farm tales

An in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tute based in La­guna helps solve the world’s on­go­ing rice cri­sis


How sci­ence is help­ing sus­tain one of the coun­try’s top food sta­ples

Three and a half bil­lion peo­ple— half the world’s pop­u­la­tion— rely on rice for food or liveli­hood. But with the neg­a­tive im­pact of cli­mate change, grow­ing food sta­ples such as rice is prov­ing to be more chal­leng­ing than ever. Mak­ing the con­cern more press­ing are the lack of post- har­vest fa­cil­i­ties, pest and dis­ease con­trol, and the ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem. Be­cause rice is a ma­jor com­po­nent of our daily meals, it’s def­i­nitely alarm­ing to note th­ese prob­lems are gravely af­fect­ing our sup­ply. Not all hope is lost though as some­one is try­ing to ad­dress them.

The In­ter­na­tional Rice Re­search In­sti­tute ( IRRI), an in­ter­na­tional re­search and train­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion es­tab­lished in 1960, has been pro­duc­ing a sus­tain­able way of rice farm­ing. Through rice sci­ence, the premier agri­cul­tural as­so­ci­a­tion has also been study­ing and em­ploy­ing sys­tems that aim to re­duce poverty and im­prove the health and wel­fare of rice farmers and con­sumers as well as to pro­tect the rice- grow­ing en­vi­ron­ment for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Rice farmers con­stantly face drought, flood­ing, and in­creas­ing salt con­tent in soil and wa­ter. Through technology, IRRI has been able to help them in­crease pro­duc­tion, avert famine, ad­dress food in­se­cu­rity, and com­bat chal­lenges brought by cli­mate change to their farms. Aside from that, IRRI sci­en­tist Fiona Hay adds that the in­sti­tute is able to de­velop the right kind of breed for the right place. Th­ese ad­vanced rice va­ri­eties called “cli­mates­mart” rice have made it pos­si­ble to in­crease grain yield while mak­ing the crops more re­silient to un­fa­vor­able weather con­di­tions.

For Hay, one of the projects she is most pas­sion­ate and ex­cited about is the In­ter­na­tional Rice Gene Bank, which is the largest col­lec­tion of

Photos by AN­GELO MEN­DOZA rice ge­netic di­ver­sity in the world. As of Jan­uary 2015, it holds in trust more than 126,000 va­ri­eties of

As of Jan­uary 2015, IRRI holds in trust more than 126,000 va­ri­eties of rice, in­clud­ing wild, mod­ern, and heir­loom.

rice, in­clud­ing mod­ern, heir­loom/ tra­di­tional, and wild. One could say that the In­ter­na­tional Gene Bank is the heart and soul of the in­sti­tu­tion. The con­ser­va­tion of the dif­fer­ent rice va­ri­eties plays an in­te­gral role in the ge­netic im­prove­ment of crops. IRRI con­tin­u­ally works on de­vel­op­ing bet­ter qual­ity grains by un­cov­er­ing traits hid­den deep within the DNA of the dif­fer­ent rice va­ri­eties across the globe. In ad­di­tion, the bank acts as a trea­sure trove that elim­i­nates the pos­si­bil­ity of to­tal rice va­ri­ety de­ple­tion.

Work­ing in part­ner­ship with the Philip­pine Rice Re­search In­sti­tute ( PhilRice) and the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, 123 IRRI- bred va­ri­eties suited to dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments have been re­leased in the coun­try. On av­er­age, the new va­ri­eties have helped farmers earn an ad­di­tional P2,184 per hectare an­nu­ally. The in­sti­tute has also in­tro­duced new technologies to make rice grow­ing more ef­fi­cient. Al­ter­nate Wet­ting and Dry­ing ( AWD) is a prac­tice de­vel­oped by PhilRice and IRRI that re­duces wa­ter use by up to 30 per­cent and green­house gas emis­sions by up to 50 per­cent.

Ac­cord­ing to di­rec­tor gen­eral Matthew Morell, rice, es­pe­cially for Filipinos, is not only a sta­ple of our diet. It is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant in avoid­ing famine and mal­nu­tri­tion. IRRI is con­tin­u­ing to de­velop rice va­ri­eties that com­ple­ment the Filipino di­etary needs. They are de­vel­op­ing rice types with higher mi­cronu­tri­ent con­tent and a lower glycemic in­dex cru­cial in the man­age­ment of di­a­betes.

It is quite pos­si­ble that mil­lions of farmers all over the world would still be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the full ef­fects of cli­mate change, di­min­ish­ing re­sources and food in­se­cu­rity had it not been for the in­ter­ven­tions of IRRI. Farmers all over the world have ac­cess to cli­mate- re­sis­tant breeds that are now more re­silient to less- than- ideal weather con­di­tions that may in­clude in­stances of flood­ing, drought, and salin­ity in soil and wa­ter. An es­ti­mated 50 per­cent of the Asian rice area is planted with IRRI- bred va­ri­eties or their ge­netic de­scen­dants.

Even with all the great con­tri­bu­tions the in­sti­tute has al­ready made, IRRI is show­ing no signs of stop­ping as they are still striv­ing to find ways to over­come poverty and hunger in the face of cli­mate change.

Lo­cal farmers can ac­tu­ally re­quest up to 10 grams of seeds from IRRI

for free.

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