Monday, April 13, 2015

Gates foundation looking for climate change-ready rice varieties in IRRI

LEGAZPI CITY, April 11 (PNA) -- With the extreme climate getting harsh, affecting world food production specifically in Asian countries where the big bulk of rice-eating population dwells, American business magnate and philanthropist William Henry "Bill" Gates III visited the climate change-ready rice varieties project undertaking at the world’s premier rice research center.

Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general, said in a press statement sent to this PNA stringer Friday, said senior officers of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) went to the International Rice Research Institute to see for themselves the work being done at institute, the world’s premier rice research center based in Los BaƱos, Laguna.

Tolentino said the leadership from the BMGF, including Pamela Anderson, director of the Agricultural Development Program, and Gary Atlin, senior program officer in the Ag Dev team, were at the IRRI for a site visit this week to tour IRRI’s research facilities and hear updates on the science and the partnership between the two organizations.

“We are thankful that the BMGF has come for updates on the food and nutrition security initiatives that they support,” Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general, said, adding “The foundation is a staunch partner in applying the best of science so that people in the rice-eating world will not go hungry.”

IRRI scientists provided inputs regarding key advances and latest study on climate change-ready rice and healthier varieties that aim to help solve micronutrient deficiencies, which afflict about two billion people globally.

The group, according to Tolentino, also visited a facility that simulates drought conditions year-round.

The climate change-ready rice varieties that have reached millions of farmers in Asia were developed by IRRI and its partners under the BMGF-funded project, Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia or STRASA.

“IRRI scientists showed the BMGF leadership experimental rice plots in which flood or drought tolerance is being studied. These stress-tolerant varieties hold the promise of improving the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest farmers who till lands most vulnerable to climate change—and securing the granaries of many countries—by ensuring a good harvest, for instance, even after over 14 days of flooding. Non-tolerant rice varieties would normally die after four days of submergence,” he said.

The IRRI and its partners released at least 28 new rice varieties to governments of eight countries in Asia and Africa in 2014.

These newly-released varieties possess high-yielding and stress-tolerance traits that can help farmers overcome challenges, such as the negative effects of climate change, in their rice-growing ecosystems.

Some of the varieties released are flood-tolerant (India), drought-tolerant for rainfed rice areas (Nepal), and salinity-tolerant (the Gambia and the Philippines).

"The work never stops," Eero Nissila, IRRI's head of breeding and leader of its global rice research partnership in varietal improvement, said, adding that the "New challenges arise due to climate change and decreasing resources, which is why we need to keep revisiting our agenda and stay responsive to the needs of our farmers and consumers."

The IRRI has released more than a thousand modern rice varieties in 78 countries since its founding in 1960.

Tolentino said scientists implementing IRRI’s breeding agenda are sharing the latest in their varietal improvement work during IRRI Breeders' Week last month.

He said that critical improvements are being made to IRRI’s breeding infrastructure, which needs to be more responsive to the requirements of current and future rice demand.

Responsiveness requires increasing rice genetic gain in yield and pursuing an agenda that’s driven by what consumers need and prefer.

Taken together, these improvements are called Transforming Rice Breeding (TRB), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

IRRI is part of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), a platform for impact-oriented rice research for development with more than 900 rice research and development partners worldwide.

Currently, the IRRI is developing rice varieties that can withstand conditions forecast to become more frequent and intense with climate change and this includes drought, flood, heat, cold, and soil problems like high salt and iron toxicity.

Environmental stresses constrain rice production, affecting about 30 percent of the 700 million poor in Asia alone who live in rainfed rice-growing areas.

These stresses can be caused by extreme climatic changes like drought, flooding, or rising sea levels while some can be inherent like high iron toxicity in the soil.

“Our breeding programs aim to develop rice types that can survive in these harsh environments. In recent years, IRRI has developed rice with better tolerance to drought, submergence, cold, salinity, and sodicity. Our national research and agricultural extension partners test these breeding lines in different locations and countries, including evaluating their performance on farmers’ fields,” IRRI official said.

The selected lines which survive under stress and retain desirable grain qualities are either released directly or bred into widely grown and popular local varieties.

Along with improved crop management, proper use of technology through extension work and the support of national institutions, these improved varieties or “climate change-ready rice” are showing substantial, positive impacts in the lives of poor farmers.

Similarly, the world's leading experts on rice science convened this week at the Philippine headquarters of the IRRI to review research efforts toward making rice systems work better for the poor and they are focusing on Asia, where about 90 percent of rice is grown.

Matthew Morell, IRRI deputy director general, underscored the importance of reducing poverty and hunger as the key motivator for current partnerships and advancements in rice research.

"There is a tremendous increase in rice production that we need to facilitate. By 2050, we need to be producing 830 million metric tons annually. That is 180 million metric tons more than what we produce today," Morell said.

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler said that while rice research is done mostly in Asia, there are important things to learn from challenges and researches done in other parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

"RiSP became a platform in which research in various regions around the world became familiar with one another," said Zeigler.(PNA) JBP/FGS/RBB/CBD/pjn