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Nutrition and Food Security

Food security goes beyond hunger – it stretches to include regular access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food. 
While the number of people suffering from hunger globally is rising above 820 million, an additional 1.3 billion people are affected by moderate levels of nutrition insecurity because they have inadequate access to safe and nutritious food.
More than half of the world’s population, including many of those living in poverty, rely on rice for most of their daily calories because they cannot afford – or do not have access to – nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. As a result, malnutrition is a real threat, creating immediate and long-term health problems including stunting, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
We’re working to improve the diets of these 4.5 billion people.
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Quality seed is not only the most basic input, but it also influences how the crop responds to all other factors that contribute to successful rice production. Good quality seed offers farmers a host of benefits ranging from lower seed rate, crop uniformity, greater seed vigor, and seed germination, less replanting, and stronger resistance to diseases and pests. All these enable growers to harvest a better yield. Several studies have corroborated that quality seed alone can contribute a 5%-20% increase in yield. Therefore, farmers’ access to quality seed holds a key in boosting rice production in the run-up to ensure food and nutrition security of a region and directly contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger.

Odisha—an easterly situated Indian State—has a predominantly agrarian economy where rice is the staple food for the majority of its population. Eighty-five percent of its 4.6 million core population (2018) consume rice as a square meal twice a day. With the population growing at 1.9% annually, meeting the future demand for rice in the state poses huge challenges for everyone engaged in the rice value chain.

One of the major shortcomings of rice production in the state is its low and stagnating yield. In 2015-2016, rice productivity in Odisha was recorded only 1.5 tons per hectare (ha), which is only 62% of the national average, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The key factor that undermines other yield enhancement efforts is poor seed replacement rate (SSR) at 21%.

The problem canvas

Odisha has approximately 3.5 million ha of rice area. If this entire rice area is to be planted with quality or certified seeds, the Odisha State Seed Corporation (OSSC)—the state’s seed marketing agency— needs to supply around 180,000 metric tons of seeds every year. With an ideal SRR of 33% for rice, OSSC should distribute 60,000 metric tons of seeds. Infrastructure constraints and poor production and distribution networks would not allow realizing this target in the near future. Currently, OSSC supplies approximately 30,000 metric tons of certified seeds through its network of more than 3,000 dealers. The Department of Agriculture, through its different agricultural developmental schemes, pumps another 1,500 metric tons into the system.

The role and sale of private firms in diffusing quality seeds are limited in Odisha. Some reports indicate that rice acreage with quality seeds sourced from private firms is approximately 1 lakh hectare as 5,000 metric tons of seeds from private players get into seed chain every year. Therefore, through the formal channel, a total of only 40,000 metric tons of quality seeds are supplied to farmers each year and this translates to a poor SRR of 21%, meaning 80% of the total rice area is sown using farmer-kept seeds.

The seeds saved by farmers are mostly grown, harvested, and stored as grain so they are of poor quality for seed purposes. This is the biggest constraint in rice productivity in Odisha. Since the majority of the farmers (85%) are small and marginal, there is a low demand for quality seeds because of their limited purchasing power. Instead, they are heavily dependent on informal seed sources.

What could be a solution?

The structural changes needed to meet the quality seed requirements and expanding the seed distribution network for the 5.1 million farmers in the state will take time. Therefore, the alternate approach of empowering farmers with skills and knowledge in quality seed production (QSP) has immense potential for improving Odisha’s rice productivity.

Why not let the farmers grow a small number of quality seeds on their own rather than depending on the under-equipped system that is currently struggling to reach and meet every farmers’ seed requirement? A small farmer having, for example, ½ ha of land can easily be trained on the basics of QSP so that he can produce enough quantity of seeds for his own use. This approach will not only provide such farmers with better access to quality seeds but also arm them with knowledge and expertise on seeds and its implication in rice productivity enhancement. This initiative will eventually help make the system self-sufficient while reducing the burden on the formal seed chain.

What are we doing in Odisha?

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has identified and recognized this problem and has strategically placed a well-designed initiative called Quality Rice Seed Production (QRSP) under IRRI-Odisha project, Increasing Productivity of Rice-based Cropping Systems and Farmer’s Income, with the support from the Department of Agriculture and Farmer’s Empowerment.

Following a multi-stakeholder consultation, IRRI identified the key actors in the seed chain who can move this QSP initiative and percolate it up to farmers’ level.

  • Block-level agriculture officers: Department of Agriculture (DoA) officers are entrusted with the responsibility of rolling out overall development in agriculture and allied sectors in the block.
     

  • Seed growers: Seed growers are registered with OSSC and, based on agreed terms and conditions, will produce and supply seeds to OSSC. The growers can also sell a portion of harvested seeds directly to dealers and farmers.
     

  • Odisha Livelihood Mission (OLM) officials: OLM, a flagship livelihood promotion program of the state government, is mandated to propagate agriculture technologies among farmers through capacity-building and awareness programs.
     

  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): There are hundreds of NGOs successfully operating with agricultural development as part of their program portfolio. Extending benefits of QSP to the farmers is of their focus and priority.
     

  • Self Help Groups (SHGs): Many SHGs promoted and anchored by NGOs are now well functioning in rolling out initiatives around agriculture development, which includes rice farming.
     

  • Farmers: They are the end-users who need to be made aware of the basics of QSP and its economic benefits

The QSRP model

A team of key personnel trained on QSRP on Training on Trainers (ToTs) mode can conceptualize an easy-to-implement QSP model. Block-level assistant agriculture officers (AAO), seed growers, NGOs, OLM officials constitute the cadre who, upon successful completion of ToT, can take the benefits to the farming community.

While AAOs use QSP in various block-level initiatives for the farmers, seed growers apply acquired QSP skills to augment the quality of seeds produced for OSSC and farmers. OLM staff integrates the QSP concept and benefits in their livelihood schemes that target quite a considerable number of rice growers. IRRI encourages these stakeholders for the intensive promotion of QSP for the betterment of farmers who have limited or no access to quality-assured seeds.

The NGOs, in partnership with IRRI for different interventions, roll the QSP initiative that is tailored for the direct targeting of farmers in the community. Once the ToT is completed, these NGO partners, who are supported by IRRI, plan, and execute QSP training programs for farmers. The IRRI team provides the implementing partner with technical inputs, training and storage materials. This makes the QSP program for farmers robust, comprehensive, and more effective.

Outputs in numbers

Since 2017, the IRRI-Odisha project has completed the ToT for 398 participants from different groups. These trainers (mostly from IRRI’s NGO partners) have oriented approximately 9,500 farmers in the community in 2019. Of these master trainers, 15% are women. In the field training, 41% are women farmers, making it a gender-inclusive effort.

Pictorial manuals, leaflets, and IRRI super bags were provided to the participants during the training program. The information materials can be used as references during the process of seed production. Block-level government officials and VAWs (village agriculture workers) were also invited in these training programs to enhance the event.

Lessons learned and the way forward

The QSP program found to be immensely fruitful as expressed by farmers and government officials. The capacity building of small and marginal farmers on the self-production of quality seeds has a far-reaching positive consequence for productivity increase in rice.

This initiative should be scaled up by government apparatus on a mission mode. For this to happen strong policy advocacy is needed.

Grassroots-level extension workers like VAW, Krushi Mitra, and Krushak Saathi, as well as NGO workers, should be mobilized and extensively trained in QSP to target farmers for further orientations.

Each block should include this aspect in their annual plan with a precise target.

Some of the progressive farmers who are part of this initiative also have business acumen. These rice growers have to be identified and further supported to help them grow as seed entrepreneurs.

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After rigorous biosafety assessment, Golden Rice “has been found to be as safe as conventional rice" by the Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry. The biosafety permit, addressed to the Department of Agriculture - Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), details the approval of GR2E Golden Rice for direct use as food and feed, or for processing (FFP).

PhilRice Executive Director Dr. John de Leon welcomed the positive regulatory decision. “With this FFP approval, we bring forward a very accessible solution to our country’s problem on Vitamin A deficiency that’s affecting many of our pre-school children and pregnant women.”

Despite the success of public health interventions like oral supplementation, complementary feeding, and nutrition education, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) among children aged 6 months to 5 years increased from 15.2 percent in 2008 to 20.4 percent in 2013 in the Philippines. The beta-carotene content of Golden Rice aims to provide 30 to 50 percent of the estimated average requirement (EAR) of vitamin A for pregnant women and young children.

“IRRI is pleased to partner with PhilRice to develop this nutrition-sensitive agricultural solution to address hidden hunger. This is the core of IRRI’s purpose: to tailor global solutions to local needs,” notes IRRI Director General Matthew Morrell. “The Philippines has long recognized the potential to harness biotechnology to help address food and nutrition security, environmental safety, as well as improve the livelihoods of farmers.”

The FFP approval is the latest regulatory milestone in the journey to develop and deploy Golden Rice in the Philippines. With this approval, DA-PhilRice and IRRI will now proceed with sensory evaluations and finally answer the question that many Filipinos have been asking: What does Golden Rice taste like?

To complete the Philippine biosafety regulatory process, Golden Rice will require approval for commercial propagation before it can be made available to the public. This follows from the field trials harvested in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija and San Mateo, Isabela in September and October 2019.

The Philippines now joins a select group of countries that have affirmed the safety of Golden Rice. In 2018, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Health Canada, and the United States Food and Drug Administration published positive food safety assessments for Golden Rice. A biosafety application was lodged in November 2017 and is currently undergoing review by the Biosafety Core Committee in Bangladesh.

About the Healthier Rice Program

Together with its national partners, the Healthier Rice Program at IRRI is working to improve the nutritional status in countries across Asia and Africa, where rice is widely grown and eaten. Delivering essential micronutrients through staple foods like rice offers a sustainable and complementary approach to public health interventions for micronutrient deficiency, which affects 2 billion people worldwide. In addition to Golden Rice, research is being conducted on high iron and zinc rice (HIZR) to help address iron-deficiency anemia and stunting.

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Agricultural mechanization is crucial in attaining food security in Africa.


The Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods states that suitable, reliable and affordable mechanization, among others, as intrinsic to doubling current agricultural productivity levels by the year 2025. It also has a prominent role in Agenda 2063 of the African Union. The Agenda cites agricultural modernization as a transformative tool for enabling the continent to feed itself and be a major player as a net food exporter.

However, achieving these objectives depend on enhancing access to mechanization services, improving access to quality and affordable inputs, and delivering efficient water resource management systems including irrigation, according to the  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Mechanization, particularly for smallholder farmers,  reduces hard labor, and eases labor shortages; improves the efficiency of use of resources, farm productivity, timeliness of agricultural operations, and market access;  and helps mitigate the impact of climate change climate-related hazards.

Boosting Burundi’s agriculture

Burundi’s economy is highly dependent on its agriculture sector. Agriculture contributes 54% to the country’s GDP and more than 80% of its people are engaged in farming. However, erratic climate,  poor farming practices, weak investments, underdeveloped infrastructure and capacity, pests and diseases as well as limited market access have led to low agricultural production putting almost 1.8 million people at risk of food insecurity.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has launched several initiatives in Burundi to help the country boost its agricultural output, particularly for its rice sector, since 2008.

Most recently, IRRI spearheaded the piloting and demonstration of agricultural machines for rice production and postproduction processes in 2019. The equipment, which includes two-wheel tractor with plough implement, hydrotiller, push weeder, axial-flow thresher, grain cleaner and two-stage rice mill shipped from Asia, was supported by the Project for Productivity and Development of Agricultural Markets (PRODEMA) and the Regional Project for Integrated Agricultural Development in Great Lakes (PRDAIGL). PRODEMA and PRDAIGL are funded by the World Bank. Burundi’s Ministry of Agriculture is the main implementer of PRODEMA with IRRI as the main project partner on the rice value chain component.

From farmer’s organizations to cooperatives

The first batch of commissioning and training on operation and maintenance of the machines was conducted for PRODEMA on 20-21 December 2019 at the IRRI-Burundi compound and at the Eastern and South Africa (ESA) Experiment Station in Imbo Plain. “The training aims to capacitate farmer groups on the use of these machines and initiate business through service provision to other farmers,” said Mr. Joseph Bigirimana, IRRI regional coordinator for ESA. “The machines will be the contribution of the project to the farmers’ cooperative alongside the capacity building on making business plans for rice mill, hand tractor, thresher and parboiling of rice.”

The main PRODEMA beneficiaries are farmer groups or cooperatives in marshland and valleys where rice is grown. There are 13 cooperative beneficiaries under PRODEMA. Requirements for cooperatives are set by the government while the project also strengthens farmers’ organization to become cooperatives.

“The first batch of participants who attended the training are farmers from ten marshlands and two technicians from a private manufacturer,” said Mr. Jean Caude Nyawakira, project manager of PRODEMA. The training aimed to orient the farmers in the use of the machines while the technicians will help and guide the farmers to start and operate a rice milling business. “The project will guide the cooperatives in managing the rice mill business by providing milling service to other farmer cooperative members and we provide the training on business planning and financial management.”

Putting quality rice within reach

Ms. Marie Therese Nahabaganwa, the lone woman participant who came from the Vumbi Commune in Ruhohera Marshland,  Kirundo Province, appreciated the training on hand tractor operation.

“I would like to have another opportunity to learn more about operating tractors for land preparation as it would lessen the time needed for land preparation,” she said. “I also participated to understand the process and operation of rice milling.  The rice mill will help our commune mill the rice we produce instead of hand pounding. We don’t have to walk for kilometers to get good quality rice. Now, we can also get the bran for animal feed and the husk for fuel and compost.”

Pontien Ntakirutimana, a 38-year old farmer from Tangara Commune in Nyamuswaga Marshland, Ngozi Province, was also very pleased to learn about operating the hand tractor for land preparation.

“The use of the hand tractor could reduce labor cost in preparing the land,” he said. Daily workers are paid USD 1.33 per day. “One hectare could cost USD 133 for labor yet the quality of land preparation is not as good as with the hand tractor.”

That is a significant cost in a country where 90% of the population lives on less than USD 2.00 per day and the GDP is USD 600 (2012).

Mr. Ntakirutimana also welcomed the training on rice mill operation.

 

“It will be a big help for us to get good quality milled rice instead of selling rice paddy because the nearest commercial rice mill is six kilometers away from our village,” he said.

On 28 January 2020, two days before the completion of PRODEMA, eight units of compact rice mill were distributed to the farmers’ cooperatives in eight marshlands in the provinces of Rutana, Cankuzo, Kirundo, and Ngozi. Training and demonstration for key farmers in Rutana were conducted on the proper use and maintenance of hand tractors and axial-flow thresher on the same day.

The next step will be to establish a supply chain of spare parts and support services in Burundi for the maintenance of the agricultural machines.

The training was facilitated by the Mechanization and Postharvest Cluster under IRRI’s Sustainable Impact Platform with the support of the IRRI-Burundi.