This month in IRRI history: February

Author // Gene Hettel Categories // IRRI History

Continuing a journey through IRRI's long and lustrous history, we move on to February, which may be short on days, but long on IRRI milestones and events.

Klaus Lampe arrives as director general

Klaus Lampe

Klaus J. Lampe arrived as IRRI’s 5th director general on 1 February 1988. For the next 7 years, he guided IRRI through some turbulent times during which budget cuts were mandatory and "doing more with less" was the motto of the period.

Klaus actually hired me in October 1994 to join the Communication and Publications Services (CPS) but, by the time I arrived in January 1995, the overlap between our terms was brief before he retired.

Before, during, and even after his time at IRRI, Klaus' special concern was supporting people in the developing world to improve their living conditions, especially in rural areas.

Klaus Lampe and wife Annemarie
Former IRRI Director General Klaus Lampe and his wife, Annemarie, during a visit to IRRI in February 2008
During a Pioneer Interview I had with him in February 2008, he stated:
"Given its mandate, IRRI's future, its lifetime, will largely depend on its successful search for excellence in all aspects of its endeavors: excellence in research planning and implementation; excellence in human resource management, cooperation, and collaboration; excellence in efficiency and effectiveness at all levels; and excellence in its financial resource management and not to forget in public awareness, creating a conducive donor-, partner-, client-, and target-group relationship."

When I heard the sad news that his wife, Annemarie passed away in June 2011, I recalled a touching anecdote from my Pioneer Interview with Klaus in which he tells the story about receiving advice from his spouse who emulated former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Formal dedication of IRRI as an Institution

Philippine President and Mrs. Diosdado Macapagal and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III

It was a big day for the Philippines, the Rockefeller family, and IRRI on 7 February 1962 when the Institute was formally dedicated as an organization. Philippine President and Mrs. Diosdado Macapagal and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III graced the occasion (photo and video clip between 1:20 and 1:52) along with the Ford Foundation’s Forrest "Frosty" Hill and the Rockefeller Foundation (RF)’s J. George Harrar (considered co-founders of IRRI, hence, the buildings on campus named Hill Hall and Harrar Hall.

Dr. J. George Harrar and Dr. Forest F. Hill
Dr. J. George Harrar (left photo); Dr. Forest F. Hill (right)
Two days later, on 9 February, President Macapagal invited Drs. Hill and Harrar and IRRI Director General Robert Chandler to have breakfast at Malacañang Palace in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller.

The Philippines, through our host, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), and IRRI have had an incredibly special relationship ever since. This was reinforced just recently when, during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Lloyd T. Evans Plant Growth Facility on 27 January 2015, UPLB Chancellor Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr. stated, "IRRI is part of UPLB; UPLB is part of IRRI."

Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller with their momento IRRI is also considered by many to be one of the Rockefeller Foundation’s great success stories. In an interview, “Rock” and rice: the Rockefeller-IRRI biotechnology saga, that appeared in Rice Today, Gary Toenniessen, a managing director at RF, said that the whole idea for IRRI came out of the Foundation.

“It was based on what then future Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug had accomplished with wheat,” Gary pointed out. "The thinking was, if you could breed for wheat in Mexico and have those varieties adopted over the vast areas of South Asia, maybe you could breed for rice in a single location and have those varieties, or at least those breeding lines, be used across the vast areas of Asia where rice is grown."

David Rockefeller, Jr., fourth-generation member of the prominent Rockefeller family, and his wife, Susan Cohn Rockefeller, visited the IRRI headquarters in November 2013. One of the mementos of their visit that day were mounted copies of the iconic photos of their famous ancestor, John D. III, visiting IRRI.

First IRRI symposium in 1963

IRRI's first international symposium
Robert Chandler, Jr., IRRI's first director general, is 7th from the left in the front row and Sterling Wortman, IRRI's first assistant director, is at far left also in front row. Peter Jennings, IRRI's first breeder, is the tall guy 6th from left in the back row.

IRRI’s first-ever international symposium, held for 5 days, opened at the Institute's Los Baños headquarters on 4 February 1963. Covering the subjects of rice genetics and cytogenetics, the event marked the first time in history that the world’s experts in the two fields gathered together.

The 290-page proceedings, Rice genetics and cytogenetics, provides for some interesting reading—even 52 years later! In the foreword, Dr. Chandler wrote:

"The founders and staff hope that IRRI will provide an environment dynamically conducive to new attacks on the age-old problems of rice culture."

Enter creative commons

Regional Conference on Creative Commons (CC) in ManilaOn 5 February 2009, as head of CPS, I and Atty. Ildefonso Jimenez, then IRRI legal counsel in the Legal Services Office, participated in the Regional Conference on Creative Commons (CC) in Manila and shared our experiences with CC. This followed the Institute's change in copyright policy from "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved" for most of our publications, photographs, and videos. At the time, IRRI was one of the first CGIAR centers to adopt CC and advertise the policy on its website. Other centers are now following suit on this very practical way to share information products and materials with our clients.

Fragile lives, fragile ecosystems, and rice researchers’ first encounter with development policy

Rice research and development policy: a first encounterIn 1995, the 22nd International Rice Research Conference (IRRC) held 13-17 February at IRRI headquarters dealt with critical topics that were important enough to draw Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos to Los Baños to formally open the event. Acutely aware of the critical link between economic growth and agricultural development, President Ramos issued a call for a renewed national and international research effort to meet the food needs of the next century.

Robert "Bob" Zeigler, current IRRI director general, was wearing another Institute "hat" in 1995 as overall chair of this landmark IRRC, of which the proceedings, Fragile lives in fragile ecosystems, are still an interesting read.

Bob also produced an additional publication coming out of the conference (one of my first editing jobs after I arrived in late January 1995), Rice research and development policy: a first encounter. In the introduction to the publication, he wrote:

"We must explore the food production challenges facing us as we move into the next century. A major focus is to begin to address policy and research interactions that may be needed to maintain the successes of the last 30 years, and to bring similar success to those farmers who have yet to benefit from their own Green Revolution."

Indeed, 7 IRRCs and about 20 years later, in 2015, farmers left behind in the first Green Revolution, are now realizing successes in the second Green Revolution, as Bob adeptly pointed out in his keynote address during the 4th International Rice Congress and 29th IRRC last October 2014, as reported in the January-March issue of Rice Today.

Svalbard Global Seed Vault or Doomsday Vault is stocked
and officially dedicated

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler in red coat, along with fellow leaders

IRRI's seed consignment, which was shipped on 21 January 2008, arrived on 13 February as reported by Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. He was at the airport in Svalbard when the cargo plane arrived carrying the IRRI seed consignment. "It was a great sight to behold," he said, "with the boxes coming down the conveyor belt from the belly of the plane, box after box, the Seed Vault with its lights turned on glowing in the background up the mountain." Svalbard is at the Arctic Circle, about 1,000 km from the North Pole. 

2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg ceremoniously deposit IRRI's rice packet container #1 into the Vault as the first crop of any species to be placed there.

You can watch Dr. Fowler on the documentary, Doomsday Vault, produced by the CBS news program 60 Minutes. Six minutes into the segment is Mike Bonman, former IRRI plant pathologist (1982-91) and a good friend, now supervisory research plant pathologist for USDA in Aberdeen, Idaho.

On 26 February 2008, Doomsday vault was officially opened. IRRI was the biggest contributor among all genebanks, shipping some 70,000 different accessions of rice from 123 countries.

Along with heads of state, fellow CGIAR directors general and leaders, and members of the media, IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler was on hand during the opening ceremonies.

Rice price crisis heats up in February 2008

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler on BBC WorldBy this time, the 2008 rice price crisis had kicked into high gear and IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler began making the rounds to discuss the situation.

On 19 February, during a luncheon meeting at the Asia Society's Hong Kong Center, he contemplated "the end of cheap, plentiful rice." He pointed out that rice is as fundamental to Asia's success as the oil that drives its industries and the dollars that power its economies. From Hong Kong, it was on to London on 21 February to visit the BBC Studios to go on air and talk about the world's rising rice prices and the implications for the world's poor.


See other notable activities and events in February on This week in IRRI history.


Stay tuned as I’ll be featuring March in this blog in a few weeks. In the mean time, knowing that my accumulation of information is far from complete, I continue to add more items to the IRRI timeline. If staff members or others associated with IRRI are aware of any missing achievements, activities, and events that have taken place over the last 55 years during any month—or have run across any errors, please leave a comment at the bottom of this blog or let me know with an email message!


About the Author

Gene Hettel

Gene Hettel

Gene Hettel is an IRRI historian and editor-in-chief of Rice Today.

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