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Statement by the Chair of the IRRI Board of Trustees for the year ended 31 December 2020

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In 2020, IRRI faced unprecedented challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The institute demonstrated adaptability and resilience, continuing to work towards meaningful impact and stronger stakeholder relationships in rice-based economies. We have been collaborating with countries, partners, and OneCGIAR to advocate for sustainable agri-food systems that can withstand emerging threats to food and nutrition security. Following our first net surplus in six years in 2019, IRRI recorded another net surplus in 2020, despite the slowdown in research operations.

Financial highlights

IRRI continues to be the lead center for the CGIAR Research Program on Rice (RICE CRP), joined by the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and over 600 other partners across the globe. RICE CRP aims to address nine of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and 26 of their 169 targets. The RICE CRP has been approved for operation from 2017 to 2021. Despite the continued budget cuts in the CGIAR Fund coupled with the operational slowdown due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, IRRI’s financial position remains stable in 2020.  Total Assets are reported at USD 75.455 million, which is a slight improvement over 2019 Total Assets of USD 73.664 million. The increase of USD 1.791 million is mainly due to the positive cash flow mostly from underspent grants, a clear effect of the pandemic. The liquidity and long-term stability indicators remained above CGIAR benchmarks.

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Following 2019's track record, IRRI reported a net surplus of USD 267 thousand in 2020.  The surplus resulted from prudent cash management and effective cost control, which allowed IRRI to counteract the negative effects of the slowdown in research operations.  In 2019, IRRI’s grant portfolio was USD 49.824 million, which included USD 3.077 million of RICE CRP Windows 1 and 2 funds for the flagship expenses of our CGIAR partners, AfricaRice and CIAT.  

 

In 2018, the Institute's financial statements became fully compliant to International Financial Reporting Standards and are now aligned with international quality standards for financial reporting that are recognized inter alia by donors, the banking industry, partners, and potential collaborators. Further, compliance to this standard allows for comparability with other organizations and enhances the annual audit report.

Research resilience

IRRI has been overcoming challenges in conducting research amidst an ongoing public health emergency. The institute is cognizant of and responsive to research problems that have emerged as a result of lockdowns and limited access to stakeholders, such as practical limitations and further exclusion of vulnerable groups, among others. 

 

As the pandemic unfolded, IRRI made certain to join the conversation on COVID-19 and food security, through scientific and economic analyses and policy briefs aimed at safeguarding rural groups and communities, limiting the pandemic’s impacts on rice value chains in Asia and Africa.

I also highlight the first series of peer-reviewed publications on the GR2E Golden Rice field trials  now available in Nature Scientific Reports and Frontiers in Plant Science journals. Data in these articles show that Golden Rice varieties perform well, if not better, than their inbred rice counterparts when it comes to agronomy, yield, and grain qualities. Further publications are in progress and we look forward to sharing these.

 

In addition, IRRI is working with researchers and students from the University of Copenhagen and Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania on the development of salt- and flood-tolerant rice for Africa within five years. This project puts a spotlight on IRRI’s expertise on climate-smart rice varieties and stresses the institute’s commitment to the development of the rice sector in Africa.

Partnerships for impact

Limited research activities in 2020 led to further headway in the area of partnerships and collaborations. Building on its strong relationships with South Korean and Nepal government partners, respectively, IRRI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Korea Rural Economic Institute to advance research and policy in South Korea and the developing world and another MOU with the Agriculture and Forestry University in Nepal for furthering research and academic cooperation.

 

We are also looking forward to the implementation of several collaborative work plans, including with the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development - and the Royal Government of Cambodia, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. These agreements will further strengthen the cooperation between IRRI and these governments on research and development activities.

Transforming food systems

IRRI’s work on strengthening and transforming agri-food systems will not be possible without the central roles of women, youth, and rural communities. The institute aims to prioritize the needs and capacities of these groups, helping them develop resilient livelihoods that can withstand economic shocks. 

 

In November, IRRI worked with the International Labour Organization on a project to develop advanced technical and managerial skills of a new generation of workforce in agriculture, focusing on migrant returnees affected by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. 

 

We also partnered with the International Water Management Institute, WorldFish, and the World Resources Institute on a series of stakeholder consultations, capturing key challenges, as well as stakeholder needs and priorities regarding climate change and food security in Asian Mega-Deltas.

 

2020 may have presented us with challenge after challenge, but IRRI has come out stronger and ready for the important work ahead. The Board would like to extend its gratitude to all IRRI staff and management for their commitment to the institute’s mission, and also to our global partners and investors for supporting us in our efforts.

 

I also take this opportunity to thank everyone for their invaluable support since I joined in 2016. It has been a delight and an honor to work for and with IRRI towards our goals for the rice sector. I am glad to leave the institute in good hands with our next Board Chair, Dr. Suthad Setboonsarng.