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International Rice Research Institute October-December 2006, Vol. 5, No. 4

Perspectives on IR8
The rice that changed the world
Life, death, and rice at a time of war

Making rice waterproof

Farming for conservation
Rice in harm’s way

Bold new vision

Lessons of the past help IRRI chart the way forward

ISSN 1655-5422
Vol. 5, No. 4

EDITORIAL ................................................................ 4 PUTTING RICE ON THE AFRICAN AGENDA ........... 16

…But what has IRRI done for the world lately? The recent Africa Rice Congress in Tanzania helped
chart the course for the future of the rice industry in
sub-Saharan Africa
NEWS ......................................................................... 5
Flood-proof rice
A more powerful and efficient engine for rice CONSERVING THE FUTURE .................................... 18
As India’s rice-wheat belt grapples with declining
International rice industry to gather in India soil health and water tables, a vanguard of young,
GM rice turmoil innovative farmers and researchers is leading a new
A greener rice industry approach that could hold the key to reversing the
region’s waning productivity
Rice domesticated at least twice
Vietnam export plan
SNAPSHOT .............................................................. 24
African rice news Rice in harm’s way

PEOPLE ..................................................................... 8 FROM GENES TO FARMERS’ FIELDS ...................... 28

Achievements The practical application of gene discovery to develop
Keeping up with IRRI staff submergence-tolerant rice will help farmers avoid
2006 IRRI reunion brings together past, the ravages of severe flooding
present, and future Identifying the submergence-tolerance gene DONORS CORNER ................................................... 47
The mechanics of submergence tolerance Innovative research and extension are the key
to agricultural development: Korea’s Rural
BOOKS ...................................................................... 9 Development Agency’s efforts over the last 100
THE QUIET ACHIEVER ............................................ 32 years have helped Korea achieve self-sufficiency in
BRINGING HOPE, IMPROVING LIVES ..................... 10 Recently retired rice scientist Vethaiya rice and other staple foods
Rice feeds roughly half the planet’s population and Balasubramanian has spent his life helping
approximately three-quarters of a billion of the people—and he’s not going to let retirement
world’s poorest people depend on the staple to stop him RICE FACTS .............................................................. 48
survive. A carefully focused agenda for continued Asia and sub-Saharan Africa: rice in numbers
research on this vital crop is as important as ever. Key information on rice situation, poverty, health,
BREEDING HISTORY ............................................... 34 and malnutrition
Forty years ago, a remarkable rice-breeding project
culminated in the release of a rice variety under an
unremarkable name—IR8. This is the story of the GRAIN OF TRUTH .................................................... 50
research that would ultimately change the face of How many rice varieties are there?
agriculture across Asia.

I REMEMBER HONDA RICE ..................................... 39

How the first Green Revolution rice variety—IR8—
influenced life and death in the Mekong Delta
during the Vietnam War

ENVIRONMENT ....................................................... 45
Thinking outside the box
On the cover:
As society accepts the reality of global climate An Indian farmer
change and begins to prepare for it, we need the with a bumper IR8
tools to predict the risks we should expect harvest in 1967
(see pages 34-38).

cover photo IRRI files International Rice Research Institute

publisher Duncan Macintosh DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines
editor Adam Barclay Web (IRRI): www.irri.org
art director Juan Lazaro IV Web (Library): http://ricelib.irri.cgiar.org
designer and production supervisor George Reyes Web (Rice Knowledge Bank): www.knowledgebank.irri.org
contributing editors Gene Hettel, Bill Hardy
news editor Juanito Goloyugo Rice Today editorial
photo editor Ariel Javellana telephone (+63-2) 580-5600 or (+63-2) 844-3351 to 53, ext 2725;
photo researcher Jose Raymond Panaligan fax: (+63-2) 580-5699 or (+63-2) 845-0606; email: a.barclay@cgiar.org
circulation Chrisanto Quintana
printer Primex Printers, Inc.

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 14 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
particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of are encouraged to query first, rather than submit unsolicited materials. Rice Today
15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research assumes no responsibility for loss or damage to unsolicited submissions, which should
(CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. For more information, visit be accompanied by sufficient return postage.
the CGIAR Web site (www.cgiar.org).
Responsibility for this publication rests with IRRI. Designations used in this publication Copyright International Rice Research Institute 2006
Flood-proof rice GM rice turmoil
development of new rice varieties that
can withstand flooding, and that could
offer relief to millions of poor rice
S mall amounts of a genetically modi-
fied rice variety not approved for
sale were detected in U.S. commercial
farmers around the world. Flooding in supplies in August. The long-grain
Southeast Asia alone costs farmers an “LibertyLink” rice, developed by Bayer
estimated US$1 billion each year. CropScience and known as LLRICE
Although rice thrives in standing 601, possesses bacterial DNA that

water, like all crops it will die if com- makes the rice plants resistant to the
pletely submerged for more than a few herbicide glufosinate. Two other strains
days. The development and cultivation of rice that produce the same transgenic

A gene that enables rice to survive

complete submergence has been
identified by a team of researchers
of the new varieties are expected to
increase food security for 70 million of
the world’s poorest people. The study
protein as LLRICE 601 have previously
been approved for sale. The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration issued a
from the International Rice Research appeared in the 10 August issue of the statement declaring that “the presence
Institute (IRRI) and the University of journal Nature. of this bioengineered rice variety in the
California’s Davis and Riverside cam- For more information, see From food and feed supply poses no food or
puses. The discovery allows for the genes to farmers’ fields on pages 28-31. feed safety concerns.”
The discovery has hit the U.S. rice
A more powerful and efficient engine for rice industry, with Japan banning imports
of U.S. long-grain rice and Europe ac-

A major international scientific effort

was launched in July to develop and
use a radical new approach to boost
prove that, the whole plant benefits.”
To meet this challenge, scientists
at the workshop focused on enhanc-
cepting only shipments that have been
verified free of LLRICE 601 following
a U.S. Department of Agriculture-
rice production and avoid potential ing the rice plant’s photosynthetic ef- approved test. Since the 18 August
rice shortages, or even future famine. ficiency, or what’s known scientifically announcement of the contamination,
Knowledge generated by the recent as converting rice from a C3 plant to prices for U.S. rice have dropped. Bayer
sequencing of the rice genome is offer- a C4 plant, where the “C” refers to the is facing lawsuits from three U.S. rice-
ing new insights into the possibility of carbon captured by photosynthesis for farming groups seeking damages to
completely reconfiguring what’s known growth. To do this, C4 plants—such as compensate farmers for falling prices.
as the engine of rice production, the maize—use solar energy more effec-
plant’s photosynthetic system. tively for growth.
IRRI crop ecologist John Sheehy, The experts at the workshop sug-
convener of a workshop on C 4 Rice gested that it will probably take another
– Supercharging the Rice Engine, 3–4 years to achieve the proof-of-con-
held at IRRI on 17-21 July, said, “The cept needed, and another 10–15 years
photosynthetic process is the engine of after that before the first C4 varieties
growth for the rice plant. If we can im- would be available.


International rice industry to gather in India

T he international rice industry is

preparing to meet in India at a time
of unprecedented change for the food
events—the 26th International Rice
Research Conference, the 2nd Interna-
tional Rice Commerce Conference, and
Korea’s Rural Development Administration
that feeds almost half the planet. the 2nd International Rice Technology (RDA) celebrates its 100th birthday this
Held every 4 years, the Interna- and Cultural Exhibition. year. Established in 1906 in Suwon, the
tional Rice Congress (IRC) will bring According to Mangala Rai, secre- agency—then known as the Experiment Sta-
tion for Agricultural Encouragement—has led
together all aspects of the rice tary of India’s Department of Korea’s modern agricultural research as well
industry with a special fo- Agricultural Research and as disseminated technology and educated
cus on the latest research, Education and ICAR direc- farmers. About 1,000 people participated
science, and technology. tor general, “The IRC2006 in a 30 August–3 September celebration,
Hosted by the Indian Min- aims to provide a com- Korean agriculture—100 years and beyond.
Korean Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
istry of Agriculture and co- mon platform for sharing His Excellency Hong-Soo Park (left) and RDA
sponsored by the Indian knowledge and exper- Administrator In-Sik Kim (right) are seen
Council for Agricultural tise on research, exten- here inspecting high-yielding rice cultivars
Research (ICAR) and IRRI, sion, production, processing, developed by the RDA’s National Institute of
the IRC will be held in Delhi on trade, consumption, and related Crop Science. For more on the RDA, see Donors
corner on page 47.
9-13 October and include three main activities with stakeholders.”

Rice Today October-December 2006 5

A greener rice industry of agricultural produc- daily struggles, joys,
tion on such a large and loves in rural life,

I RRI is working with the member

countries of the Association of South
East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to develop
regional basis.
A lso on 2 June,
IRRI, in collaboration
with environmental is-
sues carefully weaved
into the dialogue.
a series of five environmental indicators with the Ministry of The project high-
for rice production in the region. The Agriculture and Rural lights the use of tra-
indicators will focus on production, Development (MARD) ditional communica-
biodiversity, pollution, land degrada- of Vietnam and the tion media to educate
tion, and water. World Bank, formally farmers on environ-
When implemented, the indica- launched the Environ- mental conservation
tors will allow each country to moni- mental Radio Soap Op- principles and pro-
tor and compare the environmental era for Rural Vietnam. mote messages on is-
impact of its rice production with that The new radio soap sues such as pesticide
of its neighbors, and either correct any opera, Quê Mình Xanh and fertilizer use, pol-
problems or improve on existing prac- Mãi (Forever Green lution control, straw
tices. The project, launched in Hanoi Homeland), is aired on radio stations burning, water conservation, wildlife
on World Environment Day on June 2, the Voice of Ho Chi Minh and the Voice preservation, soil health, and natural
will be the first to monitor the impact of Can Tho. The 105 episodes feature biological controls.

Rice domesticated at least twice Vietnam export plan

T he two subspecies of modern culti-

vated rice—Oryza sativa indica and
Oryza sativa japonica—were domesti-
tions of cultivated rice, Oryza sativa,”
was published in the 20 June issue of
the Proceedings of the National Acad-
T he Vietnamese Ministry of Agricul-
ture and Rural Development has
released a 5-year development strategy
cated independently in different parts emy of Sciences. aimed at producing at least 36 million
of Asia. According to Barbara Schaal, The domestication of rice from tons of rice per year, with a minimum
a biology professor at Washington Uni- its wild ancestor Oryza rufipogon is 4 million tons for export. Vietnam will
versity in St. Louis, and her colleagues, thought to have started about 9,000 develop several rice-exporting regions,
indica arose south of the Himalayas in years ago, somewhere within an area including large areas in the Mekong
eastern India, Myanmar, or Thailand, spanning eastern India, Indochina, and and Red River deltas. The country will
and japonica was domesticated inde- parts of southern China. Schaal and her also invest in irrigation projects and
pendently from a different wild rice colleagues, Jason Londo, Yu-Chung Chi- storage facilities and encourage more
gene pool in southern China. ang, Kuo-Hsiang Hung, and Tzen-Yuh efficient production methods. In 2006,
Their report, “Phylogeography of Chiang, looked at three genes shared Vietnam expects to harvest 38–39 mil-
Asian wild rice, Oryza rufipogon, re- by O. rufipogon and O. sativa and com- lion tons of paddy rice, 5 million tons of
veals multiple independent domestica- pared the genetic variation therein. which are earmarked for export.

Bangladesh training online kata, cloned the gene from a wild rice room for urban developments, pro-
The Bangladesh Rice Research Institute variety that grows in the Sunderbans duction will drop and prices will rise.
has launched a 3-day Web-based train- mangrove delta. They have transferred Indeed, recent reports have suggested
ing course on aman (wet-season) rice the gene into modern rice varieties as that increased demand in Asia is cur-
production. Initially, extension workers well as mustard and are testing the sa- rently pushing prices upward.
from some 100 upazilas (subdistricts) line-resistant crops on an experimental
will take the course, whose develop- farm. The team is awaiting U.S. and Name change for IPGRI
ment was supported by the European European patents. From 1 December 2006, the Inter-
Commission-funded Food Security for national Plant Genetic Resources
Sustainable Household Livelihoods Rice price to double? Institute will change its name to Bio-
(FoSHoL; www.foshol.org) project. The global rice price is likely to double versity International to better reflect
within 2 years, according to Stephan the institute’s strategy, which focuses
Salt-tolerant rice Wrobel, chief executive officer at on improving people’s lives through
Indian scientists have discovered a gene Diapason Commodities Management in biodiversity research.
that allows rice to grow in extremely Switzerland. According to a 14 August
salty conditions. The researchers, from Bloomberg report, as major rice-pro- Malaysia to curb imports
the Bose Institute’s Centre for Plant ducing countries such as China and Malaysia plans to restructure its agri-
Molecular and Cellular Genetics in Kol- Vietnam dig up their paddies to make cultural agencies to increase efficiency

6 Rice Today October-December 2006

Nigeria rice import ban
African rice news Nigeria’s decision to ban rice imports
from 2007 has been met with both en-
New Africa rice leader thusiasm and skepticism. Mike Ejemba,
Papa Abdoulaye Seck of Senegal (pic- former secretary to the Presidential
tured right) will succeed Kanayo Rice Initiative Committee, warned
Nwanze, whose second and final term that the government may be fined by
ends in November, as director general the World Trade Organization (WTO)
of the Africa Rice Center (WARDA). His or have WTO benefits withdrawn.
Excellency Adamu Bello, Honorable “If Nigeria is found guilty, she would
Minister for Agriculture and Natural lose substantial revenue in millions
Resources of the Federal Republic of of dollars as penalty and legal bills,”
Nigeria, in his capacity as the chair of he said.
the WARDA Council of Ministers, made However, in an article entitled
the announcement at an extraordinary Nigeria: the rice penalty, published
session of the WARDA Council on 22 in This Day in Lagos on 28 July, writer
June 2006 in Abuja, Nigeria. Tayo Agunbiade hailed the move as part
At the time of the announcement, of an attempt to revive rice production
Dr. Seck was director general of the for both local and international con-
Senegal Agricultural Research Insti- sumption and a positive step toward

tute and adviser to the prime minister reforming and diversifying the nation’s
of Senegal. A member of the executive economy.
committee of the West and Central “Nigeria’s ban on the importation
African Council for Research and De- of rice should in no way attract a fine
velopment and of the Global Forum on Growing rice demand or withdrawal of WTO benefits. On
Agricultural Research, he also served The demand for rice in Africa, which the contrary, the nation should be
as chair of the Forum for Agricultural accounts for 20% of world rice imports, commended for taking a bold step to-
Research in Africa. is growing at around 6% per year. About wards addressing some of its domestic
Dr. Seck said, “One of my cherished 20 million farmers in sub-Saharan problems such as unemployment, and
dreams has been fulfilled: to be in a Africa grow rice, while about 100 mil- poverty, as well as promoting agricul-
strategic position to serve Africa bet- lion people depend on it for their liveli- tural development and diversifying
ter…. My work at WARDA will be built hood, People’s Daily Online reported. the foreign exchange earner base,”
on the pillars of transparency, equity, In 2004, some 13.2 million tons of rice Agunbiade said.
scientific excellence, strengthening of were produced locally, while 5.9 million
the national agricultural research sys- tons were imported from elsewhere, For a wrap -up of the recent Africa Rice
tems, and an open-door policy towards costing the sub-Saharan African region Congress in Tanzania, see Putting rice on
all partners.” some US$1.2 billion. the African agenda on pages 16-17.

and productivity as well as upgrade million tons, which accounts for 86% and wheat—would grow under con-
drainage and irrigation systems in of all food aid delivered. In 2005, ditions projected for 2050. Results
commercial paddy fields. The country slightly more rice food aid—1.2 million showed that crop yields were about
aims to increase its rice production tons—was delivered than in 2004, but half those drawn from similar earlier
and reduce its imported-food bills. By less than the 1.4 million tons delivered experiments conducted in enclosed test
2009, all local paddy farmers will be in 2002 and 2003. conditions.
required to plant high-yielding rice
varieties. Malaysia, which imports Global food supplies at risk? Rice News Worldwide
from Thailand and Vietnam, had set a Climate change may put global food
target to meet 90% of the local demand supplies at risk because rising carbon
for rice in the next 5 years, up from the dioxide levels are unlikely to boost
current 72%. yields enough to compensate for factors
such as higher ozone levels and drier
Rice as food aid conditions, according to a University
Rice made up 17% of global cereal food of Illinois study published in Science IRRI’s Rice News Worldwide site
aid deliveries in 2005, according to a magazine. The researchers used open- provides links to a comprehensive list
World Food Program report. Global field tests to study how the world’s main of the latest rice news stories. See for
cereal food aid deliveries totaled 7.1 staples—corn, rice, sorghum, soybeans, yourself at http://ricenews.irri.org.

Rice Today October-December 2006 7

Achievements in Manila on 17 June. The university the Fujian Agriculture and Forestry
recognized Dr. Castillo’s “outstanding University (FAFU) on 13 August. Dr.
contributions as a rural sociologist, and Heong—pictured (below left) receiving
of her being the first social scientist to the appointment certificate from FAFU
raise the level of research as a tool for Vice President and Fujian Academy
development studies.” of Agricultural Sciences President
Deputy Director General for Oper- You Minsheng, with the Wuyi Shan
ations and Support Services William (mountains) in the background—was
Padolina has been appointed editor- also announced winner of the Academy
in-chief of the prestigious Philippine of Sciences for the Developing World
Journal of Science, a technical journal Prize in Agricultural Sciences 2006.
on natural sciences, engineering, math- Glenn Gregorio and Dante

HANK BEACHELL briefs visiting philanthropist

ematics, and social sciences. Adorada of IRRI’s Plant Breeding,
John D. Rockefeller III on IR8 in 1967. IRRI entomologist K.L. Heong Genetics, and Biotechnology Division,
was appointed adjunct professor of and Cristina Sison, former IRRI nu-

H enry “Hank” Beachell, one of

IRRI’s pioneer plant breeders who
worked in the 1960s on the first high-
tritionist, shared the 2006 Philippine
Agriculture and Resources Research
Foundation, Inc. Research and Devel-
yielding modern rice variety, IR8 (see opment Award (research category) with
Breeding history on pages 34-38), cel- Angelita del Mundo and Angelina
ebrated his 100th birthday on 21 Sep- Felix of the University of the Philip-
tember. Dr. Beachell, who joined IRRI pines Los Baños College of Human
in 1963, shared the 1996 World Food Ecology, Jere Haas of Cornell Uni-
Prize with former IRRI senior breeder versity, and John Beard and Laura
Gurdev Khush. According to his World Murray-Kolb of Pennsylvania State
Food Prize biography, “The economic University, USA. Their winning paper
magnitude of his achievement is in the was entitled Rice biofortification as a
multibillion dollar category; beyond viable approach towards improved
this, billions of people are now bet- human nutrition.
ter fed, enjoy better health, and have Scientists Roland Buresh and
increased life expectancy, thanks to Mirasol Pampolino of IRRI’s Crop
Dr. Beachell and his unexpected and and Environmental Sciences Division
exemplary efforts in rice breeding.” received awards from the Philippine
M.A. Salam, chief scientific of- Society of Soil Science and Technology,
ficer and head of the Plant Breeding 1-2 June 2006, during the 9th Annual
Division at the Bangladesh Rice Re- Meeting and Scientific Symposium of
search Institute in Gazipur, has won the society at Central Luzon State

the Senadhira Rice Research Award University.

for 2006. Dr. Salam was honored for
his outstanding contributions to the Keeping up with IRRI staff
development of varieties for the rainfed
lowlands of Bangladesh. The award
honors the late Sri Lankan scientist
Dharmawansa Senadhira, one of
N oel Magor, former IRRI represen-
tative in Bangladesh, is returning
to the Institute’s Philippine headquar-
nology (PBGB), leaves IRRI to take up
a position at IRRI’s sister institute in
Mexico, the International Maize and
IRRI’s most successful rice breeders, ters to head the Training Center. He Wheat Improvement Center.
who tragically died in a traffic accident is scheduled to begin on 3 October. Senior IRRI agronomist Vethaiya
in Bangladesh in 1998. Interim Training Center Head David Balasubramanian has retired and
Keijiro Otsuka, chair of IRRI’s Shires will return to his position as a plans to return to India, where he
Board of Trustees, has been named curriculum adviser and trainer. will teach at Tamil Nadu Agricultural
president-elect of the International As- Former IRRI Operations Manage- University (see The quiet achiever on
sociation of Agricultural Economists. ment Head Joe Rickman moved to pages 32-33).
He is set to begin the role at the associ- Mozambique in September to head Jill Cairns, formerly a postdoc-
ation’s Beijing Conference in 2009. the new IRRI Africa office. Another toral fellow in the Crop and Environ-
Philippine National Scientist and Australian, Terry Jacobsen, arrived mental Sciences Division, has been ap-
IRRI consultant Gelia Castillo re- in August to take over as the new head pointed international research fellow,
ceived an Honorary Doctor of Science of operations management. working on drought tolerance in rice.
(Rural Sociology) degree, honoris Gary Atlin, senior scientist in Agricultural economist Kei Kajisa
causa, from De La Salle University Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotech- joined the Social Sciences Division.

8 Rice Today October-December 2006

2006 IRRI reunion brings together past, present, and future

M ore than 150 people (former and

present staff and families) at-
tended the 2006 IRRI Alumni Reunion
23-25 June. The program encouraged
great fellowship through a barrio fiesta
on Friday evening and a Saturday sci-
on the campus of the University of entific symposium, followed by a tour
California-Davis in Davis, California, of rice fields and farms in this region of
California, which is the second-largest
rice-producing state in the U.S. after


During the fiesta, Davis Mayor
Ruth Asmundson (who had visited
IRRI earlier in 2006 and is a Los Baños
JUST BEFORE the IRRI reunion, on 22 June 2006 in
native) made honorary citizens of all Sacramento, California, Gene Hettel, head of IRRI’s
the IRRI alumni in attendance. During Communication and Publications Services, presented
the Saturday symposium, Duncan Ma- to Mrs. Liz Havener a 1/4-size duplicate plaque of
the original that names the auditorium in IRRI’s
cintosh, IRRI spokesperson and head Chandler Hall in memory of Robert Havener, who
of Visitors and Information Services, served as interim director general in 1998 and who
brought the group up to date on IRRI’s passed away in August 2005.
new strategic plan and recent events
and discussed how the large IRRI tape) IRRI pioneers in attendance,
alumni contingent in the U.S. can keep including former directors general
in better touch with the Institute. Nyle Brady (1973-81) and Klaus Lampe
As part of the IRRI History Project, (1988-95). IRRI history was a running
which is an element of preparations for theme throughout the event and his-
the 50th anniversary, Gene Hettel, head torical material, including photos and
FORMER directors general Klaus Lampe (left) and
Nyle Brady contributed their recollections for the of IRRI’s Communication and Publica- video footage shown there, can now be
IRRI History Project. tions Services, interviewed (on video seen at www.irri.org/about/history.asp.


E nvironment and Livelihoods in

T ropical Coa stal Zones:
Managing Agriculture-Fishery-
is known and not known about how to
manage them. For example, some case
studies relate to the trade-offs between
the past three decades in the Philippine
rice economy and society. For example,
she writes, “The integrity of rice science
Aquaculture Conflicts (edited by enhancing agricultural production by deserves to be respected so the culture
C.T. Hoanh, T.P. Tuong, J.W. Gowing, constructing embankments to keep out of rice will rise above the culture of
and B. Hardy; co-published by CAB saline water and maintaining not only politics. Whether rich or poor, in a very
International, International Water the variety of rural livelihoods but also unequal society like ours, rice is the one
Management Institute [IWMI], and brackish aquatic biodiversity. Other thing we have in common.” She points
IRRI; 309 pages). This book focuses on case studies provide the lessons learned out that rice farming now relies more
the challenges people face in managing from the conversion of mangrove for- on hired labor
agricultural crops, aquaculture, fisher- ests to shrimp farms. For a copy, go to than on family
ies, and related ecosystems in inland www.cabi-publishing.org. labor. Rice-farm-
areas of coastal zones in the tropics Rice in Our Life: A Review ing households
of Asia, Africa, Australia, and South of Philippine Studies (by Gelia T. are increasingly
America. These challenges can create Castillo; co-published by De La Salle less reliant on
conflicts in the University’s Angelo King Institute for rice farming
use of natural Economic and Business Studies and for household
resources be- the Philippine Rice Research Institute; income, which
tween different 182 pages). According to the Philippine indic ates t hat
stakeholders. Daily Inquirer, Dr. Castillo, eminent ru- some members
Through many ral sociologist and Philippine National of those households are earning in-
case studies, Scientist, has written “what’s probably come from other sources. Purchasing
t h e au t h o r s the most lucid summary of scientific information: contact Dr. Ponciano Intal,
discuss the studies, over the past 30 years, on a Jr., De La Salle University, 10th Floor,
nature of the cereal that can make or break presi- DLSU-CSB-Angelo King International
conf licts and dents.” In a delightful prose style, she Center, Arellano Avenue corner Estrada
identify what highlights the remarkable changes in St., Malate, Manila 1004, Philippines.

Rice Today October-December 2006 9


Bringing hope,
improving lives
by Jay Maclean and Gene Hettel

Rice feeds roughly half the planet’s population and approximately

three-quarters of a billion of the world’s poorest people depend
on the staple to survive. A carefully focused agenda for
continued research on this vital crop is as important as ever.


f all goes as planned, in The Plan, to be officially unveiled throughout. Says Dr. Zeigler, “During
2010—while the International by IRRI Director General Robert these deliberations, we concluded
Rice Research Institute Zeigler during International Rice that the MDGs related to hunger,
(IRRI) is celebrating its Congress 2006 in New Delhi on 9 poverty, environmental sustainability,
50th anniversary—the October, is also designed to enable and nutrition and health formed a
initiatives spelled out in the IRRI to do its part in helping partners sound basis and direction for IRRI’s
Institute’s new Strategic Plan (the and nations across the globe to reach future activities. So, we developed five
Plan) will already be starting to the United Nations Millennium strategic goals (see page 12) and seven
have impact. IRRI titled the Plan Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. research programs (see page 11) to
Bringing hope, improving lives, as Developing the Plan took nearly achieve them to reflect this thinking.”
that is precisely what the Institute 12 months. IRRI consulted widely Achieving IRRI’s first
hopes to do for rice producers and among its partners and stakeholders goal—Reduce poverty through
consumers around the world. and sought expert guidance improved and diversified rice-based

10 Rice Today October-December 2006

Africa, rice consumption in 2015 IRRI's new programs
is projected to be, respectively, 9
million tons (11%), 14.9 million tons 1. Raising productivity in rainfed environments:
(13%), and 6.8 million tons (52%) attacking the roots of poverty
above 2005 levels (for more details, 2. Sustaining productivity in intensive rice-based
see Rice facts on pages 48-49). systems: rice and the environment
“This means relatively less 3. East and Southern Africa: rice for rural incomes
research emphasis for IRRI on yield and an affordable urban staple
gains for irrigated rice—for which 4. Rice and human health: overcoming the
there is now strong capacity among consequences of poverty
the national agricultural research 5. Rice genetic diversity and discovery: meeting
and extension systems (NARES), the needs of future generations for rice
particularly in Asia,” says Ren Wang, genetic resources
IRRI’s deputy director general for 6. Information and communication: convening a
research. “Instead, IRRI’s focus global rice research community
on intensive production systems 7. Rice policy support and impact assessment for
will shift more to sustainability. rice research
In addition, by targeting the MDG
on eliminating extreme hunger
and poverty as our first strategic
goal, we are opening profound new
“Our primary objective will be
opportunities for IRRI to improve
to enhance household food security
the economic and social well-being of
and income in these rainfed areas
poor rice consumers and farmers.”
of Asia,” says Dr. Hossain. “With
“Rainfed areas coincide to a
rapid advances in genetics and
large extent with regions of severe
genomics, the chances of developing
and extensive poverty where rice is
high-yielding, drought- and flood-
the principal source of staple food,
tolerant varieties for the rainfed
employment, and income for the rural
system—and, consequently, helping
population,” says Mahabub Hossain,
farmers to diversify their farming
interim leader of the new program
systems and thus their income—are
on Raising productivity in rainfed
much greater now than ever before.”
environments: attacking the roots
Sub-Saharan Africa is now one of
of poverty (see map on page 13).
the world’s major poverty zones and
Up to now, success has been
limited in increasing productivity
in rainfed rice ecosystems—home
to 80 million farmers on 60 million
hectares. Rice yields in these

ecosystems remain low at 1.0 to

2.5 tons per hectare and tend to be
variable due to erratic monsoons.
Poor people in these ecosystems
often lack the capacity to acquire
food, even at lower prices, because
systems—will take the Institute of poor harvests and limited
beyond its traditional focus on rice employment opportunities elsewhere.
production (increasing productivity Recent research successes
or “filling the rice bowl”), which have underscored the potential for
required an emphasis on favorable improvements in the rainfed area.
irrigated areas, to “filling the purse,” For example, a team of researchers
a major effort to improve farmers’ from IRRI and the University of
incomes in unfavorable rainfed California have identified a gene that
areas. Nevertheless, rice supplies helps rice survive prolonged flooding,
will need to remain plentiful to and which will allow breeders to

provide reliable food that even the develop new submergence-tolerant

poorest can afford. In Southeast rice varieties (see From genes to
Asia, South Asia, and sub-Saharan farmers’ fields on pages 28-31).

Rice Today October-December 2006 11

The relationship between IRRI’s new strategic goals and the Millennium Development Goals
The United Nations Millennium
Millennium Development Goals Development Goals
IRRI strategic goals
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 The goals provide a focus for global
efforts to meet the needs of the
Goal 1: Reduce poverty through
world’s poorest people. IRRI’s new
improved and diversified rice-based
systems strategic plan ensures the Institute
will do its part in achieving them.
Goal 2: Ensure that rice production is
sustainable and stable, has minimal
negative environmental impact, and 1. Eradicate extreme
can cope with climate change poverty and hunger

Goal 3: Improve the nutrition and 2. Achieve universal

health of poor rice consumers and primary education
rice farmers
3. Promote gender equality
Goal 4: Provide equitable access to
and empower women
information and knowledge on rice 4. Reduce child mortality
and help develop the next generation
of rice scientists 5. Improve maternal health

Goal 5: Provide rice scientists and 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria,

producers with the genetic information and other diseases
and material they need to develop
7. Ensure environmental
improved technologies and enhance
rice production
8. Develop a global partnership
A direct contribution toward achieving the MDGs
for development
An indirect contribution toward achieving the MDGs

Goal 1 targets this vast region as well. to capitalize on both the existing is why our second goal is to Ensure
“About 130 million people in knowledge within the countries and that rice production is sustainable
East and Southern Africa (ESA) live the available international expertise.” and stable, has minimal negative
in extreme poverty and more than It is critical that the stability and environmental impact, and can cope
85% of these depend on agriculture,” productivity of rice agroecosystems with climate change,” says Dr. Zeigler.
says Joseph Rickman, interim in Asia and Africa not be taken for Rice-growing areas are
leader of the new program on East granted and that their use by future among the world’s most enduring,
and Southern Africa: rice for rural generations not be jeopardized. “That environmentally sound, and
incomes and an affordable urban productive agroecosystems, and
staple. A large number of these people increased rice production in recent
are rice consumers and many are IRRI has staff based in 14 countries decades has had a significant
small rice producers. A significant impact on poverty reduction.
investment in agriculture is critical to  The Philippines (headquarters) “Rice ecosystems provide basic
eradicate hunger and poverty in ESA.  Bangladesh commodities and regulatory services,
“Rural poverty in ESA could be  Cambodia including nutrient and water cycling,
significantly reduced if the efficiency  China and biological control to reduce pest
of local rice production were  India and disease outbreaks,” says David
improved in the key rice-growing  Indonesia Johnson, interim leader of the new
areas of Kenya, Mozambique,  Korea program Sustaining productivity in
Tanzania, and Uganda,” says  Lao PDR intensive rice-based systems: rice
Rickman. “Our research agenda  Myanmar and the environment. Poor people
here will also focus on enhancing  Nepal often depend on these “ecosystem
small farmers’ access and linkage  Nigeria (IRRI–Africa Rice Center liaison) services” to provide their needs as
to markets. We will collaborate  Mozambique they are often without infrastructure
closely with the Africa Rice Center  Thailand to obtain clean water, food, and fuel.
(WARDA), the national programs,  Vietnam Environmental sustainability and
and advanced research institutes ecosystem services are threatened,

12 Rice Today October-December 2006

however, by the loss of biodiversity,
climate change, and inappropriate
management systems often due to
land, water, or labor shortages.
“Strategies are urgently
needed to preserve the natural
resource base while improving
productivity in rice agroecosystems
in the face of changing physical
and socioeconomic environments,”
says Dr. Johnson. “IRRI will focus
on land management, biodiversity,
water availability and productivity,
and the impact of climate change to
develop and promote technologies
and options to sustain rice-
producing environments.” and human health: overcoming the to chronic and infectious diseases
Nutritional deficiencies, consequences of poverty, which from water and from vectors such
especially in women and children will bring together the multiple rice as rodents and mosquitoes, as well
in both Asia and Africa, often go biofortification projects (including the as illness attributed to the improper
hand in hand with extreme poverty HarvestPlus Challenge Program—see handling of farm chemicals.”
because poverty is a major factor Breeding for nutrition on pages For much of the work in
limiting diversity in the diet. “Hence, 24-26 of Rice Today Vol. 2, No. 2) this program, the delivery chain
our third goal is to Improve the and other health-related efforts includes partners in NARES for the
nutrition and health of poor rice that already investigate germplasm, co-development and deployment
consumers and rice farmers,” says farm practices, and policy options. of germplasm (seeds and the
Dr. Zeigler. Reliance on a single Underpinning maximum success genetic material they contain) and
staple, such as polished rice, does in meeting many of the MDGs is agricultural practices. However, IRRI
not provide the requisite suite of the need to solve the widespread will greatly expand its interactions
minerals and vitamins necessary problems of health and nutrition that with the public health sector in
for healthy growth and development debilitate people and hinder economic developing countries, for both
and leads to widespread nutritional growth. Poor nutrition is manifested policy and delivery effectiveness.
deficiency in many of the 1.2 billion in invisible nutritional deficiencies “This process has already
people in Asia and sub-Saharan (hidden hunger) and in malnutrition begun in the Golden Rice Network
Africa living in extreme poverty. (visible hunger). “In addition,” says for India and the Philippines and
Gerard Barry is the interim Dr. Barry, “poor health in the context this will serve as a model for other
leader of the new program Rice of rice cultivation may be related products,” explains Dr. Barry. “The
existing structures in the Golden
Rice Network and in HarvestPlus
have already brought together many
of the relevant national and regional
institutions needed for impact.”
Developments that will affect all
of the efforts mentioned so far are
the rapidly increasing availability
and affordability of information
and communication technology,
such as the Internet, mobile
phones, and powerful computers.
These new technologies have
created important opportunities
to allow people with common
interests to form communities,
communicate, and collaborate.
“They have also raised new
obligations for IRRI to curate,
POVERTY AND RICE distribution and irrigation by country, and subdivisions for China and India. The size of the
pie diagram is scaled (not linear) to the total rice area in a country. There is a clear relationship between the exchange, and share not only its
prevalence of rainfed rice and the level of poverty. own body of information, data,

Rice Today October-December 2006 13

Leung. “This will translate into
a greater demand for the genetic
knowledge and tools that are needed
to identify and use resources
that meet specific needs.”
Through genomics (the science
of discovering genetic structure,
variation, and function, and the
interrelationships among these),
genetic knowledge can now be
integrated across species, leading
to accelerated discovery of gene

functions. Furthermore, genome-wide
analysis has the potential to reveal
new insights about genetic pathways,
and create new opportunities
and experience but also that of the science and extension. The second to meet both anticipated and
world’s knowledge about rice in all pathway is direct engagement of unforeseen challenges.
its forms,” says Dr. Zeigler. “This science and extension communities “Bringing together germplasm
will not only enhance global rice using current communication conservation, diversity analysis,
research efforts but also empower technologies, both new, such as and gene discovery under this single
developing-country rice scientists Web portals, videoconferencing, program,” says Dr. Leung, “presents a
with state-of-the-art information and cell phones, and traditional, unique opportunity to maximize the
and knowledge and their associated such as radio and television.” utility of conserved and customized
tools. So, our fourth goal is to Provide Another ingredient in the mix germplasm. This program will offer
equitable access to information and that will continue to contribute a comprehensive, well-documented
knowledge on rice and help develop to the impact of IRRI’s research germplasm base, a public research
the next generation of rice scientists.” agenda is the rice germplasm it platform to enable gene identification,
According to Graham has assembled over nearly half a and genetic knowledge for priority
McLaren, interim leader of the century. “IRRI now maintains, on traits. Building on the investments
new program Information and behalf of humanity, the world’s most and achievements made in germplasm
communication: convening a complete and diverse collection of characterization, functional
global rice research community, rice germplasm,” says Dr. Zeigler, genomics, and bioinformatics, IRRI
this effort will build on many “and this leads to our fifth and is poised to play a major role in gene
global investments in information final goal, to Provide rice scientists function discovery, applications of
and technology within and outside and producers with the genetic genetic knowledge, and conservation
IRRI’s parent organization, the information and material they need and sharing of genetic resources.”
Consultative Group on International to develop improved technologies The last new program, which
Agricultural Research (CGIAR). and enhance rice production.” will be critical to achieving the five
“Through this program, we are According to Hei Leung, interim Plan goals, is Rice policy support
formally attempting to consolidate leader of the new program Rice
all IRRI research and development genetic diversity and discovery:
on information and communication meeting the needs of future
technology for rice science and generations for rice genetic
extension under a single coordinated resources, there are still significant
activity,” says Dr. McLaren. “We gaps in IRRI’s germplasm collection
plan to place bioinformatics and and, despite the advanced state
communication tools directly in the of knowledge of the rice genome,
hands of crop scientists, extension information is scant on what diversity
agents, and farmers to deliver impact of genes exists within the rice gene
through two major pathways, which pool, what these genes do, and how
will enhance the capacity of IRRI’s they may help meet the needs of rice
six other research programs to producers and users. Meanwhile,

deliver impact more effectively. genetic erosion in the field continues.

“The first pathway is Internet “We expect a greater demand for
dissemination via a World Rice specific genetic resources to address
Community Portal of restructured production and environmental
and cross-linked information on crop problems in the future,” says Dr.

14 Rice Today October-December 2006

and impact assessment for rice
research. According to Dr. Zeigler,
IRRI’s new Frontier Projects
the impact of rice research on
Drought and productivity in unfavorable rice environments
poverty reduction and environmental
Recent IRRI research has shown that the drought tolerance trait is strongly influenced by
sustainability depends on policies genes and gene networks with large effects. This project will scale up their detection, analysis,
and appropriate technologies that and delivery for use in marker-aided breeding. By incorporating genes for this trait from
address farmers’ livelihood needs. rice and other species into widely grown rice varieties, technologies can be developed with
“To effectively set research national agricultural research systems and provided to farmers to enhance and stabilize their
priorities, we must understand the rice yields and income. (See Diagnosing drought on page 32 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 3.)
broad trends in socioeconomic and
policy environments that affect the Climate change and sustainability
economics of rice production,” he Climate change brings new problems for the sustainability of rice production. Further, changes
says. “This involves analyzing trends in air quality and composition, acid rain, and Asian “brown” clouds will produce a new
in rice production and consumption bio-climate for food production systems. Rice cultivation is often viewed as a contributor
to climate change through the production of greenhouse gases. Given the essential role of
at national and subnational levels and
rice in the food system, solutions must be sought that not only minimize the impact of rice
shifts in comparative advantages in production on the environment but also sustain productivity and environmental quality.
rice production relative to other crops Strong science will decipher the causes and effects involved, improve germplasm adaptation
across regions and ecosystems.” to expected future climatic conditions, and mitigate the negative effect of agriculture on
According to interim program climate. (See Climate change initiative ramps up on page 5 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 3.)
leader Sushil Pandey, IRRI
aims to provide sound advice to A much more productive and efficient rice plant
policymakers, research managers, Plants like maize and sorghum have a more efficient photosynthetic mechanism (called C4)
and donors regarding research for converting energy to biomass than rice (a so-called C3 plant). C4 plants are also more
priorities and the design of efficient in nitrogen and water use, and are generally more tolerant of high temperatures.
agricultural interventions through Genomic sciences and comparative biology may be able to break the yield ceiling of rice and
enhance its water- and nitrogen-use efficiency by changing the photosynthetic mechanism
policy analyses, livelihood studies,
in rice to that of the more efficient plants. IRRI has formed a C4 rice consortium of senior
and impact assessments focused scientists from both advanced research institutes and developing countries to chart and
on rice-based systems of Asia. conduct research to develop a C4 rice plant. (See A more powerful and efficient engine for
“By making regional comparisons rice on page 5.)
of rice economies and associated
livelihoods, the program will help
produce a global view of the drivers
socioeconomic and policy analyses productive and efficient rice plant
of change and their impacts,”
of the agricultural sector. NARES, (see IRRI’s new Frontier Projects,
says Dr. Pandey. “In addition, we
sister CGIAR centers, and advanced above), are intended to accentuate
will develop research approaches
research institutes will all have key the Institute’s commitment to
and tools that will have wider
collaborative roles in the program.” achieving its new goals. Says Dr.
application for policy research
IRRI has a 46-year history of Wang, “They will constitute novel
and impact analysis.” We will also
investing in visionary “frontier” and focused research on problems of
closely partner with NARES to help
research—research that, when strategic importance to future rice
build their capacity for broader
successful, has revolutionized production and the environment.
agriculture. The original frontier The projects will be undertaken by
project was none other than the multi-institutional, international
incorporation of semidwarf genes research teams, and we expect that
to create the modern high-yielding significant portions of the research
varieties that began with the release will be conducted at collaborating
of IR8 40 years ago and spurred institutions in both developed
the Green Revolution in rice. (See and developing countries.”
Breeding history on pages 34-38.)
Three new Frontier Projects, Jay Maclean is a freelance writer and
involving work on drought tolerance, information specialist with more than 30
climate change, and producing a more years’ experience in agriculture and fi sheries.

Complete details of IRRI’s exciting Strategic Plan 2007-2015, Bringing hope, improving lives,
are available online in pdf format at www.irri.org/bringinghope/improvinglives.pdf. Hard
copies are available upon request from the office of IRRI’s Director for Program Planning and
Communications at dppc-irri@cgiar.org or DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines. IRRI’s
Medium-Term Plan, 2007-09, which provides details on the seven research programs for the
first 3-year period of the Strategic Plan, is available online at www.irri.org/mtp2007-09.

Rice Today October-December 2006 15

PARTICIPANTS at the Africa Rice Congress included
(front) Josephine Maseruka, a journalist from New
Vision, Uganda; (second row, left to right) Mpoko
Bokanga from the African Agricultural Technology
Foundation, Kenya, and rice breeder Susan McCouch
from Cornell University, USA; (third row, left to
right) Yousouf Dembele, Leonard Ouedraogo, Thio
Bouma, and Ibrahim Ouedraogo, all from the Insti-
tut de l’environnement et des recherches agricoles,
Burkina Faso.

Putting rice on the African

The recent Africa Rice Congress in Tanzania helped chart the course for the future
of the rice industry in sub-Saharan Africa

ice was one of the Rice is of significant importance Although rice production in
cornerstones of the Asian to food security in many African SSA rose from 6.2 million tons of
Green Revolution. Will countries. Although per capita paddy (unhulled) rice in 1980 to 12.6
it play a similar role rice consumption in some Asian million tons in 2005, it has not been
in sub-Saharan Africa nations is declining, it is growing able to keep pace with increasing
(SSA)? Participants at the Africa rapidly in most countries in SSA. demand. As a result, the quantity of
Rice Congress in Dar es Salaam, Annual demand for rice in SSA is rice imported yearly by the region
Tanzania, on 31 July–4 August increasing by 6% per year, fueled increased from 2.5 million tons in
2006, urged African governments by rapid population growth and 1980 to 7.2 million tons in 2005.
to recognize the strategic role of rice changes in consumer preferences. Rice imports cover more than 45%
and urgently put in place policies of SSA’s consumption and represent
and infrastructure to transform a third of world rice imports.
the rice sector in the region. Since only 4–6% of world
The first of its kind in SSA, the rice output is subject to trade,
Congress brought together more Aliou Diagne, impact assessment
than 200 participants, including economist from the Africa Rice
national and international rice Center (WARDA), cautioned that SSA
scientists, policymakers, economists, would be ill advised to rely on this
international nongovernmental relatively “thin” world rice market
organizations, representatives for its growing rice demand. “SSA
from rice networks in West and should urgently review its rice import
East Africa, farmers’ associations, policy to avoid a crisis in the near
the private sector, the donor VICKY NTETEMA, BBC future,” he said at the Congress.
community, and media. The main Bureau Chief in Dar es Dr. Diagne emphasized the
Salaam, Tanzania, inter-
purpose of the Congress was to views a Tanzanian rice need for African smallholder
chart the way forward for rice farmer during the Africa farmers to get a more level playing
Rice Congress.
research and development in SSA. field to access markets, inputs,

16 Rice Today October-December 2006

Board of Trustees. Discussions and Richard Musangi, Kenya.
began on the development of The Congress was organized by
next-generation NERICAs. WARDA, in association with the West
The need to strengthen the and Central Africa Rice Research and
capacity of human resources Development Network and the East
of the whole range of rice and Central Africa Rice Research
stakeholders—from researchers to Network, under the aegis of the
extension workers, farmers, and Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture,
processors—was underscored. Food, and Cooperatives. Sponsors
A Committee of Eminent were the U.S. Agency for International
Persons comprising mainly the Development, the Canadian Fund
PAPA ABDOULAYE SECK (left), who keynote speakers at the Congress for Africa, the Sasakawa Africa
is set to become director general provided overall guidance to the Association, the West and Central
of WARDA in November 2006, discussions on some of the critical African Council for Agricultural
prepares to speak while WARDA issues relating to rice research Research and Development, the
entomologist Francis Nwilene
and development in SSA. Association for Strengthening

(center) and IRRI agronomist

Vethaiya Balasubramanian assist. The committee included Dr. Agricultural Research in Eastern and
Khush; Ruth Oniang’o, member of Central Africa, the European Union,
parliament, Kenya; Eric Tollens, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Catholic University of Leuven, The first Congressional Honor
Belgium; Susan McCouch, Cornell was bestowed on Kanayo F. Nwanze,
University, USA; Marco Quinones, in recognition of his outstanding
Africa director of Sasakawa-Global contribution to rice research and
by Savitri Mohapatra 2000; Toshiyuki Wakatsuki, Kinki development in Africa during
University, Japan; Prof. Otsuka; his term as WARDA director
Oumar Niangado, Syngenta general from 1996 to 2006.
and credit. “While SSA’s 36 Foundation, Mali; Mpoko Bokanga,
million farmers scrape a living African Agricultural Technology Savitri Mohapatra is head of
out of rice farming in a liberalized Foundation, Kenya; Kallunde Sibuga, communications at the Africa
market, Asian and American rice Sokoine University, Tanzania; Rice Center (WARDA).
farmers are highly supported by
their governments,” he said.
Confirming the vital need Resolutions of the first Africa Rice Congress
for government support to the
rice sector, World Food Prize • Given that Africa has to import almost 50% of the rice it needs and that demand is
increasing at the rate of 6% per year, rice should be one of the cornerstones of a Green
Laureate and former International Revolution for Africa that anticipates the needs of future populations.
Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
principal breeder Gurdev Khush • Transform the low level of available scientific expertise in sub-Saharan Africa, where there
said that the development of high- are only 83 scientists per million people, compared with 1,100 scientists per million in
industrialized countries and 785 per million in Asia. The Congress resolves that for the Green
yielding varieties alone could
Revolution to succeed in Africa, a new capacity-building program focusing on the development
not have provided the boost in
of a multidisciplinary cadre of scientists and extensionists is urgently needed.
rice production that led to India’s
Green Revolution in the 1960s. • To accelerate farmer adoption of New Rice for Africa (NERICA) varieties and other improved
“It was a combination of success technologies, concerted actions by a broad partnership including governments, research
factors that included the government’s institutions, the private sector, and local, regional, international, and nongovernmental
organizations are needed. The Congress recognizes the value of micro-financing and
decision to support its rice farmers
participatory learning as powerful means both for technology dissemination and for
by providing a fertilizer subsidy,
developing appropriate infrastructure to improve access to seeds, fertilizer, mechanization,
price support, and a ready market, and market systems.
in addition to irrigation, roads,
and machinery,” said Dr. Khush. • The Congress is deeply appreciative of the support and hospitality of the government of
The Congress participants the United Republic of Tanzania. It recognizes the role played by the Africa Rice Center
(WARDA), not only in African agriculture and, therefore, in the continent’s economic
acclaimed the achievements of
growth but also in providing leadership in rice science and development. Desirous,
WARDA’s partnership-based
therefore, of the necessity for the Center to continue to provide such leadership in rice
research, especially its New Rice development in Africa, the Congress resolves and urges all stakeholders to maintain the
for Africa (NERICA) varieties. “We Center’s identity, as previously resolved by the WARDA Council of Ministers in September
are just witnessing the beginning of 2005 and the National Experts Committee in June 2006, and to strengthen its capacity
the NERICA revolution in Africa,” for the welfare of African rice farmers.
stated Keijiro Otsuka, chair of IRRI’s

Rice Today October-December 2006 17

the future
Story and photos by Adam Barclay

APPROPRIATE MACHINERY—such as these drill seeders—is key to

the conservation agriculture approach. Equipment like this allows
farmers to reduce seed and fertilizer waste, seed through existing
crop residue, and incorporate residue into the soil.

As India’s rice-wheat belt grapples with declining soil health

and water tables, a vanguard of young, innovative farmers

and researchers is leading a new approach that could hold

the key to reversing the region’s waning productivity

ou’ve been farming for is looking disastrous. Your crop
20 years. You do things looks terrible. Your neighbors
as your father did them, tell you you’re crazy and laugh
and his father before at you. You seriously consider
him. Then, one day, plowing the whole field under.
a scientist visits your farm. You Now jump ahead to harvest
discuss the problems that have been time. That same plot of land is now
getting worse for the past few years. admired by your neighbors as one
Productivity is declining and you of the best in the area. The other
need more fertilizer to get the same farmers are lining up to try the same
yields. You both agree that something thing in their fields next season.
different needs to be done. Together, On top of that, you’ve saved money
you decide on a new approach. and helped the environment.
Despite some skepticism, Conservation agriculture, as
you allocate a significant portion this new approach is known, is still
of your land to a trial. But, early young. We won’t know for a few years
in the season, this experiment yet whether it lives up to its promise.

18 Rice Today October-December 2006

Right now, though, that promise is the mix. Fewer and fewer of India’s
exciting. And, make no mistake— young want to farm. Growing up
conservation agriculture could be watching their parents work their
very important indeed. This isn’t fingers to the bone, often for little
about niche farming to supplement reward, has dissuaded a generation
the way things have always been that sees a brighter future in India’s
done. This is about feeding a nation. burgeoning urban economy. And,
Agriculture in India is currently often, they have the understanding
at a crossroads. In many areas— and support of their parents.
especially on the most productive “Both my sons want to get out
farms in the rice-wheat belt of of farming,” explains Akhtar, a
the Indo-Gangetic Plains in the 45-year-old farmer from Kalugarhi
country’s northwest—decades of village in the northwestern state
conventional farming have begun to of Uttar Pradesh. “My land is so
take their toll. Years of the intensive yet,” says J.K. Ladha, International small, I don’t make profits—I can’t
irrigation required to grow rice have Rice Research Institute (IRRI) fulfill my children’s needs. I want
sucked the water table down, and representative to India and IRRI’s them to get out. I’m not against
it is dropping further each year. Rice-Wheat Coordinator. “Right now, children staying on the farm. But
On top of this, the combination productivity is maintained because my land will be divided between
of flooding the fields and the ever- farmers are putting in more chemical my children—more fragmentation.
increasing use of inputs, such inputs. But I think it’s just a matter This is already a problem. We
as fertilizer, has led to sick and of time—five, ten years down the should look for alternatives.”
deteriorating soil. The situation road—and we’ll really start to see the But what are the alternatives?
is simply unsustainable. visible effects of land degradation.” In the next few years, scientists
“This is one of the biggest If that isn’t disheartening enough, and farmers will discover whether
problems, although we don’t see that you can add another problem to conservation agriculture is one of

DR. JAT points to an experimental field at the

Project Directorate for Cropping Systems Research
in Modipuram, Uttar Pradesh. The field is part of an
experiment on tillage and residue management in
the rice-wheat cropping system. A field worker (left)
at the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute in
Karnal, Haryana, helps load just-harvested rice. Dr.
Ladha (top, at right) talks to Uttar Pradesh farmer
Akhtar Khan about the progress of his conservation
agriculture trials.

Rice Today October-December 2006 19

that it is economically viable. If it
cannot help farmers increase their
incomes, it is doomed from the
start. Several characteristics of
conservation agriculture—such as
zero-tillage and direct seeding—are
likely to save farmers money (for
more information on direct seeding,
see The direct approach on pages
12-18 of Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 2)
and, so far, farmers have achieved
FARMERS INSPECT a seed drill at a Central Soil Salinity
Research Institute field day in October 2005 at the
yields as high as or higher than
institute headquarters in Karnal, Haryana. those obtained by the conventional
practice of transplanting seedlings
into flooded fields (see table below
for a description of conservation
them. In India’s rice-wheat belt, IRRI under the leadership of Dr. agriculture principles).
conservation agriculture holds Ladha, falls under the umbrella Any gains from conservation
great potential as part of an urgent of the Rice-Wheat Consortium agriculture will be limited if only
and necessary change in the way for the Indo-Gangetic Plains. a few scattered farmers become
people think about agriculture. Collaborating institutes include converts—true success will mean
That potential is currently being the International Maize and Wheat wide-scale adoption across the rice-
assessed in an Asian Development Improvement Center along with wheat belt. But, with any technology,
Bank-sponsored project, Enhancing the national agricultural research good potential is no guarantee of
farmers’ income and livelihoods and extension systems of India, success. More than 20 years ago,
through integrated crop and Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. S.K. Sharma, director of the Project
resource management in the One of the keys to its success Directorate for Cropping Systems
rice-wheat system in South Asia. is not only that it maintains or Research (PDCSR) in Modipuram,
The project, which is managed by increases productivity but also Uttar Pradesh, was heralding the

Potential benefits of key conservation agriculture technologies.

Conservation agriculture
Potential benefits relative to transplanted rice

Cuts water use; fewer bunds and irrigation channels; better soil
nutrient distribution; less leaching of nitrates into groundwater;
Laser leveler
more efficient tractor use (reduced diesel consumption); increased
area for cultivation.

Less labor required; soil physical structure is maintained (reduced

nutrient loss, soil health maintained); less water required; avoids
large cracks in soil after dry periods; can keep previous crop’s
residue in field for mulch (if appropriate drill seeder is used for
seeding); subsoil layer is not compacted by tractors (compacted
subsoil impedes root growth).

Increases soil water-holding capacity, increases soil quality,

Crop residue mulch
reduces weed pressure, avoids burning.

Less water required; less labor required (especially at peak

transplanting time); postharvest condition of field is better for
Dry seeding
succeeding crop; deeper root growth (meaning better tolerance of
dry conditions, better access to soil nutrients).

Precise seeding (reduced seed rate); applies fertilizer and/or

herbicide simultaneously with seed (increased input efficiency);
Drill seeder
seeds through previous crop’s residue; incorporates previous crop’s
residue into soil (adds to soil fertility).

Fast early growth suppresses weeds; after herbicide treatment, it

Green manure (Sesbania) acts as mulch (reduces evaporative water loss; adds soil organic
matter plus nutrients—especially nitrogen—to the soil).

Two to three crops grow simultaneously (e.g., rice, chickpea,

Crop diversification (raised
pigeon pea, maize); increased income; increased nutritional
seedbeds, intercropping)

20 Rice Today October-December 2006

benefits of direct-seeded rice, but it the case. Recent advances in DR. S.K. SHARMA,
from the Project
was never taken up in farmers’ fields. machinery, along with growing Directorate for
“There were concerns about weed shortages of labor and water and Cropping Systems
management in direct-seeded rice, concerted research and technology Research in
Modipuram, Uttar
but now several technologies allow dissemination efforts, mean the Pradesh, helped
effective control of weeds,” says Dr. time is ripe for a fresh approach. pioneer direct
Sharma. “Further, people said you According to R.K. Gupta, the seeding.
need more water for direct-seeded regional facilitator of the Rice-Wheat
rice. This is a myth! By using direct- Consortium, machinery has a key role
seeded rice, farmers cut water use.” to play if conservation agriculture
Yashpal Saharawat, a soil is to succeed on a wide scale.
scientist based at the IRRI-India “Recently developed machines
office in Delhi, points out the allow more precise seeding,” explains
grave importance of such water Dr. Gupta. “Seeders are now available
savings. “In India, farmers are that can meter the seed rate and
using underground water very fast. simultaneously apply fertilizer. Such PDCSR, says that through reduced
Currently, in Haryana’s Karnal precision allows farmers to reduce labor—using traditional methods,
region, for example, the water the amount of seed and fertilizer farmers plow at least 10 times—zero-
table is dropping at around 1 meter they use and so save money.” tillage alone can save farmers
per year. But farmers using direct The new seeders can also 3,000 rupees (US$65) per acre (0.4
seeding in this region are reducing plow through the residue of the hectare). Yields are more or less the
their water use by around 25%.” previous crop. The rotor disk drill, same as for conventional tillage,
When Dr. Sharma first for example, can seed through but even where they are slightly
championed direct seeding, it up to 7 tons per hectare of loose less, farmers win economically.
was in some ways ahead of its residue. This offers two significant The second big advantage of
time. The ideas were good but the advantages. First, it allows farmers zero-tillage is that farmers can leave
machine technologies that would to leave their fields untilled, the residue of the preceding crop
make it attractive to farmers were resulting in a big savings of labor. in the field. That residue can then
not available. That is no longer M.L. Jat, senior agronomist at act as mulch, providing the soil
with moisture and nutrients, and
suppressing weed growth. And, as
a double bonus, farmers no longer
A COMMON SIGHT: smoldering piles of rice straw (left) need to burn the residue, a practice
pouring carbon dioxide into the air and reducing soil that can harm the environment as
organic content. This is one of the practices that
Drs. Saharawat (left) and Gathala want to end. With well as soil and human health.
machinery that can sow seeds through crop residue, “We’ve developed some very good
leaving the stubble alone is a much more attractive machines that can actually pick up
option—as can be seen below, where rice seedlings
are growing through wheat straw. Right, Drs. Saharawat the straw and then, after drilling the
and Gathala crouch in a rice field that has been dry- seed and putting fertilizer into place,
seeded after zero-tillage, thus reducing water use, throw the straw back for mulch,” says
labor requirements, and cracked soil.
Dr. Ladha. “If those machines become
popular, then we are really into the
conservation agriculture concept.”
One of the reasons for tilling
the land is to ensure that the soil is
moist enough for germination. So
why is zero-tillage, combined with
direct seeding, now possible? The
answer, again, lies in the availability
of appropriate machinery. Older
seed drills opened large furrows
of 7.5–10 cm. If you used these to
direct-seed an untilled field, the
seeds would quickly dry out. The new,
precise machines leave much smaller

furrows, thereby eliminating this risk.

“Presently, we have around 2
million hectares under zero-tillage in

Rice Today October-December 2006 21

around to use it. So, in the face of
the exodus from the farm to the
city, who will produce India’s food?
Fortunately, there is light on the
horizon. A new breed of farmers is
emerging from India’s agricultural
communities. Young and innovative,
they believe in science, they are open
to new crop management systems
and technologies, and they contradict
the idea that farming is some sort
of hell from which to escape.
SAMAR SINGH (with microphone), senior “Older farmers often see farming
agronomist at the International Maize and as merely a livelihood,” says M.K.
Wheat Improvement Center-India Office,
talks to farmers at the Central Soil Salin- Gathala, an IRRI agronomist based
ity Research Institute field day in October in Modipuram. “These young farmers
2005. One of Dr. Singh’s research areas is see it as a business. They understand
the co-planting of Sesbania with rice to
suppress weed growth, act as mulch, and the market, they’re aware of issues
provide extra nitrogen. like water and soil health. If they have
a problem, they’ll go to the scientists
and the private sector; they won’t
the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India,” leveling, which was first promoted wait for someone to come to them.”
says Dr. Jat. “This is after 3 or 4 years. four years ago on just a few hectares, Sandeep Kumar, a 25-year-
We have a total of 10 million hectares has now been adopted on more old farmer from Lalpur village in
under the rice-wheat cropping system than 3,000 hectares. By ensuring Modipuram, typifies the new breed.
in this region. I expect that, in the a perfectly flat, horizontal field,
coming years, the whole area will the technology reduces the need
go under conservation agriculture for bunds and irrigation channels
practices, including zero-tillage.” and can cut average water use by Sandeep Kumar stands
Another aspect of conservation 20–25% as well as reduce labor in a field of sugarcane
agriculture that is gaining favor requirements. Further, the resultant residue. Newly developed
drill seeders can happily
is planting the legume Sesbania uniform application of water leads sow rice seeds through
simultaneously with rice. After to uniform distribution of nutrients residue this thick, meaning
25–30 days, farmers spray their in the soil and the fewer bunds and Sandeep can avoid the
economic and environ-
crop with a herbicide that kills channels mean a 4–5% increase in mental costs of burning or
the Sesbania along with other cultivated land. Also, an undulating disposal.
broadleaf weeds, but doesn’t affect field leads to an accumulation of
the rice plants. The quick-growing nitrogen fertilizer in low-lying
Sesbania initially suppresses weed areas, increasing the chance of
growth—often enough for farmers nitrates polluting the groundwater.
to perform one less hand weeding, “It’s such an attractive
thus saving 1,500 rupees ($32). Then, technology; farmers really like to
after spraying, the Sesbania leaves have it, and it’s really an entry point,”
act as mulch, further suppressing adds Dr. Ladha. “Once you’ve leveled
weed growth, reducing evaporative the land, zero-tillage becomes easy,
water loss, and providing around water management becomes easy, and
15 kg per hectare of nitrogen. weed management becomes easy.”
One challenge, though, is A major part of the reason
providing equitable access to for the success of machinery
machinery, as many farmers can’t adoption by farmers in this region
afford their own seeders. A single is the consultation with farmers.
machine, however, can service “We consider our farmers as
several farms. Currently, groups research partners rather than
of farmers share machines or rent research clients—and there is a
them from larger farmers. The big difference between a partner
same system is gaining momentum and a client,” explains Dr. Jat.
with laser land levelers. But all the machinery in the
According to Dr. Jat, laser world is no good if no farmers are

22 Rice Today October-December 2006

Changing a mindset FARMERS AT
the Central Soil
Salinity Research

Institute field day
he families of Akhtar Khan and Pradeep Singh have farmed near Kalugarhi village in October 2005.
in Modipuram, Uttar Pradesh, for generations. Both 45 years old, they first tried
conservation agriculture in the 2005 season, each dedicating 1 acre (0.4 hectare) to
direct-seeded, zero-tilled rice. Akhtar recalls the initial skepticism of his neighbors.
“This was a complete shift, moving from puddling,” he says. “My neighbors said, ‘You’re
crazy!’ Now, some of them are also trying it. The price of diesel [used to pump water] has
gone up like crazy; zero-tilled rice saves water and therefore saves money.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, though. Pradeep explains that they encountered some
early challenges.
“Weed management is one problem,” he says. “I feel the problem is worse in zero-tilled
versus tilled land. I can overcome this, but I have to put in more herbicides. But I won’t
give up. These problems can be solved.”
In addition, the first zero-tilled seeds did not germinate as well as hoped, although this
is improving as the farmers optimize settings—such as seed depth—on the drill seeder.
IRRI’s J.K. Ladha emphasizes that early problems are to be expected: “Whenever you
bring in new technology, it’s never a clean sweep. Never. There are always problems you
have to solve.”
Both Pradeep and Akhtar, who have two and four children, respectively, are concerned
about the next generation.
“Farming is becoming less attractive,” says Pradeep. “The younger generation wants
to get out. We have seen benefits from conservation agriculture, but not yet on a larger
scale. We don’t know if this will work on a large scale. But the involvement of international
centers gives us hope and confidence. Having the scientists come is having a very positive district administration didn’t believe,
impact on our children, too.” but after I showed them that mine
Part of the solution, suggests Pradeep, lies in changing the way farmers think about was the best field in the area, they
farming. believed. Last year there was one
“Our fathers and forefathers were stubborn,” he says. “They wouldn’t listen to anybody field—mine. Next year, there will be
about new technologies. But, because of our education, we’re ready to change that 50! Next year, I want to plant other
crops using conservation agriculture
And, in the face of farming’s trials and tribulations—the rising costs, the declining soil
health, the backbreaking work—Pradeep and Akhtar remain philosophical.
principles and technologies.”
“One of my children has left the farm already; the second is trying to get out,” says If a major shift is to take place,
Pradeep. “His father is trying to keep him here! I have 30-odd years of experience and I much more is needed than to merely
can’t pass this on to my children—this is deeply frustrating. But, sitting here, people think disseminate technology and train
the outside world has no problems. But it’s full of problems. I’m happy. I want to stay here. people to use it.
At least I have time in the evenings to sit with my wife.” “What is required is a change in
mindset that prompts farmers to
understand that good farm manage-
ment is essential,” says Dr. Gupta.
Younger, scientifically
knowledgeable, innovative farmers
will lead the next generation; having
them on board the conservation
agriculture bandwagon is crucial.
The next few years will reveal
whether conservation agriculture
takes hold and lives up to its early
promise. The signs are good, though,
and it is indisputable that something
FARMERS PRADEEP SINGH (center) and Akhtar Khan (left) contem-
plate change with Drs. Ladha (arms raised) and Jat (right). needs to change. The farmers who
have tried it for themselves are
enthusiastic—and it is these pioneers
who will ultimately lead the way.
“We have a group of young, Our natural resources are being Time and again, when asked about
educated farmers,” explains degraded; we need to sustain them. their early experiences, one common
Sandeep. “We’re saving a lot of I hope this whole area will go for answer emerged: “My neighbors
money and water. We want to adopt these technologies. We were the laughed and said I was crazy. Now
conservation agriculture as a whole. first farmers to adopt. At first, the they want to do the same as me.”

Rice Today October-December 2006 23

in harm’s way
n 24-28 July 2006, intrepid IRRI photographers
Ariel Javellana and Jose Raymond Panaligan
braved the area around the base of Mayon
volcano, in Bicol, Philippines (see map,
right). Mayon, famous for its near-perfect conical
shape, began showing increased volcanic activity
in mid-July (see centerfold on pages 26-27). The
activity continued throughout August and, as
Rice Today went to press, the Philippine Institute
of Volcanology and Seismology was maintaining
an 8-km danger zone and recorded the volcano’s
status at alert level 4, “which corresponds to a
high probability for a hazardous eruption.”
Although a boon to our photographers, the
volcano has the capacity to cause great hardship for
the surrounding rice-farming communities. Aside
from causing danger to life and limb, lava, ash falls,
and pyroclastic flows—fast-moving mixtures of hot
gas, rocks, and ash that travel quickly down the
mountain—can also damage or destroy crops, housing,
and infrastructure. Presented here are some images of
Mayon volcano and the people who live in its shadow.

24 Rice Today October-December 2006

Clockwise from main photo (left): Steaming lava on the mountainside in Barangay Tagas, Daraga,
Albay Province; a woman protects herself from the sun—and ash—in Bonga Gully; 57-year-old rice
farmer Sofroneo Rodriguez—whose farm was damaged in Mayon’s 1984 eruption—sought refuge
with his family in the Sitio Bical evacuation center; Rodriguez’s granddaughter occupies herself at
Sitio Bical; Rodriguez’s son, who takes turns with other family members to return to the farm each
night to guard against looters and thieves; lava creeps toward the bell tower of the old Cagsawa
church—one of the only structures remaining above the lava that buried Cagsawa town in the
1814 Mayon eruption, which killed more than 1,000 people.

Bicol Region, Luzon Island,



Rice Today October-December 2006 25

Ariel Javellana

26 Rice Today October-December 2006

Rice Today October-December 2006, Vol. 5, No. 4
Rice Today October-December 2006 27
Rice fields at the edge of Mayon volcano’s 8-k m danger zone, near Legaspi City in the Philippines’ Bicol Region, 27 July 2006.
genes to
farmers’ fields
by David Mackill

The practical application of gene discovery to develop

submergence-tolerant rice will help farmers avoid the ravages of severe flooding

ice is considered a high. Rice production in these areas tolerance of temporary submergence.
semiaquatic plant, and is highly variable due to flooding. Submergence-tolerant varieties
it thrives in the wettest Relief may be at hand, though. have been known for a long time,
agricultural environments. Researchers at the International and submergence tolerance has been
However, most rice varieties Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and a breeding focus at IRRI since the
will be heavily damaged and die if the University of California (UC early 1970s. In India, varieties like
they remain underwater for more Riverside and Davis) have recently FR13A (FR stands for flood resistant)
than 4 days. A few varieties—such discovered a gene from FR13A that were selected from farmers’ varieties
as the traditional Indian variety is responsible for that variety’s as early as the 1940s and showed a
FR13A—can tolerate 2 to 3 weeks strong tolerance of submergence. high level of submergence tolerance
of submergence and rapidly recover This gene belongs to a class of genes compared with other varieties. FR13A
when the water subsides. This known as “ethylene response factors” and other tolerant varieties were
is important for the vast rainfed or ERFs. The significance of the crossed with high-yielding semidwarf
lowland areas of Asia where research—recently reported in the varieties (which are shorter than
intermittent flooding causes frequent scientific journal Nature1—is that it most traditional varieties and thus
submergence. Estimated crop provides new tools to develop rice resistant to damage from rain and
losses are around a billion dollars varieties that combine high yields and wind), producing short varieties with
annually. Compounding the problem,
submergence stress tends to be more 1
Xu K, Xia X, Fukao T, Canlas P, Maghirang-Rodriguez R, Heuer S, Ismail AI, Bailey-Serres J, Ronald PC, Mackill DJ. 2006. Sub1A is an ethylene
common in areas where poverty is response factor-like gene that confers submergence tolerance to rice. Nature (10 August 2006)

28 Rice Today October-December 2006

We were then joined by Pamela grown variety Swarna—grown on
Ronald, an associate professor at UC more than 5 million hectares in India
Davis. Ten years of hard work by Dr. and Bangladesh—that contains the
Xu plus a strong contribution from chromosome segment containing
his wife, Xia Xu, would ultimately the Sub1 gene, while the genes in all
unravel the DNA sequence of the other chromosomal regions are those
Sub1 region. The group was joined of Swarna. This ensures that the
by molecular biologists Julia Bailey- submergence-tolerance trait is added
Serres and Takeshi Fukao at UC without changing other desirable
Riverside and Sigrid Heuer at IRRI, properties—such as high yield,
who helped analyze the genes in acceptable taste, and good regional
the Sub1 region (see Identifying adaptation—of the recipient variety.
the submergence-tolerance gene, The IRRI group has produced
page 30). IRRI plant physiologist submergence-tolerant versions of
Abdelbagi Ismail and his team have three widely grown rice varieties:
been studying the mechanism of Swarna and Samba Mahsuri
action of Sub1 (see The mechanics of from India, and IR64 from IRRI.
submergence tolerance, page 31) as Three more are near completion:
well as management options for the Thadokkham 1 from Laos, CR1009
IRRI RESEARCHERS Abdelbagi Ismail new submergence-tolerant varieties. from India, and BR11 from
(left), Sigrid Heuer (second from right),
and Dave Mackill (right) examine a sub- Parallel to the gene-hunting work Bangladesh—each currently grown
mergence-tolerance screening experiment is research using marker-assisted widely in their respective countries.
in an IRRI greenhouse while associate selection (see On your mark, get These new varieties do not show
scientist Alvaro Pamplona (center) and
Gina Vergara look on. Top left, assistant set, select! on pages 28-29 of Rice any differences from the originals
scientists Jessica Rey (left) and Darlene Today Vol. 3, No. 3) to develop new except for the submergence tolerance.
Sanchez prepare DNA samples for analysis submergence-tolerant varieties by Experiments at IRRI showed that the
in the lab.
introducing Sub1 into widely grown Sub1-enhanced version of Swarna
varieties. Using marker-assisted achieves the same yields as “regular”
selection, breeders can selectively Swarna under normal shallow-water
transfer a small chromosome conditions (about 5 tons per hectare),
fragment containing a beneficial but, when subjected to 12 days of
tolerance of submergence. Despite gene or genes, while leaving the submergence about 4 weeks after
continuing efforts by rice breeders, rest of the genes untouched. For planting, followed by a return to
these varieties were not adopted by example, the IRRI team has shallow conditions, Swarna-Sub1 has
farmers because of unacceptable developed a version of the widely more than double the yield of Swarna
traits such as poor taste or inadequate
adaptation to the location.
Work on the genetics of RICE FARMERS from Kaudikol village in
submergence tolerance began in the Indian state of Orissa wait for flood-
the early 1990s. Graduate student waters to recede. This area experiences
flooding as deep as 2.5 meters for up to
Kenong Xu and I—then working for 3 weeks each year.
the Agricultural Research Service
of the United States Department of
Agriculture and UC Davis—used
molecular markers (a molecular
marker is a segment of DNA that
is linked to a gene that controls an
important trait and can easily be
detected in the lab) to map a region
of DNA on rice chromosome 9 that
was responsible for most of the
tolerance. We named the gene (or
genes—at the time, we didn’t know
whether it was a single gene or several
linked genes) Sub1 (Submergence1).
This began the search to

pinpoint the genes responsible

for submergence tolerance.

Rice Today October-December 2006 29

to widely grown and well-adapted
varieties, we don’t want to change
them in any way other than to make
them submergence-tolerant. Close
markers allow us to develop plants
that carry only the tolerance gene,
and that remain otherwise identical
to the variety that farmers know
and like. In the case of Sub1, we
went down to the highest resolution
possible by sequencing the DNA
in the chromosomal region where
YIELD VERSUS TIME submerged for “regular” Swarna we expected the submergence-
and Swarna-Sub1. Plants were completely submerged
14 days after transplanting of 14-day-old seedlings
tolerance gene to be located.
in field plots at IRRI. Within the Sub1 region, we I WILL SURVIVE: the one remaining live plant
found several genes and needed to comes from a line derived from Swarna-Sub1’s
submergence-tolerant parent variety, FR13A. This

analyze all of them to determine is part of a new experiment to identify novel
(3.5 tons per hectare versus 1.6 the actual submergence-tolerance submergence-tolerance genes.
tons per hectare—see figure above). gene. By testing the expression of
Swarna-Sub1 was grown at research these genes and their response to
stations in India and Bangladesh submergence stress, we narrowed tolerance. However, we needed more
in 2005 and is being tested in down the number of candidate genes evidence. We therefore tested whether
farmers’ field experiments in 2006. to three. These three genes—Sub1A, or not Sub1A could confer tolerance of
Sub1B, and Sub1C—all belong to the submergence to previously intolerant
same type of regulatory genes, known plants. To do this, our partners at
Dr. Mackill is the head of IRRI’s as ethylene response transcription the University of California, Davis,
Plant Breeding, Genetics, and factors (ERFs). Transcription factors introduced the tolerant form of the
Biotechnology Division can switch the expression of other Sub1A gene into the intolerant rice
genes on or off and therefore often variety Liaogeng and, indeed, the
Funding for this study was provided by the have important regulatory functions. plants produced were submergence-
U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. We then discovered that some tolerant. These plants now provide
Agency for International Development, intolerant varieties have only two a very useful tool to study the
and the German Federal Ministry for copies of these ERF genes (Sub1A is function of the Sub1A gene in detail.
Economic Cooperation and Development. absent) and that tolerant rice varieties Our partners in UC Riverside
have Sub1A and Sub1C genes that have compared the expression of
have slightly different sequences than genes in rice plants with and without
the same genes in intolerant varieties. the Sub1 locus and we have learned a
This pointed to Sub1A as the major lot about the genes that are regulated
Identifying the determinant of submergence by Sub1. In the future, we also need


tolerance gene
by Sigrid Heuer

arker-assisted selection
can be implemented at
different levels, like a map
can be drawn at different scales or
resolutions. That means, in molecular
terms, that the higher the resolution
of the genetic map the closer we
are to the actual gene responsible
for a particular trait—submergence
tolerance in this case. Being very
close to the responsible gene is POPULAR RICE VARIETIES
important for our breeding approach. containing the submergence-
Because we are transferring tolerance tolerance gene will be much more
likely to survive floods like this
one in Cambodia.

30 Rice Today October-December 2006

to study the genes that regulate Sub1.
We already know that when
tolerant varieties are submerged,
Sub1A is induced and Sub1C is
suppressed. Interestingly, when
intolerant varieties are submerged,
we see the opposite: Sub1A is hardly AN IRRI FIELD experiment to evaluate Swarna (left) and
detectable and Sub1C expression is Swarna-Sub1 (right), which carries the submergence-tolerance
gene. Fourteen-day-old seedlings were transplanted in the field

high. It therefore seems that a balance and, 14 days later, submerged for 12 days. Shown here 60 days
of Sub1A and Sub1C expression is after transplanting, Swarna-Sub1 is doing well while few Swarna
important for tolerance (in addition plants have survived.
to differences in the sequence). We
now want to identify the genes that
determine when and to what extent consequent loss of photosynthetic the chance of survival in two ways.
Sub1A and Sub1C are expressed. area. Therefore, our research team First, less energy is wasted on
The identification of tolerance examined the mechanics that elongation. Second, the plant needs
genes and their interaction with allow rice plants with the Sub1 intact chlorophyll to generate more
other genes is important because it genes to tolerate submergence. energy during submergence and
helps us to better understand the The Indian variety FR13A to resume active growth during
underlying mechanisms and the can survive submergence because recovery from submergence.
regulation of stress tolerance. Certain of some key physiological traits More supporting evidence
genes probably have important that emerge when the plant is comes from data comparing the
functions in other stresses as well, underwater. FR13A maintains a performance of Swarna and newly
such as drought or salinity. Intimate higher carbohydrate supply in its developed Swarna-Sub1. Under
knowledge of the genetics behind shoots before submergence and submerged conditions, Swarna more
tolerance of, or susceptibility to, these does not greatly elongate, meaning than doubled its length, elongating by
stresses might one day allow breeders it conserves energy that can then be as much as 150%. The submergence-
to develop multi-stress-resistant rice used for survival. It also experiences intolerant check variety, IR42, almost
varieties by adding to established slower carbohydrate depletion and tripled its length, elongating by 180%.
varieties a few key regulatory genes. higher rates of alcoholic fermentation Swarna-Sub1, however, less than
Sub1A will surely be one of these. as a way of providing energy for doubled in length, with significantly
maintenance processes in the absence reduced elongation of only 55%.
Dr. Heuer is a molecular biologist of oxygen underwater. And, when This is comparable with FR13A,
in IRRI’s Plant Breeding, Genetics, submerged, FR13A maintains higher which showed 52% elongation.
and Biotechnology Division. chlorophyll levels—allowing relatively How did this translate into an
better photosynthesis during ability to survive tolerance? The
submergence and also after the water results were impressive—70% and
recedes to resume its growth and 80% of, respectively, Swarna-Sub1
recovery—than intolerant varieties. and FR13A plants survived. This
The mechanics As survival strategies, compares with a mere 8% of IR42
of submergence maintenance of higher carbohydrate
levels before and during submergence
and 21% of “regular” Swarna plants.
Because of Swarna’s short
tolerance and minimization of both elongation stature, and because Sub1 further
growth and chlorosis had the most inhibits elongation during flooding,
by Gina Vergara and Abdelbagi Ismail

striking effects. To demonstrate this, Swarna-Sub1 is unsuitable in
submerged rice plant faces our team inhibited the synthesis of areas prone to flashfloods where
several problems ranging from ethylene—which reduces its chance water tends to stay in the field at
inadequate growth to damage of affecting a submerged plant’s a depth greater than 30 cm. For
and death. For example, low light survival—in submerged conditions. such conditions, IRRI is developing
levels inhibit photosynthesis, slower This resulted in an improved survival taller Sub1 varieties. Swarna-Sub1
gas exchange results in lower carbon rate for submergence-intolerant is better suited to areas where
dioxide intake for photosynthesis and varieties but not for submergence- floodwater recedes to shallower
lower oxygen intake for respiration, tolerant varieties such as FR13A. depths following submergence.
and gases trapped in the water, This suggested that Sub1 reduces
such as ethylene, promote plant a plant’s sensitivity to ethylene Dr. Vergara is a postdoctoral fellow
elongation and chlorosis (yellowing and therefore reduces elongation and Dr. Ismail is a senior plant
or discoloration of the normally and chlorophyll degradation under physiologist in IRRI’s Crop and
green parts of the plant), with a submerged conditions. This increases Environmental Sciences Division.

Rice Today October-December 2006 31

Achiever by Trina Leah Mendoza

Recently retired rice scientist Vethaiya Balasubramanian has spent his

life helping people—and he’s not going to let retirement stop him

f you turn on the TV or flip IRRI in 1991 as chief of the IRRI- used kerosene refrigerators with
open a magazine, it’s not Madagascar project, advising and a lamp at the bottom. I lived like
uncommon to see a Hollywood training staff on soil and resource that in Rwanda for five years.”
star, a famous athlete, or management, and rice-based And although development in
a high-profile socialite in cropping systems. As IRRI’s Crop Africa still has a long way to go,
some far-flung region, mingling Resources Management Network Dr. Bala believes that advances
with the poor, assisting at medical coordinator from 1994 to 2001, in other regions have helped.
clinics, or handing out care packages. he helped the Institute’s partner “The governments and scientists
Perhaps these celebrities genuinely countries source, evaluate, and in Africa are more fortunate now
want to help. Or perhaps their adapt promising crop resources because they can use the latest
agents convinced them that some and management technologies. technologies. They don’t have to go
positive publicity would help boost The foundations for Dr. Bala’s through long periods of research
their profile. Far from these stage- impressive career were laid in his because the technologies are
managed, filmed, and photographed native India. After earning his available elsewhere, like in Asia,
excursions, however, you will find bachelor’s degree in agriculture and and can be used and modified.”
far less famous people doing work master’s degree in soil science and IRRI’s stimulating scientific
that often goes unrecognized but agricultural chemistry at India’s atmosphere has been a source
probably achieves far more. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University,
Vethaiya Balasubramanian, he took his Ph.D. in agronomy and
DR. BALA TEACHES IRRI rice production course
recently retired senior agronomist soil science at the University of participants about nitrogen management in rice
at the International Rice Research Hawaii, USA. His next step was using a chlorophyll meter.
Institute (IRRI), is one such person. a big one—saying goodbye to the
Serving as IRRI Africa coordinator U.S., he ventured into one of the
since 2005, Dr. Bala, as he’s known to globe’s poorest regions, spending
his colleagues, was involved in setting his next 16 years in the African
up rice research and development countries of Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana,
programs in eastern, central, and Cameroon, and Madagascar.

southern Africa. He also worked in “I lived in small villages with no

the training and delivery of IRRI water or electricity,” recalls Dr. Bala.
technologies in both Asia and Africa. We collected rainwater to quench
Dr. Bala first stepped aboard our thirst and cook our food. We

32 Rice Today October-December 2006

of great satisfaction for Dr. Bala, “I want to improve the education
and has given him the chance to and training facilities in rural areas
share his 4 decades of accumulated and remove the gap between the skills


knowledge. In the 5 years before and capabilities of rural and urban
his retirement, he was heavily children,” Dr. Bala explains. “From
involved with the Institute’s Training my village, I want to develop a model
Center, co-presenting the rice that can be duplicated all over India
production course and a workshop and in other countries as well.”
on scientific writing and presentation Dr. Bala knows he has a long way
skills for young scientists. to go, but it is his way of giving back
“I really want to share what I A 29-YEAR-OLD Dr. Bala, then an East-West Center to his country—his thanks for the
Fellow studying for his Ph.D. at the University of
know, and all the technologies, all Hawaii, forgoes rice for bananas during a cultural
opportunities he has had. He feels
the information, all the skills that I exchange and exploration tour in 1970. blessed to have had the chance to
have,” he says. “I want to transfer my spend his life helping people in need.
knowledge to developing countries’ “When I look back, I’m really
scientists so they can, in turn, train Tamil Nadu Agricultural University proud that I had the strength
farmers and help them produce more and, starting with his own village, and courage to work in extreme
food and better their livelihoods. If has taken on IRRI’s goal to reduce conditions with different groups of
we can’t produce more food to feed poverty and hunger. Dr. Bala’s people,” he says. “For each country,
the poor, there’s going to be a lot more Revive Your Village project will each university, and each institute
conflict and problems in the world.” establish—with his own money—a I've worked with, I feel that I’ve really
In Dr. Bala’s 15 years at IRRI, he “village knowledge center” in his done something for them. They’re
cites the leaf color chart—a simple hometown, which will serve as a happy to see me when I go back and
piece of technology developed in play area for preschool children, a visit. That is really satisfying.”
collaboration with the Philippine reading room and lending library, a
Rice Research Institute and used for computer room, a preventive health Trina Mendoza is a communication specialist
fertilizer management (see Chart hit advisory clinic, and a training hall. with the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium.
for N sync on page 33 of Rice Today
Vol. 3, No. 4)—as one of the most
successful developments for rice.
“We have more than one million
Making mats matter

charts distributed all over Asia roducing young and robust rice
and in a few countries in Africa seedlings is a challenge for rice


and Latin America,” he says. farmers everywhere. To help meet
Dr. Bala considers integrated crop this challenge, scientists from IRRI and the
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India
management another IRRI success
have developed an improved method of
story. This approach brings together crop establishment: growing seedlings in a
technologies to provide farmers with modified mat nursery. seedlings from either drying up or getting
a basket of options that offer solutions The technology establishes seedlings in a washed away by heavy rains. On the fifth
to a wide array of problems. The layer of soil mix arranged on a firm surface. day, the cover is removed, and the nursery
strategy, he says, is doing very well, It also uses less land and requires fewer is flooded to a 1-cm water level around
particularly in Vietnam, Indonesia, seeds and inputs, such as fertilizer and water, the beds. After 15–20 days, the seedlings
and southern India. He mentions reducing nursery costs by up to 50%. reach the four-leaf stage—which favors
direct seeding and drum seeding as The key is the modified mat nursery’s soil quick establishment in the field and rapid
booming technologies that IRRI has mixture, which is composed of seven parts growth—and are ready for transplanting. This
helped develop and disseminate (see soil, two parts well-decomposed chicken is much quicker than the 25–35 days required
manure, and one part charred rice hulls. The for traditional wet-bed nurseries.
Drumming up success on pages 22-27
mix is poured into a wooden frame laid on top The technology has already been adopted in
of Rice Today Vol. 4, No. 2, and The of banana leaves or plastic sheeting, which southern India, and was recently introduced
direct approach on pages 12-18 of prevents the roots from penetrating into the in Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, East Timor,
Rice Today Vol. 5, No. 2, respectively). soil, making it easier to pull seedlings out and the Philippines. One major advantage
Dr. Bala also helped pioneer the and thus minimizing root damage. of the method is that it can be applied in
modified mat nursery, which is now Pregerminated seeds are sown uniformly, all countries and on all soil types, as long
being adopted in several countries sprinkled with soil, and patted gently to as the soil is kept moist. In areas where
(see Making mats matter, right). embed them at about 2–3 cm into the soil modified mat nurseries have been successfully
When Dr. Bala returns to his bed. They are then watered and covered implemented, they have produced robust,
hometown in Voimedu, India—the with banana leaves or plastic. The nursery fast-growing seedlings, an additional 20–40%
date is set for October 2006—it isn’t is watered twice a day for 5 days, and kept yield, and about US$100–250 additional
covered for the first 4 days to protect the income per season for farmers.
to slow down. He plans to teach at

Rice Today October-December 2006 33


Forty years ago, a remarkable rice-breeding project culminated in

the release of a rice variety under an unremarkable name—IR8.
This is the story of the research that would ultimately change the

face of agriculture across Asia.

34 Rice Today October-December 2006
by Tom Hargrove and
W. Ronnie Coffman

sia was desperate for food
after World War II. Only
massive shipments of U.S.
grain prevented famine.
Rice was, and is, Asia’s lifeblood.
That’s why the Ford and Rockefeller
foundations pooled resources and, in
1960, established a modern research
center to focus on the world’s most
important crop: the International
Rice Research Institute (IRRI),
based in Los Baños, Philippines.
Robert Chandler, IRRI’s
first director, assembled a team
with a mission: to develop a
high-yielding rice variety.
IRRI scientists knew that the
architecture of the tropical rice
plant was the main constraint to
yield increases. Traditional rice
varieties are tall, with long, weak
stems. When a farmer fertilizes a
tall plant, it “lodges,” or falls over.
Photosynthesis ceases, and grain
rots in the water, or rats eat it.
A short, nonlodging rice plant
that would convert nutrients to
grain and hold the panicle (the
U.S. PRESIDENT Lyndon B. Johnson makes an impassioned
terminal shoot of the rice plant
speech during his October 1966 visit to IRRI. He said, “If we
are to win our war against poverty, and against disease, and that produces grain) upright—a
against ignorance, and against illiteracy, and against hungry dwarf or semidwarf—was needed
stomachs, then we have got to succeed in projects like this, to accelerate rice production.
and you are pointing the way for all of Asia to follow.” Examin- IRRI didn’t invent the dwarf
ing IR8 in the Institute fields in August 1967 are IRRI breeder
concept. Scientists had already
Hank Beachell (crouching), visiting philanthropist John D.
Rockefeller III (left), and IRRI Director Robert Chandler. IRRI established it in other crops. Dwarf
staff distribute household supplies of IR8 in 1967 (inset). sorghum was already available.
And semidwarf rice varieties
IRRI (4)

germplasm assembled at that time
was Dee-geo-woo-gen (DGWG) from
China, a parent of TN1, and clearly
its source of dwarfism. But at that
time the nature of inheritance of
DGWG’s short stature was unknown.
Dr. Chandler described DGWG
as “a high-yielding, heavy-tillering,
short-statured variety from Taiwan.”
Dr. Jennings and Akiro Tanaka,
THE TALL Peta variety, one of IR8’s parents, towers over hired from Japan as IRRI’s first
its more resilient offspring. Because of its shorter, stouter
stature, IR8 was less prone to lodging (falling over), which
plant physiologist, conceptualized
caused severe yield losses in the taller traditional varieties. the semidwarf rice plant and

systematically studied the causes,
and effects, of lodging during IRRI’s
had already been developed and Meanwhile, U.S. rice breeders first 3 years. In his 1982 book, An
released in mainland China, largely were irradiating seeds of tall adventure in applied science: a
unknown to the rest of the world. U.S. varieties, hoping to induce history of the International Rice
More significant, in 1946, S.C. a short-statured mutant. Among Research Institute, Dr. Chandler
Salmon, a geneticist with General those pioneers were Nelson Jodan wrote about lodging research:
Douglas MacArthur’s Occupation of Louisiana State University’s
By supporting tall varieties such as
Army in Japan, had sent seeds of rice research center in Crowley,
Peta and MTU-15 with bamboo sticks,
Norin 10, a dwarf wheat variety that Louisiana, and Henry (“Hank”)
Jennings found that tall varieties yielded
he found in a Japanese agricultural Beachell of the Texas A&M University
essentially as well as did lodging-resistant
experiment station, to Orville Vogel at rice research center near Beaumont,
varieties. Moreover, the lodging-susceptible
Washington State University. Within Texas. But their selections had high
varieties, when supported, responded well
a few years, Dr. Vogel had developed sterility and were not successful.
to nitrogen applications, whereas the
Gaines, a semidwarf wheat variety In 1957, the Rockefeller
unsupported plants showed a decided
that spread rapidly across the U.S. Foundation sent Peter Jennings, a
negative response. … This proved beyond
Pacific Northwest. Vogel sent seeds young plant pathologist, to Arkansas,
doubt that lodging per se was the primary
with the Norin 10 dwarfing gene to Texas, and Louisiana to learn about
cause of low yields when traditional
Norman Borlaug of the Rockefeller rice in order to develop new rice
tropical varieties were subjected to modern
Foundation wheat program in varieties for Latin America. The
management methods.
Mexico. Dr. Borlaug used those seeds Rockefeller Foundation then sent Dr.
to breed semidwarf wheat varieties. Jennings to Mexico and Colombia. Dr. Chandler made several
The most successful was 8156—given Dr. Jennings and Sterling references to IRRI’s breeding
that name for Dr. Borlaug’s 8,156th Wortman, later to become IRRI’s objectives in the first IRRI
cross. 8156 yielded bountifully associate director, traveled across Annual Report (1961-62). The
and made Mexico self-sufficient in Asia in 1960, looking at rice section “Varietal Improvement”
wheat production by the mid-1960s. varieties, meeting rice scientists, and almost gives a blueprint for the
Seeds of 8156 spread to Pakistan, interviewing prospective trainees
where it was called “MexiPak,” and staff. “Be on the lookout for AFTER A BUMPER crop in his first season grow-
then to Turkey, Iran, and India. a dwarf rice,” Dr. Beachell recalls ing IR8, Indian farmer K.N. Ganesan was so
moved by the new variety that he named his
In 1949, the Food and Agriculture advising them. Dr. Beachell visited second son in its honor—IR-ettu in Tamil, and
Organization of the United Nations the fledgling IRRI as a consultant in signed as Irettu. Here, father and son stand in
established the International Rice 1962, then returned to Beaumont. a field of a different variety, IR50, in 1983.
Commission, which commissioned an In India, Drs. Jennings and
indica-japonica hybridization project Wortman encountered Taichung
based in Cuttack, India. Its mission Native 1 (TN1), a Taiwanese
was to cross the short japonica, or variety that was probably the first
temperate, rice with taller indica, or widely grown semidwarf variety
tropical, varieties, to develop short- in the tropics. TN1 yielded far
statured varieties with higher yield better than tall varieties, but
potential. Shorter rice varieties such was highly susceptible to major
as ADT 27 and Mahsuri, selected disease and insect pests.
from the japonica × indica crosses, Dr. Jennings joined IRRI as

were widely planted across the head of the Varietal Improvement

Indian subcontinent in the 1960s. Department in 1961. Among the

36 Rice Today October-December 2006

variety, yet to be developed, that that DGWG could be used to breed to photoperiod, or daylength,
several years later would turn an improved semidwarf variety],” scientists would later learn. That
rice production on its head: Dr. Beachell recalled years later. meant it could be grown in many
With this discovery, Dr. Jennings latitudes, at any time of the year.
It would seem that the following plant type
persuaded Drs. Chandler and “The seed [of IR8] was uniform
might be useful in the near future through-
Wortman to exchange a cytogenetics enough for trials in other countries,
out much of the tropics—a combination of
position in the Varietal Improvement but a couple of years later Dr.
short, stiff culms bearing erect, moderately
program for a second breeder to Beachell devoted considerable
sized, dark-green leaves; responsiveness in
help with the increase in field work effort to producing an extremely
yield to fertilizer; mid-season maturity and
that would obviously come. They pure strain that would serve as
in most cases, photoperiod sensitivity to
agreed, and Dr. Jennings suggested a uniform seed source of IR8 for
permit double cropping practices. These
Dr. Beachell, who arrived in 1963. the future,” Dr. Chandler wrote.
objectives are being pursued […] with both
Tall, late-maturing plants Meanwhile, seeds of IR8-288-
indica by indica and indica by japonica
from the Peta-DGWG cross were 3 and other promising lines were
discarded, and only short, early- being sent for testing by national
Not much was known about maturing plants were saved. rice programs across Asia.
the genetics of tropical rice Seeds were “bulked” and planted “IRRI’s policy was free access
varieties at the time, so IRRI in a nursery where they could be to all of our genetic material,”
hired a geneticist—Te Tzu Chang, screened for susceptibility to the rice Dr. Beachell said. “It was made
from Taiwan—in its first group of blast fungus. In 1963, Dr. Jennings available to the world.”
scientists. Dr. Chang began studying departed IRRI for study leave, In the 1966 dry season, S.K. De
the inheritance of plant height. leaving the material in the hands of Datta, a young Indian agronomist
Jennings made 38 crosses in late newly arrived Dr. Beachell. From the who had joined IRRI in early 1964,
1962; 11 of them included the dwarf third (F3) generation, Dr. Beachell examined the fertilizer response
parent DGWG, TN1, or I-geo-tze selected 298 of the best individual of IR8, along with other rice
(IGT)—another dwarf from Taiwan. plants. Seeds from each plant varieties. “We wanted to determine
The eighth IRRI cross—from were sown as individual “pedigree maximum yields under the best
which IR8 was eventually selected— rows”—the fourth (F4) generation. management possible,” he said.
was of Peta, a tall, vigorous variety From row 288, a single Dr. De Datta was amazed
from Indonesia, and DGWG. plant—the third one—was selected when he harvested the trials in
From that cross, 130 seeds were and designated IR8-288-3. Its May. IR8 averaged 9.4 tons per
formed. Those seeds were planted seeds, the F5 or fifth generation, hectare, yielding as high as 10.3
in pots in IRRI’s screenhouse were grown to produce the tons per hectare in one trial.
and produced the first, or F1, basic IR8-288-3 seed stock. Average yields in the Philippines
generation of plants. All were tall. IR8-288-3—which was eventually then were about 1 ton per hectare.
Seeds from the F1 plants were named as variety IR8—was a Dr. De Datta took his yield
sown in the field, and produced about semidwarf rice, about 120 cm tall data to Dr. Jennings, then to
10,000 second-generation (F2) plants with strong stems that held the Dr. Beachell. “Let’s go see Bob
that segregated by height in a ratio of plant upright, even when heavily [Chandler],” Dr. Beachell said.
three talls to one dwarf. Dr. Jennings fertilized. It was also nonsensitive But, at that moment, Dr.
immediately recognized this as a
Mendelian ratio—named after Gregor
Mendel, who became known as the
father of genetics for his 19th-century
research into the inheritance of traits
in pea plants. This was a key result—it IRRI STAFF load IR8
meant that dwarfism in DGWG seeds for distribution
was controlled by a single gene and to farmers in 1966.
was therefore simply inherited,
making the job of developing a
commercially usable semidwarf
variety immeasurably easier.
Dr. Jennings immediately
brought Drs. Chandler and Wortman
to the field to see the segregating
plants. He then cabled the good news
to Dr. Beachell in Texas. “That’s
when we knew we had it [meaning

Rice Today October-December 2006 37

Chandler was chairing a seminar— IR8 because it scratches my throat.”)
the news would have to wait another Dr. Beachell recalls the
hour. After what seemed much consensus view of the IRRI seed
longer, Drs. Beachell and De Datta committee: “We needed to move
finally saw their director. Sensing as fast as possible. There was not
the pair’s excitement, Dr. Chandler enough rice to go around. We had
suggested they move to his office. to have something to alleviate the
Dr. De Datta showed his data, rice shortage. Enough rice was more
and Dr. Chandler was excited. important than grain quality.
“The whole world will hear about “So, would we release the line
this,” Dr. Chandler said. “We’re going as a variety, or wait to improve it?
to make history!” He then shook We knew IR8’s limitations, but also
hands, congratulating Dr. Beachell for knew we had the plant type. IR8
helping develop IR8 and Dr. De Datta would be the prototype for future
for discovering and demonstrating varieties. We decided to spread it.”
the semidwarf’s yield potential. The seed committee decided to
“The IR8 yield data were the most formally name IR8-288-3 as IR8
exciting thing that ever happened on 14 November 1966. The news
to me,” Dr. De Datta later recalled. was released on 28 November.
Soon, similar reports of dramatic THE RESPONSE TO nitrogen fertizer of two semidwarf Dr. Chandler later wrote:
yield increases were coming to rice varieties—IR8 and Taichung Native 1—and
He [Beachell], Jennings, and Chang made
IRRI from across Asia, including of Peta, a tall, traditional variety, in the 1966 dry
season on IRRI’s experiment farm. a fine team. When I was asked, some years
11-ton harvests in Pakistan.
later, who, among the three senior scientists
Dr. De Datta prepared his
in the Varietal Improvement Department,
widely published “yield response”
should receive the coveted John Scott
graph, showing how yields of IR8 rapidly as possible. Marcos’s
Award for the creation of IR8, I replied that
rose with increased fertilization, goal was to make the Philippines
the prize should be split among the three:
while those of traditional varieties self-sufficient in rice production
Jennings for selecting the parents and
actually declined (see figure above). during his first term of office.
making the cross, Beachell for identifying
Philippine President Ferdinand It was. During the last half
IR8-288-3 from among the multitude of
Marcos heard about the new rice, and of 1966 alone, 2,359 Philippine
segregating lines, and Chang for having
flew to IRRI by helicopter on 3 June farmers came to IRRI by bus, on
brought to the immediate attention of
1966. Dr. Jennings and others briefed bicycle, and on foot, from 48 of the
IRRI breeders at the start the value of the
the president by a plot of IR8 next country’s 56 provinces, to get seeds.
short-statured varieties from Taiwan such
to Peta, a tall, traditional variety. The new rice yielded bountifully,
as Dee-geo-woo-gen, I-geo-tze, and
Dr. De Datta recalls President but had major disadvantages.
Taichung Native 1.
Marcos’s reaction: “Do you mean Foremost was its bold, chalky grain,
that little rice can out-produce our which distracted from its market Pioneer rice scientists such as
vigorous Philippine varieties?” appearance as polished rice. The Drs. Jennings, Beachell, Chang,
the president asked. Dr. De Datta grain also had high breakage during and De Datta, as well as others who
assured him that it could. milling. And IR8 had high amylose played key roles in developing and
“No kidding?” Marcos responded. content, which made it harden after testing IR8—such as Dr. Tanaka and
President Marcos soon ordered cooling. (Dr. Beachell remembers a another plant physiologist, Benito
that IR8 seeds be multiplied as young Filipina saying, “I don’t like Vergara—proved Dr. Chandler right.
IR8, and IRRI, did indeed “make
IR8 PICTURED next to its parents: history.” IR8 changed the world food
Peta, a tall, vigorous variety from situation and initiated what is now
Indonesia, and the Taiwanese dwarf called the Green Revolution in rice.
variety DGWG.

Tom Hargrove, a former IRRI editor, is now

coordinator, Information and Communications
Unit at IFDC, an International Center for Soil
Fertility and Agricultural Development in
Alabama, USA (Tomhar66@swbell.net).

W. Ronnie Coffman, a former IRRI rice breeder,

is now international professor of plant breeding
and director of international programs,
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at

Cornell University in New York, USA.

38 Rice Today October-December 2006

The author (left) with
former Viet Cong politi-
cal officer Tran Van Rang
on the Xa No Canal in
the lower Mekong Delta
in 1988. Rang has just
explained why he didn’t
have me killed 18 years
previously, when he’d
had the chance.

I Remember
Honda Rice

by Tom Hargrove

How the first Green Revolution rice variety—IR8—influenced

life and death in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War

The Green Revolution in rice has been documented throughout A VIETNAMESE family of five on a motorbike
in 1974. Vietnamese farmers quickly dubbed
much of Asia, but few think of Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s IR8 “Lua Honda” (Honda Rice) because one
good crop bought a new motorbike.
as a “Green Revolution country.” That’s because IR8 arrived at
the height of a brutal war that overshadowed an agricultural
transformation in the countryside. Rice means life itself in Vietnam,
and was used both as a weapon and as a tool for peace. I have
strong memories of the war: Huey choppers, mortars, ambushes,
and needless deaths. But I also remember Honda Rice.
Tom Hargrove, August 2006

4 June 1988, in Hau Giang Province, Vietnam

(Chuong Thien Province during the war)
I’m stunned. I struggle for the right words, then simply ask, “Why
didn’t you kill me, Tu Rang?”
“Because you brought the new rice seeds, and our farmers
needed them.”

Rice Today October-December 2006 39

“But did you know I was THE AUTHOR (right) and Tran The lower Mekong Delta is
Van Rang on the Xa No Canal in
a U.S. Army officer?” the lower Mekong Delta, 1988.
peaceful and beautiful now. But I
“Of course. Your civilian remember it as ugly, dangerous,
clothes didn’t fool anyone.” and one of the most tragic places
The former Viet Cong—literally, on Earth. To me, this is still 1969-
Vietnam Communist, the common 70. We’ve just passed Duc Long. I
name for the National Liberation remember friends being killed in
Front—and I look into each other’s an ambush north of this village …
faces, something we never did in a sampan that I was supposed
in 1969-70. He’s smiling, but to have taken. Tu Rang must have
he’s hard—it shows. He’s also ordered that ambush. I know I’m
telling the truth. I can sense it. safe now, but I’ve never traveled

“I was less than a kilometer this canal without an M-16 and
away whenever you traveled this bandolier of ammunition.
canal in 1969,” Tran Van Rang says. “Has any other American been
Today, Tu Rang is vice-chairman of here since the war?” I ask Dr. Vo-Tong
the Vi Thanh People’s Committee. This trip is getting heavy, I think, Xuan, my host and vice-president
But, two decades ago, he was the as our sampan cuts north through the of the University of Can Tho. Xuan,
local Viet Cong political officer. I muddy waters of the Xa No Canal. who is now the rector of Angiang
know that political officers held New rice seeds. To me, they’re University, in the Mekong Delta, had
ultimate power in the Communist one of the world’s most powerful worked as a research fellow at the
infrastructure—they gave orders tools for peace. That’s why I made International Rice Research Institute
to military commanders. the Green Revolution my profession. (IRRI), where I’d worked since 1973.
“You were entering my territory But I learned about those “No, you’re the first foreigner—
when you came here,” Tu Rang seeds—especially IR8 or Honda of any nationality—to be in the
continues. “The local farmers Rice—here, in the midst of carnage. lower Ca Mau Peninsula since
all supported the Revolutionary Had there been no war, rice wouldn’t the war ended in 1975.”
Forces, and reported on you. have become such a part of my life. I can do it only because
“But I didn’t have you killed Now I must face a new reality: those I work with rice.
because of the new rice seeds.” rice seeds probably saved my life.
2006: looking back
Vietnam veterans and historians
THE AUTHOR in the coun-
tryside deep in the Mekong
have recently queried me about
Delta in 1969. the origin and history of the term
Honda Rice in the war. Interesting,
considering that the war ended 31
years ago. Or did it? Wars never really
go away, for those who lived them.
War and rice. Anyone who
wants to understand the war should
know the role that rice played. I
learned about rice as a young U.S.
Army officer deep in Vietnam’s
heavily contested Mekong Delta at
the height of the war, in 1969-70.
IRRI released the semidwarf
IR8 to farmers in late 1966. Within
a couple of years, it was the most
widely grown rice variety ever
known. IR8 launched the Green
Revolution in Asian rice.
The Western press called IR8

the miracle rice. Its official name

in Vietnam was Lua Than Nong,
or “Rice of the Farming God.”
But Vietnamese farmers
quickly dubbed IR8 Lua Honda—or
Honda Rice—because one good

40 Rice Today October-December 2006

HAVING TEA in the Ba Lien
home in 1988 are the author
(second from left), Ba Lien’s
granddaughter Huyen Xuan Dep
(center, holding baby), and
Ba Lien (far right).

crop bought a new motorbike. The average elevation was less the U.S. Agency for International
How did I get into rice in than 1 meter, and 97% of its Development (USAID). The word
Vietnam? I was raised on a West land was covered by water—rice was, none would go there. But
Texas cotton farm. I received my fields or swamp—during the no one asked if I wanted to go to
B.S., a double degree in agricultural 6-month monsoon season. Chuong Thien—the Army sent me.
science and journalism—along with Chuong Thien was also a Viet U.S. President Lyndon B.
an Army officer commission—from Cong (VC) stronghold. The U.S. Johnson, or LBJ, had visited IRRI
Texas A&M University in 1966. military constantly classified it as in October 1966, accompanied by
I then finished an M.S. at Iowa one of the two least secure South Philippine President Ferdinand
State University and, in 1968, Vietnamese provinces. Putting it Marcos. LBJ appreciated farmers,
reported to Infantry Officers another way, Chuong Thien was one of and went into the IRRI experiment
School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. the VC’s two most secure provinces. fields to see IR8 (see main photo,
I arrived in Vietnam in June 1969 A dozen U.S. advisers were pages 34-35). LBJ made a historic
as a first lieutenant. The legendary killed in Chuong Thien during my flight later that day, to Cam
John Paul Vann (made famous by the 1-year tour. Five were killed in Ranh Bay, Vietnam, “to visit our
book and movie A Bright Shining sampans. These boats were our boys over there.” Johnson later
Lie) ran the war in the Mekong Delta. only transport, unless we could pressured USAID to promote
Vann reviewed my records, saw my hitch a ride on helicopters, along the hardy IR8 in Vietnam.
farm and educational background, the rivers and canals during 6 or IR8 had arrived in Chuong Thien
and assigned me, as an adviser to the 7 months of monsoon rain. No Province in 1968—a year before me.
Vietnamese military and government, one survived a sampan ambush. The first IR8 seeds were smuggled
to Military Assistance Command- Our casualties may not seem into Vietnam in 1967 by my colleague
Vietnam (MAC-V) Team 73 in Vi high, but only 160 Americans were Jose Ona, a Filipino agronomist
Thanh in Chuong Thien Province, stationed in Chuong Thien, and only who had done his M.S. research at
in Vietnam’s southern Ca Mau 30 or 40 advisers worked outside the IRRI, then was hired as USAID rice
Peninsula. Seventy percent of Chuong small provincial HQ in Vi Thanh. agronomist for the Mekong Delta.
Thien’s population was rice farmers. Chuong Thien was also the A friend at IRRI had harvested the
Chuong Thien was an awful only Delta province with no civilian IR8 seeds from IRRI experimental
place for a dryland cotton farmer. agricultural adviser, assigned by plots, and given them to Ona.

Rice Today October-December 2006 41

Ona then set up IR8 agricultural cadres and soldiers. rice land, land that was scarred
demonstration plots in each But sometimes by Huey by bomb and artillery craters.
province of the Mekong Delta. I helicopters. I could spot IR8 easily That’s what made it tough to
feel safe in saying that no farm from choppers, because it reminded come to a personal peace with
technology—anywhere—ever spread me of a “crew cut.” IR8’s short, Vietnam. In my other role, as an
faster than IR8 seeds in the Delta, stiff stems held it erect, while Army officer, I called a lot of the
even at the height of the fighting. the tall traditional varieties fell bombs and artillery that left those
A farmer named Ong Ba Lien over and lay flat. Thus, IR8 could scars, and sometimes killed or
planted the first Honda Rice seeds convert nutrients to heavy heads maimed farmers who were grateful
in Chuong Thien Province in late of grain, and hold them upright. for the IRRI seeds. War and peace.
1967. He was the best farmer in the That genetic trait made IR8 Working with both was hard.
region, and Ona and I later tested outyield any rice that tropical The new rice seeds were
and demonstrated IR8 and IR5, Asia had ever known. Farmers the only good thing—other than
another IRRI variety, on his farm. started harvesting 5 or 6 tons per wonderful Mekong Delta farm
I felt not only welcome but, rarer in hectare from fields where yields families—that I saw in the war.
those days, safe on Ba Lien’s farm, had stagnated at 1 or 1.5 tons for To me, new seeds offer
even though the area ranged from centuries. Traditional rice varieties hope. Maybe that’s why I
dangerous to suicidal for Americans. took 160 to 200 days to mature, made rice improvement—then
When I arrived in 1969, farmers so farmers could grow only one later, overall international
were already growing IR8 on almost crop per year using the monsoon agricultural development—my
1,000 hectares across the province. rain. IR8 matured in about 130 profession after Vietnam.
I was soon bringing IR8 seeds days, so farmers could grow two But I learned about those
to farmers, who suffered as much as crops per year. The new rice was seeds in a setting of death.
any people I’ve ever known, across also nonsensitive to daylength, What did the Viet Cong think
Chuong Thien, a province that the so farmers anywhere could grow about IR8? In the first couple of
war had torn brutally. We traveled it, at any time of the year. years, the VC opposed IR8, calling
mostly by sampan on brown-water By mid-1970, IR8 was planted it a plot of the “imperialistic
canals and rivers with Vietnamese on about half of Chuong Thien’s Americans.” But, in 1970, the VC

THE AUTHOR (far right) and Vietnamese staff at the Rice Research Station in
My Tho, in the Mekong Delta in late 1974, a few months before Saigon fell.


42 Rice Today October-December 2006

the war, IRRI maintained a
presence in Vietnam. Here,
the Institute’s inaugural
director, Robert Chandler,
talks to trainees from the
National Rice Production
Training Center just outside
Saigon in August 1969.

changed its position and issued a foundations, spawned by capitalism. Lien’s politics. I doubted that he
new directive. VC cadres were now Yet neither foundation intended for had any. Honda Rice, or IR8, was
to learn IR8 culture, and take the those seeds to be used for war. the bond of our friendship.
new seeds to contested or “liberated” Tu Rang speaks: “Of course,
(meaning VC-controlled) zones. Back to the Mekong Delta, Ba Lien supported the National
two decades later Liberation Front during the war.
IR8 in North Vietnam The Army discharged me in 1970. His two sons-in-law were Viet Cong
Information is scarce about how In early 1973, I joined IRRI, the colonels. One was a revolutionary
IR8 and other IRRI varieties spread source of those seeds that had hero. And his wife is my aunt, and
in North Vietnam during the war. impressed me so greatly. My family helped us gather information on you.”
I’ve read that in 1968 or 1969, and I moved to the Philippines, “Ba Lien never told me that,”
an Eastern European vessel—I and I spent the next 19 years I reply.
believe it was Polish—purchased following the world’s rice crop. “How could he?”
a shipload of IR8 seeds at Dhaka In 1988, IRRI sent me to Tu Rang’s words are numbing,
(then in East Pakistan) and quietly Vietnam to write about IRRI’s impact but I knew that most farmers along
off-loaded the seeds at Haiphong, there. It was my first return since the Xa No probably supported
the main North Vietnamese port. the war ended in 1975. I probably the VC, at least at night. I bear
From there, the seeds went to could have returned to Vietnam no animosity; I’m still alive.
farmers in the Red River Delta. years earlier, but I was afraid of We dock along the canal and
A former high-ranking North how I might react, emotionally. follow the ex-VC to a familiar palm
Vietnamese agricultural official told “Can we go look at the thatch home beneath coconut palms,
me that IR8 reached North Vietnam rice in the old Chuong Thien surrounded by bougainvillea, in
in other ways. Some of the few North Province?” I asked my friend a grove of banana, papaya, and
Vietnamese soldiers who went back and host, Dr. Vo-Tong Xuan. mangosteen. The house is so
north on the Ho Chi Minh Trail That led to the most emotional much smaller than I remember.
carried a kilo or two of IR8 seeds. journey of my life. Soon after Ba Lien is in his seventies now,
IR8 was called Nong Nghiep 8, arrival in Vi Thanh, Tu Rang, Xuan, and his beard is scraggly and white,
or “Agriculture 8,” in North Vietnam. and I were traveling by sampan 8 but I recognize him easily. We shake
But I’m sure the farmers weren’t told kilometers up the Xa No Canal to hands and embrace. We sit at a round
that the high-yielding seeds were visit Ong Ba Lien, the farmer who had table, where we had often shared
bred at an institute then funded planted the first IR8 in Chuong Thien. simple meals of fish and rice. A crowd
entirely by the Ford and Rockefeller I was never sure about Ba gathers, and someone pours green

Rice Today October-December 2006 43

THE AUTHOR (tallest) and Ong Ba Lien (center, next to the author) at the Ba Lien home.
I had just given Ba Lien’s granddaughter, Huyen Xuan Dep (holding book), a Vietnamese
copy of Field Problems of Tropical Rice, an IRRI booklet that helps identify common pest
and soil problems.

tea. I talk about my family, IRRI … All I can say is, “Yes, but I I introduce her to entomologist
anything to hold back the emotion can’t do that now.” I can’t talk Nguyen Van Huynh, like Xuan, an
as Ba Lien throws me back in time. anymore, so Ms. Dep and I walk IRRI alumnus. We all go to the field.
“Do you remember Jose Ona, outside to the concrete patio The rice looks bad, and Huynh
who brought the Honda Rice?” I where Ba Lien dries rice. confirms that thrips are the
ask. Xuan translates. “And how in I pull a copy of Field Problems of problem. IRRI variety IR13240,
1970, Jose smuggled 2 kilograms of Tropical Rice, in Vietnamese, from resists most pests, but not thrips.
IR20 seeds from the Philippines?” my bag. I coordinated publication Huynh tells her how to save the
Those IR20 seeds—the first in all of the IRRI booklet, with 158 color crop, if she can get the chemicals.
of Vietnam—were precious, because photos to help farmers identify rice We go back to the house. “What
IR20 was IRRI’s first improvement pests. I’m proud that Xuan and I happened to the bomb shelter?”
over IR8. Yields were slightly lower, raised the money to print 160,000 I ask. “It was in that corner.”
but IR20 had better grain quality copies of the Vietnamese edition— “We don’t need a bomb shelter
and resisted several insects and enough to give one copy to every anymore.” I’d made a bad joke, and
diseases without pesticides. Ona agricultural brigade in Vietnam. everyone knew it. But it was okay.
and I gave the IR20 seeds to Ba Lien Ms. Dep clutches at, then flips It’s finally time to leave. About
in trust, because we knew he’d give through, the booklet. She thrusts 30 Vietnamese have gathered at
them the care they deserved. Within an open page at me. “This is our the canal to see us off. “We know
a few years, IR20 had replaced problem now!” It’s thrip damage. it was hard for you to come here,”
IR8 across the Mekong Delta. Ms. Dep says, as tears streak her
Yes, Ba Lien remembers cheeks. “We are deeply moved that
the same things I remember— you remember us after all the years.”
Honda Rice, Ona, IR20. I should have taken her
A shrill voice breaks my child for a ride around the
thoughts: “Uncle Tom! The tall farm on my shoulders, I think.
American!” A young woman rushes But it’s too late now.
through the crowd and grasps A dozen Vietnamese are crying as
my shoulder. Xuan asks her to we climb into the sampan for the trip
slow down, then translates. back to Vi Thanh. Me too, I guess.

“I remember you so well.

I’m Huyen Xuan Dep, Ba Lien’s Much of this article is adapted from
grandaughter—the little girl you Hargrove’s book A Dragon Lives Forever:
carried around the farm on your THE AUTHOR in 2003, during his fourth return to War and Rice in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta,
shoulders.” She now balances Vietnam since the war. This time, my son Miles originally published by Random House/Ivy,
and I were filming a documentary.
her own baby on a hip. now available from AuthorHouse.com.

44 Rice Today October-December 2006

JOSEF SETTELE, an ecolo-
gist from the Center for
Environmental Research
in Halle, Germany, comes
to rice-growing Asia with
a novel approach to large-

scale environmental risk

the box

by Greg Fanslow

As society accepts the reality of global climate change and begins to prepare for it, we need the
tools to predict the risks we should expect

limate change and a pollinator of its host plant if it’s organism, or some isolated part of an
human alterations of the an herbivore? What if warming ecosystem, and start to ask questions
landscape—for agriculture benefits a competitor even more? about how it will interact with other
and housing, for example— Once we step outside the small “boxes” in the environment, we’re
are virtually certain to hypothetical box that defines just one quickly inundated with uncertainty
affect biodiversity and the stability of about how environmental change
ecosystems. This is simply because, Calculating Complexity will reshape our world (see box).
although certain species will be Another challenging aspect to
favored by changes, others will not.
The simplicity, however, stops there.
It is relatively easy to test how
E cosystems are remarkably complex,
which makes it exceedingly difficult
to predict their behavior. If we are lucky,
developing an understanding of
interactions between components
of a complex system is the matter
something like increased temperature we may be able to understand how one of communication. The different
will affect an organism. We can species affects another species, but, in scientific disciplines—which can
isolate almost any organism, put it in a relatively simple hypothetical system be thought of as different boxes
of 50 species, for example, each species
a box, and observe how it responds in which scientists work—have
potentially interacts with 49 other species.
to environmental changes we can traditionally been viewed as distinct
This gives us no less than 1,250 possible
simulate in a controlled setting, two-way interactions in a simple 50- and have developed strikingly
such as a laboratory. We might species system. If you expand your frame different languages. As a result,
find, for example, that warming of reference to larger areas with many interdisciplinary collaboration
benefits this isolated organism. more types of ecosystems, it’s clear that tends to be rare because getting
But what if warming also benefits even a large group of dedicated scientists through language barriers with
a disease of this organism? What couldn’t study even a small percentage of someone in a different discipline
if temperatures become too warm the possible two-way interactions using requires a lot of valuable time
for other organisms on which our traditional controlled experiments, much and energy for people that don’t
hypothetical organism depends, less the three- and four-way interactions generally have a lot to spare.
that are often just as important.
such as its prey if it’s a predator or When you want to understand

Rice Today October-December 2006 45

processes in a very large scale
system, but can’t do experiments,
A MAP of Europe showing projected losses
modeling is a useful way to synthesize of areas that are environmentally suitable
information gathered independently for amphibian species by the year 2050.1
about components of a larger Colors represent a six-class scale where
increasing intensities of red represent
system. However, a model that increasing degrees of species loss.
combines too many different pieces
of information becomes unwieldy
and difficult to interpret because
results can no longer be attributed
to something happening in a
particular part of the overall system. 1
Araújo MB, Thuiller W, Pearson RG. 2006. Climate
Josef Settele, an ecologist warming and the decline of amphibians and
reptiles in Europe. Journal of Biogeography (special
from the Center for Environmental issue: Species distribution modelling: methods,
Research in Halle, Germany, challenges and applications).

thinks he has the right approach to

understanding environmental risks
over large areas. The European Union will encompass a total of more than approach he developed to predict the
has given Dr. Settele more than 25 250 scientists from 69 institutions in impacts of complex environmental
million Euros (US$32 million) to 33 countries, and will have a budget changes on the ecosystems of Europe.
implement a project called ALARM of more than 25 million Euros. The feature of ALARM
(www.alarmproject.net), which With the expansion of the that sets it apart from overly
has a scope matched only by the project to Asia comes the need to complex modeling exercises is
ambition of its acronym: Assessing tailor the ALARM approach for that it makes use of scientific
LArge-scale environmental Risks for rice-growing systems and IRRI narratives (or “stories”) based on
biodiversity with tested Methods. ecologist K.L. Heong has been scientists’ best understanding of
The objective of the project is “to enlisted to analyze long-term trends the environmental systems they
apply our best understanding of how in the biodiversity of parasitic study. ALARM puts these narratives
organisms and ecosystems function wasps. If the project continues together to paint a larger picture
and use new ways to assess large- to grow in the region, other rice of how something as large and
scale environmental risks. Ultimately, scientists may be recruited as well. complex as the environment of a
we want to provide information Dr. Settele is no stranger to rice continent will respond to different
that can be used to reduce negative fields either. He began his ecology environmental driving forces.
impacts on humans and, in turn, career in the 1980s as a graduate Just as challenging as
minimize negative human impacts— student with an insect ecology project reaching an understanding of how
both direct and indirect,” says Settele. in the Ifugao rice terraces in the environmental change will play out
After recently expanding Philippines. He has now returned is translating that understanding
its geographic reach by adding to the rice fields of Asia to join into language that policymakers and
institutions and scientists from International Rice Research Institute the general public can understand.
outside the European Union, ALARM (IRRI) scientists in applying an To illustrate what he is trying
to do through the ALARM project,
Dr. Settele likes to contrast different

forms of environmental storytelling.

“Scientists tend to be reluctant to let
a good story distract attention from
the facts, while journalists or activists
can often be faulted for ignoring facts
for the sake of a good story,” he says.
“The goal of ALARM is to find
a compromise between these ways
of telling environmental stories
and treat stories as the envelopes to
THE ALARM project will help carry facts, and remember that facts
researchers predict how climate
change will affect rice-growing are the basis of any good story.”
regions such as this area along the
Magat River, which separates the
plains of Nueva Viscaya and the
mountains of Ifugao Province in Greg Fanslow is an environmental
Luzon, Philippines. consultant at IRRI.

46 Rice Today October-December 2006


Innovative research and extension are

the key to agricultural development
by In-Sik Kim

he Rural Development Ad- national product, increase quality
ministration (RDA), which of life by enhancing the vitality of
celebrated its 100th anniver- rural areas, and educate agricul- MR. KIM is the administrator of Korea’s Rural
Development Administration.
sary recently (see page 5), is tural leaders to guide rural society.
the central government organization To implement these goals, RDA
responsible for agricultural research has developed four basic courses for mostly in Asia and Africa, on rice
and extension in Korea. Since 1906, agricultural research and extension: production and rural development.
RDA and its forerunner, the Ex- address the bottleneck of agricultural RDA collaborates closely with
periment Station for Agricultural technologies and apply on-the-spot international organizations, inter-
Encouragement, have developed research directly to farms, develop national research centers under the
new technologies and extended and extend technologies that lead Consultative Group on International
these for the development of rural to the formulation of a national Agricultural Research (CGIAR)—es-
areas and the agricultural sector. policy for rural development, sup- pecially the International Rice
RDA’s efforts over the last 100 port agricultural industrialization in Research Institute (IRRI)—and
years have helped Korea achieve self- the form of biomedicine and other many national agricultural re-
sufficiency in rice and other staple functional materials, and establish search and extension systems in
foods through dissemination and basic information and data (for Africa, Asia, and South America.
promotion of high-yielding cultivars example, soil surveys over Korea’s RDA has had particularly close
and improved production tech- total agricultural area and collection partnership with IRRI since IRRI
nologies. RDA has also taken great and analysis of genetic resources). was established in 1960. This co-
steps to improve the rural environ- To support these four basic cours- operation can be divided into three
ment and nurture new farmers. es, RDA has developed seven policy stages. The beginning stage (1962-76)
Now, Korean agriculture faces an projects: innovation of research and saw IRRI support RDA by provid-
increasingly globalized agricultural development at agricultural sites, cus- ing individual training for Korean
sector. At the same time, the rural tomized extension services, custom- scientists. It is widely acknowledged
population and the relative er-centered reorganization that Korea achieved rice self-suf-
economic importance of the of RDA, a more competitive ficiency during the Green Revolution
Korean agricultural sector system among RDA staff, in the 1970s largely through IRRI’s
are decreasing. Against strengthened customer- assistance. In the developing stage
this backdrop, RDA is centered service, progressive (1977-90), RDA co-supported collab-
changing its research marketing techniques for new orative projects. Now, we are in the
and extension system and RDA-developed technologies, and mature stage (1991-present), during
accommodating Korean farm- improved laws and regulations for which RDA has donated funds to
ers who seek applied technologies rural development and innovation. IRRI through the CGIAR. Through-
that can help increase their income. Along with these initiatives, RDA out its partnership with IRRI, Korea’s
Amid the difficulties imposed by is strengthening its efforts to reduce research and development capacity
shifting domestic and international poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in has continued to improve and is now
circumstances, the expectation of the developing countries. For example, highly regarded by world standards.
Korean people for rural development RDA recently created five alumni as- Now, it is time for RDA to find
and agriculture has not changed. sociations consisting of RDA trainees better ways to address world agricul-
To meet the population’s demands, from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri tural issues and the global problem
RDA announced on 9 May 2006 Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. These of poverty. In this light, the recently
the Innovation Program of RDA. alumni associations will help sustain opened IRRI-Korea Office—housed
Under the vision Technol- the linkage and benefits between at RDA’s National Institute of Crop
ogy development and extension RDA and the trainees, and ensure the Science in Suwon—can contrib-
for competitive agriculture and ongoing transfer of technologies from ute not only to the strengthening
cherished rural community, RDA Korea to developing countries. Since of cooperation between RDA and
has set three goals: ensure agricul- the 1970s, RDA technology transfer IRRI but also to the continu-
tural competitiveness to help Korea training programs have trained more ing evolution of Korea as a world
reach a US$20,000 per capita gross than 3,000 people from 111 countries, leader in japonica rice research.

Rice Today October-December 2006 47


Asia and sub-Saharan Africa:

rice in
his issue’s Rice facts presents some key informa-
tion on the rice situation in Asia and selected
rice-producing countries in sub-Saharan Af-
rica—where the International Rice Research

Institute (IRRI) is stepping up its efforts to improve rice
production and reduce poverty. For an outline of IRRI’s
new strategic plan and associated research agenda, see

Key Information on rice situation, poverty, health, and malnutrition

Region/country production,
(000 t)

East Timor

17 21
Congo, Dem Rep

ha = hectares; t = metric tons; kcal = kilocalories; paddy = unhulled rice. a FAOSTAT © FAO Statistics Division 2 August 2006. b Estimated using data from World Rice Statistics and CORIFA of FAO. Countries
with very low yield and for which data are not available are assigned as 100% rainfed. c 2005 import data for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, East Timor, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Congo Dem Rep,
Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and 2005 export data for China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan: USDA. d Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs
of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision, http://esa.un.org/unpp, 21 March 2005. e Estimated by analyzing the trend

48 Rice Today October-December 2006

Bringing hope, improving lives on South and Southeast Asia in need of more rice to obtain it.
pages 10–15. The table also pres- and sub-Saharan Africa. So, reduced consumption in East
ents telling information on poverty
and health in the listed countries. • Most East Asian countries will
Asia is likely to lead to a reduc-
tion in rice area there as farmers
reduce consumption, but it is
• By 2015, the global rice-eat- unlikely there will be any sur-
switch to other high-value crops.
ing population is projected plus rice available for the world • Areas where rice is grown mostly
to consume over 50 million market from this region. The high under rainfed (rather than irri-
tons more than it did in 2005, cost of production there means gated) conditions tend to corre-
with significant increases in that East Asian rice would be spond to low yields and extensive
too expensive for the countries poverty and malnutrition.

• Despite Thailand being the

world’s largest rice exporter, aver-
age yields are the second lowest
in Asia. This is largely because
most rice is grown under rainfed
conditions. However, relatively
large farm sizes and the produc-
tion for export of high-value vari-
2005-15 eties with superior grain quality
mean that poverty is diminish-
ing in many Thai rice areas.

• Although current rice consump-

tion in Africa is lower than
in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa’s
consumption will rise by around
50% by 2015—the greatest pro-
portional increase worldwide. In
this region, almost half of rice
needs are met from imports.
Nigeria is already the world’s
second-largest rice importer.

• Low African yields present both

a challenge and a great oppor-
tunity. Since there is a large gap
between actual and potential
yield, a large percentage increase
in yield and overall produc-
tion is possible with the adop-
tion of improved technology.

13066 19904 6838

• A high proportion of the popu-
lation in almost every listed
country—with the exception
of some in East Asia—suffers
from serious health problems
due to undernourishment and
underweight. The proportion of
the population living in pov-
erty also remains very high.

This and a host of further infor-

mation presented here clearly dem-
onstrate that a continued, concerted
rice research effort is essential if
from time series data for 1990-2002. f World Development Indicators 2004. g FAO, 2004. The State of Food Insecurity in the World.
Rome: FAO. h Includes all other East Asian countries. i ... data not available. j Includes all other Southeast Asian countries. we are to help poor rice consumers
and producers improve their lives.
Includes all other African countries south of the Sahara. l World figures based on source except for rice consumption figures,
which were based on estimates.

Rice Today October-December 2006 49

grain of truth

How many rice

varieties are there?

common question but very difficult to answer. In Laos, we have found 3,500 distinct names in use, but
Depending on your definition of variety, the answer many of the names are just generic terms like “black rice”
could be anything from zero to around 500,000 or “glutinous rice,” each covering a multitude of different
varieties of Oryza sativa (Asian cultivated rice). In the genetic entities. In a study of 95 samples of black rice from
technical sense used by taxonomists (biologists who classify different parts of the country, we found no fewer than 45
organisms into groups based on evolutionary relationships), distinct varieties—and they can be enormously distinct.
descriptions have been published of 14 varieties, but For example, leaf color varies from uniformly almost black
most taxonomists now do not accept any of them as valid to variegated to normal green (a green-leaf variety can be
taxonomic varieties—so, in this sense, the answer is zero. called black rice if some other part is black, such as the grain
Cultivated varieties (abbreviated to “cultivars” to or the husk). So, the 3,500 names in Laos could represent
distinguish from the taxonomists’ concept) are something 10,000 or more distinct varieties.
different, but even then we count different numbers for Moreover, unlike modern varieties, traditional varieties
different meanings. Many countries maintain an official are often genetically variable: plants of one variety differ
list of recognized varieties released within a field, from field to field,
for cultivation by farmers. In and from year to year. Therefore,
countries with a legal system for even deciding whether or not two
protecting plant breeders’ rights, Depending on your definition seed lots are sufficiently similar to
these varieties may have been be classified as the same variety is
subjected to rigorous tests to of variety, the answer could not a trivial task.
demonstrate that they are novel, So, how do I get 500,000 as an
distinct from other varieties, upper limit? It’s more or less a wild
uniform, and stable. be anything from zero to guess. India’s 100,000 may be an
The Inter nat iona l R ice overestimate, but, even if it is, it’s
Information System (IRIS; www. around 500,000 varieties probably not too wildly out. If the
iris.irri.org) recognizes around small Southeast Asian countries
5,000 released varieties. The actual of Asian cultivated rice. each have 10,000, India could
number may be greater than 5,000 easily have more than 50,000.
because no one has systematically Around 80 countries are rice
collated all countries’ lists. It could producers. As a large country in the
also be less because the same genetic variety can be released primary center of diversity of rice, it is not out of the question
in more than one country with different entries in IRIS, that India could have 10–20% of the worldwide total.
under the same or a different name. And how many varieties do we have safely conserved in
If you include traditional varieties (also known as the International Rice Genebank at the International Rice
farmers’ varieties or landraces), the number goes up Research Institute? Right now, nowhere near the possible
markedly. The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation half-million total. The answer is around 100,000. This upper
in India claims that India alone has 100,000 traditional limit is simply the number of accessions that we keep and
varieties still in use by farmers around the country, and manage as separate entities. We have not yet begun the
another 300,000 that have become extinct. challenging task of classifying them into varieties or sorting
However, the task of counting them becomes very out which ones, if any, are genetic duplicates.
difficult. Traditional varieties predate legal systems of Our priority now is to document and unravel this
variety protection, and are named only for the farmer’s own fantastic functional diversity of rice so that we can better
convenience, not for legal purposes. Therefore, counting one conserve it and use it for sustainable development in the
name does not mean one variety (just like naming people— years to come.
many different people share the name “Sarah” even though
they are unrelated). The same genetic entity may be known
by different names in different communities, and the same Dr. Sackville Hamilton is the head of IRRI’s T.T. Chang Genetic
name may be used for different genetic entities. Resources Center.

50 Rice Today October-December 2006

Rice Today October-December 2006 51
52 Rice Today October-December 2006