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Bangladesh and IRRI

The partnership between Bangladesh  and IRRI goes back more than five decades. IRRI's first international outreach program was in Bangladesh. In 1965, a set of 303 rice varieties was evaluated at the Savar Farm, a government-run dairy enterprise near Dhaka. Two years later, in 1967, the first widely distributed high-yielding semidwarf rice variety, IR8, was introduced into the country.

In the last five decades or so, great efforts in rice research and farming innovations gave a massive boost to rice productivity. During this time, national paddy production increased a staggering 3.6 times -- from 15 million tons in 1971 to 54 million tons in 2019 --  the fourth highest in the world. The spectacular progress was largely a result of improvement in the genetic potential of rice varieties through breeding, availability of climate-smart rice varieties, improved management practices and facilities, and enabling policies that increased access to inputs.

The Ministry of AgricultureBangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI)Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA)Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE)Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), and many others, together with the IRRI-Bangladesh Office, supported the development and diffusion of these technologies. 

IRRI’s research-for-development activities in Bangladesh have focused on improved and healthier rice varieties, biotic and abiotic stress-tolerant rice varieties, climate change adaptation and mitigation, rice-based cropping systems, resource-use efficiency, farm mechanization, rice seed systems, public-private partnership in rice breeding, food value chain analysis, socioeconomic analysis, gender and the youth, and capacity building in rice science.

IRRI’s work in Bangladesh is currently supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF) Bangladesh, and the CGIAR funds.

Despite the success, many daunting challenges still exist. Bangladesh’s rice sector is highly susceptible to natural disasters such as flood, drought, salinity, and cyclones. In 2017, severe floods damaged about 10% of the rice production and increased rice price by 25%. In addition, the population is projected to increase by 15% by the year 2030. Feeding this massive population will be a major challenge for the future given the fact that agriculture is losing land to industrialisation and urbanisation at a faster pace than ever before. This is compounded by the fallouts of climate change and perpetual shortages of water and labour.

To address the future challenges and sustainably increase rice production, IRRI and the Government of Bangladesh have co-developed the 5-year Work Plan in 2018. The priorities identified in the Work Plan are:

  • Improved  rice varieties
  • Improved health and nutrition of rice producers and consumers 
  • Building the climate change resilience of agriculture
  • Improving agricultural productivity of unfavorable environments (coastal, haor, barind, and hill track) 
  • Sustainable intensification and diversification of the rice-based production system
  • Mechanization and post-harvest technologies
  • ICT in agriculture
  • Improved rice seed systems
  • Inclusive and sustainable rice value chains
  • Socioeconomic and policy research including gender and youth
  • Capacity development

The government’s principal policy outlook is to maintain the self-sufficiency in rice which was first achieved in 2008, with a special focus on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1 and 2.

Download the country brochure to know more about IRRI programs and activities in Bangladesh.

    Ongoing projects in Bangladesh

    Development of short-duration cold-tolerant rice varieties for the Haor areas of Bangladesh

    Location: Habiganj, Sunamganj, and Kishoreganj Districts in northeast Bangladesh
    Duration: 2020 - 2025
    Funding: KGF
    Partners: BRRI

    In the Haor areas (low-lying marshlands) of Bangladesh, boro has been the most important crop, with BRRI dhan-28 and BRRI dhan-29 being the most grown varieties accounting for over 90% of the cultivation in this region. The average growth durations of BRRI dhan-28 and BRRI dhan-29 are 140 and 160 days, respectively, and these are usually harvested between mid-April and mid-May. However, recently, the Haor areas have been experiencing early-season flash floods almost every year, usually in the first week of April. These  completely inundate mature rice right before harvest, causing massive losses for farmers and posing threats on the food security and livelihood of the people. In order to escape from early-season flash foods, crops need to be planted early and harvested by the end of March which requires cold tolerance in the crop at the reproductive stage. However, currently there are no rice varieties with cold tolerance at the reproductive stage.  The development and promotion of improved rice varieties with shorter growth duration (120-140 days),higher yield (6-7 t/ha ) and cold tolerance at the seedling and reproductive stages can overcome the early-season flash flood problems in rice farming  in the Haor areas . Therefore, the overarching objectives of this project is to improve the livelihoods of the farmers of this region by developing and promoting cold-tolerant and high-yielding rice varieties with shorter growth duration in the boro season. The project also examines the livelihoods and  market systems  in  the Haor areas for product targeting. Expected outcomes include at least two promising lines and 30,000 breeding lines, product profiles of rice varieties, data and evidence about livelihoods and market systems in  the Haor areas , and generated evidence for rice breeding.

    Feed the Future Bangladesh IRRI Rice Breeding Public-Private Partnership (IRRI-PPP) Platform

    Location: All of Bangladesh
    Duration: 2020 - 2025
    Funding: USAID
    Partners: Five private agri-business companies in Bangladesh (Aftab Bahumukhi Farms Ltd., Ispahani Seed Ltd., Lal Teer Seeds Ltd., Metal Agro Ltd., and Supreme Seeds Ltd.)

    Breeders at work at Rice Breeding Factory#1 at the BRRI headquarters in Gazipur near Dhaka

    Bangladesh’s current status as the fourth  largest rice-producing country in the world is attributed to the widespread, nationwide use of improved varieties, irrigation, mechanization, better crop management, and enabling policies. But, there are still significant  production potentials to be tapped if  greater use of quality seeds could be ensured. The annual production of quality seeds of rice by the public and private sectors combined is less than half of what is required in Bangladesh. Use of quality seeds alone could result in an immediate increase in the annual average yield of rice by 10-15%, although  it would be difficult for the government alone to bridge that gap. This is where the private sector can play a role by accounting for a majority share of the quality seeds production. The IRRI-PPP aims to enhance rice-breeding capacities of the private sector and improve the commercialization process for developed varieties to increase availability and adoption of market-driven superior rice varieties in Bangladesh. The IRRI- PPP Platform will enable the private sector to develop demand-driven superior inbred and hybrid rice varieties, develop business models to produce and market quality seeds, and rapidly commercialize their own bred varieties. These interventions will contribute to achieve sustainable agricultural productivity growth and rural transformation. To know more about the project, click here.

    Pathways of scaling agricultural innovations for sustainable intensification in the polders of coastal Bangladesh (SIIL-Polder Project, Phase II)

    Location: Khulna District in southwestern Bangladesh (Polders 22, 29, 30 and 32/4 part)
    Duration: 2020 - 2023
    Funding: USAID
    Partners: Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), 
    Shushilan, Kansas State University (KSU)  and Arkansas State University (ASU), USA.

    A woman farmer participating in machine transplanting under the SIIL-Polder Project Phase I in southwestern Bangladesh

    The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL), headquartered at KSUsupports the Feed the Future goals of reducing global hunger, poverty and undernutrition. Since 2015, KSU and IRRI, in collaboration with SIIL and other national research and development agencies have been working in the coastal zones of Bangladesh. In phase I (2015-2019), the project focused on unlocking the production potential of polder communities and building their resilience to climate change in coastal Bangladesh through improved resource use efficiency and diversified cropping systems. Building on this, the ongoing SIIL-Polder Phase II (2020-2023) is targeting to map  pathways of scaling agricultural innovations for sustainable intensification in the polders of coastal Bangladesh. The overall goal of the project is to improve food security, human nutrition, and livelihoods of the rural polder communities in southern Bangladesh through scaling and evaluating pragmatic and feasible farming approaches for more efficient utilization of available land and water resources to sustainably intensify the agricultural production systems of polders. Target participants include 10,000 members from the local farming community, 1,000 members of the water management organizations and Union Parishad, 500 women and youths engaged in agri-mechanization, 50 government and NGO officials and 3 postgrad students. It is expected that at the end of the project, livelihoods of rural households in the three target polders will improve as a result of the adoption of more productive and profitable production system options with increased resource use efficiency.

    Transforming Rice Breeding in Bangladesh: Institutional Capacity Building- Phase 2 (BRRI-TRB Phase 2)

    Location: BRRI regional stations
    Duration: 2019 - 2023
    Funding: BMGF 
    Partner: BRRI

    In the past five decades, rice production in Bangladesh increased over 3.5 times, which was largely driven by the development and adoption of improved rice varieties. IRRI has been supporting Bangladesh in  developing  improved rice varieties.  Most of the mega varieties currently grown by farmers are more than 20 years old. The new varieties have not been successful in replacing  the existing popular varieties. In Phase 1 of the BRRI-TRB project, a series of deep programmatic and managerial changes were implemented to accelerate the rate of genetic gain in rice productivity. For example, breeding cycle lengths were reduced , the accuracy of breeding line selection improved, application of modern methods of breeding information management initiated, and large-scale on-farm testing were launched. To cement the progress made in Phase 1 and ensure that a strong cadre of mid-career scientists is fully independent in their ability to manage state-of-the-art breeding pipelines, a 4-year Phase II  was initiated. With IRRI’s support, BRRI has replaced its slow and expensive pedigree breeding system with faster and less costly single-seed descent (SSD). BRRI has also begun to implement low-cost, high-throughput genotyping to allow selection for critical disease and stress resistances before beginning expensive agronomic testing. Phase 2 focuses on accelerating breeding cycles further, implementing genomics-based methods of choosing parents with high breeding value, fully implementing modern breeding informatics, and expanding on-farm testing and demand creation. These changes are also being institutionalized and extended to be sustained after the end of the project. By the end of Phase 2, BRRI will deliver genetic gains of at least 2% annually in rice production, which is a 10-time increase over the baseline.

    Accelerated Genetic Gains in Rice Alliance (AGGRi Alliance)

    Location: All of  Bangladesh 
    Duration: 2018 - 2023
    Funding: BMGF
    Partners: National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) and NGOs in Bangladesh

    AGGRi Alliance project field testing location at BRRI headquarters in Gazipur near Dhaka, Bangladesh

    TAGGRi Alliance is the continuation of the rice breeding program activities of the Transforming Rice Breeding (TRB) Project and the Stress- Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) that were concluded in Bangladesh earlier. The ongoing AGGRi Alliance project aims to promote improved rice varieties by combining the outputs of the TRB  and STRASA projects, both funded by BMGF. AGGRi Alliance looks to emerge as a single initiative that will expand the STRASA testing networks into a globally aligned, modernized, rice breeding “community of practice,” unified by a set of standards for making breeding decisions consistent with the demands of regional farmers, consumers, and processors, as well as the empowerment of women in the value chain. One of the expected outcomes is developing a high-performing breeding network among the organizations underNARES across Africa and South Asia by linking them with the centralized, advanced breeding capacity of IRRI. The project stimulates the existing and new IRRI-NARES breeding networks (sets of institutions targeting similar geographies) to jointly develop sustainable breeding strategies based on carefully considered and agreed product profile parameters. Each network thus becomes collectively responsible for variety replacement within a target environment or market.

    Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), Phase III

    Location: Jashore, Narail, Jhenaidah, Chuadanga, Meherpur, Magura, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Shariatpur, Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Nilphamari, and Rangpur Districts
    Duration: 2015 - 2021
    Funding: BMGF and USAID

    The view of a field where DSR BRRI dhan85 was grown during the Aus 2020 season in Sailakupa upazila under Jhenaidah district.

    With financial support from BMGF and USAID, CSISA has been working as an eco-regional initiative to support agricultural development in South Asia (including Bangladesh) since 2009. As a science-driven and impact-oriented initiative, the project resides at the intersection of a diverse set of partners in the public and private sectors, occupying the “messy middle” where research meets development. By engaging with a network of partners, CSISA is built on the premise that transformative development typically requires not one single change, but the orchestration of several changes in agri-food systems. CSISA’s approach has evolved with time as partnerships have strengthened and the understanding of geographically differentiated entry points and scaling logic has matured. Phase III (2015–2021) focused on ensuring that partners in the public and private sectors are better poised to sustainably contribute to change by addressing areas of systemic weaknesses. The overarching goal of CSISA Phase III is to support the widespread adoption of sustainable intensification technologies to spur inclusive agricultural growth, both within the time horizon of investment and beyond. CSISA aims to use sustainable intensification technologies and management practices to enhance the productivity of cereal-based cropping systems, increase farm incomes, and reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint. The expected outputs of the project include improving productivity, expanding markets, increasing investment, and enhancing resilience to climate change in the agriculture sector.

    Healthier Rice Program (HRP)

    Location: Bangladesh
    Duration: 2012 - 2022
    Funding: BMGF 
    Partner: BRRI

    Grains of Golden Rice developed by introgressing a maize gene, responsible for producing beta-carotene, into rice

    Bangladesh has achieved self-sufficiency in food production but malnutrition is still a big challenge. Rice, being the staple food in Bangladesh and the most important source of dietary energy and nutrition for the poor, can have a significant impact on human health if the micronutrient content of the rice grains can be increased even by small amounts. IRRI is closely working withBRRI in  the development and deployment of healthier rice varieties to improve the nutritional status of the poor in Bangladesh. These healthier rice varieties include beta-carotene enriched Golden Rice, high-iron and -zinc rice (HIZR), and a stacked vitamin A, iron, and zinc rice. Genetic engineering techniques are used in biofortification when the micronutrient content of rice cannot be significantly increased through conventional practices. IRRI and BRRI have been developing and planning to deploy biofortified rice varieties that can help address micronutrient deficiencies by providing 30-50% of the estimated average requirement of vitamin A, 30% of iron and 40% of zinc for  women and children. These healthier rice varieties are intended as a complementary food-based solution to existing nutritional interventions. The development of the biofortified rice varieties is conducted in full compliance with national and international biosafety regulations. The expected output of the project is to develop and promote healthier rice varieties.

    Using experimental evidence to scale up Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) technology for rice production in Bangladesh

    Location: The Barind area of Bangladesh
    Duration: 2021 - 2024
    Funding: Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Massachusett Institute of Technology (MIT), USA
    Partner: Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA), Bangladesh and Tufts University (USA)

    AWD pipe placed in a rice field to measure water level in rice production. 

    Rice is one of the most water intensive crops. Groundwater extraction for rice irrigation requires significant energy---most often electricity and occasionally diesel fuel. Therefore, using water more efficiently in rice irrigation has the potential to both preserve groundwater and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are generated from pumping. But interventions to promote groundwater conservation are complicated by the fact that many farmers do not face marginal prices for water. They, instead, pay seasonal charges that are flat or based on acreage, regardless of how much water they extract. Recent Randomized Control Trial research experimental evidence finds that one such intervention, AWD, saves electricity and benefits farmers only when they are buying water by the hour of pumping. AWD is an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool that helps farmers observe soil moisture and irrigate based on crop water needs. The main objective of this study is to generate evidence to improve the targeting of government extension and training efforts around AWD. In particular, the project will assemble administrative data from northwestern Bangladesh to identify places where most farmers are purchasing water using their own hourly irrigation cards. These data can be used to assist government extension services in prioritizing their efforts to scale AWD. The expected outputs of the project include impact evidence about the role of irrigation prepaid cards and recommend suitable policies to promote AWD technology.

    Completed projects in Bangladesh

    Climate change adaptation of rural households in the charlands of Bangladesh

    Location: Rangpur and Patuakhali Districts 
    Duration: 2018 - 2021
    Funding: USAID
    Partners: BARI and BRRI

    Flooding and river bank erosion in Char Ganai, Kaunia Upazila, Rangpur. 

    More than eight million people live in the charlands of Bangladesh and most of them eke out livelihoods from agriculture, which is highly vulnerable  to climatic stresses such as flood, drought, salinity, river and coastal erosion, moisture stress, and tropical cyclones. The changing climate amplifies these problems and makes charland livelihoods precarious. Several climate-smart agricultural technologies (e.g., crops and varieties) and management practices (e.g., crop management, soil and water management, and cropping system) have been developed. The adoption and adaptation of climate-smart agriculture options can significantly reduce negative effects of and build resilience to climate change. The main objective of this USAID-funded Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER)  Project is to understand charland households’ vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, and to promote climate-smart agriculture that fosters households’ livelihoods and resilience to climate change. The main expected outcomes of the project are higher agricultural productivity, improved food and nutrition security, higher farm income, increased resilience to climate change, improved social equity, improved capacity building of farmers, and improved knowledge on agriculture and livelihoods in the charlands.

    Adaptation to COVID-19 effects on rice, fish, and potato value chains in Bangladesh

    Location: (Sunamganj, Habiganj, Sylhet, Kishoreganj, Netrokona and Jashore Districts
    Duration: July-December 2021
    Funding: CGIAR COVID-19 Hub 
    Partner: International Potato Center and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU)

    A volunteer interviews an elderly man in Kishoreganj in central Bangladesh to collect data on the impacts of Covid-19 on livelihoods

    The impact of COVID-19 on agricultural value chains has been severely disruptive in both developed and developing countries including Bangladesh. Governments and actors within agricultural value chains have adopted various measures, approaches, and technologies to adapt to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Anecdotal evidence shows that some of these interventions have been very successful in  minimizing the disruption in the food value chain. These adaptation measures including their successes, failures, and lessons are not well documented. This study aims to close this knowledge gap. The objectives of this research are to (i) document measures, approaches, and technologies applied by government and actors in three agricultural value chains in Bangladesh and (ii) assess the performance and effectiveness of policy measure and e-technology adopted by the “hidden middle”. The study focuses on rice, fish, and potato, three of the most important agricultural food and cash crops in Bangladesh.