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Southeast Asia

Transitioning toward equitable, profitable, and environmentally sound rice agri-food systems

Ending hunger and malnutrition in Southeast Asia is essential and rice plays a critical role. Rice is the single most important staple in the region as it provides 50% of calorie intake for its population. The region’s rice areas comprise 48 million ha or almost 30% of the world rice harvest. It produced 220 million tons of rice in 2018. Vietnam and Thailand are among the top three rice exporting countries in the world. 

Southeast Asia is home to 61 million undernourished people, around 9% of its population, and over 33 million are severely food insecure. The prevalence of stunting in children under five years of age stands at 25% while the percentage of overweight children increased from 3.2% in 2000 to 7.7% in 2018. Achieving SDG2 - ending hunger and malnutrition - by 2030 requires the region to work collaboratively to address complex and interrelated challenges such as climate change, urbanization, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, poverty, food safety and nutrition, and social inequity. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of our food systems and agriculture as a whole. Within this dynamic landscape and challenges, IRRI will invest in rice agri-food research taking a landscape perspective and considering the interconnectedness of various systems, e.g., agriculture, land, water, and biodiversity.

Key Challenges in Southeast Asia

Achieving SDG2 by 2030 requires the region to work collaboratively to address complex and interrelated challenges such as climate change, urbanization, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, poverty, food safety and nutrition, and social inequity. Climate change affects agriculture and food systems adversely due to irregular weather patterns, floods, drought, or natural disasters. Urbanization often means less labor for agriculture in rural areas and changing demands on diets. Coupled with the declining role of agriculture in the region’s economy, an increasing number of youths opt for a more luxurious career in the cities. The contribution of agriculture to the region’s GDP is 10.3% compared to 33% for services and manufacturing. The future of agriculture will need to respond to all these changes.


IRRI will work in partnership with national governments e.g., through NARES, as IRRI responds to their priorities and needs. Additionally, it will engage other CG Centers under the umbrella of One CGIAR, which will allow IRRI to address common challenges at a landscape level. Further, IRRI has taken the lead in multinational organizations like the Council for Partnership on Rice Research in Asia (CORRA), to create multi-sectoral consortia for private sector partners like the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium (HRDC) and the Direct Seeded Rice Consortium (DSRC). IRRI will also seek partnership with development partners, International Financial Institutions, ASEAN and ASEAN Plus Tree, research organizations, private sector, farmer groups, and other key stakeholders to find solutions for current and looming challenges in the rice agri-food system. One area that IRRI would like to expand is South-South Cooperation, not only within the region but also transferring knowledge and technologies to and from other regions.

IRRI’s strategy in Southeast Asia

IRRI’s vision for the region is to contribute to achieving SDG2 by 2030 through research for development in rice based agrifood systems. The interim impact that IRRI strives to achieve by 2025 is to increase the sustainability of rice-based agri-food systems through innovation and technology that provide sufficient nutritious rice while preserving landscape biodiversity and providing better income to farmers, women, and youth. Building on IRRI’s 60 years of experience, five programs will be implemented.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation 

Southeast Asia is affected by climate change. Drought and floods increasingly pose challenges to agriculture. On the other hand, straw burning, puddled cultivation, and excessive use of water in rice farming contribute to greenhouse gas emission (GHG). IRRI will continue to work on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Key features of this program include: building resilience of rice agri-food systems to various climatic shocks, developing practices to help reduce GHG from the rice farming through the promotion of water-saving technologies such as direct-seeded rice (DSR) and alternate wetting and drying (AWD), supporting governments to strengthen policies and institutions related to climate change, strengthening breeding programs that have targeted climate-smart rice varieties that can cope with abiotic stresses, and considering gendered trait preferences while determining breeding priorities and the dissemination of varieties.

Food security and nutrition 

As staple food for many of the world’s poor, rice can be a convenient delivery vehicle for micronutrients that can prevent ‘hidden hunger’ and stunting in children. IRRI is developing rice varieties biofortified with vitamin A, zinc, and iron. Similarly, research continues on low glycemic index rice, which can become part of a healthier diet for people who have, or are prone to, diabetes. To meet the increasing demand for rice, IRRI will promote the adoption and utilization of highyielding varieties, address losses in the post-harvest value chain by upgrading various technologies, e.g., drying and storage, strengthen mechanization and technology adoption, support land consolidation, near real time information systems, develop options to reduce the yield gaps, and work with governments through policy advocacy to prevent further loss of productive agricultural lands. 

Reducing environmental footprints 

Agriculture has significant environmental and climate footprints. Supporting countries’ national determined contribution (NDCs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change, future rice agri-food systems need to better integrate and preserve vital ecosystem services, lower pollution and address climate change. To reduce environmental footprints from the ricebased agrifood systems IRRI will develop market driven and environmentally sustainable options with farmers, promote the transition to environmentally sustainable rice-based agri-food systems for food and nutritional security, support the expansion of well designed management practices and cropping systems for optimum yield and long-term environmental sustainability including addressing the issues of transboundary pests, strengthen the crop and resource management practices to improve resource use efficiencies e.g., water and chemical fertilizer including through the introduction or strengthening of market mechanisms (e.g. water pricing) and policy and market incentives. Water-saving technologies and efficient use of water in rice farming will be expanded. Gender equity considerations in sustainable intensification will be central. Using the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) indicators IRRI will continue to support sustainable farm practices, expand its research on sustainable rice straw management options and scale-out practices that reduce burning and offer additional income opportunities. IRRI will promote biodiversity conservation in support of CBD Convention and enhance the quality of the rice landscape by working across sectors to restore ecological functions and rehabilitate degraded ecosystems as part of income generating activities of increasingly diversified and resilient rice-based farming systems. 

Value chains and improved income 

Rice-based agri-food systems need to diversify their production systems from their sole focus on rice, which will not reduce poverty in the long run. In certain areas, farmers will specialize in highly productive and high-quality rice production. In contrast, in other areas, farmers will diversify towards higher-value crops. In some areas, farmers will diversify towards rice-fish systems or agroforestry. IRRI will promote the development of sustainable and profitable rice value chains, continue to support capacity development of extension workers and farmers on best agricultural management practices and technologies using a participatory platform, support local entrepreneurship, develop nutrition-sensitive value chains that respond to changing dietary requirements, support farmers in improving decision making and control in technology choices, markets, relevant agricultural policies, and their agroecosystems. 

Women and youth in rice agrifood systems 

Women play an essential role in agriculture, food security, and landscape management. However, they tend to have less control of decision-making, lack access to land, credit, markets, and extension advisory services and get paid less. In terms of youth, many of them are no longer looking at agriculture as their first choice of career. IRRI will design and test solutions based on systematic analyses of the context, challenges, and opportunities. Systematic analyses will be conducted on implications of structural and rice agrifood system transformations in various settings for gender equality and youth engagement. Research will be done to establish the profitability of rice value chain at different nodes in different contexts; design and testing of innovative land tenure and financial models targeting youth; public-private partnerships; creation of an ecosystem of collaboration amongst urban and rural youth to capitalize on urbanization and digital revolution; and generating evidence to understand pathways for engagement and empowerment of youth will be core components of the agenda. Capacity building will be an integral part of this effort. Support to women and youth with vocational training and certification programs could help farmers become more independent and connect to national and international markets. IRRI will be supporting the development of enabling conditions, e.g., policies, incentive systems based on evidence, for their increased participation and empowerment. IRRI will support the development and integration of digital agriculture decision support tools in the rice agri-food systems.

For the full report, read IRRI's Regional Strategy for Southeast Asia 2020-2025.

Countries where IRRI is active


As a result of food shortages in the late 1970s, many farmers were forced to eat their rice seed and traditional varieties were lost. In the 1980s, IRRI reintroduced 766 traditional Cambodian rice varieties to Cambodia from its seed bank in the Philippines—a vivid demonstration of the foresight that created the bank in the 1960s. In 2016, Cambodia and IRRI mark their 30th year of partnership. Read more


Indonesia and IRRI's partnership has been mutually beneficial since 1972. It resulted in increased rice productivity, improved livelihoods for Indonesian rice farmers, and increased capability of a trained new generation of Indonesian scientists.

Collaboration between the government of Indonesia and IRRI formally began in 20 December 1972, when both agreed to cooperate in the improvement of rice research through Indonesia’s National Rice Research Program. Read more


Lao PDR-IRRI collaboration began in the late 1960s and continued in the 1970s with testing of improved rice breeding material from IRRI’s rice breeding and selection work in Lao PDR. In 1973, systematic multilocation yield trials took place followed by the multiplication and dissemination of several IRRI lines and varieties to farmers. Read more


Since 1965, IRRI has been involved with Myanmar researchers, extension personnel, and farmers in introducing rice breeding material, hybrid rice technology, and locally adaptable designs for rice transplanters and threshers. In May 2015, Myanmar Rice Sector Development Strategy was launched at the Department of Agricultural Research, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Read more


IRRI has a special relationship with the Philippines, the country having been its home since the Institute’s founding in 1960.

Among the many milestones in this partnership, an important one was that in 1985, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) was created. IRRI has been in collaboration with Philrice in most of its research and training projects in the Philippines. Read more


As far back as 1941, Thailand recognized the importance of deepwater rice research by building the Huntra Rice Experiment Station. The first formal link between Thailand and IRRI was made in 1960-1963 when Prince M.C. Chakrabandhu became a founding member of the IRRI Board of Trustees. Read more


Since 1963, Vietnam and IRRI have enjoyed a long, fruitful history of collaboration, starting with the release of IR8 in both the northern and southern delta rice-growing areas. In 1978, an IRRI team headed by then Director General N.C. Brady visited Vietnam upon the invitation of the Minister of Agriculture Vo Chi Cong. A memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the Ministry and IRRI laid the foundation for work for the succeeding decades. Read more