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Philippine Agriculture Secretary visits IRRI Headquarters to explore collaboration opportunities for boosting rice sector

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna (6 March 2024) – The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) welcomed the Secretary of the Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. at its headquarters in Los Baños, Laguna during his first 100 days in office. IRRI showcased cutting-edge technologies aligning with the Secretary’s eight-point plan for advancing the agriculture sector.

Dr. Alice Laborte, Senior Scientist II at IRRI, outlined methods for IRRI to accelerate rice production, highlighting a suite of technologies categorized in four areas: nutritious rice, high-productivity rice, climate-resilient rice, and low-carbon rice.

Nutritious rice focuses initially on low and ultra-low glycemic index rice to curb diabetes and provide better returns for farmers. The rice varieties also ensure excellent taste, and cooking qualities to match consumer preferences, and will address nutritional gaps and lower the risk of diseases.

High-productivity rice involves developing high-yielding rice varieties, implementing technology in farming processes, improving post-harvest handling and storage, ensuring soil health, managing pests and diseases, providing training for farmers, and supporting policies. The goal is to optimize farming methods, increase yield, and boost the competitiveness of rice farmers.

Climate-resilient rice will target the farmers in areas most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change like higher temperatures, floods and droughts. It will entail identifying superior rice varieties that can better withstand the impacts of climate change and promoting sustainable farming practices. This helps smallholder farmers cope with severe climate effects and minimizes environmental impact.

Meanwhile, low-carbon rice refers to the promotion of environmentally-friendly farming practices aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from rice cultivation such as alternate wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation techniques, direct-seeded rice (DSR) and straw management.

The Agriculture Secretary, who also sits as one of the IRRI Board of Trustees members,  expressed interest in continuing and strengthening the longstanding collaboration between IRRI and DA. He highlighted the potential for acceleration to scale these four technology packages to bring higher productivity and returns to the farmers while contributing to food and nutrition security for the Philippines.

Secretary Tiu Laurel toured IRRI’s facilities and field experiments, including the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center where scientists shared how new rice varieties such as low and ultra low glycemic index rice can help enhance the country’s nutrition goals. Latest reports show that one in every 14 Filipinos have diabetes. During his visit, he demonstrated a keen interest in further developing and scaling low glycemic index rice in the Philippines.

The Secretary also visited the DSR experiment plots aimed at reducing labor costs, the largest cost for rice production in the Philippines, and the International Rice Genebank where an active collection of germplasm is available for research and development (R&D) purposes.

For over 60 years, the partnership between IRRI and the Philippine Department of Agriculture has seen the release of 169 rice varieties through the national variety registration and release system, and paved the way for the co-creation and institutionalization of innovations such as the Pest and Disease Risk Identification and Management (PRIME), Rice Crop Manager Advisory Service (RCMAS), and the Philippine Rice Information System (PRISM).

Last month, IRRI and DA entered into a collaborative agreement to help boost rice production in the Philippines. The partnership seeks to boost the country’s rice industry through sustainable practices that will enhance yield, reduce production costs, minimize post-harvest losses, and improve marketing efficiency and value addition.

IRRI and DA has also recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) for the formal turnover of the Digital Training Module on Rice: Research to Production (RR2P) from IRRI to the DA-Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI).

The ceremonial turnover marks the official transitioning of the Rice: Research to Production (RR2P) Online Training Program developed under the the DA-IRRI “Strengthening the capability of national research for development and Extension partners for Research and deVelopment and Extension of information and technologies to improve productivity, competitiveness, and resilience of rice-based farming communities in the Philippines (DA-IRRI SERVE 2)” Project which ended last October 2023.

Former Vietnam Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and current IRRI Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Cao Duc Phat discussed how IRRI supported him to transform Vietnam’s rice sector and make the country food secure. Vietnam is now one of the largest rice exporters worldwide through providing better varieties, improved rice cultivation practices, and advising on enabling policies. In 2011, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) reported that the annual yield of rice farmers in southern Vietnam increased by 9.8 percent from IRRI’s breeding contributions alone.

Reflecting on the Philippines' pivotal role in producing impactful research, IRRI interim Director General, Dr. Ajay Kohli said, “IRRI is committed to work with the DA in this next important stage to ensure new developments and advancement in the rice industry in the Philippines.”