14 February 2020, Kathmandu, Nepal – International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Director General Dr. Matthew Morell and Prof. Sharada Thapaliya, Vice-Chancellor of the Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU) in Nepal, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for furthering research and academic cooperation that is set to play a crucial role in generating relevant and scientific information to solve current challenges in the agriculture and forestry sectors of Nepal and help leverage research conclusions to influence policy direction.
The Agriculture and Forestry University (AFU) established in Chitwan in 2010 is the first technical university of Nepal promoting education and R&D in agriculture, veterinary, fisheries, forestry, and allied disciplines through quality teaching, research, and extension. With over 100 faculty, 250 support staff, and 1880 students, AFU aims for the holistic development of agriculture, livestock, aquaculture, and forestry to raise the socio-economic conditions of rural Nepal. Dr.Sharada, VC at AFU, emphasized that the MoU is envisaged as a means to strengthen teaching and research capabilities, covering the broad areas of natural resource management including food security.
Under the aegis of the MoU, IRRI will collaborate with AFU such that Ph.D. and Masters students and faculty can work with IRRI scientists in its headquarters in the Philippines and other country offices. Joint training programs, collaborative research projects, access to agricultural research and educational facilities, and exchange of knowledge and expertise by way of faculty, researchers, and students are also proposed under this MoU.
Furthermore, the partnership will help strengthen the university’s teaching system through quality extension works, linking AFU with government agencies, international and national NGOs, community-based organizations, cooperatives, industries, and other key stakeholders. Dr. Nafees Meah, IRRI Regional Representative for South Asia said, “This major new initiative will help Nepal achieve its development goals primarily through training the next generation of researchers and agriculturists.”
Rice is Nepal’s most important staple food crop and agricultural product, providing 53% of cereal consumption and 30% of protein intake for 30 million Nepalese. It also contributes to 21% of the country’s Agricultural Gross Domestic Product (AGDP) and 7% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and rural employment.
Nearly 6 in 10 Nepalese are directly engaged in agriculture, making it the primary source of subsistence and livelihood in the country. At the same time, 8 in 10 people in Nepal reside in rural areas, where the incidence and severity of poverty has been twice as high as in urban areas over the last few years.
Speaking on the MoU’s significance, Dr. Morell said that this will help in expediting the Nepal-IRRI Collaborative Five-Year Workplan, that in turn, will potentially boost food and nutrition security, end poverty, and improve livelihoods. In June 2018, the Government of Nepal, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Land Management, and Cooperatives (MoALMC), and IRRI signed a Collaborative Five-Year Workplan (2018-2023) to reinvigorate Nepal’s rice sector and help achieve food and nutrition security.
Signed by Dr. Yubak Dhoj G.C., Secretary of MoALMC, and Dr. Morell the work plan outlines projects intended to build technical skills and capabilities, increase grain yield, and promote a more market-driven seed system for climate resilient rice varieties to reduce Nepal’s burden of rice imports.
IRRI and Nepal’s collaboration spans over 50 years now. Since 1966, IRRI has provided improved germplasms to Nepal contributing nearly 70% of 94 high yielding inbred rice varieties developed and released for irrigated and rainfed environments in Nepal until 2018. The partnership has also advanced Nepal in conserving its resources since the IRRI Genebank safely maintains 3,000 rice accessions from the country. To date, IRRI has trained over 330 Nepalese scholars on various disciplines of rice science and technologies, leading to the strengthening of the country’s scientific caliber.