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Gates Funds Climate-Smart Rice Development

RicePlanterIndonesia

By Sunny Lewis

LOS BANOS, Philippines, January 6, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – Climate change-ready rice seeds of several varieties have reached millions of farmers in Asia and Africa under a forward-looking program known as Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia, or STRASA.

Developed by the Los Baños-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program distributes new rice varieties tolerant of stresses such as the droughts and floods, salinity, and toxicity, to millions of farmers coping with these stresses.

STRASA began at the end of 2007 with IRRI in collaboration with AfricaRice. Conceived as a 10-year project with a vision to deliver the improved varieties to at least 18 million farmers on the two continents, the first two phases of the project have been funded with about US$20 million each.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the third phase of the IRRI-led project with US$32.77 million through 2017.

Rice is the most important human food crop in the world, directly feeding more people than any other crop. In 2012, nearly half of world’s population, more than three billion people, relied on rice every day.

Rice is produced in a wide range of locations and under a variety of climatic conditions, from the wettest areas in the world to the driest deserts. Thousands of rice varieties are cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.

But as the climate changes, more varieties are being developed to help farmers produce their crops regardless of droughts that shrivel the rice plants and floods that rot them.

About three years into the STRASA program, in May 2011, Bill Gates described how he sees the revolution in rice production.

“What’s going on right now in Africa and South Asia is not a collection of anecdotes about improvements to a few people’s lives,” Gates said. “This is the early stage of sweeping change for farming families in the poorest parts of the world. It’s an historic chance to help people and countries move from dependency to self-sufficiency – and fulfill the highest promise of foreign aid.”

STRASA in Africa

Gary Atlin, senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the 3rd Africa Rice Congress held in October 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon, “The best adaptation to climate change is a breeding and seed system that rapidly develops, deploys, and then replaces varieties so that farmers will always have access to varieties adapted to their current conditions.”

This strategy is at the heart of STRASA, which helps smallholder farmers who are vulnerable to flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, and soil problems, such as high salt and iron toxicity, that reduce yields.

Some of these stresses are forecast to become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on Africa through extreme temperatures, frequent flooding and droughts, and increased salinity according to Baboucarr Manneh, irrigated-rice breeder at Africa Rice Center and coordinator of the African component of the STRASA project.

More than 30 stress-tolerant rice varieties have already been released in nine African countries with support from the STRASA project, said Dr. Manneh.

“One of the key impact points for STRASA will be the quantity of seed produced and disseminated to farmers,” said Dr. Manneh. “As seed production continues to be a major bottleneck in Africa, the main thrust of our recent STRASA meeting was to help countries develop seed road maps.”

Sometimes, various stresses, such as salinity, cold, submergence, and iron toxicity, can occur at the same time.

“That’s why the third phase of the STRASA project will focus on breeding for multiple stress tolerance,” Dr. Manneh explained.

STRASA in India

“Use flood- and drought-tolerant rice to get maximum profit from your small landholdings in the stress-prone areas of Bihar,” said Radha Mohan Singh, Union minister for agriculture and farmers welfare, to a gathering of more than 1,000 farmers at the foundation ceremony of the National Integrated Agriculture Research Centre in Motihari, Bihar, India last August.

Minister Singh told the farmers of how scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research took him to a pond planted with a new flood-tolerant rice variety that was fully submerged in water for 15 days. “I immediately asked them, ‘Why this much water? Wouldn’t the rice rot?’”

But the crop variety that survived 15 days of submergence had “very good yield,” the scientists said.

These flood-tolerant seeds now are available for farmers in Motihari. Trials of a drought-tolerant rice variety are also being conducted in several Motihari villages.

“Following the Minister’s speech, the IRRI booth received a rush of inquiries from farmers,” said Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, International Rice Research Institute scientist and rainfed-lowland agronomist for South Asia, who represented the Institute during the foundation ceremony and exhibit.

About 10 million of the poorest and most disadvantaged rice farmers have been given access to climate-smart rice varieties.

“Swarna-Sub1 changed my life,” said Trilochan Parida, a farmer at the Dekheta Village of Puri in Odisha, India.

Floods ravage Parida’s rice field every year. Flooding of four days or more usually means a loss of the crop as well as of any expected income. But in 2008, Parida saw his rice rise back to life after having been submerged for two weeks.

Swarna-Sub1 is a flood-tolerant rice variety developed by the Philippines-based IRRI. It was bred from a popular Indian variety, Swarna, which has been upgraded with SUB1, the gene for flood tolerance.

“Under the past phases of the project, 16 climate-smart rice varieties tolerant of flood, drought, and salinity were released in various countries in South Asia. About 14 such varieties were released in sub-Saharan Africa. Several more are in the process of being released,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI scientist and STRASA project leader.

In addition to improving varieties and distributing seeds, the STRASA project also trains farmers and scientists in producing good-quality seeds. Through the project’s capacity-building component, 74,000 farmers, including 19,400 women farmers, underwent training in seed production.

3,000 Rice Genomes Sequenced

Now a scientific advance has made even more progress possible.

A remarkable 3,000 rice genome sequences were made publicly available on World Hunger Day May 29, 2014.

This work is the completion of stage one of the 3000 Rice Genomes Project, a collaborative, international research program that has sequenced 3,024 rice varieties from 89 countries.

The collaboration is made up of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler said, “Access to 3,000 genomes of rice sequence data will tremendously accelerate the ability of breeding programs to overcome key hurdles mankind faces in the near future.”

“This collaborative project,” said Zeigler, “will add an immense amount of knowledge to rice genetics, and enable detailed analysis by the global research community to ultimately benefit the poorest farmers who grow rice under the most difficult conditions.”

The 3000 Rice Genomes Project is part of an ongoing effort to provide resources for poverty-stricken farmers in Africa and Asia, aiming to reach at least 20 million rice farmers in 16 target countries – eight in Asia and eight in Africa.

Dr. Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, said, “The population boom and worsening climate crisis have presented big challenges on global food shortage and safety. BGI is dedicated to applying genomics technologies to make a fast, controllable and highly efficient molecular breeding model possible.”

“This opens a new way to carry out agricultural breeding. With the joined forces with CAAS, IRRI and Gates Foundation, we have made a step forward in big-data-based crop research and digitalized breeding,” said Dr. Wang. “We believe every step will get us closer to the ultimate goal of improving the wellbeing of human race.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 

Editors note: Dr. Jun Wang is no longer the director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, although he was at the comment quoted. Dr. Jun Wang is now a scientist and research group leader with BGI.

Head image: A farmer planting rice in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2014 (Photo by Tri Saputro / Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under creative commons license.
Featured image: Sample seeds from among the 127,000 rice varieties and accessions stored in the International Rice Genebank at the International Rice Research Institute.​​ (Photo courtesy IRRI)

Sustainable Standard Set for Half the World’s Main Dish

RicePlantingJapan

MANILA, Philippines, November 11, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The world’s first standard for sustainable rice cultivation debuted late last month, presented by the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme convened the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) five years ago in order to promote resource use efficiency and climate change resilience in rice systems so important to global food security.

At its 5th Annual Plenary Meeting and General Assembly in Manila October 27-29 the Sustainable Rice Platform welcomed representatives of its 29 institutional stakeholders.

Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director and Representative UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, opened the meeting by reminding the more than 120 delegates that at least half the world’s people rely on rice.

“With more than half the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, depending on rice for 20 percent or more of their daily calories, and almost one billion of the world’s poorest people dependent on rice as a staple, we are reminded of the critical importance of rice,” she said, “rice as a source of livelihoods and food and nutritional security for billions; rice as a consumer of land, water and other natural assets; and on the other hand, rice as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“According to IRRI, by 2050, we are going to need 50 percent more rice to feed the world’s population,” said Louis, “and most of this increase will have to come from intensification and increased productivity.”

The new Sustainable Rice Standard is made up of 46 requirements, covering issues from productivity, food safety, worker health, and labor rights to biodiversity protection.

One requirement, for instance, is documented proof that the soil is safe from heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead.

Another that inbound water is obtained from clean sources that are free of biological, saline, and heavy metal contamination.

A third requirement is that measures are in place to enhance water-use efficiency.

An attached set of quantitative Performance Indicators enables farmers and market supply chain participants to gauge the sustainability of a rice system, and to monitor and reward progress or the lack of progress.

“The SRP Standard represents the world’s first initiative that will set environmentally sustainable and socially responsible rice production management standards,” said Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

“Our key challenge now,” he said, “is to incentivize and scale up adoption, especially among resource-poor small farmers.”

The SRP says a fifth of the world’s population depends on rice cultivation for their livelihoods.

The SRP Standard uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to accomplish three things: maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

Development of the standard draws on global experience in other sustainable commodity initiatives such as sugar, cotton, coffee and palm oil, said the developers: UTZ Certified, Aidenvironment and IRRI and members of the Sustainable Rice Platform.

They took into account the unique challenges rice cultivation presents for environmental protection.

Growing rice uses 30 to 40 percent of the world’s freshwater and contributes between five and 10 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4), according to the IRRI.

The crop yield is declining from 2.2 percent during the 20 years from 1970-90 to less than 0.8 percent since then.

And the global rice production area also is declining due to land conversion, salinization and increased water scarcity.

To complicate matters, pesticides used on rice kill nontarget rice field fauna, accumulate in the food chain, runoff from the ricefields, pollute the water table, and take their toll on farmers’ health.

Paddy fields and irrigation systems facilitate breeding of mosquitoes that act as vectors of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, Japanese encephalitis and dengue.

All these effects can be more extreme in tropical and subtropical environments, where climatic and cultural conditions are more favorable to vector-borne diseases and CH4 production.

Kaveh Zahedi, director of the UNEP Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific, has confidence in the effectiveness of the new standard to solve many of these problems.

“For most of Asia Pacific, rice is a staple. It is part of the social fabric and influences many aspects of our lives – economic, social and religious,” Zahedi said.

“The SRP Standard and Indicators will help ensure that the cultivation of this vital commodity becomes more sustainable and benefits people, communities and the planet.”

RicefieldBali


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Caption: Spring rice planting in Chiba Prefecture, Japan (Photo by Phil Hendley under creative commons license via Flickr)
Featured image: Harvesting rice in northern Vietnam (Photo by Tran Thi Hoa / World Bank under creative commons license via Flickr)
Image 01: Rice terraces in northern Bali, Indonesia (Photo by Patrik M. Loeff under creative commons license via Flickr)