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Director General's Message

This year, I was anticipating reporting to you about the positive year we’ve had at IRRI in 2019. However, as I sit down to write this, 2020 has delivered us a global pandemic that threatens to permanently alter the most fundamental aspects of our lives–not least of all for the rice-based farmers and consumers that we serve.


Our partner governments are facing incredible challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the world food supply chains have been interrupted and individuals and families face pressing hardship. At IRRI, we have a moral obligation to help our partner governments find the best way forward towards a smooth supply chain, consistent pricing, and adequate support for farmers. We are actively engaging with our partners' needs and stand ready to help further as needs become clearer.

 

Never has the need for transformational change in the agri-food system been more acute than today. While the sudden and acute shock of the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken us from our complacency, we must not forget we are in a world where persistent incremental challenges, climate change, population growth, environmental degradation, continue relentlessly. The interaction between viral pandemic and these ongoing forces will shape our short- to medium-term future.

 

Over 840 million people worldwide, almost all from developing countries, continue to suffer from chronic hunger. Likewise, the alarming prevalence of malnutrition in children requires our most urgent attention. Income inequality continues to grow year after year and these issues are likely to become more acute now.

 

The rice sector, which is the cornerstone of food security for half the world’s people, faces multiple challenges from both nature and people.  The threat of climate change to crop production in major rice-growing regions is further amplified by the dwindling number of rice farmers and a rapidly growing global population. The COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the challenges each of these vulnerable groups will face.


We are in a daunting and ambitious uphill race against time. But we are Team IRRI. I have confidence in our time-tested strength and tenacity and, most of all, the power of our network of partnerships.


IRRI has a long history of working effectively with governments and agriculture extension networks across over 30 partner countries (we have an on the ground presence in 17 countries at over 60 sites) to assess local conditions, scale appropriate innovations and make evidence-based recommendations. Based on our trusted experience, we are in a strong position to help the governments of Asia and Africa feed their citizens in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead.


However, this requires us to move beyond “research as usual.”


As early as 2014, IRRI started building networks to prepare for food systems transformations based on fact-based foresight. We have revisited traditional policy instruments across countries and laid out new policy options that are more in keeping with changing contexts. Our Strategic Plan (2017-2025)  and our business plans are focused on building sustainable and equitable rice-based agri-food systems to achieve food and nutrition security, well-being, and prosperity for all. Our strategy will harness the best of human innovation and natural resources to generate the knowledge, tools, and policies that transform rice agri-food systems so that our partners can progress in a sustainable world.


We will make this happen through our Research-for-Development (R4D) agenda in five key areas: Climate Change, Environment, Social Equity, Prosperity and Nutrition and Food Security.


The transformation of the global food systems is an immense but imperative goal of delivering healthier diets without exhausting the world’s resources. Making this happen requires restructuring agricultural priorities where the top priority is producing healthier foods for balanced diets rather than producing cheap foods.


Especially under the new normal, the transformation relies heavily on partnership and collaboration across sectors and across countries. I cannot stress enough the value of our donors and partners and the importance of their deep involvement in our efforts to develop technologies to empower millions of the most vulnerable farmers and their families around the world.


In fact, many of our achievements this year are about leveraging the strengths of our collaboration with organizations that share our vision in order to make progress towards a sustainable and sufficient food system.


By engaging more deeply with the public and private sectors, we are able to connect the different agri-food system actors to enable us to bring transformative technologies to farmers’ fields faster. Case in point, with our partners, we made history in 2019 with the first agricultural machinery trade in Myanmar.


A year ahead of schedule, we surpassed our goal of reaching 500,000 smallholder farmers across six Asian countries—by more than 100,000!—in promoting best practices for lowland intensive rice production.


Cambodia and Sri Lanka have joined Seeds without Border, the regional seed policy agreement that speeds up the distribution of modern rice varieties across nations in South and Southeast Asia. Additionally, IRRI successfully secured the endorsement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States and the support of Plus Three dialogue partners for the launch of the ASEAN Rice Net, a regional network for sharing and evaluating advanced IRRI-developed rice breeding lines.


We also marked the conclusion of the very successful Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. STRASA’s legacy includes the production and distribution of over 500,000 tons of seeds of stress-tolerant varieties to an estimated 18 million farmers. The project also built an expansive and robust framework for future R4D programs for more productive and climate-resilient rice-based systems in Asia and Africa.


Over 2020, we will see a substantial change as the CGIAR evolves given the decisions taken to embrace and implement the “One CGIAR” initiative. IRRI and the Africa Rice Center have continued our extensive engagement to bring our institutions together to form a single R4D agency.


With our other sister CGIAR agencies, WorldFish, and the International Water Management Institute, we signed a five-year framework agreement to cooperate on the sustainable intensification and management of rice-fish production systems in irrigated landscapes and wetlands in South and Southeast Asia.


These initiatives are designed to expand our opportunity to deliver on our mission to improve the lives of rice farmers and consumers globally.


I am pleased to say that, in spite of tough challenges in 2019, we were able to end the year with weighty accomplishments that empower smallholder farmers and protect the environment.


I appreciate each of you for your dedication and commitment that made these possible in 2019.


And we will stand with our partner governments to help them see their way through the new normal that awaits us all.

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