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International Rice Research Institute July-September 2008, Vol. 7, No. 3

Supercharging the rice engine

Rice goes back to school
Hybrid seed farmers can save
Tales of Thai traders

Coping with the rice crisis

ISSN 1655-5422 US$5.00
Vol. 7, No. 3

EDITORIAL ................................................................ 4 NO SEX, PLEASE—WE’RE APOMICTS .................. 34

A grain whose time has come Despite its yield advantage, hybrid rice is shunned
by many poor farmers because of the need to
purchase new seeds every season. Work to develop
NEWS ........................................................................ 5 “apomictic” hybrid rice aims to solve that problem.
Some relief but higher rice prices remain
Building a new generation of rice scientists
DECIPHERING THE CODE ...................................... 36
Intensive rice production is sustainable An international drive to generate data on tiny genetic
China honors IRRI differences will help scientists develop high-yielding,
Hybrid rice to benefit from new public-private partnership high-quality rice varieties that can better withstand
pests, diseases, and environmental stresses
Pests thrive on pesticide

NAVIGATING A SEA OF RICE ................................. 38

NEW BOOKS ............................................................. 8 SUPERCHARGING THE RICE ENGINE ................... 20 Amid the cutthroat world of rice trading, one Thai
Philippine rats: ecology and management An ambitious project to re-engineer rice company has chosen a different path
photosynthesis has the potential to transform rice
production as much as, if not more than, any single
PEOPLE ..................................................................... 9 advance since agricultural research began RICE FACTS ............................................................. 41
Awards and recognition Running out of steam
Keeping up with IRRI staff One cause of today’s high rice prices is slowing
SNAPSHOT ............................................................. 22
High prices have hurt urban consumers productivity growth—suggesting it is time to step
up investment in international agricultural research
In early 2008, skyrocketing rice prices put the grain
on the front pages of major newspapers across the GIVING FARMING A CHANCE ............................... 24
A youth field school in the Philippines trains young GRAIN OF TRUTH ................................................... 42
world. Rice Today explains the reasons behind the A lesson from nineteenth-century naturalists
rapid increase in rice prices and what must be done to students in rice farming and agriculture in the hope
achieve reliable, plentiful supplies of affordable rice. of perpetuating the nation’s dying breed of farmers

LOST IN TRANSMISSION ....................................... 13 MAPS ...................................................................... 28

The price of rice in Madagascar On the cover:
Have recent dramatic increases in world rice prices
A Filipino woman
been bad for consumers and good for producers?
collects subsidized
Well, yes … and no. The real answer seems to be: It
THE IRRI PIONEER INTERVIEWS ........................... 30 rice at a market in
depends. Rice Today analyzes the situation.
Nyle C. Brady: The problem solver Quezon City, Manila.
High prices have hit
the urban poor, many
A PERFECT MATCH ................................................ 16
OPPORTUNITY FROM CRISIS ............................... 32 of whom spend a
Water-saving technologies find their way to the
From the chaos of the recent rice crisis comes large proportion of
province of Bohol in the Philippines and prove to
opportunity for African countries intent on boosting their income on
be a perfect match for the region’s climate and
production of the continent’s fastest growing staple rice alone.
irrigation systems

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 supervisors Grant Leceta, George Reyes Web (Rice Knowledge Bank):
contributors Gene Hettel, Bill Hardy, Meg Mondoñedo, Tess Rola
Africa editor Savitri Mohapatra (Africa Rice Center – WARDA) Rice Today editorial
photo editor Ariel Javellana telephone: (+63-2) 580-5600 or (+63-2) 844-3351 to 53, ext 2725;
photo researcher Jose Raymond Panaligan fax: (+63-2) 580-5699 or (+63-2) 845-0606; email:
circulation Chrisanto Quintana
printer Print Town Group

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

Some relief but higher rice prices remain Export prices for rice

A fter continuing to climb in May Edouard Alexis. Also in April, 20,000 1100
2008, rice exports have fallen from Bangladeshi textile workers rioted US 2/4%
their peak of more than US$1,000 over high food prices—particularly Thai 100%B
per ton, but, as of late July, remained rice—and low wages. 900 Viet 5%
around double the December 2007 High prices also threaten to worsen Pak Irri-25%
Thai A1 Super
price. With the Food and Agriculture malnutrition among the poor. Already, 800
Organization of the United Nations the Philippines has been forced to scale
(FAO) projecting a 2.3% growth in down its Food for School Program— 700
world paddy (unmilled) rice production which distributes iron-fortified rice to
to 666 million tons in 2008, economists children in public schools—from 40 to 600
are predicting that, assuming normal 20 provinces.
weather patterns, prices could drop C y c l o n e Na r g i s d e v a s t a t e d
further. Nevertheless, agricultural Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) 400
economists are warning that the world Delta area on 3 May 2008, leaving more
must get used to higher prices. than 130,000 people dead or missing 300
“My personal view is that prices and causing an estimated 1.2-million-
will continue to decline but won’t ton (6%) drop in rice production, 200

return to the pre-crisis level,” said Sam jeopardizing the country’s exports.



Mohanty, head of the Social Sciences News of the disaster caused rice prices
Division at the International Rice to jump in an already jittery market.
Source: FAO Rice Price Update July 2008
Research Institute (IRRI). The food crisis of early 2008 has
Although Vietnam contributed pushed agriculture high onto the
to the easing of prices by ending its political agenda for the first time in cooperative agreement to carry out the
export ban, the country has imposed decades. Several countries, including the Philippines’ rice self-sufficiency plan.
a minimum export price of $800. Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, Many other agencies and leaders
With India indicating that its export have announced major initiatives, each called for a reinvestment in agricultural
restrictions would remain at least until of around $1 billion, to increase rice research and development. The FAO
the wet-season harvest in October or production and productivity through hosted a High-level Conference on
November, and with continuing high oil infrastructure development, technology World Food Security in June, and
and fertilizer prices, the international and knowledge dissemination, and food issues were high on the agenda at
market remains under pressure. agricultural research. the July G8 summit in Japan, where
Poor consumers are still hurting, During a 2 May 2008 visit to IRRI the G8 leaders pledged to “promote
with domestic prices across Asia with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, agricultural research and development,
remaining high. Civil unrest broke out Philippine Secretary of Agriculture and the training of a new generation
in several countries as prices spiked Arthur Yap and IRRI Director General of developing-country scientists and
in April and May. Several people were Robert Zeigler signed a memorandum experts focusing on the dissemination
killed in rice riots in Haiti, prompting of agreement committing IRRI and the of improved, locally adapted, and
the senate to fire Prime Minister Jacques Department of Agriculture to a 5-year sustainable farming technologies, in
particular via the Consultative Group
At IRRI to sign a memorandum of agreement on International Agricultural Research
on improving rice production (from left to [which includes IRRI], and through
right), Philippine Secretary of Agriculture
Arthur Yap inspects an experimental field
partnerships such as the Alliance for a
with President Arroyo, Dr. Zeigler, and IRRI Green Revolution in Africa.”
senior scientist Darshan Brar. According to IRRI Development
Director Duncan Macintosh, the
sentiment is welcome but must be
followed up. “IRRI has been calling for
reinvestment in agricultural research
for years, and it has taken record prices
to really get the message across,” said
Mr. Macintosh. “Now, if organizations
such as IRRI and its national partners
are to develop technologies that can help
Ariel Javellana

avert future crises, the promising talk

needs to result in genuine action from
governments and funding agencies.”

Rice Today July-September 2008 


Building a new generation of rice scientists

A course designed to inspire young

scientists will develop the research
leaders who can help prevent food
“Many developed-country re-
searchers are unaware of the impact
their work can have in helping people
Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell
University in the United States.
Countries worldwide are strug-
crises such as that seen in 2008. The from poorer countries overcome prob- gling to attract people into agricul-
“Rice: research to production” course, lems that farmers in richer areas could tural research careers. Some African
held for the second time on 19 May–6 hardly imagine,” said Susan McCouch, countries rely on a single rice breeder
June at IRRI, brought together 29 par- who conceived the course with IRRI to develop locally adapted improved
ticipants from 13 countries across the Director General Robert Zeigler and varieties. Many countries in Asia and
developed and developing world. plant pathologist Hei Leung. Latin America also suffer a dearth
Sponsored by the National Science “By experiencing the challenges of qualified researchers and plant
Foundation in the United States, the themselves, and meeting and spending breeders.
Gatsby Foundation in the United King- time with people from Africa and Asia The course, which will run again
dom, and IRRI, the course also seeks who have to deal with these challenges, next year, hopes to secure funding to
to reverse the one-way traffic that has the students gain insights and inspira- continue beyond 2009.
seen thousands of young scientists from tion that are nearly impossible from the
the developing world taking jobs in the comfort of their home,” said Dr. Mc-
developed world. Couch, a professor in the Department of

Melanie Sanborn, from the United States, tries

to enlist the help of a carabao (Philippine water
buffalo) in preparing a rice field for planting.

The largest, solar-powered rice mill in the Unit-

ed States: Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics USA,
Inc. has provided more than 5,500 photovoltaic
modules for a one-megawatt solar electric system
at Far West Rice Mills in Nelson, California. The
harris tumawis

system is expected to deliver 1,440,000 kilowatt

hours (kWh) a year—approximately 75% of the
plant’s total energy needs.

Rice supercomputer conventional systems. IRRI researchers entire crops. According to the Chin
IBM and researchers at the University are helping to determine which proteins Famine Relief Committee, the United
of Washing ton have launched a to target. Anyone with a computer and Nations Development Programme has
program to develop improved rice Internet access can donate unused been providing limited food assistance
varieties. With processing power computer time by register ing at since the infestation began. Mizoram’s
equivalent to the world’s third-most- agriculture department has estimated
power f u l superc omputer, IBM’s a 75% rice shortfall for 2007−08.
World Community Grid will harness Rat plague continues
the donated power from nearly one The rat plague that has devastated Gene for yield potential
million personal computers in the rice production in the Indian state R e s e a r c her s f r om Hu a z hong
Nutritious Rice for the World project. of Mizoram—jeopardizing the food Agricultural University in China have
The initiative will help researchers security of around 1 million people—is pinpointed a gene that plays a major
determine rice protein structures now threatening tens of thousands of role in determining yield potential in
and use the information to breed people in Myanmar’s Chin State. Every rice, as well as the plant’s adaptability
varieties with improved traits, such 50 years, the flowering of native bamboo to cooler climates. The study was
as increased nutrition. The project, in Mizoram and neighboring areas of published in the 4 May 2008 issue of
helped by a $2 million grant from the Myanmar and Bangladesh causes a Nature genetics. Rice productivity is
U.S. National Science Foundation, will boom in the rat population. Once the determined by several traits, including
achieve in 2 years what would take bamboo food source is exhausted, the number of grains per panicle, the height
more than 200 years using existing rats move into rice fields, destroying of the plant, and its flowering time. By

 Rice Today July-September 2008

Intensive rice production is sustainable China honors IRRI

I ntensive, continuous rice production

with good management can maintain
or even increase soil health. That
for Research Achim Dobermann,
the research shows that, with good
management and the right amount
is the main message from a study of fertilizer, farmers can sustainably
published in the Soil Science Society produce 18 or more tons of rice per
of America Journal (“Soil carbon year.
and nitrogen changes in long-term “We have been doing this in the
continuous lowland rice cropping” in most intensive way for 45 years and
Vol. 72, No. 3, May-June 2008), which we routinely produce about 80% of the
documents changes in soil carbon and theoretically possible yield,” explained
nitrogen under long-term continuous Dr. Dobermann. “The average irrigated
rice cropping in four long-term trials
managed by IRRI.
Further, under tropical conditions,
rice farm in Asia is at about 60−65%.”
The system is sustainable because
of the prolonged flooding of the fields,
C hina has given one of its most
prestigious scientific awards to IRRI
for making an “important contribution
maintaining soil organic matter in which allows conservation of soil to improve grain output, agricultural
continuous (two or three crops per organic matter and a free input of efficiency, and (the) income of farmers.”
year) rice systems requires neither the nitrogen from water and biological IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler
application of manure or other organic fixation sources amounting to about received the International Science
materials nor retaining large amounts 120 kilograms per hectare per year— and Technology Award of the People’s
of straw. the equivalent of a grain yield of about Republic of China from China State
According to IRRI Deputy General 9 tons per hectare over three crops. Councilor Liu Yandong at a special
“No other of the award ceremony in Beijing on 5 June
RICE IS GROWN three times a year in world’s major cropping 2008 (pictured, above). Since official
IRRI’s long-term continuous cropping s y s t e m s h a s t he s e relations were established in 1981,
unique features,” said IRRI has helped China develop higher
Dr. Dobermann. “It yielding rice varieties, train and educate
is for these reasons hundreds of Chinese rice scientists and
that rice monoculture researchers, and played a key role in
s y stem s have be en the creation of the China National

around for thousands Rice Research Institute. Today, IRRI

of years and sustained coordinates and works on a wide range
whole civilizations.” of scientific projects across China.

screening thousands of rice plants, Qifa in 2005, broadcast 235 episodes over a U.S.-based company working on GM
Zhang and his colleagues were able to the Voice of Ho Chi Minh City and five rice in India. While in India, she gets
identify a gene on rice chromosome provincial radio stations. Farmers who caught up in a love triangle involving
7 that influences these three traits. listened to the drama used 30% fewer a scientist and a government official.
Deletion of the Ghd7 gene causes plants seeds for sowing, 9% less nitrogen The film, which is expected to be in U.S.
that are shorter and have fewer grains fertilizer, and 60% less insecticide. IRRI theaters in mid 2009, will be dubbed
per panicle. The researchers also found entomologist K.L. Heong and former into Hindi for Indian audiences.
that natural mutants with reduced IRRI researcher Monina Escalada led
Ghd7 function were better suited to the campaign’s development. Egypt joins Africa Rice Center
cooler, temperate regions. Egypt is the Africa Rice Center's
Basmati blues (WARDA) newest member and the
Radio soap cleans up Norman Ellstrand, a geneticist from first from North Africa. WARDA’s
The Environmental Soap Opera for the University of California, Riverside, membership now stands at 22 countries,
Rural Vietnam drama series has been has been recruited to check the script covering West, East, Central, and
awarded the Commendation Certificate of Basmati blues—“a film about love, North Africa. Amin Abaza, Minister of
by One World Broadcasting Trust for adventure and ... genetically modified Agriculture and Land Reclamation of
outstanding and unique contribution rice”— for the accuracy of its scientific Egypt, wrote in his request, “We wish
to the communication of sustainable content. Using GM agriculture as a to commend the Africa Rice Center as
development and human rights. The backdrop, the film’s story centers on a a continental organization serving all
program, which started as IPM Radio young American woman who works for African countries.”

Rice Today July-September 2008 7


Hybrid rice to benefit from new public-private partnership Pests thrive on pesticide

A major new partnership aims to

increase rice production across Asia
via the accelerated development and
Participants at the meeting—which
included 15 public-sector institutions
from across Asia—learned about new
P esticide overuse is, ironically,
a major cause of planthopper
infestations. This was a key message
introduction of hybrid rice technologies. plant genetic resources available or at the International Planthopper
The new effort comes at a crucial time under development at IRRI, reviewed Conference, attended by 88 scientists
for Asia as the region struggles with research on hybrid rice management, at IRRI headquarters on 23−25 June.
high rice prices caused by stagnating discussed new research priorities, Problems caused by planthoppers,
yields. and made decisions on other HRDC a major insect pest that can destroy one-
IRRI hosted the inaugural meeting activities such as capacity building for fifth of a rice harvest, have intensified
of the Hybrid Rice Research and both sectors. across Asia in recent years, ravaging
Development Consortium (HRDC) on Achim Dobermann, IRRI’s deputy millions of hectares of rice in southern
3−4 April 2008. Hybrid rice varieties director general for research, said that China and Vietnam and causing the loss
have the potential to raise yields and rice farmers in Asia will benefit from of thousands of tons of the grain at a
thus overall rice productivity and accelerated access to hybrid rice-based crucial time for global production
profitability. Successful deployment technologies such as more and better Planthoppers are normally kept in
of hybrid varieties, however, requires hybrids, quality seed, knowledge, and check by natural biological phenomena,
more effective cooperation between services that can be provided by the such as other animals that prey on
public research institutions and private- new public-private partnership. the pest. Over the past 20 years,
sector companies to overcome current For more i n for mat ion, v i sit developments such as integrated pest
constraints. management, reducing unnecessary
insecticide use, and breeding
The latest work of Japa- planthopper-resistant rice varieties
nese sculptor Mitsuaki Tanabe, have helped keep the pest under
which commemorates the Sval-
bard Global Seed Vault (see The
control. However, increasing insecticide
ultimate backup on pages 10-11 resistance is becoming a concern.
of Rice Today Vol. 7, No. 2), will “One of the key problems is overuse
be permanently on display at the
Global Crop Diversity Trust head-
of pesticide,” said IRRI entomologist
quarters in the Food and Agricul- and conference organizer K.L. Heong.
global crop diversity trust

ture Organization (FAO) building Peter Kenmore, chief of plant

in Rome, Italy. Mr. ­Tanabe, who
also has a sculpture at IRRI
protection services at the Food and
headquarters in the ­Philippines, Agriculture Organization, said that
is seen here on 1 April 2008, farmers often overuse insecticides for
­unveiling the work, named A
seed of wild rice MOMI-2008.
fear of losing their production.

NEW BOOK—Philippine rats: ecology and management

Edited by G.R. Singleton, R.C. Joshi, and L.S. incl ude s inf or mat ion on major soc ial
Sebastian; published by the Philippine Rice consequences of rodents in rural environments
Research Institute; 215 pages. such as forgoing the planting of a second rice

T he Philippines is home to more than 60

species of rats and mice, only a few species
of which are serious crop pests. Those that do
crop, sporadic acute production losses (often
30−60%), and the loss of labor and income
because of diseases transferred to humans by
cause problems, though, can be devastating. rodents (including leptospirosis).
This book documents current knowledge The book comes with two CDs: simple
on Philippine rodent s, their ecolog y, identification keys to quickly differentiate pest
systematics, diseases, and management. It and nonpest rodent species in rice and nonrice
covers a wide array of topics, including the habitats in the Philippines, and a searchable
shift in the management of rodent pests comprehensive bibliography and database on
from heavy reliance on chemical control to Philippine rodents.
the emergence of ecologically based rodent For more information, contact Grant
management; biology and management in Singleton (g.singleton For
complex agroecosystems; ecology of pest and ordering information, see http://tinyurl.
native rodent species; and their impact on com/5eavdy or contact Necitas Malabanan
farming communities. of PhilRice: phone +63 44 456 0651; email
Philippine rats: ecology and management

 Rice Today July-September 2008

Awards and recognition

ant Virmani, former IRRI recognition of his outstanding achieve-
principal scientist, received the ments on crop protection research.
Padma Shri Award from Indian Rolly Fuentes won the Best Paper
President Prathiba Patil on 10 May in Award in Weed Science in collaboration
New Delhi (pictured, right). The award with Aurora Baltazar and Florinia
honored his contributions made at IRRI Merca of the University of the Philip-
to the development and dissemination pines. Teodoro Migo was elected
of hybrid rice technology in tropical president of the Weed Science Society
countries, including India. Dr. Virmani of the Philippines for 2008−09.
was also honored by the city of Plano, IRRI also received awards at the
Texas, where he now resides. Plano 38th Crop Science Society of the Phil-

government of india
Mayor Pat Evans proclaimed 22 June ippines (CSSP) Annual Conference on
to be “Dr. Sant Singh Virmani Day” in 12−16 May in Iloilo City. Honors includ-
Plano. He was awarded a plaque from ed Best Poster (Upstream Research),
the Netlink Foundation in honor of his Best Poster (Downstream Research),
service to humanity in combating hun- Best Paper (Upstream Research), and
ger and poverty around the world. greenhouse gases emissions (the 2006 a CSSP Achievement Award for Tech-
IRRI Deputy Director General for IPCC Guideline on National Greenhouse nology Development, won by Plant
Research Achim Dobermann is the Gases Inventories). Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology
recipient of the 2008 International IRRI associate scientist Romeo (PBGB) Division associate scientist
Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) Cabangon is the 2008 Outstanding Alvaro Pamplona. Renato Reaño,
International Crop Nutrition Award. Filipino Agricultural Engineer in the CSSP president in 2006-07, received a
The award recognizes Dr. Dobermann’s field of soil and water management. Testimonial Award.
pioneering research to fine-tune fertil- He was recognized for his contribution IRRI’s 2007 nationally recruited
izer and crop management practices to to the advancement of science in the staff awards were presented during the
improve productivity of rice, maize, and field of soil and water conservation, Institute’s Board of Trustees meeting
soybean production systems in an en- specifically the development of water- on 11 April. Alice Laborte, associate
vironmentally sustainable way. He was saving technologies in rice-production scientist in the Social Sciences Divi-
honored at the IFA Annual Conference systems in Asia. sion won the Award for Outstanding
on 20 May 2008 in Vienna, Austria. Eugenio Castro, associate scien- Scientific Achievement for her work on
Reiner Wassmann, coordina- tist at IRRI’s Training Center, was named land-use modeling. Norberto Quil-
tor of IRRI’s Rice and Climate Change this year’s Outstanding Professional of loy, research technician in PBGB, won
Consortium, has been formally recog- the Year in the field of agricultural en- the Award for Outstanding Research
nized by the United Nations Intergov- gineering. The award recognizes Mr. Support for his work in plant breeding
ernmental Panel on Climate Change Castro’s expertise, manifested through activities. Happily for Rice Today, the
(IPCC) for substantial contributions his work in the design, development, magazine’s production and distribution
to the IPCC’s Nobel and improvement team—George Reyes, Juan Lazaro,
Peace Prize award. of technologies in Ariel Javellana, Jose Raymond
The IPCC and former small-, medium-, Panaligan, Meg Mondoñedo, Em-
U.S. Vice President and large-scale manuel Panisales, and Chris Quin-
Al Gore were award- farming. tana—won the Award for Outstanding
ed the Nobel Peace IR R I weed Administrative Support.
Prize for 2007 “for scientists were Rice Today also had an excellent
their efforts to build honored at the year in the Association for Com-
up and disseminate Annual Confer- munication Excellence (ACE) Cri-
greater knowledge ence of the Pest tique and Awards Program, w in-
about man-made cli- Management ning Gold (first place) awards for
mate change, and to Council of the magazines and periodicals in the
lay the foundations Philippines held Publishing category (Rice Today
for the measures that in Puerto Prin- production team), for photography
are needed to coun- cessa, Palawan, in the Feature photo category (Ariel
teract such change.” on 6−9 May. Joel Javellana), and for writing for maga-
Dr. Wassmann was Janiya received zines in the Writing category (Adam
one of the authors of t he Pest Man- Barclay). Mr. Javellana also won a
the new guidelines agement Award silver award in the Environmental por-
to quantify national in Research in trait or personality photo category.

Rice Today July-September 2008 

Keeping up with IRRI staff

ecent arrivals at IRRI include visiting research fellow in PBGB. the arrival of Fiona Farrell, who is
plant pathologist Serge Sa- U.S. Singh has become IRRI’s scheduled to begin in September.
vary, senior scientist in the South Asia regional project coordinator David Johnson, senior scientist
Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Bio- for developing abiotic stress tolerance. in CESD, is the new coordinator of the
technology (PBGB) Division; plant Based in New Delhi, he will help imple- Consortium for Unfavorable Rice En-
pathologist Laetitia Willocquet, ment the project to reduce poverty and vironments, taking over from David
scientist, PBGB; agricultural economist hunger and increase food and income Mackill. Bas Bouman has been
Samarendu Mohanty, new head security of resource-poor farm fami- appointed leader of IRRI’s program on
of the Social Sciences Division (SSD); lies and rice consumers in South Asia Sustaining productivity in intensive
Digna Manzanilla, postdoctoral through the development and dis- rice-based systems: rice and the envi-
fellow in SSD; Deepinder Grewal, semination of rice varieties tolerant of ronment. He remains CESD head. JK
postdoctoral fellow in PBGB; Krishna abiotic stresses. The work is supported Ladha has returned to the IRRI-India
Jagadish, postdoctoral fellow in by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Office in New Delhi after a successful
PBGB; Matthieu Conte, postdoctoral project Stress-tolerant rice for poor year-long fellowship at Cornell Univer-
fellow in the Crop Resource Informa- farmers in Africa and South Asia. sity. He remains IRRI representative
tion Laboratory; Xiangqian Zhao, Recent departures include Gary and coordinator for the Rice-Wheat
postdoctoral fellow in the Grain Qual- Jahn, entomologist and coordinator Consortium.
ity, Nutrition, and Postharvest Center; for the Greater Mekong Subregion; Federico Ramos, former su-
Sarah Covshoff, postdoctoral fellow Christine K reye, international perintendent of the IRRI Farm (now
in PBGB; Xin’ai Zhao, postdoctoral research fellow in CESD; Yuichiro the Experiment Station), 1961−85 and
fellow in PBGB; Nobuko Katay- Furukawa, project scientist in CESD; father of University of the Philippines
anagi, visiting research fellow in the and Hector Hernandez, head of President and IRRI Board member
Crop and Environmental Sciences Human Resource Services. Paramjit Emerlinda Roman, passed away on
Division (CESD); and Yohei Koide, Sachdeva is acting head of HRS until 13 May.


not a Thai dessert but
a farm in Queensland,
Australia. Mango grower
Tom Castorina (right),
shows off his mango farm
in Bowen.


Enriquez (below) won’t
go anywhere without his
copy—even 15 meters
under water at Cathedral
Rock, Anilao, Philippines.


EMILY DEAMANO, former IRRI bioinformatics


researcher, with Rice Today in front of Petronas Twin HENRY SACKVILLE HAMILTON takes Rice
Towers, Malaysia. Today to the temple of Angkor Wat.

10 Rice Today July-September 2008


jose raymond panaligan

he poorest of the world’s
poor are the 1.1 billion people
with income of less than a
dollar a day. Around 700
million—almost two-thirds—of these
people live in rice-growing countries
of Asia. Poor people spend up to half
of their income on rice alone and,
in many cases, receive more than
half of all their calories from rice.
The world price of Thai rice, 5%
broken—a popular export grade—in
December 2007 was $362 per ton. By

The rice crisis:

May 2008, the price had tripled (see
figure on page 12), breaking through
the $1,000 mark. As the Asian

What nEEDs to be done?

harvest brought new rice into the
market in June, prices began to come
down but, by July, remained around
double the December 2007 price.
In early 2008, in response to In early 2008, skyrocketing rice prices put the grain on the front pages
supply problems, major exporting of major newspapers across the world. Rice Today explains the reasons
countries such as Vietnam and India behind the rapid increase in rice prices and what must be done to achieve
imposed export bans or restrictions
to protect their domestic consumers. reliable, plentiful supplies of affordable rice.
By thus reducing the supply of rice in
the world market, these restrictions see Running out of steam on page 41). is taken into account. First, popula-
accelerated the price rise. Conse- Reduced public investment tion growth is outstripping produc-
quently, importers rushed into the in agricultural research, devel- tion growth. Second, rapid economic
market to buy more rice to meet their opment, and infrastructure. growth in large countries such as
consumption needs and build their The slowdown in yield growth India and China has increased
own stock. Hoarding and specula- has been exacerbated by reduced demand for cereals, both for con-
tion by traders added fuel to the fire. public investment in agricultural sumption and for livestock produc-
research and development—the tion. Third, rice is an increasingly
What are the underlying reasons? very engine that drove productiv- popular food in Africa, with imports
We are consuming more than ity growth to begin with. Invest- into Africa accounting for almost
we are producing. Many fac- ments in irrigation, which peaked one-third of the total world trade.
tors, both long- and short-term, have during the Green Revolution pe- Oil prices. The price of oil has
contributed to the rice crisis. At a riod, have decreased substantially. increased rapidly during the past
fundamental level, the sustained Existing irrigation infrastructure year. This has pushed up freight costs
rise in the price over the past 7–8 has deteriorated considerably. for countries that import rice. The
years indicates that we have been Little room for expansion world price of oil-dependent fertil-
consuming more than we have been of rice area. izers—essential for
producing. Rice stocks are be- The possibility of in- “Productivity growth rice production—has
ing depleted, with current stocks creasing the rice area through improved increased sharply,
at their lowest since the 1970s. is almost exhausted with the price of
Annual growth in yield is in most Asian coun- technologies is the key urea exploding (see
slowing. A major reason for the tries. In many areas, long-term solution for figure on page 12).
imbalance between the long-term highly productive rice ensuring that affordable The rapid growth
demand and supply is the slowing land has been lost to of the biofuel
growth in yield, which has decreased housing and indus- rice is available to poor industry has also
substantially over the past 10–15 trial development. rice consumers” increased pressure
years in most countries. Globally, Demand on international
yields have risen by less than 1% growth. Three key factors have trade of grains and livestock
per year in recent years—slower contributed to steady growth in feed, as well as on agricul-
than population growth and down demand for rice, which is increasing tural land in some countries.
from well over 2% during the Green globally by around 5 million tons each Extreme weather. Natural
Revolution period of 1970−90 (also year—more if rebuilding of stocks disasters, such as flooding, drought,

Rice Today July-September 2008 11

Index (Jan 2000 = 100)
and typhoons, have contributed to development
recent production shortfalls. Climate and dissemina- RISING WORLD prices of rice, urea, and diesel fuel, 2000-08.
change is expected to increase the se- tion of im- 700 Source of raw data: Pinksheet, The World Bank, various issues
verity and frequency of such extreme proved technol-
weather events. Global warming is ogies is the only 600
also projected to hurt rice production. key long-term 500
Reoccurring pest out- viable solution Urea
breaks. Many pests that caused for bringing 400 Petroleum, spot average crude price
major problems for rice intensifica- prices down, 300
Thai rice (5% broken)
tion programs in the 1970s and 1980s preventing fu-
have returned as major threats to ture increases 200
production, primarily due to break- in price, and
downs in crop resistance and the ensuring that
excessive use of broad-spectrum, affordable rice 0

Jan 2001
May 2001
Sep 2001

Jan 2003

Jan 2006
May 2003

May 2005

Jan 2008
Sep 2003
Jan 2004

Sep 2004

Sep 2005
May 2002
Sep 2002
Jan 2000

Sep 2006

Sep 2007
Jan 2002

Jan 2005
May 2000

May 2004

May 2006

Jan 2007
May 2007

May 2008
Sep 2000
long-residual insecticides that disrupt is available
natural pest control mechanisms. to poor rice
consumers. Month and year
How do price rises affect To achieve
poor rice consumers? this, a second Green Revolution is of rural poor lift themselves out of
Although more expensive rice may needed now as much as the first poverty. In the near term, urgent
help farmers who produce more was needed to avoid famine and actions from national governments
than they consume, a rise in the mass starvation. Increased research and international agencies are needed
price of rice is equivalent to a drop investment together with policy on two fronts: rapidly exploiting
in real income for the majority of the reforms that make rice markets more existing technological opportunities
poor who are net consumers of rice. efficient will help bring rice prices for increasing rice yields and policy
Higher prices increase the num- down to a level affordable to the poor reforms to improve poor people’s
ber of poor people and push people and, ultimately, reduce poverty. food entitlements. Rice produc-
deeper into poverty and hunger, tion can be revitalized, but there
forcing them to sacrifice essentials What needs to be done? are no silver bullets. Investment by
such as more nutritious food, health Recent advances in science and the world community is essential.
care, and children’s education—thus technology offer unprecedented op-
condemning future generations to portunities to not only solve current
a vicious poverty cycle. Higher food problems but also develop agricul- For more information, visit
prices also affect the poor indirectly tural systems that can help millions
as international relief agencies are
forced to reduce or cut programs.
The International Rice Research Institute’s action plan
How do we prevent short- Some of the following actions deal with the immediate crisis while others provide
ages and price rises? long-term solutions to prevent future crises.
Given the structural reasons that
1. Bring about an agronomic revolution in Asian rice production to reduce existing
contributed to the price rise in 2008,
gaps between achieved and potential yield. Yield improvements of 1–2 tons per
rice prices are not expected to fall to
hectare can be achieved through the use of better crop management practices,
anywhere near their historic lows. particularly in irrigated environments.
And, without the buffer of high 2. Accelerate the delivery of new postharvest technologies to reduce losses.
stock levels, there is an increased Postharvest includes the storing, drying, and processing of rice. New and existing
risk of additional sharp price rises. technologies can substantially reduce the considerable postharvest losses—in terms
The best strategy for keeping of both quantity and quality—suffered by most Asian farmers.
the price of rice low is to ensure 3. Accelerate the introduction and adoption of higher yielding rice varieties.
that production increases faster 4. Strengthen and upgrade the rice breeding and research pipelines. The steady
than demand. Rice production can decline in funding for the development of new rice varieties must be reversed in
be increased by expanding the area order to develop the new varieties and crop and resource management systems
required for sustained productivity growth.
planted to rice, by increasing the yield
5. Accelerate research on the world’s thousands of rice varieties so scientists can tap
per unit area, or by a combination of
the vast reservoir of untapped knowledge they contain.
the two. With limited opportunity 6. Develop a new generation of rice scientists and researchers for the public and
for increasing Asia’s rice area, the private sectors. Asia urgently needs to train a new generation of rice scientists and
main source of additional produc- researchers—before the present generation retires—if the region’s rice industry is
tion will need to be yield growth. to successfully capitalize on advances in modern science.
Productivity growth through the

12 Rice Today July-September 2008

Lost in transmission
Have recent dramatic increases in world rice prices been bad for consumers and good for producers?
Well, yes … and no. The real answer seems to be: It depends. Rice Today analyzes the situation.

by David Dawe

orld market rice prices
Percentage change
tripled between April 50
2007 and April 2008,
World price DC
with most of the increase Domestic price DC
coming early in 2008. While the DC = domestic currency
world market price is an important
indicator of scarcity, rice-consuming
and -producing households do
not buy and sell directly on the
world market. Thus, an important
question for food security is the
extent to which changes in world
prices are transmitted, or passed 0
through, to domestic consumers Bangladesh China India Indonesia Philippines Thailand Vietnam
and producers. Price transmission -10
from world to domestic markets is
Fig. 1. Cumulative percentage change in real rice prices, first quarter 2003–first quarter 2007.
influenced by many factors, but two
Data for Vietnam are annual, not quarterly, and refer to change between 2003 and 2006.
of the most important are exchange
rates and government policies.
Inadequate infrastructure can also
play an important role, but this is Figure 1, the left column for each change in world prices is adjusted
less relevant in the Asian context, country makes this adjustment (using for exchange rate movements.
where infrastructure is much better inflation-adjusted exchange rates), Bangladesh, India, the
than in Africa, for example. showing that world rice prices during Philippines, and Vietnam all fall
this time typically increased much into this category of countries that
Exchange rates less in inflation-adjusted domestic- stabilize domestic prices. For all
Even before the sharp increase in currency terms than in inflation- of these countries, the volatility of
early 2008, world rice prices had been adjusted US-dollar terms, although domestic consumer prices during
steadily increasing since early 2004: Bangladesh was an exception. the past few years has been less than
they increased 44% from the first that of world prices, thus justifying
quarter of 2003 (Q1 2003) to Q1 2007 Government policies the use of the term “stabilizer.” As
in inflation-adjusted US-dollar terms In addition to exchange rate one example of the results of this
(see the leftmost column in Figure movements, domestic rice policies type of stabilization, Figure 2 shows
1). But, for many Asian countries, such as procurement, storage, and the evolution of monthly domestic
this “headline” price increase was variable tariffs also determine retail rice prices in India between
illusory because the US dollar was how world prices are transmitted 2003 and 2007. Clearly, domestic
steadily depreciating against a wide to domestic markets. Many Asian prices were more stable than
range of regional currencies. For countries actively try to stabilize international prices during this time.
example, during these 4 years, the domestic prices, and the right column Historically, Indonesia has
Philippine peso strengthened against for each country in Figure 1 shows also stabilized domestic rice prices,
the dollar from 54.2 in 2003 to 46.1 that, for several countries, the change but, in recent years, its trade policy
in 2007. Thus, the world price as in domestic consumer (either retail has been dominated by domestic
measured in Philippine pesos did not or wholesale) prices was much less political considerations that have
increase nearly as much as the world than the change in world prices served to destabilize domestic
price as measured in US dollars. In during this time, even when the prices by restricting imports.

Rice Today July-September 2008 13

Price (real rupees per kg)
the increases were 131% and 85%,
16 respectively, over the same period.
Domestic price
Price increases were more restrained
15 World price in India (14% year on year). All of
these price changes were above and
beyond the reported increases in
13 the general consumer price index,
which indicates the overall level of
inflation of consumer good prices.
11 The substantial increases
in domestic prices in a range of
10 countries suggest that, in many cases,
03 03 03 03 03 03 04 04 04 04 04 04 05 05 05 05 05 05 06 06 06 06 06 06 07 07 07 07 07 07
20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 government policies can insulate the
1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1
M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1
Month domestic economy from external
shocks, but only for a limited period
Fig. 2. Monthly domestic rice retail prices in India and world rice prices, 2003–07.
of time. For example, releasing
stocks from storage can dampen
Price (real baht per kg)
price increases, but eventually stocks
will run out. Import tariffs can be
15 World price lowered for a time, but eventually
Domestic price
hit a lower bound at zero. Once the
tariff reaches zero, it is possible to
13 subsidize imports, but as the world
price increases, the subsidies may
12 become fiscally unsustainable.
General market psychology may
also make it difficult to dampen
10 price transmission: if prices are
03 03 03 03 03 03 04 04 04 04 04 04 05 05 05 05 05 05 06 06 06 06 06 06 07 07 07 07 07 07 rising rapidly on the world market
20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20 20
1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1 1 3 5 7 9 1
M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1 M M M M M M1
Month and are expected to continue rising,
farmers, traders, and households may
Fig. 3. Monthly domestic rice wholesale prices in Thailand and world rice prices, 2003–07. begin to hoard supplies, therefore
reducing domestic supply and
forcing domestic prices up. Thus,
Thus, in Indonesia, the increase banned exports in late 2007 or early even when price transmission is
in domestic consumer prices from 2008. These moves led importers to less than complete, events on world
Q1 2003 to Q1 2007 was actually aggressively enter the world market markets eventually have important
greater than the increase in world in fear that supplies would become repercussions for food security.
prices in real rupiah terms. even more constrained in the future, There is no doubt that price
Thailand and China during this which exacerbated the shortages changes of this magnitude can have
time acted more as “free traders.” and caused prices to soar. This substantial adverse impacts on the
Thailand has some government was a major factor in world prices poor, many of whom buy most of
intervention in terms of procurement surging from $393 per ton in January their food on markets and often
and storage, but domestic prices 2008 to $1015 per ton in April. spend 20–40% of their income on
nevertheless follow world prices very Because very few trades their staple food in normal times.
closely (see Figure 3). China does not took place at the high world Poor families must thus cut spending
allow the private sector to trade at all, prices, domestic prices did not on other essential items in order to
much less without restriction, so it increase nearly this rapidly; again, maintain a minimal level of energy
is not a free trader in the sense that transmission was only partial. intake. A study in rural Central
economists use the term. But, at least But domestic prices nevertheless Java in Indonesia found that when
through the early part of 2007, it was increased substantially. In real terms, rice prices increased in the late
allowing changes in international domestic rice prices in April or May 1990s, mothers in poor families
prices to be reflected more or less of 2008 were 47% and 30% higher responded by reducing their caloric
fully in domestic consumer prices. in Bangladesh and the Philippines, intake in order to better feed their
respectively, compared with prices children, leading to an increase in
Recent events in April or May a year earlier. maternal wasting.1 Furthermore,
Many countries, including India, Domestic prices increased even more purchases of more nutritious foods
Vietnam, and Cambodia, restricted or in Thailand and Vietnam, where such as eggs were reduced in order

14 Rice Today July-September 2008

to afford the more expensive rice. World urea prices have increased prices, which have increased only
This led to a measurable decline substantially since 2003; indeed, recently. Thus, even though farm
in blood haemoglobin levels in they have increased even more than profitability has increased now, it
young children (as well as in their grain prices on world markets. As was most likely declining for the
mothers), increasing the probability with grain prices, some of these past few years. Further, the costs
of developmental damage. A negative increases have been mitigated by of other farm inputs, including
correlation between rice prices and exchange rate appreciation, but the fuel (for irrigation and transport,
nutritional status has also been increases in real domestic currency for example), other fertilizers, and
observed in Bangladesh.2 Another terms have still been substantial. wages have also risen. Thus, it is
study estimated that a 20% increase Because fertilizer accounts for quite possible that the profitability
in food prices would increase only a small share of gross revenue of rice farming has decreased even
the number of undernourished for farmers, equivalent percentage though output prices have increased.
people in Asia by 158 million.3 changes in output prices and fertilizer As in the Philippines, much of
prices would increase farmer profits. the increase in world urea prices has
Are changes in consumer prices Data collected at the International been passed through to farmers in
being reflected in farm prices? Rice Research Institute in the Vietnam. In Bangladesh, however,
While many people worry that late 1990s showed that the share the government kept nominal urea
prices may be increasing for of urea fertilizer in gross revenue prices roughly constant through
consumers but not for farmers was often about 10%. This implies late 2007, implying a decline in
(with traders increasing their that a 10% increase in urea prices the inflation-adjusted domestic
margins), the evidence for Asia in would be fully offset by just a 1% urea price over the past few years.
recent years does not support these increase in the output price. Coupled with higher farm prices,
fears. Figure 4 shows that, for a In the Philippines, between it seems likely that rice production
range of countries, the percentage March-May 2003 and March- has become more profitable in
change in farm prices has been May 2008, farm prices for paddy Bangladesh in the short run.
nearly identical to the percentage (unmilled) rice increased by
change in consumer prices. 20% in real terms—more than Looking to the future
enough to offset the impact of an It is not yet clear how world and
Fertilizer prices approximately 60% increase in domestic rice prices will change
Urea is the main source of nitrogen real urea prices. However, urea for the rest of 2008 and beyond.
for Asian rice farmers and is their prices began increasing in the However, rice prices have already
most important fertilizer input. Philippines long before farm paddy increased in some countries by
enough to substantially hurt the poor,
even if prices subsequently fall later
Percentage change in the year (as has already started
35 to happen in some countries). In
Producer price addition, as long as world oil prices
30 Consumer price
remain high and volatile, rice prices
25 are likely to behave in a similar
manner due to the new linkages that
20 biofuel demand has forged between
energy markets and agricultural
markets. This will present challenges
10 for governments to manage these
price fluctuations in order to
5 minimize the impact on the poor.

Bangladesh China Indonesia Philippines
Dr. Dawe is a senior economist
Fig. 4. Cumulative percentage change in real rice producer and consumer prices, 2003–07. at the United Nations Food and
Data for the Philippines compare March to May 2003 with March to May 2008. Agriculture Organization.

Block S, Kiess L, Webb P, Kosen S, Moench-Pfanner R, Bloem MW, Timmer CP. 2004. Macro shocks and micro outcomes: child nutrition during Indonesia’s crisis.
Econ. Hum. Biol. 2(1): 21−44.
Torlesse H, Kiess L, Bloem MW. 2003. Association of household rice expenditure with child nutritional status indicates a role for macroeconomic food policy in
combating malnutrition. J. Nutr. 133(5): 1320−1325.
Senauer B, Sur M. 2001. Ending global hunger in the 21st century: projections of the number of food insecure people. Rev. Agric. Econ. 23(1): 68−81.

Rice Today July-September 2008 15

THE MALINAO DAM in Pilar, on the Philippine
island of Bohol, has been operating since 1998
but has been unable to supply enough water to
irrigate its 4,960-hectare service area.

water-saving technologies find their way to the province
of Bohol in the Philippines and prove to be a perfect
match for the region’s climate and irrigation systems

Story by Meg Mondoñedo

Photos by Raymond Jose Panaligan
around 1,600 millimeters per year. 1998, however, BIS 1 has performed
The three national irrigation poorly because of inefficient water

systems operating in Bohol, covering use. The dam has been beset by
ith three major a total area of 10,260 hectares, are problems—declining available water,
reservoir-fed the Capayas Irrigation System in asynchronous farming activities
irrigation systems Ubay (1,160 hectares), the Bohol resulting in wasteful use of water,
operating in the Irrigation System 1 (BIS 1; 4,960 and poorly maintained irrigation
area, it’s easy to think that Bohol, hectares), and the Bohol Irrigation facilities. All of these have, in turn,
one of the biggest rice-growing System 2 (BIS 2; 4,140 hectares). affected farm productivity and
areas in the Philippines’ Visayas The Malinao Dam of BIS 1 in contributed to low farmer incomes.
region, is free of water problems Pilar, the Bayongan Dam of BIS 2 in A JBIC mission conducted in
for irrigated rice. Think again. San Miguel, and the Capayas Dam March 2005 reported that water
Despite these dams, the rice in Ubay are all reservoir-type dams. from BIS 1 failed to cover the
farmers of Bohol have been struggling However, Bayongan Dam, which was designated irrigation area and that
to irrigate their crops, for the simple constructed under the Japan Bank the nonirrigated areas are mostly
reason that the province does not for International Cooperation (JBIC) located farthest from the canals.
have enough water. Bohol has loan program, was built in such a way Usually, there is insufficient
what is known as a Corona climate that it had to rely primarily on BIS1. water available during the year’s
type IV, characterized by evenly Water from Bayongan Dam will come second cropping (November to April),
distributed rainfall throughout the mostly from the excess water flowing especially for downstream farmers
year. There is no clear-cut wet or from Malinao Dam. The technical who live farthest from the dam.
dry season, though there is a higher functionality of BIS 2 is therefore This problem is aggravated by the
likelihood of heavy showers from very much dependent on the efficient practice of unequal water distribution
November to January. The average operation and management of BIS 1. and unnecessary water use by
annual rainfall is estimated at Since the start of operations in farmers who insist on continuous

16 Rice Today July-September 2008

the town of Carmen, Bohol.

TWO BOYS paddle their way across the Malinao Dam.

Rice Today July-September 2008 17

flooding to irrigate their rice crop. thresh their rice after harvesting.
In the face of declining irrigated
rice production in Bohol since
2000, the National Irrigation
Administration (NIA) created
an action plan for the Bohol
Integrated Irrigation System.
The plan focused on improving
water distribution equity and
efficiency; improving operations;
strengthening coordination among
the NIA, irrigators’ associations
(groups of farmers who share
an irrigation canal), and local
government units; rehabilitating and
upgrading irrigation facilities; and
establishing demonstration farms
on water-saving technologies.
A major component of this
plan was the implementation of a
project to improve the performance technologies, specifically alternate
of irrigation systems and increase wetting and drying (AWD), to Bohol.”
water productivity. Thus, a water- Consequently, the introduction
saving project team for Bohol was of AWD (also called controlled
established, with NIA as the lead irrigation) debunked the widespread
agency. To achieve its goal, the belief that rice has a continuous,
project made use of water-saving insatiable thirst for water. In fact, rice
technologies developed by scientists can be flooded to a lesser extent than
of the Irrigated Rice Research usual (to a depth of 3–5 centimeters
Consortium (IRRC) Water-Saving instead of up to 10 centimeters),
Workgroup based at the International allowed to dry to a degree, then
Rice Research Institute (IRRI). re-flooded, with this cycle repeated
“After our initial success in throughout the season as long as the IRRI WATER-SAVING researcher
Tarlac (see The big squeeze on pages soil remains flooded throughout the Ruben Lampayan.
26-31 of Rice Today Vol. 7, No. 2), flowering period. Up to a quarter
the national office of NIA got hold less water is needed, there is no drop
of the technologies,” says Ruben in yield, and farmers don’t need to saw first-hand, from the demo plots,
Lampayan, IRRI postdoctoral fellow make any other major changes in that rice doesn’t have to be flooded all
and leader of the Water-Saving the way they manage their crop. the time. It only needs puddled water
Work Group. “Since Bohol didn’t “Many farmers came to realize during the critical stages of growth.”
have enough water to irrigate their that rice doesn’t need lots of water In Pilar, a municipality in the
rice area, despite its three dams, throughout its life cycle,” says NIA province of Bohol, where the project
NIA decided to bring water-saving Engineer Edmund Mendez. “They was first launched, water from
the dams started to decline 3−4
years ago. Only upstream farmers
(those near the main irrigation
canals) could get sufficient water,
leaving downstream farmers
with almost nothing. Water from
the dams was not enough to
serve all the farmers’ fields.
Today, about 150 farmers
in Pilar alone are using AWD
to grow rice twice a year.
“We really saw the need for
AWD and aerobic rice technologies,”
tration Engineer Edmund Mendez. Jardy Bolanio. Galagala, Jr. is also a farmer. says Jardy Bolanio, head of a local
farmers’ group in Pilar. “Even during

18 Rice Today July-September 2008

the rainy season, we still needed
to save water in the reservoirs as
backup for drier days to come.”
“So far, our yields using AWD
have been the same as those we get
from growing rice in flooded fields,”
he says. “However, weeds have been
a minor problem. Since flooding
controls weeds, AWD is more prone
to weed growth because of the dry
stages. But it can be solved easily
through manual weeding. The
weed problem is nothing compared
with the water we save and the
consistent income we now get.”
AWD’s success didn’t
happen overnight though. With
many farmers’ resisting the
switch from flooded methods,
NIA and its partners carried
out information campaigns,
farm-level demonstrations, and
farmers’ field days where the
technology was introduced.
Farmers were scared that
AWD might reduce their yield
and they would not earn as CHILDREN PLAY near a pile of rice
much—but it didn’t happen. grains in their backyard in Pilar, Bohol.
“There was no disadvantage from
using AWD,” says BIS Superintendent
Olympio Galagala, Jr., who also
farms rice in Pilar. “Our yields
were the same, and, best of all, of the water delivery systems,” he model for success of the Water-
our water problem was solved.” explains. “Before the project was Saving Work Group’s country
According to Dr. Lampayan, AWD implemented, the NIA people tried sites across Southeast Asia.
in Bohol was adopted by farmers not to rotate the water in such as way “There is so much potential
because they liked it. “It was adopted that everyone would get a fair share, in AWD because water scarcity
because it was forced on them in a at least within an area served by is a real threat,” stresses Dr.
way, as a solution to the weaknesses one dam. AWD complemented that Lampayan. “People are aware of
water rotation scheme because the water problem, but they don’t
THE ENDANGERED Philippine tarsier the demand for water became realize its extent. Our next step
(Tarsius syrichta), endemic to the lower and farmers became less is to scale out and spread the
southern Philippines, including
worried about their crops dying technology to other problematic
Bohol, is one of the world’s smallest
primates. if they didn’t get enough water. areas, not just in the Philippines.”
“Farmers always thought While the IRRC helps Bohol
that the more water they with the water shortage problem, it
had, the more yield they also recognizes the need to address
would get. AWD proved this other production constraints such as
wrong. The farmers are happy soil fertility, labor, and postharvest
not only because they don’t losses. Through the IRRC’s Country
worry about water anymore, Outreach Program, initial efforts
but also because life is have been made to integrate AWD
more harmonious—they no with other IRRC technologies to
longer compete for water.” optimize rice farmers’ incomes.
With more and more As the number of Bohol
farmers seeing the benefits farmers who use AWD grows,
of using AWD, the Bohol the IRRC continues to search
experience could be a potential for the next perfect match.

Supercharging the
rice engine
An ambitious project to re-engineer rice photosynthesis has the potential to
by Dilantha Gunawardana

transform rice production as much as, if not more than, any single advance
since agricultural research began

n his 1988 Nobel Prize in dioxide is relatively inefficient, of poor—and often undernourished—
Chemistry acceptance speech, many crop species, such as maize people, improving the efficiency of
German scientist Hartmut and sorghum, have evolved a much photosynthesis in rice could have
Michel, quoting the Royal more efficient (and, in evolutionary an enormous beneficial impact.
Swedish Academy, described terms, newer) photosynthetic Driven by the need to improve
photosynthesis as “the most pathway. This mechanism, known rice yields, International Rice
important chemical reaction on as C4 photosynthesis because of Research Institute (IRRI) scientist
earth.” Dr. Michel, who solved the the initial formation of a molecule John Sheehy and his team are
three-dimensional structure of the possessing four carbon atoms, can embarking on an ambitious but
primary protein complex responsible be distinguished from the ancestral realistic goal to develop rice with C4
for the initial light capture in “C3” photosynthesis by the initial photosynthesis. Due to the magnitude
photosynthesis, knows a thing 3-carbon compound formed. of the task and the multi-faceted
or two about the means by which The inefficiency of C3 nature of converting a plant’s
plants derive energy and—happily photosynthesis means that the complete photosynthetic pathway—
for we humans—convert carbon potential growth rates and yields which entails changes in leaf anatomy,
dioxide to oxygen in the process. of rice are lower than those of a C4 photosynthesis biochemistry, and
The sheer importance of crop such as maize. Considering that plant physiology—IRRI formed an
photosynthesis is a plain truth more than 90% of the world’s rice international consortium of some
that we tend to ignore in spite is consumed within Asia and is the of the world’s leading experts on
of constant reminders: the trees major staple for hundreds of millions photosynthesis including Julian
outside our windows, the ingredients
of the food we ingest, the energy
we expend on the sports field,
and even the intellectual power
that goes into formulating simple
sentences. One way or another, all
of this derives from the chemical
Bundle Mesophyll
energy synthesized from solar
sheath cells
irradiation by photosynthesis.
The energy captured from light
Abigail Elmido-Mabilangan

during photosynthesis is used to

convert atmospheric carbon dioxide
into different sugar molecules
that are used in diverse metabolic
pathways and conveyed via the
food chain to humans. However,
the process of photosynthesis is not
the same for all plants. Whereas Kranz Anatomy
species such as rice have an
Wreath-like configuration of bundle sheath and mesophyll cells around
ancestral mode of photosynthesis veins in a maize leaf.
in which the capture of carbon

20 Rice Today July-September 2008

UNDERSTANDING the workings of maize—which
basic structural are responsible for regulating the
uses more efficient C4 photosynthesis—is forms of plants, differentiation between C3 and C4.
crucial to developing a C4 rice plant. Here, monocot and Decline in carbon dioxide levels,
researcher Florence Danila mounts a maize leaf
onto a microscope.
dicot, diverged higher temperatures, low availability
from a common of water, and high soil salinity are all
ancestor as early reasons attributed to the evolution
as 200 million of C 4 photosynthesis. Considering
years ago). The the success of C 4 plants in such
relatively short unfavorable environments, it is
time scale of anticipated that C 4 rice, as well as
C4 evolution, giving higher yields, will also have
coupled with lower requirements for water and
the presence nitrogen (fertilizer). Therefore, the
of remnant C4 potential benefits of C4 rice are not
photosynthesis restricted to boosting productivity;
genes in rice they also include environmental

(genes that don’t sustainability and climate control.

have a C4 function Creating C4 rice will require
Hibberd of the University of in rice, but evolved such functions considerable effort and the forecast
Cambridge, Jane Langdale of the in C4 plants), has the consortium time for reaching a prototype plant
University of Oxford, and Tom optimistic that the incorporation is at least 15 years. However, given
Brutnell of Cornell University. of the C4 photosynthesis pathway the encouraging initial results,
C4 photosynthesis is distin- into rice is a realistic goal. the next year is likely to provide
guished from its C3 equivalent by Dr. Sheehy’s team is also looking many more answers in the quest to
the presence of unique anatomical for the genetic basis of the reversal supercharge the rice engine. If the
features within leaves, known as of C4 photosynthesis back to the project succeeds, the benefits for
the Kranz Anatomy. The capture of ancestral C3 pathway. The team has the poor of such an improvement
carbon dioxide and its conversion induced random genetic mutations in the face of increasing world
to a four-carbon compound is in the C4 crops sorghum and maize populations, increasing food
performed by so-called mesophyll to investigate the changes in leaf prices, and decreasing natural
cells in concert with bundle sheath structure away from Kranz Anatomy. resources would be immense.
cells, which synthesize six-carbon By analyzing the genomes of those
sugars, the building blocks of most mutant plants that diverge from Dr. Gunawardana is a postdoctoral
biological polymers. Rice and other “C4-ness,” the researchers should be fellow working on IRRI's project to
C3 species do possess these two cell able to gain insights into which genes develop C4 rice.
types—though in ratios, and with
accompanying underdeveloped

structures (mostly chloroplasts), that
make carbon capture inefficient. One
of the primary goals in the mission
to deliver C4 rice is to identify or
construct the cellular architecture
of C4 plants—the Kranz Anatomy—
in rice leaves. This will include
microstructural analysis of many
plant lines including Oryza sativa
(cultivated rice) and many wild rice
species. Initial studies with wild
rice have demonstrated that some
features of C4 photosynthesis, such
as close spacing of leaf veins and
favorable ratios of the two cell types
of Kranz Anatomy, do exist in rice.
C4 photosynthesis evolved from
C3 photosynthesis within the past
25–32 million years, a relatively short TECHNICIANS in the C4 group take
time frame in terms of evolutionary samples of maize leaves in the field.
adaptation (by comparison, the two

Rice Today July-September 2008 21

Jose R aymond Panaligan

Rice Today July-September 2008, Vol. 7, No. 3

A young boy with r ationed rice in Quezon City, Manila, Philippines. Government-subsidized rice has become a necessity for the urban poor.
Giving farming a

CHANCE Story by Meg Mondoñedo and photos by Jose Raymond Panaligan

A youth field school in the Philippines trains young students in rice farming and
agriculture in the hope of perpetuating the nation’s dying breed of farmers

armers are getting older This is the bleak reality, as In 2007, ICDAI, in partnership
and older. When they are explained by Father Francis B. with the Philippine Rice Research
gone, who will produce Lucas, president of the Infanta Institute (PhilRice) and the
the food? Few farmers Integrated Community Development International Rice Research
today want their children to become Assistance, Inc. (ICDAI), a Institute (IRRI), launched the
farmers or even agriculturists. community-based nongovernmental Youth Field School (YFS) as part
The farmer will just say: there is organization (NGO) in Infanta, in of the PhilRice-IRRI project on
no future in this for my child.” the Philippine province of Quezon. “Improving knowledge exchange

24 Rice Today July-September 2008

information and
70% of Infanta's years old. Why
are we teaching
technology (ICT).
The project also population is below only the farmers
and not their
looks into the children?” asks
effectiveness of 21 years old. Why Father Lucas.
computer-based “The technology
information are we teaching only taught to the
and knowledge older generation
dissemination the farmers and not will die with
to rural farmers it—and not only
and extension
their children? the technology,
but the
(who take technology and wonder in appreciating the source
training to farmers). of life: its food and agriculture.”
In Infanta, one of the project’s “We wanted to start the students
pilot sites, the YFS was an off-shoot early in agriculture,” he says,
of ICDAI’s long-running program, the “so the Grade 6 student can say:
Farmers’ Field School, which started ‘Wow! Farming is a global pursuit!
in the 1980s. In these schools, a team We are connected nationally and
of agriculturists and farmer-trainers internationally!’ We want them to
gave training courses and workshops see that agriculture is not only about
on ecological pest management, their own farms, it’s a global issue.
integrated soil management, livestock These children do not even know
training, and other agricultural how many people in the world eat
services in villages and towns rice. Hopefully, with the YFS, they
upon request of organized farmer would want to become farmers.”
groups. The Farmers’ Field School Che-Che Morilla, head of ICDAI’s
was a tremendous success; however, sustainable agriculture program,
through the years, fewer and fewer which handles the YFS, explains,
farmers attended, so ICDAI developed “We just want the students to
another strategy—the Youth Field appreciate the farming activities, to
School—wherein the transfer of love the farmers, their parents who
HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS at the Binulasan agricultural technology was delivered are farmers. We are also very happy
Integrated School in Quezon, Philippines, not to farmers but to their children. that these students are helping us by
are all smiles during a hands-on exercise on
pest management in their school’s rice paddy.
“Seventy percent of the teaching their families. In effect, they
population of Infanta is below 21 become very good extensionists—very

and decision making among rice

stakeholders through information-
technology promotion and delivery
systems,” better known as the
PhilRice-IRRI Cyber Village project.
The project, which started in
2006 and is scheduled to finish in
2008, tests and develops approaches FATHER FRANCIS LUCAS,
president of Infanta
that deal with the range of problems Integrated Community
faced by farmers. It then takes these Development Assistance,
approaches and makes them more Inc., talks about the
beginnings and goals of CHE-CHE MORILLA, head of ICDAI’s
widely known at the village and the Youth Field School. sustainable agriculture program.
municipal levels through the use of

Rice Today July-September 2008 25

EVA CRISOSTOMO, teacher LUDIE LIGUTAN, a farmer and volunteer Youth
and guidance counselor Field School facilitator, stands by her rice field,
at Binulasan Integrated which she inherited from her parents. Being a
School. farmer makes it much easier for her to teach
the students.

effective trainers for their families.” Integrated School in Infanta, an exercises to lectures, they like seeing
Ms. Morilla says that because ICDAI pilot school for the YFS. “They how the lessons are applied in the
students also learn how to went to the field, they cleaned, they actual field.”
use the Rice Knowledge Bank planted, and they were very eager For the students, the rewards
(RKB)—IRRI’s digital repository to learn. Normally, our classes do come in the discovery that they
of information on rice production not have full attendance, but, every can make a real difference
(— Thursday, the rooms are full!” to their families’ lives.
they are becoming the conduits of Ludie Ligutan, a volunteer “The YFS has helped me a lot
information to their farmer-parents. YFS facilitator and a farmer because my father is a farmer,”
The connection between herself, explains that ICDAI says Sheena Orozco, a high-school
the PhilRice-IRRI Cyber Village gives her materials with which student at Binulasan. “I tell him
project and the YFS lies in the to teach a particular topic, such whatever I learn from the field, like
use of the RKB as the source of as seed health management how and when to apply fertilizer,
computer-based information and or sustainable agriculture. and which are the harmful insects
knowledge dissemination. In “I try to make the classroom and which are the good ones.”
Infanta, however, students, not just lessons interesting by making jokes Her classmates are quick to agree.
farmers, are given direct access and telling stories,” says Ms. Ligutan, “We really learn a lot!” enthuses
to agricultural information. “but once its time to go out into the Kristell Barrival. “Whenever my
The YFS was incorporated field, the students are uncontrollable! parents have a question, I
into students’ regular subjects and They dive into the look it up in the RKB
graded just like, say, mathematics mud and start and I know the
or science. On Thursdays, YFS identifying the answers are there.”
facilitators, composed of ICDAI staff insects and The YFS
members and farmer-volunteers, memorizing helps not only the
teach the young students about their names. students learn
growing rice, managing pests and They prefer about rice farming
diseases, using the RKB, and many hands-on and agriculture
other aspects of growing rice. but also their
To the happy surprise parents.
of ICDAI staff members, the
students enjoyed the field school
subjects so much that they began
attending school more often. Alvin Romantiko
“My co-teachers and I were
very pleased to see the impact of the
YFS on the lives of our students,”
relates Eva Crisostomo, teacher and
Sheena Orozco
guidance counselor at the Binulasan

26 Rice Today July-September 2008

Bank for information about rice production at the
Binulasan Integrated School’s computer room, which
houses about 20 donated computers.

“Sometimes there are lot,” he says. “We learned about scientists need to eat. We should
parents who don’t listen to the rice and vegetables, but rice make sure there is food security first,
field lectures,” says Ms. Ligutan, was the most important to me. I and everything else will follow.”
“but their children listen, and realized that if all of us became It is encouraging to know that
at home, when it’s their own successful engineers, lawyers, or IT these students are giving farming
children who tell them about the specialists, then who would plant a chance, helping to lessen the
lessons, they listen and learn.” rice: who will feed us? If we all worry that farming will become an
Alvin Romantiko, also a high- think of becoming professionals, endangered profession. However,
school student in Binulasan, sums then who will become farmers? many challenges remain.
it up perfectly. “Since they started Everybody needs to eat. Even the According to Father Lucas, a
with the YFS, they’ve taught us a most successful businessmen and lot of poor people are victims of
industrialization. “When industries
come in, people get sucked into
their centers,” he says. “When
Kristell Barrival that happens, the environment is
neglected—the basis of food and
production is neglected because
when you remove the farmer, they
sell the land, hoping to have their
children study anything other than
agriculture. At the end of the day,
though, they lose: they don’t have
land and they don’t have jobs, and
nobody can break the cycle.”
Breaking this cycle is what the
YFS aims to achieve. By training
school students in farming and
agriculture early on, young people
QUIZZES IN THE FIELD are a part of the learn about the importance of
Youth Field School program. Students food, and, more specifically, the
experience actual field conditions and get importance of rice in the lives of
first-hand knowledge of field problems.
millions not in only in the Philippines
but also around the world.

Rice Today July-September 2008 27


The price of rice

in Madagascar
by Robert Hijmans and Alice Laborte
IRRI Social Sciences Division

ice is the staple food of Madagascar, and 60%
of the workforce is involved in rice farming.
The crop is grown all over the country, except
in the arid southwest of the island (Map 1).
The principal rice production areas are in the central
highlands. About 1.25 million hectares are planted to
rice each year, with an average yield of 2.8 tons per
hectare. Rice is produced mainly in flooded conditions
and is mostly rainfed with limited opportunities for
irrigation. Slash-and-burn agriculture characterizes
Madagascar’s steep eastern slopes, threatening

Map 2. Percentage of households buying rice, at any time of the year

2007, in communes of Madagascar.

remaining refuges of the country’s unique flora and

fauna. There is also nonflooded rainfed rice in more
permanent agricultural fields on the high plateau.
Around 60% of Madagascar’s population earns less
than a dollar per day. The price of rice, therefore, has
a major impact on the welfare of both rice producers
and consumers. Here we illustrate how rice prices vary
between regions and seasons, using data from commune
censuses of 2001 and 2007 in which the rice price was
recorded for each quarter1 (Madagascar is subdivided into
more than 1,500 communes). Rice prices in Madagascar
are lowest after the main April-June harvests and
then increase by about 40% in December. The high
prices during the “hunger season” reflect the increasing
demand and the cost of storage, capital, transportation,
handling, and losses. During this period, the rice price
is effectively capped by the price of imported rice.
Many households sell rice after the harvests
because they need cash, only to buy rice again later in
Map 1. Elevation and major rice-producing areas in Madagascar. the year. In April-June, only 18% of these communes
Source of rice data: Government of Madagascar (Ministère des Eaux et Forêts), have more households that buy rice than sell rice. In
1994. Inventaire Ecologique et Forestier National, 1994.
October-April, however, 77% of communes have a

The 2001 commune census is described by Minten B, Randrianarisoa J-C, Randrianarison L (eds.) 2003. Agriculture, pauvreté rurale et politiques économiques à Madagascar (USAID,
Cornell University, INSTAT, and FOFIFA). This insightful book, which contains a wealth of information on rice and agriculture in Madagascar, includes 54 maps and is available at For a thorough discussion of rice prices in Madagascar, see also Bart Minten and Paul Dorosh (eds.) 2006. Rice markets in Madagascar in disarray:
policy options for increased efficiency and price stabilization. Africa Region Working Paper Series 101.World Bank.

28 Rice Today July-September 2008

majority of rice-buying households. Map 2 shows the higher near cities because of lower transportation costs
peak percentage of households that buy rice at any from farm to market. In other words, in the harvest
time during the year (in most communes, the peak season, rice in more remote areas is sold at lower prices to
buying time occurs in the first quarter of the year). make up for higher transportation costs to the market. In
Large differences in prices and in price fluctuations contrast, because storage tends to be in larger towns, off-
exist between regions. Map 3 shows a spatial price season prices tend to be highest in remote areas because
index, based on an average over four trimesters for of additional transportation costs. This partly explains
2001 and for 2007. The national average has an index why spatial and temporal variabilities in rice prices are
of 100. Areas with low rice prices are in blue and areas not at all correlated (correlation coefficient = 0.1). Many
with high prices are in red. Eleven percent of the additional factors play a role in determining rice prices.
communes have a price that is, on average, 20% higher Flooded roads in the wet season, which isolate some areas,
than the national average, and 10% of the communes are particularly disruptive, while the northern part of the
have a price that is 20% lower than the national country is vulnerable to cyclones. Each year, such events
average. The highest prices tend to occur in the more cause the formation of “enclaves”—temporally isolated
isolated areas where there is little rice production. areas that can experience sharp hikes in the rice price.
Map 4 shows the temporal variation in prices, Rice production in Madagascar has not kept up
computed as the average within-year variation of the with population growth, despite a decrease in per-
rice price, expressed as the average deviation from capita rice consumption. About 10% of the country’s
the mean annual price. Areas with a stable price rice is imported and the government has called for a
throughout the year are colored blue, and areas with Green Revolution to change this situation. Knowledge
large fluctuations are colored red. Half the communes of the factors that shape spatial and temporal variation
have an average yearly price variation of 20% or more. in the rice prices2 could help guide investments to
In the harvest season, the price of rice tends to be help people who are most vulnerable to high prices.

Map 3. Average spatial variation in rice prices in communes of Map 4. Mean variation across four trimesters (% change from average
Madagascar. Average for 2001 and 2007. price) of the rice price in communes in Madagascar. Average for 2001
and 2007.

Such data are currently collected by the “Observatoire du riz,” an impressive government program that tracks weekly rice prices throughout markets in Madagascar.

Rice Today July-September 2008 29

Conducted by Gene Hettel

The problem solver

After 26 years at Cornell University in the United States, Nyle C. Brady became the International Rice Research Institute’s
(IRRI’s) third director general in 1973. During 8 years at the helm, he pioneered new cooperative relationships between the
Institute and the national agricultural research systems in Asia. After IRRI, he served as senior assistant administrator for
science and technology at the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1981 to 1989 and was also a senior
international development consultant for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank in
Washington, D.C. Born in Colorado in the U.S., he earned his BS in chemistry from Brigham Young University in 1941 and his
PhD in soil science from North Carolina State University in 1947. Now an emeritus professor at Cornell, he is the co-author
(with Ray R. Weil) of the classic textbook, The nature and properties of soils, now in its 14th edition. He and his wife Martha
are retired and live near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Coming to IRRI developing countries. IRRI had made in the new Rice Genetic Resources
aving worked at the great progress, but it did not always Laboratory, which on 24 October
nearby University of the communicate well. [We needed to 1981 would be named the N.C. Brady
Philippines at Los Baños foster] international cooperation Laboratory] for their resistance to
as a visiting Cornell between IRRI scientists and those in different insects and diseases and
professor, I knew of the area and the developing world’s rice countries. for their tolerance of acidic, saline,
the plans of Bob Chandler [IRRI’s This also involved inter- and toxic soils and drought. Every
first director general] and his disciplinary collaboration to increase department was involved. The plant
group to set up the Institute in rice production around the world. breeders’ products were evaluated
the early 1960s. In 1972, Frosty When I arrived [at IRRI], there were by the entomologists, the plant
[Forrest F., Ford Foundation vice four separate rice improvement pathologists, the agronomists, and
president of overseas development] research programs—i.e., in plant the social scientists in terms of what
Hill, chairman of IRRI’s Board of breeding, entomology, plant was useful to them and to the farmers
Trustees, asked me if I wanted the pathology, and agronomy. This was whom they were representing. This
job of director general [DG]. I had good because it was competitive, is how the Genetic Evaluation and
been working at Cornell University but I said, “Let’s see what we can do Utilization Program (GEU as it was
as director of research in the College if we can get together to develop a known) came into existence. I think
of Agriculture. I asked a few friends truly interdisciplinary collaborative it really revolutionized, internally,
what they thought and they said research program.” And we did, our ability to provide the world
that it would be a good thing. So, I making full use of the thousands of with products that could be used
decided to try it. Of course, I also genetic accessions [seed samples] in breeding programs elsewhere.
had to get permission from my wife in IRRI’s germplasm bank. The GEU was basically a plant
[Martha] and she was delighted to Back then, the germplasm bank breeding and genetic improvement
go back to the Philippines with me. holdings were in paper bags! A fire program that the whole Institute was
could have destroyed everything. concerned with. And as far as I was
Challenges and achievements So, the first thing we had to do concerned, it was fantastic! When we
In those days, I thought the greatest was to build [in 1976−77] a truly first started working on [this concept],
challenge for IRRI was to influence, modern facility to store the seeds there were some in the group who
to the degree it could, quality [see photo]. Second, we began were not exactly enthusiastic, at
research for our collaborators in evaluating those cultivars [housed least in dealing with me on this. But

30 Rice Today July-September 2008

very soon, I began to listen to them what it has been doing lately—more the Philippines. What did we do?
as they gave speeches talking about after I left than when I was there—to Within a month, we had already
this Institute-wide genetic evaluation recognize the consequences of what evaluated and found certain lines
and utilization program, which we do to the environment in terms that were resistant to the grassy stunt
basically involved evaluation of rice of pesticide use and fertilizer use, virus and our plant breeders were
lines the breeders had developed. i.e., nitrogen getting into the water already crossing them to develop
causing troubles later on. I think acceptable rice varieties. That kind
Not the most popular DG this is an opportunity for IRRI to of effort really is heartwarming.
I wasn’t always the most popular develop high-yielding, quality rice in
DG. You could ask anyone who such a way that the soil, water, and It’s IRRI class
stayed there for a while. Some atmosphere will not be adversely I’ll tell one story that relates to not
thought maybe I was too demanding affected. It’s a real challenge to know the scientists but to a member of the
when I called them late at night for exactly how to do this, but I think it [non-research] staff at the Institute,
something. As a manager, I could can be done. I’m not suggesting that a Filipino. The CGIAR was holding
have probably used more kid gloves. the Institute is not doing it; it has one of its annual meetings in Manila
Sometimes, I was rather adamant already made remarkable progress. and the participants decided to visit
on what I wanted done and, I guess, IRRI on a Sunday. When checking
if I could do it again I’d be a little We were there to solve problems to see that everything was prepared
more gentle in my interactions with My IRRI experience ranks very high. for the luncheon to be served to this
people and in working with them. I had three careers: one at Cornell as group, I approached one young lady
But what is of interest to me is a professor and a teacher, one at IRRI, who was helping with the service.
that when I called upon scientists to and then one in Washington, D.C. “Well, do you think it
go out of their way to do extra work with the U.S. Agency for International is first class?” I asked.
or to take on an assignment over the Development, UNDP, and The “No sir,” she said, “it’s better
weekend, I was never turned down. World Bank. I won’t say which one than that. It’s IRRI class.”
This was not because they were afraid was the more critical. I will say that This exchange told me that
of me, but because they loved their my experience at IRRI, not only she had pride in IRRI and in being
work and they loved IRRI. They were for me but for my wife and family, associated with the Institute,
dedicated to the Institution and it was was a highlight because we were which I thought was just great.
a great joy for me to see that happen. involved in something that would
help humanity. I felt I was working Go to
Challenges for IRRI today with a group of individuals, men and today/Pioneer_Interviews.asp to read
I think IRRI needs to make effective women, who wanted to improve the the full transcript of the Nyle Brady
use of biotechnology and other lot of people. They were not there interview in which he discusses more
modern research tools to help the just to do research and write papers; about his IRRI experience including
plant breeders develop rice lines that they were there to solve problems. the establishment of the International
efficiently utilize plant nutrients, I remember one time, I think, Network for the Genetic Evaluation
that tolerate adverse conditions such grassy stunt virus suddenly invaded of Rice (INGER) and IRRI in Africa.
as drought, and that are resistant
to insects and diseases, thereby
reducing the need for pesticides.
To do this, IRRI must have
linkages with scientists in both
the developing and the more
developed countries. This is advice
the whole CGIAR [Consultative
Group on International Agricultural
Research] system [which includes
IRRI] could accept. I recognize
the political reasons why this is
difficult because some countries
don’t want to use biotechnology. But
the developing countries need the
improved crops much more than we
do in the U.S. So, I think this is the

direction in which IRRI and other ON 9 NOVEMBER 1976, IRRI Director General Nyle Brady ceremoniously sinks the first pile for the Rice
such centers should and could go. Genetic Resources Laboratory, a structure that would officially (unbeknownst to him at the time) bear his
IRRI must also continue to push name only a few years later.

Rice Today July-September 2008 31

Opportunity from crisis
by Savitri Mohapatra

From the chaos of the recent rice crisis comes

opportunity for African countries intent on boosting
production of the continent’s fastest growing staple

veryone to the farm,” the rice crisis—news that comes
is the new decree of as a relief to local rice farmers.
President Wade of “We think that the crisis has
Senegal—a country forced our government to pay
that has seen massive riots in the attention to local rice production,
last few months, when thousands which has been neglected for so
of citizens carrying empty rice long,” says Abdoulaye Ouédraogo,
sacks on their heads marched in a rice farmer from Burkina Faso,
protest against soaring rice prices. which is now investing massively
The President has just unveiled in agriculture. He added that if
an ambitious agricultural plan called the government had listened to
the Great Offensive for Food and the farmers earlier, the country
Abundance (GOANA), which aims to would not have been in such a
make Senegal self-sufficient in food crisis, referring to food riots that LOCAL AND IMPORTED rice in Cotonou, Benin.
staples, especially rice. GOANA’s recently broke out in the cities.
target is to produce in the next season As expected, in contrast to urban
500,000 tons of rice—2.5 times consumers, African farmers are
more than the current production. happy about the high price of rice. Center (WARDA), the rice crisis offers
Senegal, where rice-fish called “I have never seen this kind of price a big opportunity for Africa to use its
cebbu jen is the most popular daily hike in 30 years,” says Abdoulaye. latent potential for production and
dish, consumes about 800,000 “Just a few months ago, 1 kilogram break from decades of policy bias
tons of rice per year and nearly of paddy [unhulled] rice was selling against agriculture. Except for Egypt,
80% of this is imported at a cost here for 110 CFA francs [$0.27] and Africa is a net importer of rice with
of more than 100 billion CFA now it is 225 CFA francs [$0.56].” Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, and
francs (US$247 million). Some In neighboring Mali, the grain is Côte d’Ivoire ranking among the top
Senegalese call this the “tyranny of so much in the limelight today that 10 importers of rice in the world.
rice” because of its huge negative some citizens joke the country will
impact on the national economy. soon have a Minister of Rice. In April
President Wade has said that 2008, the government launched an
GOANA will help free Senegal from Initiative riz (rice initiative) as “a
this tyranny, urging farmers to structural response to the rice crisis.”
grow more rice (and even asking his The aim of this program is
ministers and government officials to double Mali’s annual milled
to farm at least 20 hectares each). rice production in 2008-09 to 1
The government has earmarked million tons, which will not only
750 billion CFA francs ($1.85 meet domestic demand but also
billion) for boosting national provide a surplus of 100,000 tons
rice production. The money will for export. In addition, Prime
be used to improve irrigation Minister Modibo Sidibé is placing
facilities and farmers’ access to considerable importance on the
seed, fertilizer, and equipment. national rice research program.
Similar announcements have “There is no agricultural development
been made by governments of several without research,” he said.
A WOMAN SELLS a rice dish in Cotonou, Benin.
African countries in the wake of According to the Africa Rice

32 Rice Today July-September 2008

A RICE MARKET in Cotonou, Benin.

continent’s rice (FAO), IFDC (an international center

supply in the for soil fertility and agricultural
longer term. development), Catholic Relief
Short-term Services, and the International Fund
measures include for Agricultural Development.
reduction of Urgent assistance will be
customs duties provided to 11 pilot countries
and taxes on in four major areas: seed,
imported rice fertilizer, best-bet technologies,
and setting up and postharvest and marketing.
of mechanisms WARDA, the International Rice
With nearly 40% of the to avoid speculation in rice markets. Research Institute, FAO, and
continent’s total rice consumption At the same time, governments Sasakawa Global 2000 will play
coming from the international must avoid undermining incentives a key role in enhancing Africa’s
market, African national rice for domestic rice production. rice research capacity and
economies are more exposed to In the medium and long term, facilitating access to important
unpredictable external supply taxes on all critical inputs, cost- rice information and knowledge.
and price shocks than those saving agricultural machinery As a complement to ongoing
of other continents. Africa is and equipment, and postharvest national and regional initiatives,
especially vulnerable because technologies need to be reduced. the Alliance for a Green Revolution
of the high prevalence of Governments should also in Africa, the New Partnership
poverty and food insecurity. facilitate access to credit for farmers, for Africa’s Development, and the
“Africa faces not only expand rice areas under irrigation, Japan International Cooperation
problems of affordability of rice and improve rural infrastructure. Agency announced the establishment
but also of availability in the There also needs to be concerted of the Coalition for African Rice
international market because of investment in regional research Development (CARD) with the aim
the rice export bans by several capacity to support the development of doubling Africa’s rice production
countries,” says WARDA Director of rice varieties resistant to in 10 years. The announcement
General Papa Abdoulaye Seck. major pests and diseases and was made during the Tokyo
“Since 2006, WARDA has been sufficiently robust to withstand International Conference for African
systematically alerting the drought and climate change- Development in May 2008.
governments of its member states induced environmental shocks. “Given the critical rice situation
to a looming rice crisis in Africa.” To assist the African countries in Africa, CARD is timely,” said
According to Dr. Seck, the best that have been severely hit by soaring Dr. Seck. “We’re convinced of rice
option for Africa to manage the crisis prices, an Emergency Rice Initiative farming’s enormous future in Africa,
is to combine emergency responses for Africa was launched in June 2008 which has more potential than any
in the short term with measures that by WARDA, the Food and Agriculture other area of the world because of
favor sustainable expansion of the Organization of the United Nations its land and water resources.”

Rice Today July-September 2008 33

no sex, please—we’re apomicts
despite its yield advantage, hybrid rice is shunned by many poor farmers because
of the need to purchase new seeds every season. Work to develop “apomictic”
hybrid rice aims to solve that problem.

by John Bennett and Xin'ai Zhao

he high cost of hybrid cell and egg cell contain half the for human rice consumers).
rice seeds is considered genetic content of normal cells. This Among the more than 250,000
a major disincentive to halving of the genetic content of species of flowering plants, about
poor farmers to adopt this sperm and egg can be traced back 400 are known to be apomictic, so
beneficial technology, which offers to a process known as meiosis, while the trait is not rare, it is not as
yields substantially higher than which occurs in the microspore common as sexuality. For reasons
those of nonhybrid (inbred) rice. mother cells (MiMCs) of the anthers that are not clear, apomictic species
Not only are hybrid seeds more and the megaspore mother cells are almost invariably polyploid, with
expensive per kilogram than seeds (MeMCs) of the ovule, respectively. four or more copies of the genetic
of inbred lines but they must also be The MiMCs and MeMCs are material, compared with sexual
purchased fresh each season. Inbreds among the most highly specialized species, which are mostly diploid,
breed true and may be reproduced cells of the plant. All other dividing with two copies. One of IRRI’s first
by self-pollination (selfing), even in cells first double their DNA content activities in apomixis research was
farmers’ fields. By contrast, hybrids and then divide the two DNA copies to screen accessions of cultivated and
lose their yield advantage and genetic equally between the two daughter wild germplasm, including polyploids,
uniformity when selfed. They must cells (the process known as mitosis). for apomixis or its component traits.
be produced repeatedly from inbred In contrast, MiMCs and MeMCs, However, when it became clear that,
parental lines in large and specialized after doubling their DNA content, unlike wheat, maize and pearl millet,
nurseries. Although farmers sow recombine it in a complex way rice possesses no close apomictic
hybrid seed at a somewhat lower before dividing twice to give a tetrad relatives, two alternative approaches
density to reduce the impact of the of cells. It is this recombination were adopted: artificial mutagenesis
higher price, considerable research that constitutes genetic “mixing.” and genetic engineering. However,
is being focused on ways of reducing Apomicts avoid meiosis during the artificial mutagenesis approach
the cost of hybrid seed production. embryo formation and so produce was soon abandoned when studies
In addition, for the last 20 years, the offspring that are genetically elsewhere showed that the genetic
International Rice Research Institute identical with their maternal parent. control of apomixis is more complex
(IRRI) has studied the feasibility of Although the paternal parent does than previously thought. The careful
an alternative breeding system for not contribute to embryo formation, screening needed for detecting
hybrid rice, one that fixes the special it may contribute to the formation apomixis would not be feasible with
genetic constitution of hybrids so of the endosperm—the starchy the large mutant populations required
that they will breed true in farmers’ tissue that provides nutrients to catch rare multiple mutations.
fields. This new breeding system for the developing embryo (and IRRI’s genetic engineering
is known as apomixis—asexual
reproduction through seeds.
The term “apomixis” means
“without mixing,” where “mixing”
refers to the important and beneficial
role of sexual reproduction in
generating offspring with novel
combinations of maternal and
paternal genetic material. In sexual

plants, the embryo in the seed

is derived from a single cell, the
zygote, which is a fusion between a The ovule of a normal rice plant (A) has only a single megaspore mother cell (arrowed), because of the
expression of the OsTDL1A gene (strong band asterisked in B). However, when RNA interference is used to
sperm cell from the pollen and an reduce the expression of OsTDL1A (faint band asterisked in C), multiple megaspore mother cells are formed
egg cell from the ovule. To avoid (arrowed in D) and undergo meiosis, as revealed by the fibrous appearance of the chromosomes. The next
doubling the genetic content of task is to produce extra megaspore mother cells that bypass meiosis and form aposporous initials.
A,D: ovules stained with fast green and safranin. B,C: detection of messenger RNA of OsTDL1A gene.
cells every generation, the sperm

34 Rice Today July-September 2008

approach to apomixis for hybrid the equivalent of TPD1 in rice and
rice began in 1997 when the named it OsTDL1A (for TAPETUM
Australian Centre for International DETERMINANT1-like1A) and
Agricultural Research started to used RNAi to downregulate its
fund collaboration between IRRI expression. Fortunately, these so-
and two laboratories of Australia’s called OsTDL1A-RNAi lines produced
Commonwealth Scientific and multiple MeMCs in the ovule (see
Industrial Research Organisation figure, opposite) while the anthers
(CSIRO). One laboratory, in were unaffected, meaning that the
Canberra, specialized in research plants were fertile. This ability of
on sexual reproduction in the model RNAi to inactivate expression of
plant Arabidopsis thaliana and a gene in some tissues but not in
the other, in Adelaide, focused on Using conventional hybrid rice (pictured), others is a major advantage of this

farmers must purchase new seed each time
apomixis in citrus and hawkweed. they plant. The seed of apomictic hybrids can
approach over mutation, which
The collaboration was conceived be saved and planted. usually knocks out the function
as a 15-year, three-phase program. of the gene in all tissues. Figure
The second phase of the project 2 shows the presence of a single
ended in June this year. (RNAi), and to confirm the expected MeMC in the ovule of a normal rice
There are three main apomictic mac1-like phenotype (exhibiting plant and of multiple MeMCs in the
mechanisms in plants: adventitious extra MeMCs in the ovule). The next ovule of an OsTDL1A-RNAi line.1
embryony (as in citrus), apospory step would be to bypass meiosis in The full fertility of the OsTDL1A-
(as in hawkweed), and diplospory the extra MeMCs in the expectation RNAi lines makes them a suitable
(as in tripsacum, a close relative that one or more AIs would form and platform for the project’s next stage:
of maize). During Phase 1, IRRI develop into aposporous embryos bypassing meiosis in the extra
focused on achieving adventitious without the need for fertilization. MeMCs. To achieve this objective,
embryony. This was attempted by In 2003, when Phase 2 started, IRRI is conducting basic research
first identifying Arabidopsis genes a group in Japan identified a mutant on the initiation of meiosis in plants.
that appear to cause embryos to form of rice that mimicked mac1 in both Meiosis is best understood in two
in unusual sites within the plant and the ovule and the anther. Because types of fungus, budding yeast and
then overexpressing the equivalent the mutation added a DNA tag to the fission yeast, where it is induced by
genes in rice. Although this approach affected rice gene, it was possible to nutritional stress—specifically, a
succeeded in expressing seed- identify the gene as one encoding a deficiency of nitrogen and sugars.
specific genes in leaves, it did not type of protein known as a leucine- However, the initiation process
generate adventitious embryos. rich repeat receptor kinase. Named is completely different in the two
During Phase 2, the focus MULTIPLE SPOROCYTES1 (MSP1), yeasts, which are in fact not closely
shifted to achieving apospory, the this gene is closely related to a related, in spite of their names.
most common form of apomixis gene in Arabidopsis that encodes Overall, meiosis in plants and
among the grass family, to which rice the protein EXTRASPOROCYTES animals is more closely allied to
belongs. This shift was stimulated (EXS). The exs mutation caused meiosis in budding yeasts, and
by reports on a mutant of maize, similar symptoms in the anther but this is consistent with IRRI’s
multiple archaesporial cells1 appeared to have no effect on the recent finding that certain crucial
(mac1), which has lost control over ovule. It turned out that the mutation aspects of the initiation of meiosis
the number of MeMCs in the ovule of a different Arabidopsis gene, are highly conserved between
and MiMCs in the anther. We saw a encoding the protein TAPETUM budding yeast and rice. With this
parallel between the extra MeMCs DETERMINANT1 (TPD1), produced knowledge, IRRI has a chance of
that form alongside the primary the same symptoms as exs, suggesting developing a simple procedure to
MeMC of mac1 and the multiple that EXS (and, by extension, MSP1 bypass meiosis—a major step in the
structures known as aposporous in rice) does not work alone in development of apomictic hybrid rice.
initials (AIs) that form alongside the controlling MiMC numbers.
single MeMC in aposporous apomicts The msp1 mutant of rice is not Dr. Bennett worked as a senior
such as Hieracium pilloselloides suitable as a platform for building biotechnologist at IRRI from
(tall hawkweed). IRRI proposed aposporous hybrid rice because one 1992 to 2007 (see Where science
to identify the rice equivalent of effect of the mutation is to cause meets art on pages 17-19 of Rice
the MAC1 gene, to inactivate it by sterility in the anthers. With help Today Vol. 6, No. 4). Dr. Zhao is

mutation or by RNA interference from the CSIRO, IRRI identified a postdoctoral fellow at IRRI.

Zhao X, de Palma J, Oane R, Gamuyao R, Luo M, Chaudhury A, Hervé P, Xue Q, Bennett J. 2008. OsTDL1A binds to the LRR domain of rice receptor kinase MSP1, and is required to limit
sporocyte numbers. The Plant Journal 54:375-387.

Rice Today July-September 2008 35

by Jill E. Cairns and Ken McNally

An international drive to generate data on tiny genetic differences will help scientists
develop high-yielding, high-quality rice varieties that can better withstand pests, diseases,
and environmental stresses

ariation is the spice of life.
In humans, plants, and
animals, genetic variation
within species is immense.
This variation, or genetic diversity,
is a result of different mixes of genes
and is fundamental to the adaptation
and survival of species. When the
environment of a species changes—
because of the occurrence of a new
disease or fluctuations in rainfall
patterns, for example—the small gene
variations occurring in a population
are essential for its adaptation. The
more diverse the population, the more
likely that individuals will exist that
can cope with a changed environment A SINGLE nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is a difference between one pair of DNA nucleotides.
or withstand a new pest or disease.
Low genetic diversity was a A difference in only one DNA base diversity that can be exploited to
contributing factor of the infamous (see figure, above) can cause a large develop new varieties that can help
1840s potato famine in Ireland. At difference in physical appearance or not only feed the billions of people
this time, Irish farmers were reliant behavior (this physical manifestation dependent on rice as their staple but
on, essentially, a single potato variety. of an organism’s genetics is known also lift millions out of poverty.
The lack of diversity had a devastating as its phenotype). For example, in The challenge is to decipher the
consequence when an outbreak of humans, a single SNP in one gene is code and identify key alleles (different
potato blight fungus hit Ireland, responsible for red hair associated forms of a gene) that can increase
destroying the vast majority of the with people from Celtic descent. SNPs yield, improve quality, and provide
potato crop and causing an estimated in the genetic code of other genes have resistance to pests and tolerance of
1 million deaths from starvation and been associated with the stickiness harsh environments. Rice has an
disease. With approximately the of ear wax and patterns of baldness. estimated 50,000 genes encoded in
same number emigrating, Ireland’s Genetic diversity provides a its genome, which comprises 400
population fell by around 20%. potential gold mine for scientists to million base pairs. If translated
The fundamental basis of genetic explore. With the steadily increasing into text, the rice genome would
diversity lies in one particular class human population, decreasing land take up the equivalent space of 130
of difference in the sequence of availability, climate change, and copies of Tolstoy’s epic War and
the nucleotides—named adenine outbreaks of pests and diseases, peace (one copy has around 500,000
(A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and there is enormous pressure to create words). Detecting these minute,
thymine (T), these are also referred to high-yielding, high-quality rice yet important, differences in DNA
as bases—that form the DNA within varieties with increased tolerance sequence is an immense undertaking.
the cells of organisms. These tiny of abiotic stresses (such as drought, In 2003, an ambitious research

differences in DNA sequence, known flooding, and salinity) and biotic project was undertaken by
as single nucleotide polymorphisms stresses (pests and diseases). The International Rice Research Institute
(SNPs, pronounced “snips”), are the challenge is tough, yet within the (IRRI) molecular geneticist Ken
smallest level of genetic variation. rice gene pool lies incredible DNA McNally to look at genetic variation

36 Rice Today July-September 2008

JOSE RAYMOND PANALIGAN representing about 30 gigabytes of
data, were remarkable, the ability to
identify unique SNPs associated with
high yield and performance under
abiotic and biotic stresses is limited
because it includes results from
only 20 of rice’s tens of thousands of
varieties. Nevertheless, these data
provide a foundation upon which
a second phase of SNP genotyping
will be laid. An international team of
partners under the International Rice
Functional Genomics Consortium is
being formed to use the OryzaSNP
and other sources of SNP data to
DR. CAIRNS (left) and Dr. McNally test rice plants create a high-density SNP genotyping
for desirable traits such as drought tolerance.
platform similar to technology used
in human genetics and capable of
within 10 genes related to plant limitation. “Over 3 years, we were identifying millions of SNPs. This
performance under drought stress. only able to look at 1/6250th of technology will be used to genotype
Lack of adequate water during rice the estimated total rice genes,” he a collection of more than 2,500 rice
production is a major factor reducing explains. ”At this rate, we would need varieties representative of global rice
yield, particularly in poorer areas, 18,750 years to complete the task!” diversity. The resulting dataset will
where farmers rely on rainfall. Not being a man to avoid a create a rice “hapmap”—a map of
Worldwide, research to understand challenge, Dr. McNally, along with the regions in the rice genome that
the genetic basis of drought tolerance collaborators Hei Leung, David pinpoint key genetic differences.
in rice and other species has Mackill, Richard Bruskiewich, Jan Additionally, these materials will
identified many genes (known as Leach, and C. Robin Buell, organized be phenotyped in great detail for as
candidate genes) thought to influence an international consortium, named many traits as possible. Together, the
plant response to water shortages. OryzaSNP. The consortium set about two data sources will open a treasure
Dr. McNally’s vision was to relate raising the funds and applying the trove of information, enabling the
variation (in the form of SNPs) within proven “array-based” technology of discovery of specific alleles and
key genes to plant performance in the Perlegen Sciences, Inc. to sequence a genetic regions associated with
field and to link these genes to yield, significant proportion of the unique particular traits. The knowledge will
the most important trait for farmers. (non-repetitive) regions of the rice boost breeding programs worldwide.
Over 3 years, a team of 15 genome within key rice varieties. What started as an ambitious idea
researchers worked together at IRRI By mid-2007, the sequencing of 20 to link tiny differences in a handful
to document DNA variation within 10 rice varieties had been completed. of important genes to performance in
genes in more than 1,500 diverse rice With the results delivered by the field is surpassing all expectations.
varieties and measure simultaneously Perlegen, and by applying additional The stakes have been raised to look
performance under drought stress tools for SNP prediction from the at millions of genotypes in more than
in the field in the same varieties. The teams of Detlef Weigel and Günnar 2,500 rice varieties involving a large
results have linked specific sequences Raescht at the Max Planck Institute international team of researchers. The
of genes to performance under field in Germany, the rice community potential is enormous, both in terms
stress, confirming the potential of such now has access to a database of improving rice production and
an approach to identify alleles suitable containing more than 400,000 simply learning more about the grain
for improving drought tolerance. For SNPs. For the 100 million base that feeds half the world. It brings to
example, unique variations within pairs of the rice genome, the project Dr. McNally’s mind a quote by Albert
the gene that codes for the protein identified an average of 4.2 SNPs per Einstein: “The important thing is
trehalose-6-phosphatase (a regulator thousand DNA base pairs. Further, not to stop questioning. Curiosity
of sugar metabolism) were discovered OryzaSNP is collaborating with has its own reason for existing.”
within a few plants and, in some Carlos Bustamante’s team at Cornell
cases, were found to be associated University in the USA to identify
with improved performance under regions of shared SNPs between Dr. McNally works in IRRI’s T.T.
water-limited conditions. different types of rice and other data Chang Genetic Resources Center
For Dr. McNally, these results that can help uncover population and Dr. Cairns, a plant physiologist,
confirmed the potential of such an structure and genetics of rice. works in IRRI’s Crop and
approach but realized an important While the results of this project, Environmental Sciences Division.

Rice Today July-September 2008 37

Story and photos
by Bob Hill

Amid the cutthroat world of

rice trading, one Thai company
has chosen a different path

I t’s easy to think of rice as a

commodity that sells itself.
Demand is growing faster than
perhaps, because of the growing
affluence of rice consumers, it
may be the way of the future.
a lot about his approach to his job.
“Architecture is a way of
thinking,” he says. “It teaches us
production, so any novice merchant Wanglee Company Ltd. was to think from different angles.
with a warehouse full of paddy and formed in Bangkok in 1871, but its Importantly, architecture is a
a telephone can sell it. Just offer a principals had traded rice even before commercial art. What an architect
slightly lower price than the others that, buying from bloated rice barges designs has to respond to the
and hope your supplier holds up plying the country’s river system. issues it is attempting to resolve.
his end of the deal. Oh, and never It grew to own five rice mills on the It must work; it must sell. It is
mind the quality. Just mix enough banks of the Chao Phraya River business mixed with art.”
of variety C with premium variety before the ocean began to turn red, He served a working
A to suit the price you’re getting and the risks became too great. The apprenticeship by marketing
and hope that nobody notices. company diversified into real estate, consumer goods for firms like
Welcome to the “red ocean” banking, and insurance and all but Unilever and Johnson & Johnson
of rice trading. It’s a term used forgot about rice trading until 1988, before joining his father, Vuttichai
for a saturated market in which when it formed a new company called Wanglee, at the helm of Chaitip.
competition is both fierce and Chaitip, to resurrect its rice business. His father is managing
ruthless; where just about everything Then, just 3 years ago, a fifth- director, Mr. Viput is assistant to
is compromised in the battle to generation son of the Wanglee the managing director for sales
survive. Hence the connotation of family joined Chaitip after gaining and marketing, and his brothers
blood in the water. As unattractive as a master’s degree in business Vuttiphol and Thinnaphan are
the picture may be, it is nevertheless administration from Vanderbilt assistants to the managing directors
an accurate portrayal of rice University in Nashville, Tennessee. for production and accounting
trading in many Asian countries. Viput Wanglee, 35, had earlier begun and finance, respectively.
There is another way. It his university education with a Surprisingly, the company
regards rice and rice consumers bachelor’s degree in architecture, and that is stretching the boundaries
in a more reverential fashion, and, the rationale behind the switch says of modern marketing still occupies

38 Rice Today July-September 2008

times of rising raw material costs,
it will still deliver at agreed rates.
However, it never attempts
to deliver at low prices. “We are
not cheap. We charge premium
prices,” Mr. Viput says.
“When I joined the company, we
decided to diversify into the domestic
market because exporting was very
risky, particularly with volatile
currency exchange rates. In consumer
products, the large margins mean you
can afford to make a few mistakes.
But with rice, you can’t make any
mistakes at all. It’s hugely risky. So VIPUT WANGLEE (right) and Thai Executive Chef
we decided to concentrate our efforts Vichit Mukura examine cooked rice in the kitchens of
the Oriental Hotel’s Baan Rim Naam.
on the local food service sector.”
The prospect of diving into
Thailand’s red ocean rice market finest quality Thai rice, reliability,
was not attractive, so Mr. Viput, consistency, and honesty.”
a follower of modern marketing He hired a research firm to
practices, set out, in a centuries-old survey leaders in the food service
industry, to create a new market; to industry and found that the biggest
find a niche in which Chaitip could need of hotels, restaurants, and chefs
VIPUT WANGLEE (left) and his brother enjoy its own “blue ocean”—a market was an assurance that the quality of
Vuttiphol, assistant to Chaitip’s managing
director for production, examine the with little or no competition. their cooked rice would not change.
company’s premium quality Thai jasmine “Everyone eats differently, “They were saying: ‘I don’t
rice in the Chaitip warehouse. everyone has a different taste in want any headaches, I don’t want
music, every person enjoys different complaints from my customers,
things on TV. That’s why we have or they won’t come back again.’
cable TV,” Mr. Viput explains. “We And no one in the market was
the same buildings in Bangkok’s had to define the needs of our target responding to those needs.”
Thonburi District that have been consumers; to find out what they Mr. Viput’s niche market began
the seat of the family’s fortunes needed above everything else. We to take shape. But he realized that
for more than 150 years. had to find a niche market that the concerns of his target customers
When Mr. Viput joined the matched what we had to offer. were focused purely on the dining
company, Chaitip was enjoying And what we had to offer was the table. He was left wondering how
success as an exporter to Hong Kong.
Its Qing Ling Zhi brand of premium
grade Thai jasmine rice had an 8%
share of the Hong Kong market,
amounting to a value of US$9 million
per year. Importantly, it was selling
at $800 per ton when others were
selling the same product for $700,
simply because it gave an assurance
of consistent quality and worked
hard to deliver what it promised.
“The quality of our Qing Ling
Zhi brand rice never changes,
and consistent quality in rice is
very difficult to achieve because
agricultural products are very
A WINDOW INTO the past: Viput Wanglee shows
inconsistent,” says Mr. Viput, off his family’s ancestral home, where his father
adding that Chaitip prides itself was raised as a child. The old house, built in
on its honesty, accountability, and traditional Chinese style, shares the same site,
fronting the Chao Phraya River, occupied by
focus on customers’ interests. It Chaitip’s current offices.
also gives its word that, even in

Rice Today July-September 2008 39

rate the food, the rice, the prices,
and their level of satisfaction.
The results are then discussed
with Chaitip’s customers.
Moreover, any new staff hired by
Chaitip must, as a first priority,
undertake a 2-day rice course.
“We accept and respond to
complaints within 1 day, and we
replace the rice immediately, with no
questions asked, if it is accidentally
contaminated,” Mr. Viput says.
In 2 years, Chaitip has climbed
THE MODERN MARKETER of rice: Viput Wanglee
from 0 to 1,400 customers in
at work, with his mobile phone, computer, and Bangkok. All are in the food service
a whiteboard crammed with calculations. sector, including many of the
large international hotel chains.
“We need customers that value
honesty, quality, and consistency,”
Mr. Viput says. “If all they’re after
he might maintain the quality of his water to rice in the cooking process is cheaper prices, then they’re not
company’s rice from the delivery to deliver a consistent product. the customers we want. We charge
truck to the dining table, given its In its premium product, 100% premium prices. If the market goes
hazardous passage through storage Thai jasmine rice, it painstakingly up, we go up. If it comes down, we
and cooking along the way. maintains cooking quality throughout come down. But we never strike
He called in his researchers again the year by mixing old crop with a deal and then mix the rice to
and found that, normally, when rice new crop rice and analyzing the achieve a low price. This way, our
was delivered to a hotel or restaurant, resulting texture until it reaches its customers are loyal to our service
it was stored away out of sight. established standard. A special grade and our brand and not to a price.
Sometimes it could wait months, on of rice is also offered for making Everyone is happy because nobody
the bottom of the stack, before being fried rice because the premium has ever done these things before.”
delivered to the kitchen. In big hotel jasmine varieties are unsuitable. He says Chaitip hasn’t
kitchens, there could be up to 10 Having developed a consistent yet “become aggressive.” It is
people cooking rice at any given time, product, Chaitip takes over the concentrating on building up a more
and all of them cooked it differently. storage of rice at its customers’ efficient distribution system before
“We decided that if we were premises. Its drivers ensure that the building upon its “premium group
going to deliver them consistent rice is stored away from moisture, off that pays attention to quality.”
quality, we would have to be involved the floor and away from walls, and is It has, however, entered the
in everything,” Mr. Viput says. used on a first-in, first-out basis so domestic retail market. And,
That was 2 years ago. What there is a healthy circulation of stock. typically, it is approaching it
Chaitip has ended up delivering Then it has a customer differently. With a brand named
is a full-scale service—what some service team that goes to kitchens “Panom Rung I’m Chef,” it not only
may call service above and beyond and advises chefs and kitchen promises that the rice is of the same
the call of duty. Mr. Viput regards staff on how to cook their rice quality as that used by leading chefs,
the company’s brand name, properly. This involves the quality but also offers printed information,
Panom Rung, as a service brand of cooking vessels, water-to- including recipes from leading hotels,
and not simply a brand of rice. rice ratios, and cooking time. cooking tips from famous chefs, tips
Chaitip has built a 10,000- “It can be a bit awkward at first,” on buying raw materials, and even
square-meter production plant in Mr. Viput says, “but most people advice on setting a perfect table.
Saraburi Province, near Bangkok. It are happy to accept our advice.” And while the denizens of the
has a capacity of 288 tons of rice per Importantly, since they have been red ocean fret and struggle with
day. Importantly, the plant includes produced for cooking consistency, cutthroat competition based on
a rice laboratory designed to test and there is only one set of rules for the price cutting, Chaitip sails its new
analyze the physical and chemical water-rice ratio and cooking time blue ocean, alone and unhurried.
qualities of milled and steamed rice. for each of Chaitip’s products.
Chaitip has developed 15 formulas for As well as all this, Chaitip
the grades of rice it offers and for each conducts small surveys of its Bob Hill is a Thailand-based writer
of them it has fixed a precise ratio of customers’ diners, asking them to specializing in science and technology.

40 Rice Today July-September 2008


Running out of steam

By David Dawe
Senior economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

One cause of today’s high rice prices is slowing productivity growth—suggesting

it is time to step up investment in international agricultural research

ven before the dramatic price Increase (%)
spike in early 2008, rice
prices on the world market 3.0
increased every year from 2001 to
2007. Never before in the post-World
War II period had they increased 2.0
for more than 3 consecutive years. Population growth

Even after adjusting for inflation, 1.5

average prices in 2007 were 64% Rice yield growth
greater than in 2001. There were
many factors that contributed to this 0.5
rise in prices, including the depre-
ciation of the US dollar, falling real 0.0
interest rates, and rising oil prices
that led to higher fertilizer prices.
ANNUAL AVERAGE percentage increase in rice yields and population between successive rolling 5-year periods
One very important factor that in rice-producing Asia.
has been much overlooked, how-
Source of raw data: USDA for yields, FAO for population.
ever, is the slowdown in rice yield
growth in Asia, where about 90% 1986 to 1998, when rice yield growth tive Group on International Agricul-
of the world’s rice is produced and declined substantially. Thus, the tural Research (an association of donor
consumed. Although rice yields are major decline in yield growth pre- agencies that funds IRRI and 14 other
still growing, the rate of growth has ceded the decline in world prices centers) devoted to the core task of
been declining steadily for many from 1999 to 2001, suggesting that increasing productivity has declined
years (see figure). Fortunately, prices are far from the whole story. over the past 15 years, as research goals
population growth in rice-produc- Further, world corn prices have have diversified toward other objec-
ing Asia has been steadily declining followed a broadly similar pattern to tives. These declines are unfortunate,
for even longer. Since population world rice prices during the past two especially in light of research by Sheng-
growth is the main source of rice decades, but, unlike rice, corn yield gen Fan and colleagues at the Interna-
demand growth, this trend helped to growth was much higher during the tional Food Policy Research Institute
keep rice prices in check for a time. past 10 years than during the 1980s. that shows that, among various public
But since the mid-1990s, popula- And, it is domestic prices, not world goods, agricultural research has made
tion growth has exceeded rice yield prices, that affect farmers’ decisions, one of the largest contributions to pov-
growth and the gap has been growing and domestic prices in many coun- erty reduction in developing countries.
steadily larger, creating a significant tries have been quite stable when Fortunately, agricultural research
imbalance between supply and de- viewed from a longer term perspec- funding has not declined everywhere.
mand. This trend is evident for Asia tive (excluding events in 2008). In fact, agricultural research intensity
as a whole, but also separately for The widening imbalance be- (the ratio of agricultural research ex-
East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South tween population growth and yield penditures to agricultural gross domes-
Asia. Part of this gap was filled for a growth points to the need for more tic product) increased in most Asian
time by increasing the area harvested, agricultural research. The funding countries between 1991 and 2002.
but rice area peaked in Asia in 1999. of the International Rice Research While the increase is welcome, research
To be sure, some of the slow- Institute, for example, after ad- intensity is still below 0.5% in nearly
down in yield growth may be due justing for inflation, has declined all Asian countries—less than half the
to lower world prices leading to nearly 50% since its peak in 1993. optimal ratio suggested by experts.1
reduced supply. However, world Furthermore, the share of agricul- This suggests that more spending on
prices were relatively constant from tural research funding to the Consulta- agricultural research at both national
and international levels can reduce
Beintema N and Stads G-J. 2008. Agricultural R&D Capacity and Investments in the Asia-Pacific Region. International Food poverty and increase economic growth.
Policy Research Institute Research Brief 11 (

Rice Today July-September 2008 41

grain of truth

A lesson from nineteenth-

century naturalists

s we grapple with the world rice crisis, I think of It is now widely recognized that rice yield gaps result
Alexander Humboldt, Henry Bates, Alfred Russel from agronomic failings, and that future yield increases
Wallace, Charles Darwin, and Richard Spruce. These depend heavily on this science. Agronomy’s time has come
extraordinary naturalists wove their exceptional powers to lift farm productivity out of stagnancy. Will it respond
of observation into the bases of the modern sciences of quickly and efficiently to the challenge?
biogeography, meteorology, geology, tropical biology, and Perhaps it is an insult to pose the question; yet, the
evolution. Their wide interests and insight contributed to our answer is not evident to me. The issue is not lack of knowl-
concepts of the origin of species, natural selection, mimicry edge—agronomists have good answers to individual yield
in animals, continental drift, and the Wallace Line. Spruce, constraints. Nor is the problem ignorance of the need to bun-
for example, was responsible for the introduction of chi- dle together solutions to interrelated management deficien-
nona trees to India for the extraction of cies. Farm yield is always constrained
quinine. These explorers were supreme by several management deficiencies.
generalists. Agronomy's time Alleviation of one may increase yield
Scientists today are specialists who modestly; simultaneous reduction of all
focus ever deeper into specific research has come to lift farm narrows the yield gap substantially.
areas. The continuing shift from the This integrated approach has re-
general to the specific is exacerbated by sulted in spectacular productivity
institutional policies, funding agencies,
productivity out of gains in Latin America through the
publication standards, and peer pres- Latin American Fund for Irrigated
sure. This specialization has also con- stagnancy—will Rice (FLAR) agronomy program, and
tributed massively to knowledge with in several countries in Asia through
immense benefits to society. This essay it respond to the integrated crop management.
is not to debate the merits of each but, Although modifications must be
rather, to suggest that we might learn challenge? made continually for local conditions,
from past masters to address current it is evident that integrated agronomy
problems. works and has the power to balance
Rice scientists likewise have become narrowly special- Asian and Latin American rice supply and demand. Com-
ized and, thereby, increasingly isolated from their clients, pared with seed-based technology, bringing agronomic im-
the rice farmers who are consummate generalists. Exten- provements to millions of farmers is slow, difficult, and costly,
sion agents, the conduit of information from laboratory to and requires many more agronomists able to unite specialist
rice field, are often sequestered from researchers, treated knowledge into comprehensive solutions. But, it is the best
as second-class workers, and reduced in number and insti- alternative to repeat the success of the Green Revolution.
tutional support. Further, within the scientific community, What, then, is the problem? I suggest it concerns agro-
basic research is often favored over the applied, widening nomic overspecialization wherein pitifully few agronomists
the gap between researchers and farmers. apply on-farm, holistic solutions to multiple yield limitations.
If one research area should be exempt from overspecial- The lesson from Humboldt, Darwin, et al. for research direc-
ization, it is agronomy, the study of field crop management. tors and project managers is to reward, not penalize, a general-
It is not. Agronomists rank somewhere between extension ist approach to solving farm problems. The greater the impact
agents and biotechnicians in the elitist hierarchy of agricul- on yield, the greater should be the reward. This attitude could
tural research. They are relatively few in number compared convince young, bright scientists to discard their lab coats and
with breeders and geneticists of all sorts and their contribu- head to farmers’ rice fields as generalist agronomists. Rice
tions are inadequately recognized. Perhaps to compensate, farmers and consumers sorely need more of them.
they, too, have become specialists: experts in soils, weed con-
trol, land and water management, plant nutrition, planting Dr. Jennings was principal scientist at the International Center for
systems, crop rotation, and so forth. They are infected with Tropical Agriculture and FLAR after founding the breeding program
a guild consciousness. Yet, specialized agronomic knowledge at IRRI (1961-67), where he helped develop IR8, the variety that ig-
applied singly to the multiple management deficiencies of nited the Green Revolution in rice. See his IRRI pioneer interview at
farms is inadequate to the task.

42 Rice Today July-September 2008