The world’s rice bowl: pro­tected in per­pe­tu­ity

Mas­sive rice col­lec­tion to re­ceive per­ma­nent fi­nan­cial back­ing, sav­ing al­most all known va­ri­eties of rice crops, for­ever.

Agriculture - - Contents -

THE WORLD’S LARGEST rice col­lec­tion is to re­ceive per­ma­nent fund­ing for the con­ser­va­tion and shar­ing of 136,000 va­ri­eties of the sta­ple crop that feeds more than three bil­lion peo­ple world­wide. The agree­ment be­tween the In­ter­na­tional Rice Re­search In­sti­tute (IRRI) and the Crop Trust, which guar­an­tees fund­ing worth US$1.4 mil­lion a year, in per­pe­tu­ity, was signed on World Food Day, Oc­to­ber 16th, dur­ing the 5th In­ter­na­tional Rice Congress in Sin­ga­pore.

“This is fan­tas­tic news for the fu­ture of rice re­search,” said Matthew Morell, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of IRRI. “Half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion—around 3.5 bil­lion peo­ple—eats rice ev­ery day and the IRRI genebank is fun­da­men­tal to global ef­forts to make the rice sec­tor more re­silient, sus­tain­able and eq­ui­table. The Crop Trust fund­ing en­ables IRRI to fo­cus on us­ing its large and di­verse rice col­lec­tion to ben­e­fit the world.”

Sci­en­tists world­wide use the seeds stored at IRRI’s high-tech fa­cil­ity in Los Baños, Philip­pines to de­velop im­proved rice va­ri­eties that can with­stand cli­mate

change im­pacts—such as se­vere flood­ing and drought—while keep­ing pace with the grow­ing world pop­u­la­tion and chang­ing con­sumer pref­er­ences. By 2050, an­nual global rice con­sump­tion is es­ti­mated to rise from 450 mil­lion to 525 mil­lion tons. Asians eat more than 90 per­cent of this rice; the re­gion’s 515 mil­lion hun­gry are par­tic­u­larly de­pen­dent on the sta­ple. This is in ad­di­tion to de­mand for rice in Africa grow­ing at al­most 7 per­cent per year.

Sci­en­tists at IRRI have used the rice sam­ples stored in the bank to de­velop rice break­throughs tai­lored to cli­mate ex­tremes like drought and flood­ing which are al­ready threat­en­ing pro­duc­tion in key rice-pro­duc­ing re­gions, in­clud­ing In­dia, China, the Philip­pines, Viet­nam, Myan­mar, Cam­bo­dia, In­done­sia and Malaysia.

One ma­jor in­no­va­tion is set to ben­e­fit farm­ers tend­ing to some 20 mil­lion hectares of rice land across Asia reg­u­larly hit by flood­ing. Whereas most rice dies within days of sub­mer­gence un­der wa­ter, “scuba rice” with­stands flood­ing for up to two weeks. This rice is cur­rently grown by five mil­lion farm­ers in In­dia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Laos, the Philip­pines and In­done­sia. Re­searchers are now adapt­ing the rice for Africa.

Ruaraidh Sackville-Hamil­ton, an evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist who man­ages the IRRI genebank said: “Our work to con­serve rice has a proven track record in bring­ing ben­e­fits to the world. With this col­lec­tion safely con­served, we can con­tinue to use it to de­velop im­proved rice va­ri­eties that farm­ers can use to re­spond to the chal­lenges in rice pro­duc­tion and to adapt to the chang­ing tastes and pref­er­ences of con­sumers every­where.”

Con­served in the IRRI genebank are the an­ces­tors and de­scen­dants of IR8, the world’s first high-yield­ing rice. De­vel­oped by IRRI re­searchers, this “mir­a­cle rice” brought Asia back from the brink of famine dur­ing the so-called Green Rev­o­lu­tion in the 1960s and 70s, when a se­ries of farm­ing in­no­va­tions trans­formed agri­cul­ture in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. The rice was grown in the Philip­pines, Viet­nam, Myan­mar (then Burma), Cam­bo­dia, In­done­sia, Malaysia and In­dia. The in­flu­ence of IR8 can also be traced to rice va­ri­eties grown else­where in the world, es­pe­cially Latin Amer­ica.

The IRRI col­lec­tion also in­cludes wild rice species, which have been used to de­velop va­ri­eties that tol­er­ate heat and drought and re­sist pests and dis­eases. Some wild species have been used to de­velop va­ri­eties that can tol­er­ate iron tox­i­c­ity, a com­mon prob­lem that af­fects flooded, low­land rice, mostly in Africa.

FUND­ING IN PER­PE­TU­ITY The US$1.4 mil­lion per year will be paid from the Crop Trust’s en­dow­ment fund, which was es­tab­lished in 2004 to pro­vide sus­tain­able, longterm fi­nan­cial sup­port to the world’s most im­por­tant food and agri­cul­ture genebanks.

“This is a land­mark mo­ment for IRRI and for the Crop Trust,” said Marie Haga, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Crop Trust. “At a time when many donors have in­creas­ingly com­plex de­mands on their re­sources, it’s im­por­tant that the world’s crop col­lec­tions are safe, se­cure and the genebanks func­tion­ing ef­fec­tively.”

“Pro­vid­ing per­ma­nent fund­ing to the world’s most im­por­tant crop col­lec­tions is at the core of the Crop Trust mis­sion,” she added. “To­day’s an­nounce­ment val­i­dates 20 years of work and 50 years of think­ing on how the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity can safe­guard crops used for food and agri­cul­ture. We hope IRRI will be the first of sev­eral glob­ally sig­nif­i­cant genebanks to re­ceive per­ma­nent fi­nan­cial sup­port from the Crop Trust.”

The IRRI genebank is one of 11 genebanks of CGIAR, a global re­search part­ner­ship ded­i­cated to re­duc­ing poverty, en­hanc­ing food and nu­tri­tion se­cu­rity and im­prov­ing nat­u­ral re­sources and ecosys­tem ser­vices. The CGIAR genebanks con­serve mil­lions of crop seeds, dis­tribut­ing more than 100,000 sam­ples to re­searchers and farm­ers around the world ev­ery year.

“For decades, crop improve­ment has been at the heart of the work of CGIAR, and our genebanks have been es­sen­tial to this process,” said El­wyn Grainger-Jones, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the CGIAR Sys­tem Or­ga­ni­za­tion. “Rice is and will con­tinue to be a vi­tal crop for ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, for im­prov­ing the eco­nomic for­tunes sta­tus of mil­lions of peo­ple and for es­tab­lish­ing sus­tain­able, re­silient food sys­tems.”

The first phase of Crop Trust fund­ing will cover es­sen­tial op­er­a­tions of the IRRI genebank from 2019-2023, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tion, re­gen­er­a­tion and distri­bu­tion of its cul­ti­vated and wild seed col­lec­tions. As part of the Long-term Part­ner­ship Agree­ment, IRRI will also pro­vide ex­pert ad­vice to five na­tional genebanks to help their crop con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.

The Agree­ment is en­vis­aged to con­tinue after 2023 with a sec­ond five-year phase al­low­ing for any re­vi­sions in the genebank’s busi­ness plan and op­er­a­tional costs. IRRI is pi­o­neer­ing ways of im­prov­ing ef­fi­ciency, in­clud­ing us­ing tai­lor-made ro­bot­ics to au­to­mate seed sort­ing pro­cesses. The Agree­ment will be re­newed ev­ery five years, into the fu­ture.

Rice is as­sured with a re­silient fu­ture fol­low­ing the per­ma­nent fi­nan­cial back­ing that the IRRI Genebank will re­ceive from the Crop Trust which is al­lo­cat­ing $1.4 mil­lion a year for the con­ser­va­tion and shar­ing of 136,000 rice va­ri­eties of rice now stored at the IRRI genebank in Los Baños. Sci­en­tists world­wide can use the seeds to de­velop im­proved rice va­ri­eties that can with­stand cli­mate change im­pacts in the rice in­dus­try now and in the fu­ture. Photo shows a beau­ti­ful crop of hy­brid rice.

The IRRI genebank con­tains 136,000 va­ri­eties.

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