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International Rice Research Institute April-June 2006, Vol. 5, No. 2 a

Mekong special
Lao rice revolution
Linking rice and livestock
Opposites attract
Hunting genes for hardier rice

The direct approach

Moving away from transplanting in South Asia
ISSN 1655-5422
Vol. 5, No. 2


RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE? ............................... 4

DONORS CORNER ..................................................... 5

Reducing poverty through agricultural
development: Japan’s new Official Development
Assistance Charter recognizes the importance of
agricultural development for poverty reduction

NEWS ......................................................................... 6
Iron-rich rice reduces malnutrition
Crop development efforts get major boost
Nutrient management online
Indian president visits IRRI
Open-source biotechnology alliance
Rice farming by SMS
Production shortfall looming
Water conservation boosted
African rice news
Zero tillage in India
Postharvest management to reduce burning
Making a ripple

PEOPLE ................................................................... 11
Achievements BACK TO THE FUTURE ............................................ 28 RICE FACTS .............................................................. 41
Smallholders who integrate rice farming with Drought perpetuates poverty
Keeping up with IRRI staff livestock are the mainstay of traditional
Gone ahead agriculture in the Greater Mekong Subregion—
and a model for sustainable development GRAIN OF TRUTH .................................................... 42
Work needed to weed out farmers’ problems
THE DIRECT APPROACH ......................................... 12
A return to the ways of their forefathers has OPPOSITES ATTRACT … ATTENTION .................... 34
seen Indian and Bangladeshi rice farmers Researchers zero in on two genes at opposite
reduce their need for water and address the ends of the rice genome that provide tolerance The cover photo shows
growing problem of labor shortages for a dreaded duo of widespread stresses, high Alya, a Bangladeshi
salinity and phosphorus deficiency farmer benefitting
from a different
SNAPSHOT .........................................................19-21 approach to planting
Claiming rice fields from wild rivers rice—see page 12.

GENUINELY LAO ..................................................... 22

The story of the project that revolutionized rice
production in Lao PDR

cover photo Adam Barclay International Rice Research Institute

publisher Duncan Macintosh DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
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Rice Today is published by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s should not be construed as expressing IRRI policy or opinion on the legal status of any
leading international rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with country, territory, city or area, or its authorities, or the delimitation of its frontiers or
offices in 11 other countries, IRRI is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on boundaries.
improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, Rice Today welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. Potential contributors
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Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2006

Reducing poverty through

agricultural development
by Takeshi Mizoguchi

n August 2003, the govern- policy in which Japan’s experience TAKESHI MIZOGUCHI is a deputy director of the
ment of Japan revised its Of- in economic and social development, Aid Planning Division of the Economic Cooperation
Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
ficial Development Assistance as well as in economic coopera-
(ODA) Charter for the first time tion, is used when assisting devel-
in 11 years. Since then, Japan has oping countries. This policy also largest contribution among bilateral
developed its ODA in line with the emphasizes the need to use Japan’s donors, accounting for nearly 40%
new charter, which puts forward advanced technologies, expertise, of total assistance. Japan’s three-
five basic policies outlined below. human resources, and institutions. pronged strategy on agricultural de-
Supporting self-help efforts of Partnership and collaboration velopment is, first, to support capacity
developing countries is the most with the international community building of farmers and the govern-
important philosophy of Japan’s are important if the international ment; second, to raise productivity
ODA. Accordingly, Japan respects community is to share common through infrastructure development
developing countries’ ownership of development goals and strategies and agricultural technologies; and
development strategies and priori- through the initiatives of interna- third, to link farmers to markets.
ties. Japan intends to provide sup- tional organizations. Japan will play The development of new agri-
port in fields such as human resource an active role in any international cultural technologies will play an
development; institution building, dialogues that feature Japanese as- increasingly important role in raising
including the development of legal sistance strategies and philosophies. both agricultural productivity and
systems; and economic and social In accordance with the basic poli- the nutritional value of food while
infrastructure building. These themes cies set out above, Japan is tackling at the same time placing a lighter
constitute the basis for development. four priority issues—poverty reduc- burden on land and water. To enable
To address direct threats to tion, sustainable growth, addressing progress in these areas, Japan has
people such as conflicts, disasters, global issues, and peace-building. attached high priority to coopera-
and infectious diseases, Japan at- In developing countries—where tion with the Consultative Group on
taches particular importance to the approximately 70% of the poor live International Agricultural Research
Perspective of human security, which in rural areas and depend on agricul- (CGIAR), including the International
focuses on individuals. tural production—agricul- Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Japan aims to implement tural and rural develop- The Japan-IRRI partner-
ODA that will strengthen ment allow the rural poor ship, which spans more than four
the capacity of local com- to generate income and so decades, is especially strong and
munities through human lead to sustainable eco- fruitful. Japan’s long involvement
resource development. nomic growth and poverty in rice research has yielded numer-
To ensure that human reduction. Agriculture can ous successes and had a lasting and
dignity is maintained at also contribute to the positive impact on the lives of count-
all stages, from conflict to United Nations Millen- less people. Many Japanese scientists
reconstruction and devel- nium Development Goals have worked at and collaborated with
opment, Japan’s goal is to by providing the poor, in IRRI on research that spans some of
help protect and empower individuals. both rural and urban areas, with the most crucial issues in the rice-
Assurance of fairness—in affordable food. And, through ap- growing and rice-consuming world.
the formulation and implementa- propriate management of land, water, Japan’s agricultural research insti-
tion of assistance—ensures that and wastes, agriculture can promote tutes have also cooperated closely
the outcome of ODA fairly benefits environmental sustainability. with IRRI in facing these challenges.
the people of recipient countries. Recognizing the importance of Japan looks forward to continu-
In this light, Japan emphasizes agricultural development for poverty ing to work with developing countries
environmental and social consider- reduction, Japan has consistently and the organizations—includ-
ations as well as gender equality. been a major supporter in this area. ing IRRI and the CGIAR—whose
The Utilization of Japan’s experi- In 2003, Japan’s ODA in agriculture goal is to reduce poverty through
ence and expertise is an important amounted to US$783 million—the agricultural development.

Rice Today April-June 2006 5

Iron-rich rice reduces malnutrition port from the Asian Development Bank and
the Micronutrient Initiative. HarvestPlus,

B reeding rice with higher levels of iron can

have an important impact on reducing
micronutrient malnutrition, according to
an international research program focused
on breeding crops for better nutrition and
led by IFPRI and the International Center
a new study in the December 2005 issue for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), will use the
of the Journal of Nutrition. The research, research findings and work with partners to
conducted by scientists from the Philippines increase the level of nutrient density in rice
and the U.S., is a major step forward in the to be even more effective.
battle against iron deficiency, a debilitat- Through a process known as “biofor-
ing and intractable public health problem tification,” plant breeders are developing
affecting nearly 2 billion people in the staple foods with higher levels of essential
developing world. micronutrients. This study demonstrates
The lead authors of the article, Jere that iron-biofortified rice can raise levels
Haas from the Division of Nutritional Sci- of stored iron in the body and can signifi-
ences at Cornell University, John Beard and cantly contribute to reducing micronutrient
Laura Murray-Kolb from the Department malnutrition.
of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania “We view this study as a ‘proof of con-
State University, Angelita del Mundo and cept,’” said IRRI Director General Robert
Angelina Felix from the University of the Zeigler. “We now know that, if plants are
Philippines Los Baños, and Glenn Gregorio bred with higher levels of iron and other

from IRRI (pictured with an iron-rich rice micronutrients, they will improve the nutri-
panicle), oversaw a study in which religious tional status of people who consume them.
sisters in ten convents in the Philippines This has dramatic implications.”
included nutritionally enhanced rice in “In the past, we relied on supplements
their diets. After 9 months, the women had IR68144-3B-2-2-3) was developed and and fortification to overcome vitamin and
significantly higher levels of total body iron grown at IRRI. The research initiative was mineral deficiencies,” said Howarth Bouis,
in their blood. originally spearheaded and funded by the director of HarvestPlus. “Now we know that
The iron-dense variety of rice used Washington-based International Food biofortification also works, giving us an ad-
in the research (known technically as Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with sup- ditional tool in this crucial battle.”

Crop development efforts get major boost Nutrient management online

T he long, arduous, and expensive pro-

cess of developing new crop varieties
has received a major boost with the joint
management and climate change will also
CRIL scientists are already working
I RRI has launched a Web site that pro-
vides information on the principles and
practices of site-specific nutrient manage-
launch in Mexico and the Philippines of a on the development of a single crop infor- ment (SSNM) for rice in irrigated and
new scientific program and facilities that mation system and comparative biology favorable rainfed systems. By mid-2006,
unite key databases and research on the infrastructure for rice, wheat, and maize the site is scheduled to contain guidelines
planet’s three most important crops—rice, that will greatly assist in the development and training materials for the development
wheat, and maize. of new crop varieties. The three staples of locally adapted SSNM recommenda-
The joint venture between two of the provide 60% of global food needs annually, tions for any rice-producing area. IRRI
world’s leading agricultural research cen- and cover more than 70% of the planet’s scientists refined the SSNM concept from
ters—the Philippines-based International productive cropping land. 2001 to 2004 in partnership with national
Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the In- Bioinformatics specialists Guy Daven- agricultural research and extension systems
ternational Maize and Wheat Improvement port from CIMMYT and Richard Bruskie- (NARES). Visit the new site at www.irri.
Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico—is the first wich from IRRI say that “Rice forms an org/irrc/ssnm.
major output of an alliance between IRRI ideal model for this research because of its
and CIMMYT that was formally established small, sequenced genome. Maize represents
last year. an excellent platform for trait studies due
The new lab at CIMMYT will link with to its outbreeding nature and long his-
existing facilities at IRRI to form the Crop tory of substantial public and private sector
Research Informatics Lab (CRIL), heralding investment. Finally, wheat represents a
exciting new possibilities for rice research, complementary cereal model by virtue of
especially in the development of improved its relatively close relationship to rice and
crop varieties. It is expected that the en- extensive genetic information.”
deavor will not only reduce the time needed According to Graham McLaren, head of
to develop new crop varieties by drawing the CRIL team and IRRI’s senior scientist in
on the three crops’ shared characteristics biometrics, “This system will be especially
but also reduce the cost of such research. useful for researchers in poorer developing
Researchers anticipate that as data are ex- countries who may not normally have access
panded and linked and databases improved, to such detailed information on so many
research in areas such as natural resource different varieties.”

6 Rice Today April-June 2006

Indian president visits IRRI

I n a historic, first-ever visit to the Inter-

national Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
by an Indian head of state, President A.P.J.
Kalam placed special emphasis on using
science and technology to help his country’s
millions of poor rice farmers.
On 5 February, as part of an official visit
to the Philippines—the first by an Indian
president in 15 years—President Kalam
was briefed on a range of new technologies
aimed at boosting farmer productivity.
PRESIDENT A.P.J. Kalam (second from left)
“We were honored and delighted by during his visit to IRRI, flanked by IRRI

the Indian presidential visit,” said IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler (left),
Director General Robert Zeigler. “What was Philippine International Trading Corp Chair
Robert Pagdanganan (second from right) and
especially impressive about his time at IRRI senior scientist Roland Buresh.
was how productive it was—we managed to
discuss a number of very important issues in dent Kalam said India had around 176 mil- “However,” he said, “India’s success
depth and to agree to move ahead in several lion hectares of land currently available for in raising rice productivity and reducing
key areas.” cultivation, which, he predicted, would be poverty has been limited to favorable envi-
Dr. Zeigler said the president was reduced to 100 million hectares by 2020. He ronments in the country’s north and south,
particularly interested in the development also warned of a looming water crisis and while sustaining high yields in irrigated
of nutritionally enhanced rice varieties and that the next generation of Indian farmers systems has become a major issue.”
connecting Indian farmers to the Internet. was losing interest in agriculture. Dr. Hossain also highlighted the prog-
“We also agreed to develop plans to send IRRI’s senior economist, Mahabub ress of an IRRI-India collaborative effort
50 Indian rice farmers on a special visit to Hossain, highlighted the impact of IRRI’s to develop drought-tolerant varieties that
IRRI so they can see the technologies being earlier work in India, which showed that are expected to have a substantial impact
developed,” Dr. Zeigler said. 48% of the rice varieties grown in India had on increasing productivity and reducing
In comments to IRRI scientists, Presi- some link to IRRI materials. poverty in eastern India.

Open-source biotechnology alliance Rice farming by SMS

I RRI and CAMBIA have agreed to advance

the BiOS Initiative—a new strategy that
will galvanize agricultural research focused
production, given the right toolkits—and the
rights to use them.”
In the joint work, CAMBIA’s Patent
A mobile phone text-messaging service
designed to connect Filipino farmers
and extension workers with rice-farming
on poverty alleviation and hunger reduc- Lens, already one of the most comprehen- technical experts has been developed by the
tion—under a US$2.55 million grant from sive cost-free full-text patent databases Open Academy for Philippine Agriculture.
the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. in the world, will be extended to include With assistance from Smart Communica-
Based in Canberra, Australia, CAMBIA is an patents in major rice-growing countries, tions, farmers send questions to 700-RICE
independent nonprofit institute that invents including China, Korea, and India, which (700-7423). Philippine Rice Research In-
and shares technologies and new practices are poised to play lead roles in the next gen- stitute experts then reply within 24 hours.
for life sciences and intellectual property eration of biological problem solving. Topics of expertise include fertilizer and nu-
management to further social equity. Patent Lens will also foster capacity trient management, hybrid rice production,
The BiOS (Biological Innovation for in the developing world to create patent pest and crop management, the latest rice
Open Society) Initiative is also known as maps of the key emerging technologies varieties, and available seed stocks. Farm-
Open-Source Biotechnology. The BiOS that could be constrained by complex intel- ers can even enroll in a virtual classroom.
model has resonance with the Open-Source lectual property rights worldwide. These A 12 January report in the Philippine Star
software movement—well known for suc- patent “landscapes” will be used to guide said the Farmers’ Call Center averages 500
cesses such as Linux—and has spurred faster the development of improved and inclusive queries per month.
innovation, greater community participa- technology toolkits.
tion, and new robust business models that “It’s not so much about getting access
break monopolies and foster fair competi- to old patented technology—it’s about forg-
tion. ing collaborations to develop better, more
“New technologies are increasingly powerful tools within a ‘protected commons’
tangled in complex webs of patent and to get different problem solvers to the table,”
other legal rights, and are often tailored for said CAMBIA CEO Richard Jefferson.
wealthy countries and well-heeled scien- These could, for example, be tools

tists,” said IRRI Director General Robert for new plant breeding methods such as
Zeigler. “Half the world depends on rice marker-assisted selection or true-breeding
as a staple food—but this also means that hybrid crop varieties that would allow farm-
half the world’s potential innovators could ers in developing countries to use hybrid
be brought to bear on the challenges of rice seed year after year.

Rice Today April-June 2006 7

Production shortfall looming said, “Unpredictability of weather patterns Water conservation support
makes it difficult for India to achieve its
BAGS of imported rice
from Vietnam being
unloaded at Manila’s
previous level of production. Irrigation,
which accounts for 20–25% of production
cost, is a big problem.”
T he Asian Development Bank has given
US$1 million toward the development
and dissemination of water-saving rice
south harbor.
In Thailand, meanwhile, 2006 exports technologies in the drought-prone and
are expected to drop to 7.2 million tons, water-short regions of South Asia.
down about 0.3 million tons from 2005. The The total cost of funding is estimated
2005 level is itself almost 30% lower than at $2.306 million, with IRRI executing
2004’s record 10.1 million tons of exports. the technical assistance and contributing
According to Dow Jones, uncertain $566,000, while the national agricultural

global weather patterns are likely to keep research and extension systems (NARES) of
rice prices from falling. Mamadou Ciss, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan are
managing director of the Geneva-based shouldering $740,000 in the form of staff
global rice trading company Ascot Com- time, land, and research facilities.

A December 2005 Dow Jones Newswire

report by Rhea Sandique-Carlos high-
lighted the continuation of high rice prices
modities, NV, was quoted as saying that
“the current situation anticipates a major
weather disaster [...] it could be an El Niño
It takes around 3,000 liters of water to
produce a kilogram of rice. Twelve million
hectares of South Asia’s irrigated rice are at
in Asia in the face of declining production or La Niña. Global temperature is getting risk of severe water shortage, with serious
in the world’s two most populous nations, warmer and, based on temperature in consequences for regional food security and
China and India. According to the report, Brazil, Russia, Argentina, we are already social stability.
global rice stocks, which are already dimin- in a dry spell.” IRRI estimates that a 10% reduction
ishing, will be further strained in 2006. Commenting on China’s current low in water use for rice irrigation would free
Mahabub Hossain, head of IRRI’s Social rice stocks, Ciss said: “If a major weather 150 billion cubic meters, or 25% of the total
Sciences Division, commented on China’s catastrophe happens, that will take rice fresh water used in Asia for nonagricultural
impending transition from rice exporter to prices to the moon.” purposes.
importer. “There has been less and less land Gregorio Tan, administrator of the As well as supporting the development
allocated to rice cultivation because farmers Philippine National Food Authority, a state- of new technologies based on improved
see a lot of opportunity for nonrice crops, owned grains trading company, was re- IRRI rice varieties, the technical assistance
such as fruits and vegetables, because of ported as saying that Philippine rice imports will help the NARES to develop locally
growth in income. China simply can’t come in 2006 could hover around 1 million tons adapted water-saving rice technologies,
back to its surplus position,” he said. despite record paddy output of around 14.5 sponsor visits to IRRI, organize an interna-
The report added that India is in a simi- million tons in 2005, when the country im- tional workshop, conduct a series of training
lar situation, exacerbated by many farmers’ ported 1.8 million tons of rice as dry weather courses, and develop a regional network for
dependence on monsoon rains. Dr. Hossain conditions limited domestic supply. information exchange.

Boost for reductions campaign areas lost two consecutive seasons of paddy commercialization taking place this year on
The Three Reductions, Three Gains—Ba production in 2005. The recovery process in 20,000 hectares.
Giam Ba Tang in Vietnamese—continues to Nias and Simeulue on the northwest coast of
receive support from the Vietnamese Minis- Sumatra has been slower than in Aceh. Rice malt genome sequenced
try of Agriculture and Rural Development. Japan’s Corporate News Network on 26
The ministry has allocated US$434,000 of Maize gene set to help rice December reported the completion of the
the country’s 2006 agricultural extension Kansas State University researchers, led by genome sequencing of rice malt, Aspergillus
budget to Ba Giam Ba Tang, a strong in- Bingyu Zhao, have discovered a maize gene oryzae, a fungus widely used in Japanese
dication that the Vietnamese government that, when transferred to rice, confers resis- fermented foods, including sake, bean paste,
has adopted the campaign’s principles of tance to bacterial streak, an important dis- and soy sauce. The research—by a team of
reducing farmers’ nitrogen-fertilizer rates, ease of rice in Asia. As any particular cereal scientists from the Institute for Biological
seed rates, and pesticide applications. species tends to be resistant to diseases of Resources and Functions, the Computation-
other grasses, these results—reported in the al Biology Research Center of the National
Tsunami rehabilitation 25 October 2005 issue of the Proceedings Institute of Advanced Industrial Science
The Food and Agriculture Organization of of the National Academy of Sciences of the and Technology, and the National Institute
the United Nations and the World Food USA—suggest that transferring resistance of Technology and Evaluation—showed
Program have released a 2005 report on genes from one cereal to another may be a that the A. oryzae genome has about 38
food supply and demand in Indonesia’s feasible strategy for controlling diseases. million base pairs and 12,000 genes. The
Aceh Province and Nias Island. The report sequencing is expected to aid development
stated that, of the 37,500 hectares of farm- Iranian biotech lead of applications for rice malt.
land damaged by the 26 December 2004 Iran made headlines recently by becoming
tsunami, some 29,000 hectares have been the first country to commercialize geneti- Infrared heat versus pesticides
rehabilitated. Surplus production of rice cally modified rice. According to a 23 Janu- Scientists from the University of Arkansas
in Aceh is expected to be around 200,000 ary report in the Washington Farm Report, Division of Agriculture are investigating
tons for the 2005-06 marketing year. In 500–1,000 Iranian farmers are believed the use of infrared energy to kill insects in
spite of this, farmers in the heavily affected to have grown the crop in 2005, with full stored rice, instead of pesticides. Northwest

8 Rice Today April-June 2006

African rice news of rice into Si-
erra Leone. Food
Prize for Africa Rice Center scientist security is thus
Moussa Sié, a lowland rice breed- an economical
er from the Africa Rice Center strategy. The
(WARDA), has become the first current trend of
African to receive the presti- rice production
gious Koshihikari International in this nation is
Rice Prize. Dr. Sié (pictured at setting the pace
right), from Burkina Faso, was for rice farmers
recognized for “Development to be able to buy
and extension of lowland NERICAs equipment on
(New Rice for Africa) for sub-Saharan loan within the
Africa.” He shares the prize with Akihiko next three years.

Ando, visiting professor at São Paulo Uni- The production
versity Agricultural Nuclear Power Center of rice is tedious.
in Brazil, who was recognized for “Develop- sentation before the National Assembly, It involves total commitment. Food secu-
ment and dissemination of plant breeding noted that the country’s total paddy rice rity is, however, a viable venture.”
by mutation induction.” production increased from 31,221 metric
tons in 2003-04 to 34,304 metric tons in Côte d’Ivoire stockpiles rice
Removing Gambian hurdles 2004-05, which indicated an increment Inter Press News Agency reported on 4
The Daily Observer reported on 22 De- of 10%. February that rice growers in Côte d’Ivoire,
cember significant progress made by the with GTZ assistance, have stockpiled bags
National Agricultural Research Institute Sierra Leone food security of rice at a depot in Korhogo, a town in
in searching for technologies to allevi- The Awareness Times quoted High Com- northern Côte d’Ivoire, to prevent famine
ate crop production constraints experi- missioner Alhaji Morikeh Fofana on 2 and counter a major reduction in rice
enced by farmers in Gambia. NARI, for February saying that, about 80% increases imports. Also, according to the Ivorian
example, did research on restoring soil were recorded in the production of paddy Bureau of Development Assistance Train-
fertility through agroforestry techniques, rice, millet, and sweet potato in Sierra ing, improvements to arable land produced
developing suitable drought-tolerant crop Leone. “The agricultural data on rice pro- 27,000 tons of irrigated rice twice a year in
varieties, and promoting the production of duction indicates that about 40,000 acres the north. The Africa Rice Center (WARDA)
NERICA (New Rice for Africa). Musa Bala of land for rice cultivation is now available. said that 8% of the Ivorian population grows
Gaye, Secretary of State for Finance and These are positive signs geared towards rice on an average plot of 0.8 hectare of ir-
Economic Affairs, in his 2006 budget pre- a clear-cut reduction in the importation rigated land.

Arkansas’ News Source reported that food land for shares in a joint-stock corporation, of global catastrophes like nuclear war or
science professor Terry Siebenmorgen and farmers are given a choice, too. They can opt natural disasters. The Global Crop Diversity
biological engineer Derek Schluterman, to stay put or leave a dead-end occupation Trust is organizing the seed collection.
working with Frank Arthur of the U.S. with the surety of having equity in the bank.”
Department of Agriculture, used infrared One of the first challenges is convincing First hydroponic rice
light to heat weevil-infested rice samples farmers that corporatization will make the A group of farmers in Tokyo has, accord-
to temperatures of 50, 60, and 70 degrees land more useful. ing to a report in The Times, cultivated the
Celsius. They then incubated the infested world’s first crop of hydroponically grown
rice, including an untreated control sample, The king of rice rice. According to the story, “The 60 kilo-
for 6–7 weeks to see if weevils hatched out Taiwan Headlines reported on 25 Janu- grams of Koshihikari rice reaped yesterday
of the rice. All weevils were killed at 70 de- ary that 2005 champion rice farmer, Hsu may fill only a single regulation-sized sack,
grees. The infrared treatment appeared to Pang-chun, 24, from Luyeh township in but its significance is huge. The rice has
have little effect on food quality or sensory Taidong, has been nicknamed Taiwan’s grown to maturity without natural light or
characteristics. “youngest king of rice” after winning third a paddy field.” If the process can be com-
place in a nationwide rice competition in mercialized, says the group, farmers could
Changes to Malaysia’s rice fields early January. Hsu began cultivating his grow up to four rice crops per year and avoid
A corporatization plan pilot project, involv- father’s rice paddies at the age of 13. the vagaries of the weather.
ing about 5,000 hectares of rice lands in
Kedah, Malaysia’s rice bowl, is scheduled to Doomsday seed bank Philippine hybrid rice benefits
begin in June 2006. A New Straits Times The Norwegian government plans to build a A 9 December article in CropBiotech Update
editorial on 12 February, Sowing the seeds “doomsday vault” inside a mountain on the stated that the Philippine government ben-
of change, pointed out the plan’s benefits: arctic island of Spitsbergen to hold a bank of efited from its hybrid rice commercialization
“Larger farms make more money, can around 2 million seed samples of the world’s program through savings of US$23.23 mil-
deploy assets for capital-intensive invest- crops, the Financial Times reported. The lion that would otherwise have been spent
ment, and are more disposed to innovation move is designed to forestall the destruction on rice importation. The report, quoting
and professional management. By trading of the planet’s sources of food in the event statistics from the Philippine Rice Research

Rice Today April-June 2006 9

Zero tillage in India Engineering and Machinery is promoting Postharvest management
the development of new farm machinery. to reduce burning
F armers from Haryana, Punjab, and other
parts of northern India have turned to
zero or minimum tillage in rice production
India’s Financial Express reported on 26
December that farmers who use the tech-
nologies save an average of 2,000 rupees
by using new machinery. Actually an old (US$45) per acre (1 hectare is 2.47 acres) on
concept adapted during the Green Revolu- costs for labor and inputs. However, accord-
tion days, zero tillage is being promoted ing to the article, farmers are complaining
by the Rice-Wheat Consortium (RWC) for about the machines’ expense—even with a
the Indo-Gangetic Plains, in partnership 25% government subsidy—and weeds. Sci- and Budi Raharjo
with IRRI and the International Crops Re- entist Samar Singh, who works on the RWC (Assessment Institute of

Agricultural Technology)
search Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. program, advised farmers to grow Sesbania show trainees in Mulya
Sari village how to use
The Asian Pacific Centre for Agricultural along with rice to help prevent weeds. hermetically sealed grain
storage bags.

Making waves
I n Indonesia, the Irrigated Rice Research
Consortium Postproduction workgroup
has joined forces with the Assessment In-
stitute for Agricultural Technology in South
Sumatra and the South Sumatra Forest Fire
Management Project in an effort to reduce

T he Irrigated Rice Research Consortium

(IRRC) launched its new quarterly news-
letter, Ripple, in January. Ripple stands for
postharvest losses, improve the quality of
rice harvests, and increase farmers’ income
in the tidal and freshwater swamps of South
Rice Research for Intensified Production Sumatra, around 2 million hectares of which
and Prosperity in Lowland Ecosystems. are used to grow rice. Labor shortages dur-
IRRC staff produced the newsletter to ing harvest lead to production and quality
enhance communication between national losses and often force farmers to use fire to

agricultural research and extension systems clear uplands to grow more crops. A training
(NARES) and IRRI, and to raise the profile workshop on 27-28 February led by IRRI’s
of the IRRC in Asia and beyond. IRRC Agricultural Engineering Unit covered
Coordinator Grant Singleton encourages topics on understanding rice quality and
EXOTIC BLACK RICE, such as the pictured Lao contributions to the newsletter from anyone improving seeds. The 35 participants also
variety, is growing in popularity in Solano, Nueva working in the irrigated rice or favorable learned how to set up and operate hermetic
Viscaya, Philippines, according to a 25 January rainfed agricultural domain, particularly sealed storage systems for safe seed storage.
report in the Manila Standard Today. Black rice tends NARES partners and nongovernmental Such improvements help overall produc-
to be more aromatic and sticky than usual com- organizations. Ripple is available online at tion and reduce the pressure to extend rice
mercial varieties. production to the uplands.

Institute research team, led by Flordeliza and pleasant eating qualities. “The contest Seeking salt-tolerant rice
Bordey, found that hybrid rice production was aimed at rice producers who are able Scientists at the Louisiana State University
was one of the best options for increasing to package organic polished white rice into Agricultural Center’s Rice Research Station
farm productivity by 8% to 14%. small amounts that can be sold at retail are seeking salt-tolerant rice as a result of
outlets,” the Liberty Times reported on 7 hurricane Rita, which ravaged Louisiana in
Hybrid rice lessons December 2005. August 2005. An Associated Press report
The Manila Times reported in January that said that researchers have started collecting
European countries Boznia-Herzegovina, Rice bran for healthier rats soil samples from 180 sites across south-
Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Slo- Eating rice bran—part of the outer layer of west Louisiana, where an estimated 200
vak Republic, and Yugoslavia have adopted rice removed in the milling process—helps thousand acres of rice land were affected
the Hybrid Rice Commercialization Pro- lower rats’ blood pressure, according to a by Rita’s surge.
gram of Tarlac Province, Philippines. Agri- study by researchers from Tohoku Univer-
culturists from the Western Corn Rootworm sity and the National Research Institute of Careless offerings?
Project in central and northern Europe Brewing, Japan. The findings were pub- Chandigarh Newsline reported on 3 Janu-
inspected the Tarlac rice program in 2002, lished in the March 8 issue of the Journal of ary that rats much bigger than usual are
with support from the Food and Agriculture Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Adding causing nightmares for Manimajra housing
Organization of the United Nations. rice bran to the diet of hypertensive, stroke- complex residents in Chandigarh, India.
prone rats lowered the animals’ systolic The rats are fed with rice and wheat at a
Best organic rice blood pressure by about 20%. More research nearby temple, which is visited by thou-
“Ta ti organic rice,” grown in Chihshang is needed to determine whether humans ex- sands of devotees every Saturday. Bhushan
Township of Taidong County, was named perience similar health benefits, or whether Makkar, head of the local area committee,
winner of Taiwan’s first national organic eating more brown rice, which retains some blames devotees’ “careless offerings to
rice-judging contest because of its luster of its bran, will have any effect. God.”

10 Rice Today April-June 2006

Achievements Surapong Sarka-
rung, former IRRI plant

S haobing Peng has received the honor

of Fellow of the Crop Science Society of
America (CSSA) for 2005, during the 6-10
breeder for the Rainfed
Lowland Program and one of
Thailand’s most renowned
November 2005 CSSA annual meetings in rice breeders, was named
Salt Lake City, Utah. Dr. Peng (pictured Outstanding Graduate for
with CSSA President James Coors) received 2005 of the University of
the award with nine other scientists selected Arkansas.
by the CSSA based on their professional Mario Movillon, for-
achievements and meritorious service. His mer manager of the then
research focuses on rice physiology with em- Visitors, Exhibitions, and
phasis on improving resource-use efficiency Conference Services, was
of high-yielding varieties and identifying the named 2005 Most Out-
physiological and biochemical processes standing Branch Manager
that limit the advance of rice yield potential of the Philippine Rice Re-
in the irrigated ecosystem. search Institute—which he
Also at the CSSA meetings, J.K. joined in 2002 after 19 years
Ladha, IRRI senior scientist and coor- at IRRI—on 8 November
dinator of the Rice-Wheat Consortium, 2005.
received the Outstanding Agricultural On 2 December 2005,

Scientist Award for 2005 in recognition IRRI awarded Wageningen
of his research contribution to sustainable University visiting consul-
management of agriculture and natural The Philippine Association of Aca- tant Hendrika Hillegonda van Laar
resources. demic and Research Librarians named a plaque of appreciation for service to the
At the concurrent American Society of IRRI chief librarian Mila Ramos as 2005 institute over the last 20 years. Dr. van Laar
Agronomy meeting in Salt Lake City, retired Outstanding Academic/Research Librarian worked on various collaborative projects,
IRRI principal scientist Sant Virmani of the Year for her “remarkable contribution including Simulation and Systems Analysis
received the 2005 Monsanto Crop Science to the advancement of agricultural research for Rice Production, Systems Research Net-
Distinguished Career Award. He also re- librarianship as trainer, paper presenter, work for Ecoregional Land Use Planning in
ceived a plaque of appreciation from IRRI and facilitator in both local and interna- Tropical Asia, and Potential of Water-saving
for his 25-year contribution to hybrid rice tional conferences.” Technologies in Rice Production.
research and development in the tropics
during the 5th International Rice Genetics Keeping up with IRRI staff
Symposium in Manila, on 23 November. Ian Wallace, former director for
Dr. Peng was also a member of the IRRI
team that won the 2005 CGIAR Science
Award for Outstanding Scientific Article,
M angala Rai, secretary of the gov-
ernment of India’s Department of
Agricultural Research and Education and
administration and human resources, left
IRRI recently after 13 years of service. His
initiatives as head of the IRRI Library (1993-
Rice yields decline with higher night tem- director general of the Indian Council for 99) made the facility the world’s premiere
perature from global warming, during the Agricultural Research, has joined IRRI’s documentation center on rice.
December 2005 annual general meeting of Board of Trustees to complete the final two International Research Fellow David
the Consultative Group on International Ag- years (2006-07) of the unfinished second Shires is the new acting head of the IRRI
ricultural Research in Marrakech, Morocco. term of Kay Beese of Germany, who re- Training Center, while senior manager
Along with Dr. Peng, IRRI scientists John signed effective 8 November 2005. Elisa Panes is acting head of Human Re-
Sheehy, Rebecca C. Laza, Romeo M. Robert Hijmans recently joined the sources Services.
Visperas, Grace S. Centeno, and World Social Sciences Division (SSD) as geograph- Plant breeder Glenn Gregorio left for
Food Prize laureate and former IRRI prin- ic information systems specialist. Zenaida Ibadan, Nigeria, on 22 January as IRRI’s
cipal scientist Gurdev Khush comprised Huelgas joined SSD as associate scientist rice breeder for Africa, to work in collabo-
the team. Jianliang Huang (Huazhong after a 7-year work stint in New York City, ration with the West Africa Rice Develop-
Agricultural University, China), Xuhua USA. She was a former IRRI scholar (1988- ment Association (WARDA, the Africa Rice
Zhong (Guangdong Academy of Agricul- 89) and senior research assistant (1994-97) Center) and the International Institute for
tural Sciences, China), and Ken Cassman at SSD. Tropical Agriculture Substation.
(University of Nebraska) were co-authors.
The Proceedings of the National Academy
of Science of the United States of America
Gone ahead and director of the Sukarami Rice Research
published the paper on 6 July 2004. A. Syarifuddin Karama, former secre- Station in West Sumatra. His passing has
Dr. Khush also received an honoris tary general of the Indonesian Ministry of been described as a great loss not only to
causa (honorary degree) from the Ohio Agriculture, passed away on 19 February. his family but also to Indonesia.
State University on 19 March. Dr. Karama, who did his Ph.D. research at Orlando Santos, who retired as the
IRRI senior scientist Darshan Brar IRRI, was a widely respected scientist and head of the IRRI Central Research Farm in
was named Fellow of the National Academy admired advocate for rice research. His 1994, passed away on 26 January at age 76.
of Agricultural Sciences and Honorary Fel- past posts include head of the Center for Lao-IRRI project employee, Samien Lu-
low of the Punjab Academy of Sciences. Soil and Agroclimate Research in Bogor anglath, 46, passed away on 28 January.

Rice Today April-June 2006 11

The The Indo-Gangetic Plains, running east from
northwestern India across to the Barind area of western
Bangladesh, are some of the most agriculturally important
tracts of land on the planet. Home to India’s rice-wheat

cropping system, the plains are the most productive
area in the country and vital to the food security of
India. Infrastructure, such as irrigation, is relatively well
developed and many farmers have access to mechanical
equipment including tractors and machine seeders.
Despite these advances, farmers here face problems,
such as deteriorating soil health, rising costs, and
declining productivity and labor availability. Without
workable solutions, things are likely to get worse.
As you move east along the plains into eastern
India and then northwestern Bangladesh and the High
Barind Tract, the farm sizes and level of development
A return to the ways of their

forefathers has seen Indian and

Bangladeshi rice farmers reduce

their need for water and address the

growing problem of labor shortages tend to diminish. In the Barind, farms average less
than 1 hectare in size, on which farmers do their
best to simply grow enough food for themselves and
their families. Rice farming here relies more heavily
on manual labor and simple tillage equipment.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY ADAM BARCLAY Despite dramatic differences between farms at either

end of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, farmers along their
o understand the importance of rice farming length share several problems—two of which have grave
to Bangladesh, look at the numbers. This implications for rice production and, by extension, for the
densely populated country—more crowded welfare and food security of many millions of people.
than any other on Earth bar city-states First, as people who traditionally made their living
such as Singapore—has 146 million people. working on farms are uprooting and moving to the cities
Around 80 million of them rely on agriculture for their to find work in the developing urban and industrial
livelihood. Agriculture alone employs around two- sectors, the availability of farm labor is decreasing—
thirds of the labor force of almost 70 million and rice particularly during the peak periods of farm operations—
is the country’s most significant agricultural product, and, consequently, becoming more and more expensive.
accounting for more than three-quarters of total cropped Second, and perhaps even more pressing, are the
area. Add to this the fact that the average Bangladeshi issues of water availability and cost. Farmers the world
receives around three-quarters of his or her calories over are, of course, dependent on water. In Bangladesh,
from rice and you begin to understand the grain’s and on the least developed farms of the Indo-Gangetic
significance. Further, in India and Bangladesh, the Plains, farmers rely on monsoon rains. If the rains
poorest people spend up to half their income on rice. are too late or too little, farmers may not be able to
While India doesn’t rely on rice in the same way as its establish the crop and, even where they do, yields can be
northeastern neighbor, rice remains India’s single most decimated. At the other end of the plains, many farms
important agricultural product. Given India’s sheer BABUL, a farmer from Rashantapur pump groundwater when and as needed but unless
village in Rajshahi, Bangladesh,
numbers—its 1.1 billion people constitute almost one- something changes soon, this cannot continue. Water
describes his experiences with direct-
fifth of the world’s population—merely maintaining seeded rice. Two girls (above right) tables are falling and, as global fuel prices continue their
rice productivity is not enough; as the population take a break after harvesting rice in steep climb of the last few years, the cost of irrigation
rises, India must produce more rice on less land. the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. is becoming prohibitive to the point where farmers are

12 13
LEADING the direct seeding charge (four photos from
left to right): Dr. M.A. Mazid observes direct-seeded
rice fields in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, with field techni-
cian Md. Nazmul Hossain; Pantnagar farmer M.S. Gre-
wal (at left), who describes direct seeding as “very
foregoing the use of their irrigation beneficial,” and G.B. Pant University agronomist Dr. opportunities, and constraints of
systems and, like their Bangladeshi V.P. Singh discuss Mr. Grewal’s experiences; G.B. Pant direct seeding across the Indo-
counterparts, waiting for the rains. agronomist Dr. K.S. Shekhar describes how research- Gangetic Plains and the Barind.
So, what are the alternatives? ers are getting information to farmers; and Dr. Y. Although the idea of a rice farm
Singh, also from G.B. Pant, has played a key role in
One approach, which has emerged developing direct-seeding in northern India.
often evokes images of flooded
as a promising part of the solution paddies and bunded terraces, direct
across the Indo-Gangetic Plains, seeding is not a new approach.
is deceptively simple: rather than Until the early 1960s, most Indian
transplanting rice seedlings into Programme of the U.K. Department and Bangladeshi farmers direct-
flooded fields, sow rice seeds directly for International Development. seeded their crops. At that time, the
into an unflooded field. Such direct Through IRRI, the work is linked introduction of a more productive
seeding can offer relief in terms of with the Irrigated Rice Research model of rice production, which
both the water and labor problems Consortium and the Consortium for exploited high-yielding varieties and
and, since 1999, has been investigated Unfavorable Rice Environments. increased fertilizer use, triggered a
as part of two projects—Promotion With their in-country move to transplanting. In an ever-
of cost-effective weed practices collaborators—the Bangladesh changing production environment,
for lowland rice in Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and despite its advantages, there
and Promotion of integrated weed and, in India, G.B. Pant University is growing recognition that the
management for direct-seeded rice of Agriculture and Technology transplanting model isn’t ideal for
in the Gangetic Plains of India—with in Pantnagar, Narendra Deva every location and circumstance.
collaboration among the International University of Agriculture and There are a number of options
Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Technology in Faizabad, C.S. Azad for direct seeding, though the
the U.K.-based Natural Resources Agriculture University in Kanpur, and principles remain the same. Rice
Institute (NRI), and the University Rajendra Agriculture University in can be sown with either dry or wet
of Liverpool, with additional Patna—the projects have examined (pregerminated) seed, which is
funding from the Crop Protection the advantages, challenges, either placed in rows or broadcast.

DIRECT-SEEDED rice (right)

matures 3–4 weeks earlier
than transplanted rice
(left), and so is more
likely to avoid damaging
early-season drought and
increase farmers’ chances
of successfully growing a
subsequent nonrice crop.

EXPERIMENTAL plots at G.B. Pant Uni-

versity show the devastating effect of
no weeding (foreground) versus good
weed management (background).

14 Rice Today April-June 2006

of the weather. Drought during transplanting when the plants don’t
the rice plants’ flowering stage grow, and so are further advanced
can devastate the crop, causing than those transplanted. When Rice
yield losses of 50% or more. Today visited rice farms in Rajshahi,
M.A. Mazid, principal scientific Bangladesh, in early October 2005,
officer and head of the BRRI the direct-seeded crops had already
regional station in Rangpur, explains flowered and thus escaped the worst
the situation in the Barind. effects of any subsequent drought,
“Generally,” he says, “farmers which would have ravaged the later-
are supposed to transplant by mid- flowering, transplanted crops.
July. But if there’s no rain, they can’t “Earlier establishment has
transplant and the seedlings get an additional advantage,” adds
older—40, 50, even 60 days, while Dr. Johnson, “because it means
seedlings should be no older than earlier harvest, which increases
around 30 days to get the best yields.” the chances of growing a dry-
The need for high levels of season crop like chickpea, a cash
rainfall before transplanting means crop that helps increase income
that direct-seeded rice can be and so improves the livelihood
Bangladeshi farmers have tested established around 1 month ahead of farmers and their families.”
dry-seeding rice in furrows made by a of transplanted rice. In addition, Traditionally, Barind farmers
lithao, a simple, low-cost metal plow direct-seeded crops are not affected transplant a single crop of rice each
drawn by two people (see photo in A by “transplanting shock,” a period year, growing a second crop like
tale of two farmers, right). In both of a few days immediately after chickpea only if sufficient moisture
Bangladesh and India, if soil moisture
is adequate, pregerminated rice seed
may be either broadcast by hand or

sown in rows with an inexpensive bdul Basir and Shadat Hossain, rice farmers from Rajabari village in the Bangladeshi district of
plastic drum seeder, pulled by a Rajshahi, tried direct seeding for the first time in 2005, preparing their fields by furrowing the soil
single user (see Drumming up with a locally produced lithao, which they demonstrate with Dr. M.A. Mazid, below (Shadat at left).
“Previously,” says Shadat, “I needed a seedbed that required extra management like uprooting
success in Rice Today Vol. 4 No. 2,
seedlings and transplanting. If there was enough rain, I could transplant but, if there was no rain,
pages 22-27). Meanwhile, on many the seedlings became older and I had to wait—in some years, two months or more. If I transplanted
northeastern Indian farms, farmers older seedlings, the yield was very poor. In 2003, there was so little rain that we couldn’t transplant
use tractor-mounted mechanical at all.”
seeders that sow seeds at chosen rates “With direct seeding by lithao, we can go ahead, even with little water,” concurs the 45-year-
old Abdul, who supports a family of seven. “With direct seeding I expect that, whatever happens, I’ll
and simultaneously apply fertilizer.
harvest something. This gives me a good feeling. Before, we believed that if there was no more rain,
The specific advantages of there would be no crop. Now, we believe that even if there’s only a small amount of rain, the seed will
direct seeding vary with farmers’ germinate and we’ll get some rice.”
circumstances. David Johnson, an Both farmers have also been struck by the labor advantages of direct seeding, noting that labor
IRRI weed scientist and one of the requirements are less and more labor is available when it is needed.
“During transplanting time,” explains Abdul, “every farmer wants to transplant, so there’s a labor
project’s investigators, explains
shortage and labor prices go up. Direct-seeded rice requires 15 labor days per hectare; transplanting
the situation at the eastern end requires 30 labor days.”
of the Plains, in Bangladesh. When they transplanted, Abdul and Shadat generally grew only a wet-season rice crop each year.
“It takes about 500 mm of If there was enough soil moisture following rice harvest, they would plant a chickpea crop too, but in
cumulative rainfall for a farmer the past five years, Abdul managed to grow chickpeas only once. In 2005, both farmers reaped good
yields from their direct-seeded rice fields and consequently grew successful chickpea crops.
to be able to establish a rice crop
There has been keen
through transplanting,” says Dr. interest from surrounding
Johnson. “If farmers direct-seed, farmers not directly involved
they can establish the crop from in the project. Both Abdul and
about one-quarter of that.” Shadat invited their neighbors
to see their crop. About 50 local
By direct seeding, therefore,
farmers visited and, according
farmers can avoid the hardships to Abdul, were so impressed
of 2003, 2004, and 2005, when that they now plan to try direct
the monsoon rains arrived so late seeding themselves.
that many growers were unable “We should follow this in
the future,” concludes Shadat.
to establish a rice crop at all.
“We will continue to do this,
Further, even if there is sufficient even if the extension agents
rain for farmers to transplant on and the researchers have
time, they are still at the mercy gone.”

Rice Today April-June 2006 15

remains in the field following the rice crop is compromised and
the rice harvest. Currently, in an the equally important wheat crop
average year, about 80% of the is jeopardized. Wheat needs to be
land remains fallow in the second well established before the weather
season. The earlier harvest of direct- becomes cold. For every week beyond
seeded rice increases the chances 1 November that wheat planting
of there being sufficient residual is delayed, the crop suffers a yield
soil moisture for a second crop. loss of 10%, or around 400 kg, per
“Chickpea is a high-value crop,” hectare in the most productive areas.
says Dr. Mazid, adding that there Project team member Y. Singh,
is an excellent market for it in from G.B. Pant University, points out
Bangladesh, where it fetches around that the ideal time to transplant is in
two and a half times the price of June but lack of rain can see farmers
rice per unit volume. “Generally, transplanting as late as September.
we import chickpea from Australia, “Even if one good rain comes,”
India, or even Canada; there isn’t says Dr. Singh, “a farmer doesn’t
sufficient production here.” have time to transplant his whole
The results of the 2005 harvest area—he’ll need more good rain.
were encouraging. Yields were good With direct seeding, we can make
and the early harvest and increased sure that the entire rice area
residual soil moisture allowed the is sown and sown on time.”
direct-seeding farmers to establish Bangladeshi counterparts, do not Timely harvests are not the only
chickpea crops, which also produced have access to irrigation. Many benefit, with direct-seeded crops
good yields. Direct seeding helped who do, however, are becoming needing less water overall. Dr. Singh
ensure that farmers and their families increasingly reliant on rain due to explains that one of the reasons
had enough food during Monga, the the high costs of pumping while for this is the way that soil behaves
lean period in October and November others face increased competition under different planting systems.
before transplanted rice is harvested. from the industrial and urban sectors “During a period of drought,”
Back west in India’s rice-wheat that are making water a scarce he says, “when we don’t get rains
belt, some farmers, like their resource. If rains arrive too late, for many days, the soil in the

A LOCAL MAN cycles past rice fields

near Pantnagar, India, where farmers
are informed about weed manage-
ment strategies through posters
(above), leaflets, demonstrations,
and meetings.

16 Rice Today April-June 2006

transplanted crop’s field develops THE WIDOW FARMER OF SERAPERA
many cracks. Then, to irrigate
it and take care of those cracks
requires a lot of water. This doesn’t A lya, dressed in bright orange and purple, cuts a distinctive
figure against the bright green backdrop of the rice field. A
farmer from Serapera village, in Bangladesh’s Rajshahi District,
happen for direct-seeded crops.
she is not your typical Bangladeshi rice farmer. Although women
When we work it out, the total play a significant role in Bangladeshi rice production, the head
quantity of water used for a direct- farmers are usually men. Following the death of her husband,
seeded crop is much less than that though, Alya (pictured right) was left with no choice but to take
used for a transplanted crop.” over the farm and single-handedly support her four daughters
The other major advantage of and two sons.
In the 2005 wet season, Alya used a drum seeder to direct-
direct seeding over transplanting seed 1 bigha of land (just less than a seventh of a hectare).
is that it requires less labor at Through reduced water and labor requirements, she immediately
a time when overall farm labor saved around Tk500 (US$7.40) on the direct-seeded plot but,
availability is dropping due to better early on, it didn’t look good.
opportunities outside agriculture “But now the direct-seeded crop looks better than the
traditional crop,” she says. “When other people first saw my
in urban areas. Dr. Singh points field, they said, ‘you’ll lose everything!’ Now, they say, ‘your plot
out that as scarcity has increased, looks very good, one of the best in the area.’ My neighbors are very happy about this.”
so have wages. “I would say Alya’s 2005 direct-seeded rice, which was 3 weeks ahead her transplanted crop, achieved an
agriculture is a last priority,” he impressive yield and she was subsequently able to grow successful wheat, sesame, and chickpea crops.
says. “It’s low-paid, seasonal, and In the previous season, when she only transplanted rice, Alya grew chickpea and linseed after rice,
but the chickpea fared poorly because it was planted too late. Her sons, who help on the farm, are
has a high degree of drudgery.” impressed.
K.S. Shekhar, associate “One of my sons is saying, ‘Mum, we’ll direct-seed,’” Alya explains. “We won’t transplant any
director of extension (agronomy) more.”
at G.B. Pant University, says that
around his state of Uttaranchal,
increased opportunities in 25%. And the results to date show seeded with a drum seeder were
nonagricultural sectors have caused no yield disadvantage. On the about one ton per hectare more.
labor wage rates to skyrocket. contrary, Dr. Mazid reports that If direct seeding offers these
“This area is in India’s steel in a 2004 study of seven on-farm advantages, why transplant at all?
belt,” says Dr. Shekhar. “There sites planted to the popular variety The main answer is simple: weeds.
used to be a lot of labor, but now Swarna, yields in transplanted plots First, the transplanted rice seedlings,
there are so many other industries were 4.7 tons per hectare while grown in a nursery before being
established, so farmers want yields in plots that had been direct- moved to the field, have a head
technologies that require less labor.”
Even the farmers themselves
understand why laborers are drawn Uttar Pradesh, India.
off the land. Dr. Shekhar cites a
national survey that showed most
farmers would leave farming for a
reasonable job in another industry.
Farmers have a common lament,
he says, that goes: “When I do a
job, I have an 8-hour headache.
Farming is a 24-hour headache.”
There are other cost savings, too.
Direct seeding is generally cheaper
than transplanting, which incurs the
expenses of nursery establishment
and care, and the labor that goes
along with that. And, on larger farms,
running tractors and machine seeders
is less expensive on a dry, unpuddled
field than on a flooded one.
Dr. Mazid says that, in the
Barind, average crop establishment
costs per hectare are around US$120
for transplanted rice and $90 for
direct-seeded rice—a reduction of

Rice Today April-June 2006 17

use. In the farmers who direct-seeded in 2005
past, where had yields as good as or better
farmers have than for their transplanted fields.
changed from Direct seeding won’t eliminate
transplanting to labor issues. As more farmers adopt
direct seeding, a the technique, there is likely to
lack of good weed be an increased demand for hand
management has labor for supplementary weeding.
constrained the Even when herbicide is used, crops


development of generally need at least one follow-
IRRI WEED scientist successful direct- up hand weeding. But this shift
David Johnson examines seeding systems. in labor use will be spread over
a weed with field tech-
nician Emil Barcial.
Effective weed a longer period than the labor
management bottleneck for transplanting.
is more than The challenge, then, is greater
start over any competing weeds. just spraying a field with herbicide. than training farmers to choose the
Second, the water in a flooded After 5 years of on-farm trials, the most appropriate herbicides and use
field effectively acts as a herbicide, researchers are confident that direct them safely and effectively at the
suppressing weed growth. The seeding is a sustainable practice. correct time. Every field has its own
flipside, of course, is that weeds are “However,” says Dr. Johnson, weed issues, which reflect past crop
the major problem facing farmers “it is a knowledge-intensive system management systems. If a farmer
who direct-seed, and who can lose and we’ll need to ensure that the moves to a new system, different
most of their yield if they don’t adopt farmers have the knowledge and weeds will emerge as problems.
adequate weed-control measures. information they need to make the Farmers therefore need decision-
“It’s likely that farmers who right decisions at the right time.” making tools that allow them to
direct-seed will be more reliant on The key to successful anticipate changes and adopt the
herbicides,” says Dr. Johnson, “simply direct seeding on a large scale most effective strategy for combating
because they can’t rely on flooding therefore lies in the way that weeds (see Work needed to weed
to suppress weeds during the crucial farmers manage their crops. out farmers’ problems on page 38).
initial period of crop establishment.” “We have to change the farmer’s “Ultimately,” says Dr. Johnson,
Most Indian farmers already use mindset,” says Dr. Singh. “If he wants “we want a series of simple rules
herbicides. In Bangladesh, farmers to do better, he has to be a better in question-and-answer form. For
are less familiar with herbicides but manager. Only then will it be possible example, ‘What direct seeding
recent years have seen increased to benefit from new technologies. method should I use?’ or ‘If species
Productivity A develops as a serious weed in
levels, by and the field, what should I do?’. This
A DECISION TREE, designed to help ��������������
farmers make simple, step-by-step �������������������������
large, could is the next step—to bring together
decisions on how to best manage be improved the research results and develop a
��� ��
their direct-seeded crops. and the gap is format that allows farmers to access
����������� ����������
partly due to the information.” (See figure at left)
management. If a The real success of these projects
farmer improves will be seen when farmers over a wide
�� management area feel confident enough to adopt
and input levels, direct seeding. The research projects
���������������������� certainly his in Bangladesh and India have shown
productivity that successful weed management
will go up.” strategies that enable direct seeding
��� �� ��������������������������������
������������������������� Sure enough, can be put in place in both rainfed
�� ��� when weeds and irrigated rice-cropping systems.
�� ���
are managed “It might not be something that
������������ ������������ ������������� ������������� ���������
������� appropriately, happens on a wide scale until the
direct seeding circumstances to encourage such a
���������������������� is showing change are in place,” says Dr. Johnson.
promising “But with declining availability of
��� ��
results. Like irrigation water and of labor at peak
������������������������� ������������������������
�������������� ������������������������������� their Bangladeshi periods, it’s likely that, over the long
counterparts, term, we’ll see a continued shift to-
the Indian wards direct seeding in South Asia.”

18 Rice Today April-June 2006

Claiming rice fields

by Gene Hettel

n the overleaf that follows, the breathtaking bird’s-

eye view of the winding Alimit River in remote
northeastern Ifugao Province on Luzon Island in the
Philippines shows how the landscape can be fashioned
by nature—and humans. Indeed, the Alimit has carved
its way through the mountains for centuries and, as can
be seen in the lower right quarter of the centerfold, the
Ifugao people have been doing some carving of their own.
Their decades-long, methodical chiseling of the
riverbank will eventually help isolate the oxbow from
the river’s flow, providing these ingenious engineer-
farmers a new fertile niche on which to grow their famed
Ifugao rice. The photo at right shows the end result of a
successful centuries-earlier claiming of the river’s territory
for rice growing.

These photos are just two of nearly 1,000 shots

made from a small airplane during an early March
2006 expedition by Rice Today photographer
Ariel Javellana under the guidance of eminent Yale
anthropologist (retired) Harold Conklin. With the
fickle weather of Luzon’s Cordillera Mountain Range
being unusually cooperative, the adventuresome
duo spent many hours flying above the province’s
rice terraces, fields, river valleys, mountains,
and forests. They documented some 40
years of both change and stability across
approximately 80% of the province’s 2,500
square kilometers of rugged topography.
“The Ifugao people do not consider
anything immovable,” said Dr. Conklin in
admiration of these indigenous people, whom he
has studied for more than 4 decades, as he reviewed
with Javellana the treasure trove of images they
brought back with them to IRRI for study. Dr. Conklin
plans to include an analysis of some of the photos in a book he is
planning about rice and the Ifugao. Watch for more spectacular
photography from this collection in a future issue of Rice Today.

Rice Today April-June 2006 19

20 Rice Today April-June 2006 Rice Today April-June 2006 21
Rice Today April-June 2006, Vol. 5, No. 2 The Alimit River winds through remote northeastern Ifugao Province, Philippines.
LAO farmers tend vegetable
terraces on the Nam Khan
River near Luang Prabang.
Improved rice production
allows farmers to diversify
their crops, and therefore
their diet and income—but
life throughout Lao PDR, seen
in the surrounding photos,
continues to depend on rice.

Genuinely The story of the

project that

revolutionized rice

production in



by Adam Barclay and Samjhana Shrestha

n 1990, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao
PDR) needed more food. The rice industry in par-
ticular and agriculture in general were ready for
change. It had been a long time since the country had
produced enough rice—from which the average Lao
person receives around two-thirds of his or her calories—to
feed everybody. Something needed to happen, and soon.
History tells us that change did arrive that year,
along with the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-
operation (SDC) and the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI). The Lao-IRRI Rice Research and Train-
ing Project aimed to completely revitalize the Lao rice
industry. The next 15 years would see an enormous
surge in Lao PDR’s research and training capacity as
well as the long, hard journey to rice self-sufficiency.

22 Rice Today April-June 2006 Rice Today April-June 2006 23
102˚E 104˚E CHINA Tropic of Cancer

John Schiller, the former IRRI LA
scientist who led the project from its 22˚N

start in 1990 until 2001, recalls the


situation when the project began. Pongsaly

“In 1990,” he explains, “there

was almost no research aimed at Luang
developing technologies for im- Namtha South China Sea

proving rice production, almost Bokeo

no commercial fertilizer use, and Oudomxay

Houaphan Equator

limited rice research expertise.” 20˚N

After Dr. Schiller left, Karl

Goeppert took over project manage- Xiengkhouang
ment in 2001-04, followed by IRRI

vin e
agronomist Bruce Linquist, who


arrived in Lao PDR in 1997 and led



the project in 2004-05. Dr. Linquist

points out that the country’s prob-

18˚N 18˚N
lems were compounded by a dearth Vientiane Prefecture Khammouane
of international aid before the project
began. “We were the only ones do-
ing rice research and we basically
started from scratch,” he says. T H A I L A N D
IRRI entomologist
Gary Jahn, who took over
management of the 16˚N
Northern region

project in July 2005, Central region

will oversee the Southern region
transition from a Research activity Champassak
Research station
bilateral project
to a fully fledged

14˚N 14˚N
102˚E 104˚E CA M B O D I A

THE LAO-IRRI Project contributed substantially to the development of a functional national

rice research system and the establishment of a network of research stations across the
country in all provinces.

national research program, NRRP director Kouang Douangsila.

completely managed and co- How did the Lao-IRRI Proj-
ordinated by the Lao govern- ect improve rice production and
A LOWLAND rice farmer ment’s National Rice Re- build a national research program?
from Savannakhet Province search Program (NRRP) under For a start, the timing was good
threshes his rice after the and, as the project began, sev-
2005 harvest. eral key factors converged.
“The government
introduced favorable
agricultural policies,”

DANIELE MARECHAL Rice Today April-June 2006
Ty Phommasack, the vice minister for Department at the Lao National Ag-
agriculture and forestry. “At the same ricultural Research Center, “Without
time, IRRI arrived with technolo- the Lao-IRRI Project, there would not
gies and know-how and SDC came have been national modern varieties
in with long-term financial support. to release. The project has created
The government’s support has been a ‘rice revolution’ in the country.”
a big factor from the very start, and At the same time, Lao farmers’
the impact it has had on the Lao rice traditional rice varieties are not be-
industry really is unprecedented.” ing sacrificed. The project has aimed
Dr. Schiller adds that the min- for a well-balanced development
ister for agriculture and forestry, of the country’s rice industry and,
Siene Saphangthong, who spent currently, around one-third of Lao
time at IRRI as a research scholar PDR’s rice-growing area is planted
and served on the institute’s board to Lao modern varieties, one-third
of trustees in 1996-2001, strongly to other modern varieties (developed
supported the project in its early in other countries and at IRRI), and
stages, when he was vice minister. one-third to traditional varieties.
“As a result,” he says, “we didn’t suf- While the impact of improved


fer a lot of the work-related frustra- production is unquestionable, Drs. BRUCE LINQUIST talks to
farmers at a taste test of
tions that other agencies faced.” Schiller and Linquist agree that the
candidate rice varieties. After
It would be impossible to point most significant success has been tasting, the farmers vote their
to a single measure of success in the growth of Lao PDR’s agricul- preferences for eating quality.
a project as broad as Lao-IRRI. tural research capacity. “You can’t go
Statistics, such as the amount of anywhere in Lao PDR and not bump
land planted to Lao modern rice into somebody who’s benefited from female-headed households benefit
varieties—high-yielding varieties Lao-IRRI,” says Dr. Linquist. “If equally. For example, average rates
developed specifically for Lao condi- you’re in the agricultural sector, there of adoption of modern rice varieties
tions from the Lao-IRRI research have just been hundreds of people and subsequent yields are the same
programs—tell part of the story who have been trained through regardless of whether households
(see Growing impact on page 27). Lao-IRRI. Training has been huge. are headed by males or females.
“At the field level, one of the most “Sometimes that’s worked Monthathip Chanpengsay, deputy
obvious impacts has been the release against us—restructuring has director of research at the National
of the improved Lao rice varieties,” moved a lot of people from our Agricultural and Forestry Research
says Dr. Schiller. “In the Mekong program to higher positions because Institute and herself a beneficiary of
River Valley in 1990, only 5% of the they’ve been well trained. In the many of the Lao-IRRI training pro-
lowland rice area was under improved long term, though, that’s beneficial grams, points out that the project also
varieties. By 2004, many provinces because as well as having trainees ensured that women had the same
had up to 80% of their lowland area in the rice area, it filters through opportunities for training as men.
planted to improved varieties.” to all areas of government.” “Qualified women have had an
The impact of these modern Another area where Lao-IRRI equal chance of being selected in any
varieties has been profound, playing has made great progress is that of of the Lao-IRRI Project’s training
a huge part in Lao PDR increasing gender equity. Improved technologies programs,” she says. “There is no evi-
rice production between 1990 and developed by the project are gender- dence at any level of discrimination in
2004 from 1.5 million to 2.5 million neutral, meaning that male- and training programs based on gender.”
tons. From 1996 to 2004—the period
during which technologies were dis-
seminated—the country saw a 79% LAO upland farmers and trad-
ers manhandle bags of Job’s
increase in rice production with a
tears outside warehouses on
corresponding increase in land area the banks of the Mekong at
planted to rice of only 39%—and most Luang Prabang. Most of the
of this increase was due to double harvest is shipped down the
cropping of rice, not clearance of new Mekong to Thailand, where it
is used to brew beer.
land. The average annual growth rate
in production for the 15-year dura-
tion of the project is just above 5%
and this increases to more than 7%
since 1996. According to Sengpaseuth
Rasabandith, head of the Food Crops

Lao-IRRI-trained agronomist. When
he first visited Naoukhou in the late
1990s, it was a very poor village.
Now, largely thanks to his efforts,
they are self-sufficient in rice.”
As it happens, the rise of Naouk-
LAO farmer Mai Tamma of the village of Matahe, near
hou happened almost by accident, but
Luang Prabang, tells farmers and extension workers stands as an example of the project’s
at a December 2002 field day how hedgerows of stylo many unanticipated benefits.


in his upland field control erosion and provide high- “Naoukhou wasn’t a target vil-
protein feed that his pigs love. Because Mai Tamma lage,” explains Dr. Linquist. “We
has paddies suitable for lowland rice, he need not
plant his upland field to less productive upland rice.
chose the area because it had gall
midge problems and it was good for
screening. But Sulaphon got to know
The project has made a big “The presence and documentation of the farmers, who looked at these
contribution to the conservation of rice genetic diversity is of enormous trials and saw some good stuff. They
rice biodiversity in Lao PDR. Apart pride to Lao people and this is one asked for seed, Sulaphon gave it to
from being an indicator of overall aspect of the Lao-IRRI Project that them, and ‘boom!’—it just spread.”
environmental health, strong biodi- is going to be remembered long after Dr. Schiller is adamant
versity can provide genetic materials the project has been completed.” that one of the factors in Lao-
for future agricultural use. Lao- The past 15 years have seen IRRI’s success was nurturing
IRRI has helped NRRP establish a numerous vivid illustrations of a sense of Lao ownership.
collection of over 13,000 samples the impact that the project has “I didn’t want it seen as just
of traditional varieties, document had on people throughout Lao an ‘IRRI Project in Lao PDR’,” he
indigenous knowledge regarding tra- PDR. Samjhana Shrestha, a con- says. “I often played on the ‘IRRI’
ditional varieties, and conserve wild sultant agricultural economist component of the project name.
rice varieties in their natural habitat. at IRRI, recalls one of these. Expressed in the Lao language
Lao PDR is also the second-largest “I visited Naoukhou village in with the right tones, ‘IRRI’ means
contributor to the International Rice 2002,” says Shrestha, “and I re- ‘genuine.’ You can appreciate the
Genebank maintained at IRRI. member the villagers talking in Lao. opportunity we had to emphasize
According to Rod Lefroy, repre- I couldn’t understand, but I kept that the project was genuinely Lao.”
sentative of the International Center hearing this name—‘Sulaphon’—over This ownership can be seen in
for Tropical Agriculture in Lao PDR, and over again. It turns out that he’s a the way farmers themselves take part
in the research, and aren’t merely
told what to do by foreign research-
NEW HOPE FOR UPLAND FARMERS ers. According to Dr. Linquist, this
practice extensively boosted the adop-
R ice farming in Lao PDR’s uplands is a backbreaking way of
life. The upland environment, where crops are at the mercy
of unpredictable rains, is a poor one for growing rice. The farm
tion of new farming technologies.
“We worked very closely with
families who live there tend to be income and resource poor and the farmers,” he explains. “In-
therefore unable or unwilling to invest adequately in inputs such volving farmers in all the steps
as fertilizer. Upland rice yields are notoriously low, but most of research, from analyzing their
high-yielding modern varieties developed for irrigated systems problems through to finding new
IMPROVED rice production
tend to perform poorly under rainfed conditions.
in the highlands leaves land technologies, has really been ben-
available for diverse crops.
Following the success of an upland farming program in
China’s Yunnan Province (see A mountainous success in Rice Today eficial and has allowed us to get
Vol. 5 No. 1, pages 30-35), however, things are looking up in the uplands. Now, Lao PDR’s National technologies into farmers’ fields.”
Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute and the provincial governments of Oudomxay and Sayabouly Lao-IRRI’s emphasis on capac-
will work together with IRRI and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to boost ity building means that, as well as
Lao upland rice farming in a new three-year project.
working closely with farmers them-
Farmers from remote upland villages in Oudomxay and Sayabouly will test aerobic rice production
technologies, including high-yielding varieties of upland and aerobic rice—which grow well in dry selves, project staff have taught
conditions—from the Lao genebank, China’s Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and IRRI. Lao agricultural officers to work
According to Ren Wang, IRRI deputy director general for research, “We expect a relatively quick more effectively with the farmers.
impact in increasing rice yields for upland farmers. Not only will this help alleviate poverty, it will also “Traditionally, district advis-
help stop the environmentally damaging slash-and-burn farming practiced in many upland areas.”
ers and extension agents have just
As well as introducing higher yielding modern varieties, the project will develop traditional Lao
varieties that are resistant to soil-borne pests. Over the next three years, researchers hope to see average told farmers what to do,” explains
rice yields increase from the current 1 ton per hectare to around 3 tons per hectare. Such progress would Dr. Linquist. “After training district
significantly improve the livelihoods of upland farm families and their communities. officers, we asked them what sort
of benefits they found in working

26 Rice Today April-June 2006

Production and area Yield

Production (000 tons)

Area (000 hectares) 5
Yield (tons/hectare) Farm impact
4  Farmers who grow Lao modern varieties have approximately US$42 per
hectare—or 20%—higher net returns than those who grow traditional
3 varieties and other modern varieties. Yield improvement is the main
reason for increased returns.
2  Among surveyed households, 77% were self-sufficient in rice. Self-
sufficiency is higher among modern variety adopters (82%) relative to
500 1 nonadopters (58%).
 Overall, cash income from rice is 77% higher for adopters of modern
0 0
1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2004 varieties than for nonadopters.
Year  Around 80% of surveyed households planted modern varieties on 69% of
RICE PRODUCTION, area, and yield in Lao PDR, 1980-2004. rice area.

National impact
with farmers this way compared “The capaci-  Between 1990 and 2004, rice production increased from 1.5 million tons

with past methods. They told us, ty is there for the to 2.5 million tons.
 The total investment of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
‘We used to have to look for farm- future,” agrees
in the Lao-IRRI Project was approximately $15 million. The benefit-cost
ers. Now farmers are coming to Dr. Linquist. ratio is 7:1—for every dollar invested in the project, the Lao economy
us and asking to work with us.’” “There are strong is reaping a benefit of $7.
The true success of the Lao- links established  The estimated gain in production for 2004 directly attributable to the

IRRI Project—which is set to end between IRRI Lao-IRRI Project is 226,000 to 282,000 tons, corresponding to a value
of $26–32.4 million at the farm-gate price of $115 per ton.
in September 2006—will only be and the Lao na-
known years from now. But the tional partners. Institutional impact
impact so far has been impres- The big issue now  During the early phases of the Lao-IRRI Project, in 1990-95, infrastructure
sive, with much of the country now is thinking of such as access roads, buildings, and laboratories, was constructed and
self-sufficient in rice. Work remains innovative ways research farms were established. Research and training facilities were
constructed in the Lao capital of Vientiane and in other regions.
to be done, though, with the less to continue the  Lao-IRRI has established a network of research stations in all 17 provinces,
favorable areas of eastern Lao PDR research. But the forming part of a functional national rice research system.
still suffering from a rice deficit. capacity is there.”  Lao PDR’s rice research and training capacity has been increased through
But the building blocks are in A fully more than 4,600 training opportunities, including higher degree training,
place. According to Dr. Monthathip, functional rice on-the-job training, and participation in international conferences.
 The project has fostered collaboration between the national research system
the country now has the ability to research system
and a range of national and international organizations. Project alumni
continue improving on its own. is now a reality are now the main personnel collaborating with development agencies.
There is, she says, a confidence that in Lao PDR. This
simply didn’t exist 15 years ago. includes the es-
“The National Rice Research tablishment of a network of research “In just 15 years, Lao PDR has
Program is now sustainable,” says stations and a well-trained cadre progressed from subsistence rice
Dr. Monthathip. “Even if IRRI went of research scientists and manag- farming to more intensive production
home tomorrow, the rice industry ers. These people are now providing farming,” he says. “With sufficient
would be OK. But having IRRI in- scientific and management leadership support, the country will move to
volved has many benefits. It helps us to the country’s agricultural research the next level of development—com-
network with neighboring countries system, which has developed to a mercial farming and rice export. This
and international agencies, and it stage where it can fully participate stepwise approach to the development
gives us a broad overview that keeps in regional research initiatives and of rice-based economies has worked
things moving along smoothly.” networks. IRRI’s faith in Lao re- well for Vietnam and Thailand.
search capacity “The Lao-IRRI Project has
can be seen in effectively nurtured Lao PDR’s
the institute’s re- research system through its in-
quest to base its fancy. The system, which now has
Greater Mekong a critical mass of well-trained sci-
Regional Office entists and research managers,
in Lao PDR. Dr. has reached the point where it can
Jahn anticipates operate effectively on its own.”
PANY VANMANIVONG (right), who that Lao PDR This is a tremendous and last-

works for the Lao Agricultural will play a pivotal ing contribution to national and
Research Organization, interviews
a farmer from northern Lao PDR role in regional institutional development that
for a survey on the impact of the agricultural will continue to pay handsome
Lao-IRRI Project.
challenges. dividends well into the future.

Rice Today April-June 2006 27

Smallholders who integrate
rice farming with livestock
are the mainstay of traditional
agriculture in the Greater
Mekong Subregion—and a model
for sustainable development

by Peter Fredenburg


and Bob Hill

THE MEKONG River, pictured here at
Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, is central
he Farming Systems Research Group to the lives of hundreds of millions
at Khon Kaen University, in Thailand’s of people. A boy carries rice straw
hardscrabble northeast, studies the (opposite) in the ethnic Khmer village
of Letri in An Giang Province, Vietnam.
evolution of local farming systems. In
collaboration with the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI), it has focused particularly
on those that integrate rice farming with animal
husbandry. Suchint Simaraks, head of the research
group, recreates life on the farm in northeastern
Thailand as it was in the middle of the 20th century. almost entirely on buffalo power. Chemical fertilizer Times have changed in Thailand, were replaced by cash crops such as instituted in Thailand that gave
Most farmers, he says, grew their traditional varieties was unknown, so the manure shoveled off the corral even in the relatively traditional [fiber-producing] kenaf and cassava. emphasis to strengthening
of glutinous rice. It was eaten by hand or scrunched was the universal fertilizer. It nourished the mulberry and disadvantaged northeast. This, in turn, stimulated more exports, in particular agricultural
into a pocket, to be eaten during a moment’s shady rest trees that fed the silkworms that produced silk for the According to Dr. Suchint, integrated forest-clearing. At the same time, the exports,” Dr. Suchint says.
in the oppressive heat of the day. Rice was their major family to weave. It was used to fertilize tobacco crops, crop-animal systems started human population swelled, causing “These policies transformed
crop, planted with the first rains in May or June and was saved for the rice nursery before the rain, and getting squeezed in the 1970s as further acceleration of forest-clearing smallholdings from near subsistence
nurtured through the rainy season, which was equally was available for vegetable plots around the house. large tracts of forests disappeared, for settlements and more cash level to more commercialized
prone to flood or drought. If the weather was kind, In the dry season, the animals roamed freely leaving farmers short of grazing crops. The beasts could no longer and specialized systems.”
farmers had just enough rice to last through the year. But in the paddies, widely distributing their manure. areas for their cattle and buffalo. be allowed to wander free, and the Today, recovering prices for
the years without drought or flood were the occasional Farmers also threw manure into natural ponds to “Around 1961, more than half prices the livestock brought were not meat and growing demand for milk
ones, so farmers’ arts of survival were finely honed. feed the fish, crabs, and aquatic insects that would of the land in this area was covered high enough for farmers to continue have made livestock once again
Always wary of theft, they kept cattle and buffalo later feed humans. Nothing was wasted. Sometimes with forest,” he says. “When the raising them on their farms.” an attractive option for farmers.
under their houses at night. The animals were their farmers found personal nourishment in the manure government introduced timber Government policy accelerated Meanwhile, the Thai government
“money in the bank.” If an urgent need for cash arose, a itself: dung beetles for deep-frying, or the seeds of concessions, the forested area the trend. “During the past few actively encourages the revival of
beast was sold. Meanwhile, land preparation depended certain wild fruits to be shelled and eaten like nuts. declined sharply. The cleared forests decades, policy reforms were integrated crop-animal systems,

28 Rice Today April-June 2006 Rice Today April-June 2006 29

granting a million baht ($24,000) Division. “They employ idle rural
to every village in the country for
investing in small community-
manpower, generate supplementary
income for farm families, and reduce
for peace and prosperity in the
based ventures. “Farmers have financial risk and rural poverty. Greater Mekong Subregion
been borrowing this money to And they are—or at least can
A book by Peter Fredenburg and Bob Hill
buy more cattle,” Dr. Suchint be—environmentally sustainable.

reports. “So, the traditional “Intensified development of he Mekong is a river of contrast and
farming system is recovering.” these systems is appealing as the transition. Springing clear and icy from the
Although large specialized farms major actors and beneficiaries rugged plateau of Tibet, it is most familiar
enjoy many commercial advantages are small farmers and landless worldwide as a maze of muddy channels threading
across the flat, steamy delta of southern Vietnam.
over more traditional smallholdings, families,” she adds. “However, In a journey of more than 4,000 kilometers,
Thailand’s experience shows the sustaining the complementarities NGUYEN DUY CAN (second from
the river traverses the southwestern Chinese
right), shown with diversified
danger of plunging headlong into between crop and animal activities province of Yunnan, slips along the easternmost
rice farmer Le Thanh Dang,
specialized agriculture without regard is a big challenge, especially in the observes that too few Viet-
tip of Myanmar, and drains almost all of Laos,
to its environmental, economic, rice areas of Southeast Asia.” Cambodia, and northeastern Thailand.
namese farmers fertilize their
Unlike many of the world’s major rivers, the
and social sustainability. As Thai Dr. Sombilla coordinated studies crops with manure, and that
Mekong has never been a unifier. In 1866-68, the
farmers rediscover the half-forgotten on integrated crop-animal systems pesticide overuse limits rice
French explorers Doudart de Lagrée and Francis
straw's use as livestock feed.
virtues of many of their traditional in the Greater Mekong countries of Garnier journeyed from colonial Saigon up the
integrated farm practices, less- Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam “great river,” as it was called in Vietnamese and
developed countries in the Greater (considering the Mekong and Red Khmer, to demonstrate that it was a “river road”
to China. They were wrong. Broken by rapids
Mekong Subregion can benefit from River deltas separately), as well as farming communities; and advise Cambodian Agricultural Research above the Khmer town of Kratie, and subject to
the Thai lesson—and from research in the Philippines and Indonesia. on how best to address the problems and Development Institute. “The extreme variations in seasonal flow, the Mekong to three-quarters of all workers in most areas
that aims to guide the evolution of The studies, published in the book that constrain their sustainable, great majority of the livestock has historically divided the peoples who live along of the subregion—accounting, in Cambodia,
integrated systems for the benefit Integrated Crop-Animal Systems in market-oriented development. are raised in integrated farming its shores and tributaries—a mélange of more Laos, and Myanmar, for more than half of all
of farmers and consumers alike. Southeast Asia: Current Status and “Livestock production in systems, most of which have rice than 70 distinct ethnic and linguistic groups. economic activity by value. In the Greater
Astonishingly, the first bridge across the Lower Mekong Subregion, agriculture means, first and
“Integrated crop-animal systems Prospects (available free at www. most parts of Cambodia is so as their major component.” Mekong, the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge near foremost, growing rice , largely at a subsistence
are popular because they maximize, describe these intimately related to rice production The recent difficulties faced Vientiane, did not open until April 1994. level. Rice occupies 60% or more of all farmland
the use of farm resources,” explains systems and track their evolution; that neither can be studied nor by Ing Chea, a rice farmer in Don Two years earlier, the Asian Development in the poorest areas.
Mercedita Sombilla, a former investigate their potential for poverty understood in isolation from the Keo District of Takeo Province, 80 Bank had encouraged Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, That rice and its cultivation are central
agricultural trade and development alleviation, food security, and other,” comments El Sotheary, kilometers south of Phnom Penh, Thailand, Vietnam, and Yunnan to join hands to the issues of poverty in the Greater Mekong
in a program of economic cooperation called Subregion holds true from all key perspectives:
specialist in IRRI’s Social Sciences livelihood improvement in rice- Dr. Sombilla’s collaborator at the demonstrates how critical the rice the Greater Mekong Subregion. The concept livelihood, nutrition, health, protecting the
component is. Chea, who once owned has facilitated infrastructure development environment and biological diversity, and
a herd of more than 10 cattle but and fostered international recognition of promoting equal opportunity. Rice is therefore
sold most of them in 1997 to pay for a new growth area, the indispensable
house construction and his daughter’s with the river serving Greater Mekong Subregion entry point by which
as a symbol of this agricultural scientists
wedding, now has four cows, a couple newborn spirit of and extensionists can
of pigs, and a dozen chickens. He has c o o p e ra t io n . T he work with farmers to
been unable to afford to rebuild his subregion’s 2.3 million ������������
improve their lives
herd. He uses manure as fertilizer for square kilometers are ����� and those of the poor
his two annual rice crops, and rice home to a combined urban residents who
population of 250 ������� ������� depend upon them for
straw to feed his cows. In a recent million, a total nearly affordable supplies of
season, though, he complained that equal to that of the
��� their daily rice.
he lost 90% of his grain to rice bugs, United States. Sharing Rice—
whose odor discouraged the cows With the arrival
which offers snapshots
from eating the leaves and straw. of durable peace in the of rice research
1990s, Greater Mekong collaboration between
Sotheary points out that straw living standards have ��������
the International Rice
alone offers incomplete nutrition for improved. Yet per Research Institute and
cattle. Cambodian farmers rarely add capita gross domestic its local partners—
dietary supplements, though recently product in most of is dedicated “to
some have started treating the straw the region hovers the millions of rice
at the poverty line Boundaries are not farmers in the Greater
with urea. Pigs fare somewhat better of a dollar a day. necessarily authoritative Mekong Subregion who
on a diet that is about half rice bran. Persistent poverty continue to strive for
CAMBODIAN rice farmer “Rice bran is in itself a reasonable drives unsustainable agricultural practices that better lives for their families and to help feed a
Ing Chea (left) examines feed for pigs,” she says. “In fact, erode the public health and natural resources hungry world.”
his poorly filled rice grains upon which hope for a better future depends.
(inset) with Cambodian
raising pigs can be viewed as a
Rice pervades the Greater Mekong not just Adapted from the introduction of Sharing Rice, published
Agricultural Research and means of adding value to rice bran.” at mealtime. Agriculture employs two-thirds in 2006 by Sid Harta Publishers.
Development Instutute Farmers buy the bran from rice
agronomist Chea Chanthan. millers, who collect it as the milling

30 Rice Today April-June 2006 31

fee. “The quantity, quality, and community
cost of rice bran available at local resources, such
mills are the major determinants of as grazing lands
the number of pigs that are raised or forests,”
in a village, how well they grow, comments
and how profitable the activity Sotheary.
is,” Sotheary explains. She adds Because LE THANH DANG (right) shows
that taking bran as payment is cattle and buffalo Dr. Can one of his pigs. Dang
a disincentive for Cambodian provide 90% has raised pigs for two decades,
started raising cattle half a
millers to improve the quality of of draft power decade ago, and continues to
their milling, from a rice-recovery in Cambodia, grow just enough rice to feed
rate that averages a dismal 57%. and because his family of five.
Cattle and buffalo contribute the country is
somewhat more than a quarter of the still recovering
12.4 kilograms of meat annually eaten from war, it is the only one in the 14 head of cattle, prefers to use
per capita in Cambodia. Farmers Greater Mekong Subregion to see chemical fertilizers in his paddies.
themselves consume relatively a nationwide rise in the number “Not many better-off farmers like
few livestock products, except, on of buffalo in recent years. Buffalo him apply manure to rice,” explains
special occasions, chicken (which numbers also rose in the northern Nguyen Duy Can, deputy head of the
they raise as free-range scavengers mountains of Vietnam, where buffalo Sustainable Resources Management
with perhaps a scattering of white production—accounting for 60% of Department of Cantho University’s
rice, paddy, or kitchen waste) and, the national total—provides both Mekong Delta Farming Systems
even more occasionally, chicken draft power and meat. However, Research and Development Institute.
eggs. “Cattle, buffalo, and pigs like Thailand, Vietnam as a whole “Farmers here aren’t familiar
are sold to slaughterhouses, but has seen a significant decline in the with its use on rice. And handling
their meat is rarely purchased by number of buffalo and draft cattle manure is difficult, time-consuming,
the farmers,” Sotheary reports. as land preparation for rice has labor-intensive, and smelly.”
“However, animals that die in become increasingly mechanized. Phuc finds plenty of other uses
an accident or from disease are Raising large ruminants has for the stuff. Biogas piped from the
commonly consumed by villagers.” never been widespread in the Mekong manure pit into a large polyurethane
A survey conducted by IRRI in Delta of southern Vietnam, except bag hanging from the roof of a shed
the mid-1990s found that animal among ethnic Khmer, many of whom provides all the cooking gas his family
raising brings in 29% of the total cluster along the Cambodian border needs. He cultures earthworms in
income, including off-farm activities, and engage in cross-border livestock manure to feed to his catfish and
of Cambodian farm households and trade. Few mainstream Vietnamese sells manure to neighbors who do
fully three-quarters of their income farmers in the delta even use manure the same. And he uses manure to
from agricultural activities (80% to fertilize their rice fields. Cao Van fertilize his durian and pomelo trees.
for farm households considered Phuc, a diversified rice farmer in Dr. Can views farmers’ reluctance
poor). “At times, livestock may be the Chau Thanh A District of Cantho to fertilize paddy with manure as a
only way farmers can benefit from Province who recently acquired weakness in the system. “The greater
the interactions
between various
components of
BUFFALO, seen here in Vietnam's Bac Kan
the system, the
Province, have risen in number in Cambodia
and northern Vietnam, where they continue to more sustainable
be important sources of draft power and meat. the system
Across most of the Greater Mekong Subregion, is,” he points
however, their numbers have declined as land out, calling for
preparation for rice has become increasingly
further work on
how farmers can
most efficiently
make and
use compost.
He adds that
overuse of
pesticides on
rice limits

32 Rice Today April-June 2006

the straw’s use as livestock feed, ready access to
especially for dairy cows. markets. Women
Le Thanh Dang, of Hau Nghia in particular
village in Duc Hoa District of Long are underserved
An Province, just 25 kilometers or so despite the
from downtown Ho Chi Minh City, demands placed
is another better-off farmer who is on them. A
milking the growing Vietnamese 1999 survey of
market for dairy products—some 90% three villages in
of which is met with imports (mostly Cantho Province
milk powder). A pig and rice farmer found that
for more than 20 years, Dang started women provide
raising dairy cows 5 years ago and 95% of the
now has 10 head. He makes a good labor in animal
living selling milk and female calves, raising, but only
which are worth 10 times as much a third of them
as their male siblings. He devotes have special
most of his meager half-hectare knowledge of VIETNAMESE rice farmer Cao Van
plot to growing grass for the cattle, animal care Phuc and his wife stand beneath
reserving only 0.15 hectares, which or diseases. a polyurethane bag used to store
manure-generated biogas, which
he says is “not suitable for growing The situation provides enough cooking fuel for
grass,” for a crop of groundnuts is similar in Phuc's entire family.
and two crops of rice that add up Cambodia.
to 1.2-plus tons of grain, or just Other
enough to feed his family of five. common constraints to small-scale
Cau Le Huu, in nearby Xa Tan integration of animals and crops
My village, has taken advantage are farmers’ poverty and lack of sustainability, and they’re gathering a
of low-interest credit offered in credit, the variable quality and lot of support. Some say that, within
recent years by the Vietnamese high prices for improved animal 10 years, such farmers will be a
government for buying piglets and breeds, spotty availability of million strong. If they achieve that
beef and dairy cattle. His excellent affordable feed, and markets that number, it will represent 20% of the
relationship with local agricultural offer unstable prices and a lack of farmers in northeastern Thailand.
extension staff has also ensured processing for animal products. It remains to be seen whether
ample supplies of certified rice IRRI researcher Dr. Sombilla 20% is a critical mass, capable of
seed, advice on how to profitably points out that, despite the global bringing about a general change in
grow high-quality seed for sale to trend toward specialized agriculture, farming systems and lifestyles.”
neighboring farmers, help in choosing as recently as 1995, the Food and Yet, few agricultural
cattle breeds, and timely veterinary Agriculture Organization of the scientists believe that updating
services to keep his herd healthy. United Nations reported that half traditional practices appropriate
Successful enough to have of all farm animals and their by- for smallholdings will fully meet
appeared on local television as a products came from integrated the needs of urban consumers
model farmer, Huu feeds his eight crop-animal systems. And increasingly able to afford
cattle and five pigs rice straw and smallholders still constitute the a rich, diversified diet.
stems of groundnut and maize from bulk of Asian agriculture, even in “Commercial farms should
his own crops, supplementing the relatively prosperous Thailand. A be encouraged to fill most of the
feed with waste cassava he buys factor driving the reemergence of increasing market demand for
from others. He fertilizes his crops integrated crop-animal systems in meat and other animal products,”
with both manure and chemicals, northern Thailand, in addition to urges Dr. Can. “At the same time,
calculating that manure saves him rising demand, is a lifestyle trend that however, integrated crop-animal
more than $65 per crop per hectare emphasizes back-to-basics organic systems should be developed
and believing that it is better for his agriculture and self-sufficiency. further as an effective way of
land than relying solely on chemical “Farmers are changing their lives sustaining food production
fertilizer. He recently replaced his to stop unnecessary expenditure,” among small farm households and
wooden cattle stalls with concrete says Dr. Suchint. “They’re buying improving rural living standards.
ones and is looking to buy more land. livestock to provide fertilizer for
Most mixed farmers are not so their crops, and they’re using home- Adapted from Sharing Rice, published by Sid
fortunate in enjoying strong support made gadgetry as working tools. Harta Publishers. See for
from agricultural extensionists and They believe in self-sufficiency and purchasing information.

Rice Today April-June 2006 33

TRADITIONAL rice varieties,
like the one grown by this
farmer in the Hindu Kush, may
harbor useful genes for mak-
ing hardier modern rice variet-
ies that achieve higher yields
under stressed conditions.

Opposites attract ...

by Peter Fredenburg
Researchers zero in on two genes

rop breeders have enjoyed remarkable success
in breeding plant varieties that resist pests
at opposite ends of the rice genome and diseases. As resistance is typically a
qualitative trait—meaning that it arises from
the effect of just one or a few genes—it is
a much more straightforward breeding target than
that provide tolerance for a dreaded tolerance of such abiotic stresses as drought, salinity,
acidity, aluminum toxicity, nutrient deficiency,
extreme temperature, or submergence. Abiotic stress
tolerance is almost always a quantitative trait, arising
duo of widespread stresses, high through the combined effects of several genes.
Yet, a few genes exist that, like resistance genes,
individually confer a degree of abiotic stress tolerance,
cracking open the door for researchers to breed these
salinity and phosphorus deficiency traits into popular cultivars. A collaboration led by the

34 Rice Today April-June 2006

International Rice Research Institute have a good understanding of the facilitate their use in crop-breeding
(IRRI) as part of the Generation biology of tolerance of both stresses. programs, and train national
Challenge Program—an initiative And we are in the last stages of scientists in relevant molecular gene-
to use molecular biology to help fine-mapping the location of the discovery and breeding techniques.
boost agricultural production and, genes, both of which have clear-cut The IRRI team mapped the
consequently, the quality of life effects. We expect to have clones of location of Saltol by crossing Pokkali,
in developing countries—is well both genes within a year or two.” a traditional cultivar from India that
along the way toward success with Ismail explains that rice is exhibits moderate salt tolerance, with
Saltol, a gene on rice chromosome particularly sensitive to salt stress the saline-sensitive variety IR29.
1 that confers salinity tolerance, during its seedling and reproductive Growing a population of eighth-
and Pup1, a gene on chromosome 12 stages. Saltol confers tolerance at the generation inbred descendants with
that improves the plant’s uptake of seedling stage, which is important and without salt, the team was able to
the essential nutrient phosphorus. for good crop establishment in map the location of Saltol on the rice
Although the two genes govern coastal areas, where river water is genome. Fine-mapping of the Saltol
altogether different processes and brackish early in the growing season locus continues, using descendants
occupy opposite ends of the rice before seasonal rains weigh in. of the hybridization that are almost
genome (the sum total of the rice “It’s always safer to have salt- genetically identical but differ by
plant’s genetic information, encoded tolerant varieties in coastal areas,” the presence or absence of Saltol.
in its DNA), they are closely linked Ismail adds. “The Indian Ocean The project’s many participants,
in the fields where rice farmers tsunami shocked us with its terrible along with IRRI, include the
struggle to make a living. destruction and loss of life. But the University of California (Davis
“Both salinity and phosphorus kind of damage that the tsunami and Riverside), Australia’s
deficiency are widespread and often caused to croplands is more routine Commonwealth Scientific and
coexist, especially in the rainfed fields than people realize. Saline flooding Industrial Research Organization,
of the poorest farmers,” explains from relatively small storms Dhaka University in Bangladesh, the
Abdelbagi Ismail, the principal destroys crops in the Indian state Indonesian Center for Agricultural
investigator of the project, whose of Orissa every 2 or 3 years, most Biotechnology and Genetic Resources
avowed aim is to revitalize marginal recently in September 2005. But and Research Development, Japan’s
rice lands. “Globally, more than 15 such events rarely make the news.” National Institute of Agrobiological
million hectares of rice lands are The project’s main aims are to Sciences (NIAS), Iran’s Agricultural
saline, and more than half of all isolate and clone Saltol and Pup1, Biotechnology Research Institute,
rice lands are phosphorus-deficient. validate their respective roles in salt and the Japan International Research
From the research perspective, we tolerance and phosphorus uptake, Center for Agricultural Sciences—

ABDELBAGI ISMAIL (holding rice)

describes to IRRI visitors how he screens
rice plants for salinity tolerance.

Rice Today April-June 2006 35

variety Nipponbare (center) fares poorly
alongside the tall traditional variety Kasalath,
the Pup1 donor, and (right) an experimental
line that received Pup1 and is otherwise al-
most identical to Nipponbare. By transferring
Pup1 using the modern technique of marker-
assisted selection, the researchers avoided

carrying over unwanted genes that could have

compromised Nipponbare attributes such as
good grain quality. The corresponding grains
from these varieties can be seen below.

where co-principal investigator grow long roots, but one with Pup1 the improved variety to farmers.
Matthias Wissuwa, who left IRRI in can. He is nevertheless careful not Molecular breeding develops the
2005, continues his work on Pup1. to oversell the gene he has been product 4–6 years more quickly
In fact, Pup1 has been following working for years to isolate. than conventional breeding, as well
Wissuwa around for years. Having “In an experimental background, as providing greater understanding
started the project as a European Pup1 triples the grain yield and of the gene and, as Wissuwa points
Union science and technology fellow dry weight,” he says, referring to a out, more options for its use. Finally,
at NIAS in 1999, Wissuwa continued standard measure of plant bulk. “But the clean and precise insertion of
working on it when he arrived of course we test with susceptible a single trait like those conferred
at IRRI in the Philippines as an varieties. We don’t know how much by Saltol and Pup1 saves additional
international research fellow in 2002. Pup1 will improve normal rice time following delivery of the new
“It’s good to be able to change cultivars because we don’t know if variety to national programs.
jobs and keep working on the same they already have it. If they don’t, it “Adding only one trait to
thing,” Wissuwa says. “What’s should double their grain yield on a familiar and popular variety
exciting about Pup1 is that it really severely phosphorus-deficient soils. accelerates its spread and adoption,”
does something positive in the “In any case, phosphorus uptake Ismail explains. “In some cases, you
field. We observed that plants with is an important trait for rainfed may not need to go through the full
Pup1 extract up to three times fields and uplands,” he continues. release process, which normally
as much naturally occurring soil “The risk of phosphorus deficiency is takes an additional 3 years after
phosphorus. These plants can higher there than in irrigated fields, delivery to national programs and
therefore fill a large portion of their and those farmers can rarely afford multiplication of seed. When farm
phosphorus requirement without fertilizer. Another thing makes this families are going hungry, or children
phosphorus fertilizers. This benefits research worthwhile — when you can’t go to school because their
the poorest rice farmers, who can’t actually have the gene, you can use it parents can’t pay the fees, any time
afford to buy enough fertilizer. in a very targeted way. You can even saved can make all the difference
“And Pup1 is one of the put it, for example, into maize.” in the world to those individuals.”
few cases where we’re close to After cloning, breeding a new
isolating the gene and have a clear gene into popular rice cultivars takes Adapted from Research Highlights 2005,
picture of its phenotypic effects,” 2 years, with another year required published by the Generation Challenge
Wissuwa adds. “Usually you have to multiply enough seed to deliver Program (
one or the other, not both.”
As some traditional rice cultivars
take up 20 times more phosphorus
than other varieties, the project’s
mapping population descended from
a cross of the tolerant traditional
variety Kasalath with Nipponbare.
Pup1 is clearly associated with
vigorous root growth, but the cause-
and-effect question remains: Does
strong phosphorus uptake spur root
growth, or the other way around?
Either way, phosphorus
uptake is closely linked to drought
tolerance. As Wissuwa points out, Nipponbare NIL-C443 Kasalath
a plant lacking phosphorus cannot

36 Rice Today April-June 2006

RICE FACTS Per capita annual income in rupees
(44 rupees = US$1)

Drought perpetuates

poverty 10,000


rought is a major constraint to largely account for the slow growth
rice production in Asia, where in rice production in Orissa over time,
at least 20% of the total rice and similar patterns are seen in other
area is drought prone. When rice is drought-prone areas in eastern India. 4,000
Poverty line

grown under rainfed conditions, both Drought results in production

the area sown and the yield depend loss not only of rice and other crops 50% of
mainly on the available rainfall; any grown with rice, but also of subse- 2,000
poverty line

shortage in rains translates directly quent nonrice crops that require

into production losses. Although most the rice fields’ residual soil mois-
other natural disasters, such as floods ture. The value of production loss 0
Normal year Drought year
and cyclones, result in visible and im- resulting from drought is indeed
Figure 2. Effect of drought on poverty in eastern
mediate loss of life and infrastructure, very large. In three states of eastern
India (Jharkhand). Each point represents one per-
the effects of drought are creeping and India—Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and son; the arrows show where individuals sit relative
long-lasting. It cripples the livelihoods Orissa—where rainfed rice is grown to the poverty line in a drought year compared with
of a large number of people, often widely, the average production loss of a nondrought year.
trapping them in perpetual poverty. rice during drought years is estimated
Even without the extremes of starva- to be 5.4 million tons—over 30% of implements, and even land—they
tion and death, drought is a major the annual production in nondrought are trapped even deeper within
economic and social burden that slows years (see Dreams beyond drought a poverty from which escape be-
economic growth and makes escape on pages 14-21 of Rice Today Vol. 4 comes more and more difficult.
from poverty enormously difficult. No. 2). In severe drought years, the How can farmers avoid drought’s
A powerful example of drought’s loss can rise to as high as 40–50% worst effects? Improved technologies,
impact on rice production is seen of normal production. When pro- such as drought-tolerant rice varieties,
in the zigzag trend in rice yields in duction losses of rice and nonrice are important for reducing the grind-
Orissa, one of the major drought- crops are considered together with ing economic burden of drought. Such
prone states of eastern India (Figure the costs farmers bear by adjust- varieties are being developed, along
1). Almost every upward movement in ing their production system to try to with crop management options that
rice yields is followed by major down- cope with drought, the total annual improve plant recovery from drought
swings, most of which are caused by economic loss in these three states and more efficiently use available
drought. Orissa experiences drought alone is close to US$400 million. water resources. Substantial scientific
once every three or four years and And, as opportunities for farm progress has been made on this front
often in consecutive years. It is the employment dry up in the face of (see Drought – what is IRRI doing?
severity and frequency of drought that drought, so too do the incomes of on page 20 of Rice Today Vol. 4 No. 2).
farm laborers who rely on rice However, investment in agricultural
Rice yield (tons/hectare) production for their wages. It research in almost every rice-grow-
2.5 is estimated that in Chhattis- ing country in Asia is too low given
garh, Jharkhand, and Orissa, the benefits in poverty reduction that
almost 13 million people who can be realized. Increased research
2.0 sit perilously just above the investment, together with policy
poverty line fall back below it reforms that help raise and stabilize
due to drought-induced income farm incomes, can substantially boost
loss. Others already below the the prospects of eliminating the worst
poverty line in nondrought effects of this scourge of nature.
1.0 years are pushed further down.
Figure 2 illustrates this ef- Sushil Pandey is deputy head, IRRI Social Sciences
Drought year Division. Humnath Bhandari is a postdoctoral
fect in Jharkhand. If drought
fellow at the Japan International Research
0.5 occurs in consecutive years, Center for Agricultural Sciences. This article is
1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000
the situation is even worse. based on a report by the authors prepared in
As farmers go into debt and collaboration with D Naik (Orissa University of
Agriculture and Technology), R Sharan (Ranchi
Figure 1. Trends in rice yield and major drought years, liquidate their productive as- University), and SK Taunk and ASRAS Sastri
eastern India (Orissa), 1970-2003. sets—such as bullocks, farm (Indira Gandhi Agriculture University).

Rice Today April-June 2006 37

grain of truth
Work needed
to weed out
farmers’ problems

ince land was first cultivated to create a favorable environment farming practices. Repeated use of a single set of crop and weed
for crops, other less desirable plants have exploited the same management components will commonly result in the “deflection”
land more effectively. Control of weeds has been described of the weed composition to a single weed species. Further, in some
as humanity’s biggest single occupation, and while herbicides have rice growing areas weeds have evolved resistance to regularly
greatly reduced the effort needed to control weeds in some farming used herbicides, making them increasingly difficult to manage.
systems, in others, controlling them requires more labor than any To counter such problems, we need long-term weed management
other facet of crop production up to harvest. Weed control can also strategies that aim to prevent the buildup of problem weeds and
account for a significant portion of crop costs. to make the most of opportunities for cultural control.
Many lowland rice systems—ranging from highly developed In this light, knowledge of how the weed species react to
irrigated systems to hillside terraces—integrate several “cultural” different management practices over several seasons can be
weed control elements into crop management. Floodwater, on used to predict changes and avoid problems. Any change—such
puddled fields, to suppress weed growth as a move from transplanting to direct
is the most widespread. Another, the seeding or from f looded to dr yland
transplanting of rice seedlings, gives conditions—will tend to favor a new set
the seedlings a size advantage over Farmers need knowledge- of weeds, while species that thrived in
any germinating weeds and allows the previous conditions may decline in
farmers to maintain floodwater and avoid based crop and dominance. By anticipating changes in
draining the field, which stimulates weed weed composition, farmers can alter their
germination. A third approach, thorough crop management in response to emerging
land preparation, involves repeated
water management problems and implement more effective
cultivation, which kills existing weeds and weed management strategies. Further, by
depletes the soil’s “seed bank.” options to form the rotating through a series of management
In many areas, however, water and practices, farmers can limit the chance of
labor shortages are forcing farmers into cornerstones of future species becoming dominant.
new approaches. Direct seeding of rice, Crop management rotations have not
for example, requires less labor than yet played a role in many of the modern
transplanting and water shortages lead
weed control strategies rice systems, but these may have a greater
to reduced periods of flooding. Further, role in the future. Changing the timing
reduced tillage systems allow farmers to and depth of flooding, altering soil tillage
save energy costs, which have risen steeply in recent years. and crop establishment practices, direct seeding rather than
Any one field may be home to dozens of plant species other transplanting, alternating rice with other crops, and varying
than the crop itself, though only a few of these are likely to be herbicides are examples of management practices that can affect
important weeds. Prevailing growing conditions will usually the composition of weeds and prevent the build-up of individual
favor a small number of weeds, which may consequently cause species.
serious problems. If a farmer changes the field conditions—by Agronomists must better exploit knowledge of how different
direct seeding or reducing flooding, for example—other species weeds respond to varying ways of managing a crop. Farmers need
may become dominant. The composition of a field’s weeds and soil knowledge-based crop and water management rotations that can
seed bank reflect current and past crop management and farmers, form the cornerstones of future weed control strategies. Weed
particularly in traditional farming systems, often use certain management is an age-old problem but it remains as relevant
species as indicators of the system’s overall health. and challenging today as ever, and it is one that we ignore at
In the modern systems of intensive rice cultivation and our peril.
repetitive crop management, there may only be a very limited
number of species occurring—often annual grasses that have David Johnson is a senior weed scientist in IRRI’s Crop, Soil, and Water
similar growth habits to rice and are able to thrive under existing Sciences Division.

38 Rice Today April-June 2006







40 Rice Today April-June 2006