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Indian government and the International Rice Research Institute strengthens partnership to ensure food and nutrition security in South Asian region

NEW DELHI, India (12 July 2022) – The government of India, through the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (DA&FW), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) signed an Agreement for the commencement of Phase II Activities of the IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (IRRI SARC) to scale up the existing partnership for food and nutrition security in South Asian region.

Mr. Manoj Ahuja the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (DA&FW), Government of India and Dr. Jean Balié, the Director General of the International Rice Research Institute signed the Agreement today in New Delhi, India in the presence of Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Shri Narendra Singh Tomar and Sh. Ashwani Kumar, Joint Secretary (Seeds & GC).

The Phase II activities follow the long-time cooperation between the Indian government and IRRI. In 2017, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi approved the establishment of ISARC at the campus of the National Seed Research and Training Center (NSRTC) in Varanasi.

For the past five years, the Center has played a major role in harnessing and sustaining food production in the region as it has been delivering research for development services for members of the private and public sectors through its state-of-the-art laboratory facilities for grain quality, crop production and nutritional quality. ISARC has also enabled knowledge transfer through short courses on rice-based agrifood systems.

In December 2021, the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi inaugurated IRRI SARC’S new Speed Breeding Facility (SpeedBreed), to expedite the plant growth cycle of crops and enable advancing rice plants for five generations per year against only one to two under normal conditions. This plays a crucial role in transferring important traits (e.g., low GI, biotic and abiotic stresses) to popular Indian rice varieties in a shorter time.

IRRI SARC also set up a Centre of Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA) that includes a modern and sophisticated laboratory with capacity to determine quality and status of heavy metals in grain and straw. One of the critical achievements of CERVA is the development of one low and one intermediate glycaemic index (GI) rice varieties: IRRI 147 (GI 55) and IRRI 162 (GI 57), respectively, through the joint efforts of the CERVA team and IRRI HQ. Since most rice varieties are high in GI and most of the Indians consume rice, the popularization of low GI rice varieties will reduce or even reverse India's increasing trend of diabetes.

In the second present phase of the agreement, IRRI SARC proposes to extend its research and development with the aim to accelerate the equitable development of sustainable and inclusive rice-based systems across India and South Asia to meet the producers’ and consumers’ demand. The second phase will focus on the development, dissemination, and popularization of high-yielding stress-tolerant and bio-fortified rice, particularly high zinc and low glycemic index rice will be the main focus area.

In addition, the IRRI SARC intends to support national and regional rice breeding programs to advance rice lines of specific and certified grain quality to increase producer and customer acceptance of new varieties to increase genetic gain. It also seeks to provide access to climate-smart varieties and technologies such as eco-friendly agriculture, improved soil health technologies, and direct-seeded mechanized rice will be facilitated.

IRRI SARC also plans to facilitate further improvement of system productivity and farmers’ income through digital agriculture, agro-advisory services, and knowledge sharing and capacity development will promote sustainable, eco-friendly agriculture through business models that attract the youth back into agri-entrepreneurship.

“We believe in the capacity of research and development to ensure India and other South Asian countries with food and nutritional security through strong partnerships and support from our stakeholders. This renewed commitment of India and ISARC to work together provides a good opportunity for expanding our scope and continuing our efforts to transform rice-based agrifood systems,” said Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, IRRI SARC Director.