Be the linchpin of scientific innovation and thought leadership for the global rice sector
The paradigm on which food policies are built is changing rapidly. Today, it is increasingly recognized that agriculture and food policies should align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by addressing several human and planet centered goals through interconnected and complementary impact pathways. To achieve this, IRRI continues to work towards high-impact, scalable innovations that re-focus global solutions to local needs.
Temperate rice research identifies nutrition, grain quality as key priorities
Members of the Temperate Rice Research Consortium (TRRC) steering committee renewed their commitment to joint research and collaboration on temperate rice during the 2019 meeting and symposium in Nanjing, China. Hosted by the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences (JAAS), the meeting was an opportunity for the consortium to come together after three years and redefine TRRC’s new research direction, identify key future research priorities, and evaluate proposed research programs.
IRRI Director General Matthew Morrell emphasized that it was time to embark on a new direction for the consortium and revisit its key objectives.
“TRRC will leverage on the capacities of IRRI, the Rural Development Administration of Korea, and JAAS, as well as other member institutions, to achieve a renewed research program with a synthesized vision and long-term plans,” Dr. Morell said.
As a result of the meeting, it is envisioned that TRRC can demonstrate benefits and impact from RDA investment on the consortium. Specific key research priorities that have been identified for immediate implementation include (1) consumer acceptance traits that will be identified through a common methodology for measuring quality; (2) rice blast resistance; (3) rice with low glycemic index; and (4) nutrition.
Technological innovations abound at Hack4Rice 2019
IRRI and Amazon Web Services (AWS) organized Hack4Rice 2019, a software/hardware hackathon focused on technological solutions that can be adapted for rice research. Held at the IRRI headquarters in the Philippines, the theme of the hackathon, Advancing Rice Research Through Tech and Innovation, aimed to bring people with diverse backgrounds together and nurture a community of collaboration and innovation.
Team Blu bagged first place by creating Saka.PH, an application that enables farmers to send questions to a centralized knowledge bank and receive answers for free through SMS and feature phones. It also provides stakeholders the necessary data to help them prioritize activities such as capacity-building.
Team Pilapil landed second place with Pilapil, a mobile application that serves as a career guide to high school students who are about to enter college.
Third place went to team CroppyNet, for creating an inclusive agricultural marketplace by allowing interaction among suppliers and consumers of agricultural products through SMS, calls, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, and connected devices in the cloud.
A special award was given to team Humaygosh who took on an IRRI-sponsored challenge on phenotype prediction. The team worked on an artificial intelligence platform where crop breeders can use tools to upload and visualize data, run machine learning algorithms, and collaborate with different domain experts to solve challenging problems in the field.
Cloud computing to help the rice sector in the Philippines
The agriculture and science community in the Philippines celebrated the launch of Asi@Connect RICESTATS DATABASE: Leveraging the Cloud for Rice Statistics and Analytics.
RICESTATS DATABASE, which is led by IRRI, intends to create a reference resource by using an ontology to combine data into a one-stop accessible database with a displayable dashboard for rice statistics. The platform runs on AWS such as AWS Glue, Athena, and S3 for data extraction, transformation, and loading. The transformed data is stored in AWS cloud warehouse Redshift. The database will contain data from existing household surveys conducted by IRRI globally and will include data from national bureaus and international organizations. Currently, such a consolidated database with disaggregated data, such as production by season and gender of household head up to the village level, does not exist for rice in Asia.
IRRI believes Asi@Connect can help fulfill a number of Sustainable Development Goals through improved access to education and research resources across the Asia-Pacific. The project will provide a unique resource for agricultural and social science researchers, academia, policymakers, donors, and investors in the rice sector and beyond
Outsmarting the enemy through proactive rice science
IRRI is collaborating with the Healthy Crops Research Consortium to enable the rapid development of rice varieties to be a step ahead of the evolution of rice diseases that can heavily affect yield and smallholder farmer income.
Two recent publications in the journal Nature Biotechnology describe, for the first time, an integrated strategy to eradicate diseases that reduce global rice production. This is the case of bacterial blight, a plant disease that affects large areas in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The research team behind the publication generated multi-resistant rice varieties as well as a diagnostic kit to recognize new variants of the pathogen.
In the first paper, the scientists were able to generate novel SWEET variations that can resist the activation by the pathogen. The new variants prevent the SWEET activation and thus the release of sugar. The bacterium fails to get nutrition from the host plant and eventually dies. Essentially, this approach aims to outsmart the bacterium by depriving it of nutrients that it needs to survive and propagate.
Golden rice is safe and has potential to address Vitamin A deficiency
An article published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2019 presented findings showing the nutrient content of Golden Rice, and the potential nutritional impact of the added beta-carotene content.
Conducted by Dr. B.P. Mallikarjuna Swamy and the Healthier Rice Team at IRRI and Philippine Rice Research Institute, the analysis showed the content of key nutritional components, protein content, proximates, and minerals in the paddy rice, straw, and bran of Golden Rice were substantially equivalent to ordinary rice. However, Golden Rice grains contain up to 7.31 ppm of beta-carotene, while ordinary rice had amounts too insignificant to measure.
The results of the compositional analysis show that Golden Rice is as safe as ordinary rice, but with the added benefit of beta-carotene content. The beta-carotene in Golden Rice can easily be converted by the human body into the amount of Vitamin A that it needs.
Previous studies show that the bioconversion efficiency of Golden Rice compares favorably to other beta-carotene biofortified crops, like cassava and yellow maize. Compared to spinach, a vegetable widely recognized as a rich source of vitamin A, the beta-carotene in Golden Rice is converted by the body into vitamin A about 5-times more efficiently.
Thailand gears up innovations on land leveling
The Thai Rice Department, in partnership with IRRI through the CORIGAP project, has introduced innovations in rice production. One of these innovations is laser-guided land leveling.
The Phraojen Village is one of the rice-producing areas in Chainat province that need more water during the dry season. “Although we have an adequate supply of water through the Chao Phraya River, we don’t have enough during the dry season so we need to take measures,” said Winai Jaengan, the village head.
To overcome this challenge, the village members rely on underground irrigation during the dry season. “This is costly for us because it needs more fuel to pump the water out. Additionally, the farmers use small walking tractors which takes time and more cost to level the field,” he added.
Thirty-seven farmers, researchers, and other stakeholders learned about the theoretical and practical concepts of land leveling, including conducting a proper topographic survey and operating a tractor in a safe and efficient way. This new knowledge will enable them to reap the benefits of the technology sustainably.