Suthad Setboonsarng.png

Dr. Suthad Setboonsarng


Board of Trustees

The year 2021 may have presented us with many challenges, but IRRI has come out stronger and ready for the important work ahead.

Statement by the Chair of the IRRI Board of Trustees for the year ended 31 December 2021

With the ongoing CGIAR system-wide transition, and with the pandemic extending into its second year, 2021 has been a period of adjustment for IRRI. Nevertheless, the institute as a whole and its people in particular, has proved remarkably resilient and adaptive, finding innovative ways to deliver on our mission. While there were challenges, many also found opportunities. We continued to engage in global discussions revolving around climate change and food security, increasing our profile and influence in these important dialogues. We strengthened our relationships with our partners, exploring unique avenues for collaboration and fundraising. And we integrated digital technology into our systems and processes, helping advance operations and research while keeping people safe.

IRRI’s staff continues to be our greatest asset, delivering world-class science enabled by exceptional corporate services. Our Human Resources & Organizational Development Team has worked to expand the services and support offered to staff this year providing additional resources to support their health and wellbeing needs as we continue through a protracted COVID-19 pandemic. IRRI’s staff has adapted to remote working requirements well and as such IRRI has issued new policies which provide more flexible working arrangements for staff in the future. IRRI’s staff turnover rate for 2021 was 12%, which is slightly higher than global averages for similar organizations. IRRI currently has 917 staff, approximately 10% of which are internationally recruited.

Financial Highlights


Despite the operational slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the institute’s ability to deliver research activities according to original timelines, IRRI’s financial position remains stable in 2021. Total Assets decreased to USD 74.891 million, from 2020 Total Assets of USD 75.455 million. The slight decrease of USD 564 thousand is mainly driven by capital expenditures contributing to a decrease in cash levels. The liquidity and long-term stability indicators remained above CGIAR benchmarks.

Following surplus results in 2019 and 2020, IRRI reported a net surplus of USD 219 thousand in 2021. The surplus resulted from prudent cash management and effective cost control, which allowed IRRI to manage both short and long-term investments, and gain a healthy level of financial income. This counteracted the negative effects of the slowdown in research operations and the deficit from normal operations. In 2021, IRRI’s grant portfolio was USD 52.462 million, which consists of USD 15.397 million of Windows 1 and 2 funds and USD 37.065 million of Bilateral and Window 3 funds.

For 2022, the budget will be USD 61.86 million, an increase from the 2021 budget of USD 55.08 million. IRRI has been allocated USD 19.3 million from pooled funds (formally, Windows 1 and 2), an increase of USD 3.9 million compared with the 2021 allocation. Under its new mandate as the host of the Regional Hub for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, IRRI will need additional resources to perform this new function.


Research achievements

IRRI, in collaboration with its CGIAR partners Africa Rice Center, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and over 600 partners across the globe, successfully concluded the CGIAR Research Program on Rice (RICE CRP) in December 2021. RICE CRP ran from 2017 to 2021, and aimed to address 9 of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 26 of their 169 targets. As committed, the program’s budget implementation rate is 100%.

An exciting milestone in 2021 was the beginning of Phase III of the Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia (CORIGAP) Project. Funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), this long-term project started in 2012 and brought together IRRI with various country partners to optimize the productivity and sustainability of irrigated rice production systems. The outcomes of CORIGAP Pro  (Phase II 2017-2020) exceeded all indicators of project success, helping validate SDC’s long-term investment with IRRI and strengthening relationships with partner countries. Launched in December 2021, CORIGAP Phase III (2021- 2022) will document, develop, and disseminate all its learnings, research, and knowledge products through various channels (like the recently launched CORIGAP Digital Library) to support stakeholders around the world in implementing their agro-ecological transition toward sustainable rice systems.

Research accomplishments during this year include the completion and deployment of native trait resistance genes for key plant pests and diseases. These include resistance genes for rice yellow mottle virus and major blast and bacterial leaf blight. These represent the first time that these genes have been available in an elite background in modern breeding programs, helping significantly advance breeding efforts for ensuring robust resistance to destructive rice diseases. In addition, a gene identified two years back was validated and patented for increasing yield without trade-off with grain quality. This overcomes a classic physiological bottleneck and is the first success in a deliberate attempt at maintaining grain quality while increasing yield.

Also this year, the IRRI-led multi-sectoral consortium Network for Accelerated Rice Varieties for Impact was established, enabling private sector partners to test new IRRI elite inbred rice for breeding in various countries. This initiative will speed up the transfer of technologies and advance collaboration and networking in key research and development areas.

Several new research discoveries have also been made, heralding exciting new research pathways. In one case another gene was identified for DNA metabolism and proven useful in modifying root architecture for drought tolerance and with the potential to affect nitrogen remobilization. In addition, there is also the discovery of antioxidant and anti-cancer properties in some traditional rice varieties, and a breakthrough in increasing the yield of a rice variety with an extremely low glycemic index.

During this year IRRI also took the opportunity to build our capacities and optimize operational efficiency. These include establishing the Speed Breeding Facility at the IRRI-South Asia Regional Centre and the Grain Quality Laboratory at IRRI Bangladesh, modernizing the International Rice Genebank (IRG) and Seed Health Unit, and developing new quality and management systems for more structured processes across platforms.

Selected contributions to the SDGs related to food security and poverty reduction

  • A meta-analysis compared Site-Specific Nutrient Management (SSNM) with farmers’ fertilizer practice for maize, rice, and wheat using 61 published papers across 11 countries. Relative to the farmer practice, across the crops maize, rice, and wheat, SSNM increased grain yield by 12% (contributing to food security) and profitability by 15% with 10% less fertilizer nitrogen applied (contributing to zero poverty and enhanced sustainability). From the cultivation of the flood-tolerant rice variety SS1, households in Assam, Odisha, and West Bengal in India gained an additional yield of 527-1,023 kg/ha, amounting to an additional income of USD 67-134/ha.

  • The adoption of submergence-tolerant rice varieties in northern Bangladesh increased yield, profit, and home rice consumption by 6%, 55%, and 15% respectively.

  • The improved rice management package “1 Must Do-5 Reductions” reached 104,448 smallholder rice farmers and adopted on 114 thousand hectares in the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam, resulting in 19- 36% higher income. In total, over 780,000 farm households in Southeast and East Asia adopted improved rice management practices.

  • Findings from economic surplus analysis indicate that the net present value of IRRI’s contributions to rice varietal yield changes in Bangladesh over the 1990-2018 period ranged from USD 3.3 to 6.5 billion. The net present value of IRRI investments in Bangladesh in the water-saving practice of Alternate Wetting and Drying ranged from USD 14 to 146 million, and in SSNM technology from USD 140 million to USD 148 million.

  • The impact assessment of IRG on improved rice varieties in eastern India revealed that 45–77% of the genetic composition of improved rice varieties comes from the genes of IRG accessions. A 10% increase in the genetic contribution of IRG accession on an improved rice variety increases the yield by 27%.

Partnerships for impact

IRRI has been active in various international summits and discussions, contributing our expertise and evidence-based data to the conversation. These include the Nutrition 4 Growth Summit in Tokyo, the COP26 in Glasgow, and the CGIAR-India consultations. We have also been actively engaging with many of our international and national partners, continuing existing
projects and exploring new potential collaborations.

In Nepal, we established a new 5-year collaborative project to help the country increase its domestic rice production, with a focus on hybrid rice development. In the Philippines, we have concluded a successful year-long project on laser land leveling and formally transitioned the Rice Crop Manager Advisory Service to the Department of Agriculture. In India, we partnered with the government of Assam to increase production of premium black rice varieties, and a newly-launched project will help promote diversification of rice-based systems in Odisha, enhancing climate and livelihood resilience, especially for women farmers. The institute also established collaborations with private sector companies Loc Troi Group in Vietnam, APV Austria, and DLG Germany for partnerships in areas of mechanization, postharvest, rice straw management, and low-carbon rice.

IRRI’s capacity-building efforts were able to adapt and pivot online, helping us continue to better reach individual, institutional, and system-level stakeholders. IRRI Education refreshed its training approaches to integrate across virtual and digital channels, allowing for a dedicated learning management system that was able to host 39 courses and reach over 1,300 participants (40% of them women) around the world. In addition, self-paced learning modules were also launched for participants to learn in their own time and schedule.

In 2021, CGIAR laid the groundwork for establishing a strengthened and collaborative relationship between the new unified One CGIAR Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These series of meetings and engagements discussed the One CGIAR transition, introduced its new research and innovation strategy and initiatives portfolio, and showed how the integrated capabilities of the unified organization can work together with the regional body and its member-states to create co-developed and demand-driven programs that can more effectively and holistically combat challenges like food and nutrition insecurity, climate change, and resources degradation. As CGIAR Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, IRRI Director-General Jean Balié was a lead representative in these engagements,
leveraging IRRI’s robust relationships with ASEAN nations to help raise strong support. The development of an ASEAN-CGIAR “Innovate for Food” Regional Program, which is being co-developed with the ASEAN Secretariat and Member States through a consultative process, is on track for full ASEAN endorsement in 2022.

Progress in the implementation of One CGIAR

IRRI is the host of the CGIAR Regional Hub for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and has been very active in 2021 developing the CGIAR’s portfolio in the region. This has included multiple consultations introducing the CGIAR and its capacities with key stakeholders in each of the regions and countries, initiating strategy development processes for expanding the CGIAR’s engagement within ASEAN, in China, and in the Pacific, and working with the ASEAN Secretariat and ASEAN Member States to develop a multi-year research and innovation development program to support the strategic themes of recovery, resilience, and transformation. Capitalizing on IRRI’s presence and reputation in the region, and with sufficient resourcing and tailored interventions, there is enormous potential for impact to be delivered by the CGIAR through the Regional Hub for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Another significant step in the transition toward One CGIAR in 2021 was the endorsement by the System Council of a new operational structure encompassing research delivery and impact, global engagement and innovation, and institutional strategy and systems. Managerial appointments for the functioning of this operational structure were made with Global, Regional, and Science Group Directors appointed throughout the year. IRRI has also agreed to the One CGIAR Implementing Arrangement No. 1, which governs the affiliation and management of personnel to the One CGIAR Integrated Operating Structure. Building on IRRI’s mandate, and through the transition process the CGIAR has agreed to demonstrate a renewed emphasis on Research for Development in Rice-based Agri-food Systems.

The year 2021 may have presented us with many challenges, 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.

Dr. Suthad Setboonsarng


Board of Trustees