

R. Raman
may be susceptible elsewhere.
Over the past few years,
however, scientists have made
several important advances.
A rapid tool for diagnosing 3-year project on marker-assisted been trained to use the laboratory
RYMV using antibodies (an immune selection (MAS) with support from equipment. To further increase the
response from animals and plants in the U.S. Agency for International biotechnology capacity of Africa,
response to virus particles) has been Development to train national staff students from Benin, Burkina
developed and shared with project of four West African countries— Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Niger are
partners. Several RYMV strains Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and The doing their Ph.D. studies on RYMV
were identified and characterized. Gambia—in the application of MAS under WARDA’s supervision.
Rice varieties with resistance to techniques to transfer the gene with According to Marie-Noelle
RYMV have been identified and RYMV resistance to popular rice Ndjiondjop, WARDA molecular
sent to national partners for testing. varieties. (MAS involves linking a biologist, who is heading the project,
Most importantly, a few sources of desired gene with a marker so that it this is the first time that national
high resistance to RYMV, such as can easily be bred into a rice variety.) programs in the project countries
Gigante, a traditional low-yielding Thanks to this innovative have had access to laboratories
rice variety from Mozambique, and project, WARDA’s national partners equipped for this sort of science.
several indigenous African varieties are benefiting in several ways. The “The legacy of this project,”
have been identified. Resistant resistance gene rymv1 has been says Dr. Ndjiondjop, “will be
lines were obtained through successfully transferred into various the availability of laboratories
backcrossing, some of which have West African popular varieties furnished with the equipment
already been adopted by farmers. that were previously susceptible to necessary to apply molecular
As conventional breeding is RYMV and rice seeds bearing the biology techniques to rice breeding,
slow and lacks precision, WARDA rymv1 allele have been produced as well as trained national staff
scientists are working in close from the best lines. These seeds who can apply these techniques
partnership with advanced research have been multiplied to produce across many different crops.”
institutes to fast-track the process of enough seed for distribution to For the trainees—such as Ms.
developing RYMV-resistant varieties project countries for evaluation and Ken Bugul Jaiteh, research technician
using molecular biology techniques. use in national breeding programs. from the National Agricultural
One of its important partners in Perhaps most significantly, the Research Institute, The Gambia—the
this area is the Institut de recherche project has substantially boosted project has been valuable in building
pour le développement (IRD) in participating countries’ research national research capacity in
France, which has identified a gene, capacity. Eight scientists from biotechnology. This will help them
rymv1, that confers RYMV resistance the project countries underwent identify and adapt the technology to
and molecular markers associated intensive hands-on training in the their country’s needs and constraints.
with it. A marker is a segment of DNA use of molecular techniques in their The potential benefits of the
linked to an allele (a version of a gene) plant breeding programs. Functional project are expected to go far beyond
that controls an important trait and biotechnology laboratories have the four project countries to reach all
can easily be detected in the lab. been established in each of the four the African countries that grow rice
This achievement led to the countries and 27 national scientific and could eventually turn the tide
launching by WARDA in 2004 of a staff, including women, have in the battle against the disease.

Rice Today April-June 2008 37

Melissa Fitzgerald (right) and
Teodie Atienza analyze rice-grain

Illuminating the gap

Jose Raymond Panaligan

by Melissa Fitzgerald and Robert Hall

The new science of metabolomics is shining a light into the dark space between a rice plant’s
genes and the resultant qualities we appreciate when we eat rice

he publication in 2005 of protein, connect a glucose molecule of rice quality, an obvious application
the rice genome—the sum to a growing chain of starch, or join for metabolomics is to try to solve
total of genetic information together to make the key aromatic some of the mysteries of aroma. Even
in the rice plant, encoded in compound in fragrant rice. These Westerners who don’t grow up eating
its DNA—provided a huge boost to processes, which are regulated or rice can discriminate between the
genetic research. But, as we try to find carried out in families of reactions, taste of Thai jasmine and Indian/
genetic answers to questions such as involve tens of thousands of small Pakistani basmati rice. Asians who
why one variety tastes delicious but chemicals and compounds known as eat rice from the moment they can
another tastes mediocre, we fall into metabolites, many of which chemists manage solid food, on the other hand,
that dark space between genotype have never seen. The detection, can discriminate between basmati
and phenotype—that is, the unknown identification, and quantification grown in the Punjab and basmati
processes at the subcellular level that of these small compounds are the grown 50 km away, and between
are regulated by the genes, and that elements of a new science called jasmine rice grown in different
lead to the end result that humans metabolomics. Some of the small regions of Thailand. Besides jasmine
can see, feel, and of course taste. compounds dissolve in solutions and and basmati, well-trained palates can
That dark and seemingly some are volatile. These features discriminate between the many, many
impenetrable gap is buzzing with determine the equipment that can be more aromatic rice varieties grown in
chemicals and reactions. It is the used, or that needs to be developed, Southeast, South, and Central Asia.
place where a chemical compound to identify and measure them. Scientists have found a gene
or compounds can switch on a gene, For a person involved in for aroma, which is carried by both
link an amino acid onto a growing unravelling the science of the traits jasmine- and basmati-style rice

38 Rice Today April-June 2008

varieties. However, science has not The following people generously the key compounds that differentiate
yet discovered what determines the provided the rice that was used the different types of aromatic rice,
difference in taste between jasmine in the META-PHOR project determine how many different types
and basmati, let alone geographic of aromatic signatures there are, and
Supanee Jongee, Thailand
and seasonal effects on the taste. develop a library of compounds to
Rauf Ahmed, Pakistan
Presumably, jasmine and basmati rice Sanjukta Das, India
measure in the development of new
have unique chemical signatures, and Chanthakhone Boualaphan, Laos aromatic varieties. This knowledge
metabolomics should be the conduit Asafaliza Ramil, Malaysia will put scientists in position to not
to knowing and understanding those Dewi Indrasari, Indonesia only understand the fundamental
signatures. In this way, we hope to Russell Reinke, Australia biochemical basis of aroma in rice but
close the gap between the genes and Fatemeh Habibi, Iran also to formulate targeted strategies
the suite of compounds that interact Nguyen Thi Lang, Vietnam for improving such traits of quality.
to make what we detect as taste. The metabolomic profilers
Rice researchers have not plan to shine their torches at a joint
yet succeeded in developing new a database of soluble and volatile META-PHOR–INQR meeting in
varieties with higher yield while plant metabolites (see www.meta- Laos in May 2008. They will report
still maintaining aromatic quality. for more information). on their answers to the questions
Examples of this can be found all The International Network for raised in this article and show
over Asia. Take the highly prized, Quality Rice (INQR) has provided a their colleagues from national and
traditional Thai jasmine variety, platform for national rice research international research organizations
Khao Dawk Mali 105 (KDML105). organizations interested in aroma to some of the compounds and reactions
The aroma of KDML105 is renowned collaborate with the META-PHOR that lie in that dark space between
around the world, and many project. Network members from the genotype and phenotype of
Southeast Asian rice breeders have Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, these aromatic rice varieties.
used the variety in breeding programs the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia,
that aim to obtain higher-yielding or Australia, Pakistan, India, and Dr. Fitzgerald is the head of IRRI’s Grain
disease-resistant forms of the rice. Iran have supplied a total of 32 Quality, Nutrition, and Postharvest Center
In one case, genes for resistance of their highest-quality aromatic and chair of the International Network for
to the devastating blast fungus were rice varieties to the META-PHOR Quality Rice. Robert Hall is coordinator of
incorporated into KDML105 through scientists. Of the 32 varieties, 21 are the META-PHOR project and deputy business
traditional breeding. In three studies, traditional, five have fragrance from unit manager, Bioscience, at Plant Research
the blast-resistant form of KDML105 KDML105, and six carry fragrance International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
had less than half of the key aromatic from other traditional varieties.
compound, 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline This initiative is giving scientists META-PHOR is an international
(2AP), contained in KDML105 itself. a real chance to do four key things: project funded by the European Union
In another study at IRRI, a determine the difference between in its 6th framework programme
number of varieties developed from jasmine and basmati rice, identify (FOOD-CT_2006-036220).
crosses with KDML105, and that had
obtained the same fragrance gene, all
META-PHOR project
contained less 2AP than KDML105. coordinator Robert Hall.
Why is aroma best in KDML105?
This is the sort of question,
lurking in the dark space between
genes and taste, that perplexes
breeders and cereal chemists,
and disappoints rice farmers, rice
consumers, and rice traders.
But are such questions still
unanswerable? Metabolomics
could be the torch that illuminates
that darkness, thus enabling us to
find some of the compounds that
Plant Research International

explain variability in taste. IRRI

is a collaborator in the META-
PHOR project, funded by the
European Union, to develop and
standardize methods for metabolomic
profiling of plants, and to develop

Rice Today April-June 2008 39

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

Reflections of a rice widow

Carolyn Moomaw Wilhelm and her late husband, James (“Jim”) Curtis Moomaw, arrived at International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters in Los Baños, Philippines, in November 1961 with an infant son in
tow and ready for a grand adventure. After 8 years as IRRI’s first agronomist (1961-69) and important posts
in Africa and Taiwan, he passed away prematurely at age 55 in 1983. During a recent visit to IRRI—her first
in 26 years—Carolyn spoke fondly about meeting and marrying Jim and their time at and beyond IRRI. Here
are edited highlights of the interview.

Getting together at impression on me because he was on realized this older man—he was 5

Washington State crutches—and he was my lab partner. years older!—who had impressed
im was the grandson of a A year passed and we didn’t pay me was interested in me. We were
very famous pioneer in the much attention to each other. Then married almost immediately (within
field of soil science, Dr. Curtis he visited me in the summer of 1955, 6 months). He finished his very
Fletcher Marbut, who did when I was working at Yellowstone long research project, a study of
quality international work in National Park during a break from grazing and burning of pastures in
South America, the Soviet Union, and my graduate studies. Suddenly, I the Columbia Basin Region; I did a
Africa, as well as in the United States.
This was always on Jim’s mind and
it honed his interest in doing similar
research. Jim grew up on the Branch
Experiment Station in Dickinson,
North Dakota, where his father,
Leroy Moomaw [also an agronomist
and noted for his work with crested
wheat grass], was superintendent
for many years. Jim had a degree in
botany (ecology), with a particular
interest in applied agronomy
involving soils, pastures, and grasses.
I met Jim at Washington State
University—Washington State College
in those days—in a class on soil
microbiology. We were both graduate
students, but he had been there
Gene Hettel

several years before I met him during

the 1954 fall [autumn] semester.
He had come back from Alaska on Mrs. Moomaw wilhelm stands in front of IRRI’s long-term continuous cropping experiment, which her late
crutches because he had “chopped” husband started in 1963. Currently in its 132nd crop, it is the most intensively cultivated experimental site
in Asia, and has provided important data on the effects of such a cropping system.
the wrong limb! He made an

40 Rice Today April-June 2008

biochemical research project for an James Moomaw on the world food crisis, summer 1976
M.S. in the Bacteriology Department.
Both of us completed our orals on The current climate of rapidly
19 September 1956, packed up, and climbing grain prices, along with
left that night en route to his first job increasing reports of civil unrest due
as assistant professor of agronomy to unaffordable or unavailable food,
and soil science at the University of makes the 32-year-old comments of
Dr. Moomaw—then director general
Hawaii. Hawaii in 1956 was not yet a of the Asian Vegetable Research and
[U.S.] state, but still a territory—and Development Center in Taiwan—eerily
that in itself was new territory for us. prescient.

IRRI-bound on the USS Hoover he food crisis is the result of
specific failures in specific
Jim was being courted by the locations, for specific causes—
Rockefeller Foundation, which by usually weather or technology. It
then [along with the Ford Foundation] is not the trend, but the deviation
had decided to establish IRRI. from the trend, that causes disaster.

Moomaw family collection

Originally, they were thinking Jim Conceptually, the idea of a sudden
“food crisis” is misleading. History
might go to Japan to do research in has always known hunger, and, in fact,
Sendai on Hokkaido. Then, Sterling hunger was much more severe in the
Wortman [IRRI associate director, past, when populations were much
1961-64], who had known and worked lower. One hundred years ago, China
with Jim occasionally, suggested that had a drought that killed more than
three million people. India has had food failures for the duration of its recorded history.
Jim be considered for IRRI’s first Compared with past famines—the one in the 1880s claimed almost a fifth of their total
agronomist position. So, Jim was population—hunger has been a negligible problem for India in the 20th century.
invited to see IRRI as it was being Nevertheless, there is no question that population growth exacerbates the problem
built [July 1961] and to meet [Director of hunger, and, of course, many other social problems. It narrows the margin between the
General Robert F.] Chandler and trend of production and the trend of human needs, making otherwise trivial deviations in
production trends disastrous in their human consequences.
the rest is history. We were excited, Agricultural technology will continue to solve problems. But can it keep up? That
very excited. We packed up and is what Robert Chandler, first director of both IRRI and the Asian Vegetable Research
traveled by ship on the USS Hoover and Development Center (AVRDC), and George Harrar, former president of the Rockefeller
from Honolulu to Yokohama [Japan] Foundation), have been asking for 25 years. People cannot average their appetites—if your
and Hong Kong prior to docking in technology fails for whatever reason at just one time, you have disaster on your hands.
The areas of the world where the threat of future hunger runs highest, I believe, are
Manila. We spent several weeks in the high-density, low-income nations, with relatively limited resources on a per capita
the Manila Hotel while waiting for basis. India, Indonesia, and mainland China all face difficulties. Although there has been
our house to be finished and our less starvation, proportionately and in absolute terms, in this century than the last, it
household effects to be cleared. is possible that, with enough bad luck and bad planning, there could be as much by the
That was the beginning of some end of the century, or more.
very exciting times for us. Since I Go to for more observations on a variety of
had already circumnavigated the topics by Dr. Moomaw, then AVRDC director general, excerpted from a 1976 interview conducted by
globe with Jim (East Africa, Delhi, journalist Nick Eberstadt.
Calcutta, Bangkok, Hong Kong,
and Tokyo during a Fulbright year
to and from Kenya), I was not so There were very few Americans me or for any of the American
shocked by the poverty we saw in the at IRRI in the beginning, but there women [who came to IRRI with
Philippines when we first arrived. were many other nationalities and their husbands in those days].
As a child, rice certainly was they were also excited to be a part
not something that I ever thought of this new venture. However, in Going to Ceylon
of. My mother would serve it to me some respects, the women [spouses] [In 1967] IRRI received a grant
with cinnamon and sugar—rice with whom I interacted were often from the Ford Foundation for rice
pudding. Now, thanks to IRRI, we quite lost and lonesome without research in Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka)
think of it in an entirely different the extended families they were and Bob Chandler offered Jim the
way. I’m very snooty about rice, accustomed to. The Chinese, the opportunity to lead the project. [At
even today you see. I don’t want Ceylonese [Sri Lankan], the Indians first] I didn’t want to go. We had four
to buy that old stock that’s in the came from cultures in which they little boys (ages 7, 5, 2 and a half, and
market. I know some good Asian rice had strong support systems. Coming 1+) and I couldn’t see myself coping
stores in Dallas and New York and [to IRRI] was a much greater and I was worried about obtaining
where I live now [in Oklahoma]. sacrifice for them than it was for potable water, milk, good food, and

Rice Today April-June 2008 41

friendship continued after I moved to
Dallas about 3 years after Jim died.
I really didn’t emerge for several
more years until Frank invited me to
Winrock [International; a nonprofit
organization associated with the
Rockefeller Foundation, where
several former IRRI staff worked]
in February 1989. This sort of jolted
me out of my grief. It took me such
a long time to recover because the
boys were my major concern, and
my fledging career and our move to
Dallas were also major distractions.

Alvin W. Regier
So, I really hadn’t come out of it until
I met Frank at Winrock. Finally, I
Carolyn with her brood (from left, Bill, Charlie, Martin, and John) in front of their house at IRRI on could say I’m still alive; I’m still here.
22 January 1967. Later that year, they joined Jim in Ceylon as IRRI’s first outposted family.
Dirty boots and rice widows
Bob and Sunny Chandler were
other basic necessities. In the end, Together with the resident Nigerian incredible people—inspiring,
I agreed to go and we were quite a rice breeder, he developed the energetic, devoted, and generous.
unit going into the IRRI program rice program and then became Bob had very little patience for trivia,
at Kandy [south-central Ceylon]. the farming systems leader. This however. He wanted everybody—all
Most of the time, Jim was broadened his scope a lot to include the scientists—to get their boots
in the field. He was all over that economics and soil and water dirty right away, be out in the field.
island. He was so motivated to see management. Some of the people In fact, the story was he would go
everything and to get as many rice whom he hired in the department around and look at the boots. If a
plots established as possible. He were just very, very good and very staff member hadn’t been in the field
worked all the time and so I had my motivated—including Eugene that day, there were questions. Of
own responsibilities taking care of Terry [a future director general of course, Jim had no problem with that.
four sons. All of a sudden, we were WARDA, the Africa Rice Center, Agronomy is the field. We admired
the only ones [IRRI people in Ceylon 1987-96]. It was a big department both of them greatly and I learned
and almost the only Americans!] with respected Nigerian staff too. so much from Sunny. Apart from
and so everybody who was coming Then, Jim was offered the my mother, she had more influence
through, of course, either stayed outreach director position. He on me as a developing, maturing
with us or we entertained them. accepted and traveled all over young woman than anyone else in
That was really fun for me. It was a Africa putting in programs. I don’t my life and that holds true today.
very, very nice 2 years that we spent think he ever got to South Africa; Yes, we [the spouses of the
there. It wasn’t easy, but it was nice. he traveled mostly in the middle early IRRI international staff] were
part of Africa. It was dangerous in rice widows. I think Bob Chandler
Into Africa many respects, mostly traveling in actually coined that phrase. And
After Ceylon, I was disappointed that a small plane. It was very nerve- that’s what we called ourselves.
we didn’t come back to IRRI. I wanted racking for me. Internal travel while He was an empathetic man and
to come back. I wasn’t all that keen on we were in Nigeria was really very recognized our plight, but IRRI
going to Africa. We had arm-twisting difficult because the roads were scientists, often away from home for
sessions in New York with [Richard] so bad. So, I didn’t get to do very long periods, had a job to do and we
Bradfield [IRRI agronomist, 1963-71] much traveling in Africa myself. appreciated and supported that.
and the Rockefeller people who talked
us into the job. We knew that it was Still alive Go to
important. We knew that this new Without Frank Byrnes [IRRI’s first Pioneer_Interviews.asp to read the full
institution [the International Institute communications specialist, 1963-67], transcript of the Carolyn Moomaw interview
of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)] I would have lost contact with the in which she discusses more of her family’s
needed what Jim could offer, and in international life after Jim died [of a life at IRRI headquarters and in Ceylon,
the end we decided that we would do brain tumor at the age of 55 in New gives her no-nonsense impressions of
it and we went to Nigeria [in 1970]. York] in 1983. He’s the one that made other pioneer IRRI staff and their families,
Jim enjoyed IITA. He first a real effort to keep me informed and describes how attitudes in Asia
went there as the rice specialist. of what was going on at IRRI. His and Africa are completely different.

42 Rice Today April-June 2008

new books
Rice, water, and Research Institute (IRRI) and the Africa Rice the 26th International Rice Research
forests Center (WARDA); 63 pages; free (pdf). Conference, 9-12 October 2006, New Delhi,
Edited by S.J. Banta;
published by the Asia
Rice Foundation;
D escriptor lists ensure standardized metrics
for describing plant varieties. This new
set of rice descriptors, which updates the
Edited by P.K. Aggarwal, J.K. Ladha, R.K.
Singh, C. Devakumar, and B. Hardy; Published
300 Philippine pesos original 1980 list, has been expanded to by IRRI, Indian Council of Agricultural
(US$7.30). include wild relatives of the genus Oryza Research, and National Academy of

T hree systems—
rice, water,
and forests—are
and to harmonize the descriptors with those
of the International Union for the Protection
of New Varieties of Plants, which are geared
Agricultural Sciences; 782 pages.

T he world faces sharply rising rice prices

and global stocks are plummeting to levels
inexorably linked. to new commercial varieties. The list, which not seen for nearly 30 years. Many nations
The rice that so will help curators and researchers make better today thus confront the second-generation
much of Asia use of genebanks, offers a rapid, reliable, challenge of producing more rice at less
depends on for its huge population uses vast and efficient means to store, retrieve, cost in a deteriorating environment. The
amounts of water. The water comes down and communicate information about rice 2nd International Rice Congress was held
from the mountains and hills. If upland diversity. A free pdf version is available at to provide a common platform for sharing
forests are denuded or thinned for any knowledge and expertise on research,
reason—natural or human-induced, legal extension, production, processing, trade,
or illegal—the water is not captured as Global rice and consumption, and related activities with all
groundwater and may be lost to agriculture. agricultural trade stakeholders of rice. The knowledge base in
This book explores these and many other liberalisation: this book will help meet the challenge of
more complex interrelationships among the poverty producing more rice with greater efficiency
three systems from the viewpoints of those and welfare and profitability in a changing global
involved in the separate disciplines and from implications for environment.
an interdisciplinary stance. Implications South Asia
for policymakers are suggested. The book is Edited by M.A. Improving agricultural productivity in rice-
available at the Asia Rice Foundation, College Razzaque and based systems of the High Barind Tract of
4031, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines, phone E. Laurent; Bangladesh
+63 (49) 536-2285, asia_rice@agri.searca. published by the Edited by C.R. Riches, D. Harris, D.E. Johnson, &
org. Commonwealth B. Hardy; published by IRRI; 215 pages; $16.

Rice black bugs:

Secretariat; 223
pages; £20 ($40). T he High Barind Tract of northwest
Bangladesh is
taxonomy, ecology,
and management of
invasive species
R ice has long been one of the protected
commodities in world trade. Now,
the probable significant liberalization of
an area of low and
erratic rainfall with
limited irrigation
Edited by R.C. Joshi, trade in rice is likely to have huge welfare potential. Research
A.T. Barrion, and L.S. implications for many countries dependent described in this
Sebastian; published on its production and trade, particularly book has led to
by PhilRice; 800 those in South Asia. This book explores cost-effective ways
pages; Philippines the poverty and welfare implications of of increasing the
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T his book includes ecologically sound

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bug (RBB) outbreaks, country reports of RBB
effects on different groups within poor rice-
dependent developing countries. For more
information: Commonwealth Secretariat,
rabi crops in the
Barind. The improved
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taxonomy. This reference manual reinterprets 5HX, UK; phone +44 (0)20 7747-6342; fax now is to make this information widely
old problems and introduces new ecological +44 (0)20 7839-9081; email publications@ available to farmers in the Barind so that the
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than 300 articles on RBB from experts around Stylus Publishing LLC, PO Box 605, Herndon, security and income from agriculture, can be
the world, dating from as far back as 1864 up VA 20172-0605, USA; increased. The book discusses the application
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the International Rice Proceedings of Search (

Rice Today April-June 2008 43


The power of policy

by Nelissa Jamora and Debbie Templeton

Safer and more effective pesticide use by Philippine farmers provides a striking
example of the impact of good policy, but good research must be a starting point

n the late 1960s, newly developed, production, and encourage safer pesticide smuggling. In addition, the
high-yielding rice varieties pesticide management practices FPA allowed the use of legal generic-
launched the Asian Green (these initiatives are collectively brand pesticides, resulting in lower
Revolution, which rapidly pushed referred to here as the 1992-96 costs that reduced the attraction
up yields and allowed rice production pesticide policy package, or PPP). of cheap, but illegal, pesticides.
to keep pace with population growth. However, even with the best In the 2007 survey, 93% of
In the Philippines, as in many political will, getting millions of the farmers said they could no
other countries, widespread use of farmers in a developing country to longer find the banned chemicals
pesticides expanded in step with adopt new regulations is difficult. in the marketplace, and 90% said
the new varieties. This was largely To determine whether or not the they no longer use the banned
due to concerns that crop losses regulatory policy changes made pesticides. Further, more than
from pest infestation would negate a real difference on farms, IRRI 99% of the chemicals being used
the benefits of planting modern conducted a survey of rice farmers by the respondents were registered
rice varieties. Even the release of in 2007 in Quezon, Nueva Ecija, and for use in rice production in the
pest-resistant varieties did little to Laguna provinces. The survey results Philippines, even though 29% of the
curb the growing use of pesticide were compared with corresponding respondents said that they would
during the 1970s and into the 1980s. data collected in 1989-91 surveys still use the banned pesticides if they
Indeed, the Philippine government undertaken before the policy changes were available despite recognizing
at the time promoted the wide and as part of IRRI-led research on the health and safety issues.
intensive use of agro-chemicals types and quantities of pesticide In sum, the survey results
among small farmers from 1973 to used, pesticide application and indicated that the FPA has largely
1986 under the Masagana 99 scheme. storage practices, incidence of been successful in promoting the
By the 1980s, it was clear that farmer poisonings, and the overall use of less toxic pesticides. Of the
indiscriminate use of pesticides could effects of pesticide use on the registered alternatives now available,
exacerbate, rather than alleviate, health of Philippine rice farmers. 61% are classified as Category II
pest problems. In addition, there was The primary policy advice arising (moderately hazardous), 28% as
growing evidence of the ill effects of from this research was to restrict
the injudicious use of toxic pesticides the use of hazardous pesticides Table 1. Pesticide management and safety prac-
on both the environment and by imposing and implementing tices (% of farmers), Nueva Ecija, 1991 and 2006.
human health. Moreover, research bans on those pesticides that Nueva Ecija
Preventive/safety measures
undertaken by the International Rice pose acute or chronic health (% of farmers reporting)
Research Institute (IRRI) showed effects or adversely affect the
1991 2006
that farmers’ private health costs environment—a recommendation
were greater than any economic that was reflected in the PPP. Avoid smoking while spraying 61 92
benefits gained from using pesticides Avoid spraying into the wind 63 94
Avoid spraying when very hot 72 92
without appropriate health, safety, Changes in types of pesticide used (before 8:30 a.m.)
and environmental knowledge Prior to the PPP, Philippine rice Eat or drink before spraying 9 78
and the attendant precautions. farmers commonly used pesticide Wash immediately after spraying 6 86
Wash sprayer after use 83 84
In response, and in keeping classified as World Health Wash-water not thrown in 17 64
with international protocols, the Organization (WHO) Hazard Class irrigation canal
government under President Fidel I (highly or extremely hazardous) Recap bottle after use 83 86
Do not recycle empty bottles 17 34
Ramos (1992-98), through the and II (moderately hazardous).
Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority On 1 June 1994, the FPA banned
Table 2. Deaths due to pesticide poisoning.
(FPA), instigated a new suite or restricted the use of all Class I
of pesticide regulatory policies and some Class II pesticides. Despite 1982-85 1991-95 2000-01
and implementing guidelines. this, importation and use of banned
Cases Deaths Cases Deaths Cases Deaths
These aimed to ban or restrict or restricted pesticides continued for
the use of commonly used but a number of years. In response, an 1,704 332 336 63 327 18
highly toxic pesticides in rice task force was formed to minimize

44 Rice Today April-June 2008

Average number of applications Kilograms of active ingredient per hectare
Category III (slightly hazardous), 4.5 1.2
and 11% as Category IV (unlikely to
present a hazard in normal use). 4.0 Frequency of pesticide use in Laguna

Unsafe pesticide practices in the Frequency of pesticide use in Nueva Ecija 1.0
3.5 Pesticide use per hectare in Nueva Ecija
Philippines have been documented
in several studies. The 1989-91
3.0 0.8
IRRI studies found that, even if
farmers were aware that pesticides 2.5
were hazardous, they often lacked 0.6
knowledge of proper pesticide 2.0

management. As part of the PPP,

1.5 0.4
the FPA thus encouraged pesticide
companies to improve their safety 1.0
information and implemented a 0.2
hazard awareness campaign aimed 0.5
at teaching rural health officers
to recognize and treat pesticide 0.0 0.0
1966 1968 1970 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1988 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006
poisoning cases. Dealers, farmers, Year
and Department of Agriculture field Trends in pesticide use and frequency of application, Central Luzon (1966-2000), Laguna (1966-2000), and
personnel were trained in the safe Nueva Ecija (1979-2006).
handling of pesticides, and their
judicious use was promoted through a
mass media campaign and integrated due to, pesticide poisoning before Therefore, some of the fall in quantity
pest management workshops. and after the introduction of the PPP of pesticides used and number of
Data collected before and after (Table 2). These data are not directly applications can be attributed to
the PPP show significant increases comparable because the number of the PPP-induced price increase. The
in the number of farmers following regions covered in each study varies; 2007 IRRI surveys showed that, on
recommended pesticide safety however, the incidence rates (the average, farmers in 2004 used one-
measures (Table 1). For example, in number of poisonings per 100,000 fifth the amount of pesticide they
1988-89, only 2% of the farmers in people) fell from 3.27 in 1982-85 to used in 1991. Over the same period,
Laguna and Nueva Ecija wore both 1.08 for the 5-year period 1991-95. frequency of sprays fell from around
long sleeves and long pants when Further, from the late 1980s to 2007, two applications per season to 1.4.
spraying, compared with 85% in the percentage of farmers reporting The success of the PPP offers a
2006. In 1988-89, 61% of the farmers pesticide illness fell by almost half. good example of the value of high-
avoided smoking while spraying Although the aim of the 1992- quality, independent agricultural
and 63% avoided spraying into the 96 PPP was to bring about a change research. By contributing to the body
wind; by 2007, more than 90% of in the type of pesticide used (from of research on the health effects of
the farmers had adopted these safety more hazardous to less hazardous) pesticide use, IRRI played a role
practices. The number of farmers and pesticide management (toward in bringing about policy changes
who wash immediately after using safer application and storage that drove a reduction in the use
pesticides rose from 6% at the end methods) rather than the quantity of hazardous pesticides, improved
of the 1980s to 86% in 2006. used, the changes in quantity awareness of and adherence to
and number of applications are their safe use, and reduced the
Pesticide poisoning of interest for two reasons. incidence of pesticide poisoning.
Unsafe pesticide application, First, they provide a measure of The PPP also had an indirect role
storage, and disposal practices all changes in pesticide exposure not in reducing the overall amount and
contribute to pesticide poisoning. necessarily due to the policy change. frequency of pesticide use. Thus,
Sadly, however, the majority of As can be seen from figure above, the the PPP contributed substantially
recorded cases are intentional. Of amount of pesticide used began to to an improvement in Filipino
the 4,031 acute pesticide poisonings drop before the PPP was introduced. farmers’ health and well-being, and
reported by government hospitals This drop may have continued, produced very large benefits in terms
from 1980 to 1987, 603 cases albeit at a slower rate, even if the of private health costs avoided.
resulted in deaths, and almost PPP had not been implemented.
two-thirds of these were suicides. Second, because the more Nelissa Jamora is an agricultural
A series of three studies led by hazardous pesticides are cheaper than economist in IRRI’s Social Sciences
the Philippine Department of Health their less hazardous counterparts, Division (SSD). Debbie Templeton
(DOH) showed a clear drop in both the PPP bans indirectly raised worked as an Impact Assessment
the number of cases of, and deaths the cost of chemical pest control. Specialist in SSD from 2005 to 2008.

Rice Today April-June 2008 45

grain of truth

The revolution
by Kei Kajisa
keeps rolling
t has been well documented that the Asian Green School enrollment rates (%) by age group and average annual rainfall in Tamil
Revolution (GR), which began in the 1960s with the Nadu, India.
introduction of modern, high-yielding rice varieties, Middle Secondary Higher secondary
has contributed to poverty alleviation by reducing the real school school school
rice price on the world market by more than half without Years (11–14 years) (15–16 years) (17–18 years)
depleting producers’ profit. The poorest of the poor, such as High-rainfall Low-rainfall High-rainfall Low-rainfall High-rainfall Low-rainfall
urban laborers and rural landless and marginal farmers,
have benefited most from this price reduction because they 1993-1994 77 70 58 57 32 30
1999-2000 83 64 76 65 54 46
are net buyers who spend a large portion of their income
on staples. Source: Cost of Cultivation of Principal Crops, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
Notes: The figures for primary-school age groups are not shown as universal primary education had been
An emerging consensus from recent research is that almost achieved in Tamil Nadu by the early 1990s. High-rainfall group: villages with annual rainfall greater than
the mean. Low-rainfall group: villages with annual rainfall less than the mean.
the GR had an impact on not only the generation of farmers
who directly benefited but also on multiple succeeding
generations. It has become clear that the GR produced long- However, there are concerns that such GR-led educational
term benefits much greater than those mentioned above, progress makes farm families in favorable areas wealthier,
including a reduction in childhood malnutrition, which but leaves the poor in unfavorable areas behind. Nevertheless,
affects people for their entire life and is thus considered the Tamil Nadu data, which also show that the income gap
more serious than adult malnutrition (also see Do rice prices between the high- and low-rainfall areas has narrowed,
affect malnutrition in the poor? on page 37 of Rice Today contradict this. What is happening?
Vol. 5, No. 3). The increase in nonfar m job
Another less-recognized benefit is opportunities in unfavorable farming
improved children’s education. Several The Green Revolution areas is also a key to income growth, given
recent studies, including one by the the disadvantages of farming such land.
International Rice Research Institute In particular, the expansion of unskilled
(IRRI),1 reveal that the GR vigorously
has produced or semiskilled job opportunities (jobs
enhanced schooling investments for in household goods factories or in
children—often considered a luxury long-term benefits the rural service sector, for example)
many poor cannot afford. Agricultural is important for the uneducated in
development catalyzed by the GR led unfavorable areas. And, to this end,
to an initial growth in farm income, much greater than there is evidence that the GR-driven
which accelerated parents’ schooling development of the agricultural sector
investments for their children, resulting contributes through increased demand
in further income growth via educated
previously thought for nonfarm products and services in
children’s participation in the relatively rural areas. Indeed, nonfarm industries
lucrative nonfarm sector. Thus, the GR contributed to faster are often established in agriculturally unfavorable areas a
poverty alleviation for the children of GR farmers. moderate distance from urban centers, where they can take
The Indian state of Tamil Nadu offers an example advantage of lower wage rates without losing their access to
of how the GR has increased schooling investment. For markets. Thus, the GR has had an indirect positive effect on
farmers in many parts of the state, farming depends on income growth in unfavorable areas.
rainfall-supplemented irrigation systems or direct rainfall. The link from the GR to the development of the nonfarm
Therefore, the GR increased farm income the most in areas sector and then to income growth in unfavorable areas
that received sufficient rainfall. The table (above right) shows therefore provides another example of a long-term indirect
that, as expected, areas with higher average rainfall (thus, impact. More research is required to confirm this link, but,
higher farm income) have achieved faster growth in school if confirmed, the long-term benefits of the GR would be
enrollment rates. boosted even further.

Keijiro Otsuka, Jonna P. Estudillo, and Yasuyuki Sawada, editors. Forthcoming. Dr. Kajisa is an agricultural economist in IRRI’s Social Sciences
Rural Poverty and Income Dynamics in Asia and Africa. Abingdon (UK): Routledge. Division.

46 Rice Today April-June 2008

Rice Today April-June 2008 47