This month in IRRI history: November

Author // Gene Hettel Categories // IRRI History

In November as the year begins to wind down, one might think that activity might begin to slow down as well—but not at IRRI, no slowdown whatsoever!

IRC2010 brings IRRI’s 50th birthday celebration to a rousing conclusion

IRRI booths during the IRC2010

Beginning on 9 November 2010, more than 1,700 top rice scientists, researchers, policymakers, and industry representatives from 66 countries around the world gathered for the International Rice Congress 2010 (the third such Congress of its kind), which ran through 12 November in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. It was the grand finale to IRRI’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration. With the theme, Rice for future generations, Director General Robert Zeigler said in his welcome remarks during the opening ceremonies that it was particularly appropriate for Vietnam to generously agree to host IRC2010. “Vietnam's adoption and adaptation of rice technologies have helped it become a major rice exporter and the country is an example of how rice science can benefit a nation and its people,” he said.

During the opening ceremonies, the Vietnamese Government bestowed upon IRRI its First Class Friendship Order (9-minute video clip) on the occasion of the Institute's 50th anniversary. In addition, Vietnam awarded nine Merit Medals to IRRI scientists (also shown in the video) "for the cause of Science and Technology development of Vietnam" (Robert Zeigler, Achim Dobermann, Gurdev Khush, Darshan Singh Brar, Roland Buresh, Tô Phúc Tường, Kong Luen Heong, Abdelbagi Ismail, and Grant Singleton) and "for the cause of agriculture and rural development of Vietnam by a decree signed by the minister of science and technology.

Also during the opening ceremonies, six IRRI scientists were recognized with Merit Awards for their agriculture and rural development work: William Padolina, David Mackill, Sushil Pandey, David Johnson, Martin Gummert, and Julian Lapitan.

9Nov2010 IRC2010bThe photos show (1) the great IRRI booth that we had at IRC2010 to get the message out about what IRRI does to a large key audience of stakeholders all gathered in one place, and (2) me flanked by my daughter Maria (left), who came along to help out, and Veronica Pedrosa, well-known Asian journalist who has reported and anchored for CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera English.

I put together a set of 45 videos on YouTube that I shot during the 4 days, which includes highlights from the opening ceremonies, two book launches, and selected sessions of the first-ever International Rice Policy and Investment Conference (IRPIC) and the 28th International Rice Research Conference (IRRC28), both held as part of the Congress. The Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) was also launched at the gala during this mega-week. All-in-all, it was a spectacular conclusion to IRRI’s 50th!

Rockefeller redux

The Rockefellers with Achim DobermannOn 15 November 2013, David Rockefeller Jr., American sailor, philanthropist, and active participant in nonprofit and environmental areas, and his wife, Susan Cohn Rockefeller, visited the Institute. He is a leading fourth-generation member (known as "the Cousins") of the prominent Rockefeller family. Meeting with DG Robert Zeigler, DDG-R Achim Dobermann (at left in the photo with the couple), and other members of IRRI management, Mr. Rockefeller remarked, “This visit to IRRI is hugely important and personal to me since so much of the Rockefeller family and the history of the Foundation is linked to the success of IRRI and the Green Revolution that was started here.”

Rockefellers momentoMr. and Mrs. Rockefeller (in photo with some mementos of their IRRI visit) toured the breeding line field trials, the International Rice Genebank, and the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center, where healthier rice became a topic of great interest for them. Being major patrons of the arts, the couple also viewed the paintings of Philippine National Artist Vicente Manansala displayed at the IRRI cafeteria and dining room (now housed in the National Museum in Manila). View 26 photos of their visit on Flickr.

IRRI is considered by many as one of the Rockefeller Foundation's (RF) great success stories. In a 2009 interview—“Rock” and rice: the Rockefeller-IRRI biotechnology saga—that I had with Gary Toenniessen, a managing director at RF, Gary said that the whole idea of IRRI came out of the Foundation. “It was based on what the then future Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug had accomplished with wheat,” he 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, used across the vast areas of Asia where rice is grown.”

NBC News correspondent impressed with IRRI DG’s enthusiasm

24Nov2008 NBC News Zeigler3

On 24 November 2008, IRRI was featured on NBC Nightly News in the United States in a segment entitled Against the Grain. As what became commonplace during his 10+ years at the helm of IRRI, Director General Bob Zeigler handled his time in the media spotlight with his usual aplomb. As you may recall, 2008 was the time of the very serious rice price crisis. IRRI and especially the Institute’s chief spokesman, Bob, were in great demand by the international media to explain what was going on.

Ian Williams (at left in photo #3 with Bob; and that’s anchor Brian Williams in photo #1, introducing the segment), the NBC News correspondent reporting this particular story said of Bob in his notebook: “Robert Zeigler was a terrific host, bubbling with enthusiasm as he told me about the new varieties of rice that could bring enormous relief to the world's poor.” Pointing at the new (back in 2008) Sub1 flood-resistant rice, Bob told him that it is a transformational technology and that it gave him goose bumps, as he pointed at clusters of rice stems emerging from a flooded paddy field. Bob added, "These are tailored for floods. They basically hold their breath underwater. This will essentially remove farmers in many parts of the world from being the victims of floods."

Williams went to write in his notes, “An assistant reminded him he was already late for another meeting, but Zeigler was getting into his stride, passionate about the Institute's research. They're also working on a variety of rice resistant to drought, he told me, and the Institute hosts the world's biggest seed bank for rice—more than 100,000 varieties in cold storage inside a vast vault.”

You can view the transcript of what was actually broadcasted in the segment, which included Bob and others.

Also note in photo #2, the NBC graphic misspelled Bob’s name (i.e., Ziegler instead of Zeigler). As Bob pointed out to me in his 4-hour IRRI Pioneer Interview (excerpts of which are now online), his name is often misspelled in this fashion. “I don’t understand why so many don’t know the basic rule that is ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘z’.”

Celebrating IRRI’s milestone 100,000th cross

IRRI family photo during the celebration of the Institute's 100,00th cross

On 29 November 2012, IRRI rice breeders marked a milestone in the Institute's mission to help feed the world—their 100,000th cross!

29Nov2012 100000 crossbA simple yet meaningful gathering marked the breeding milestone at the N.C. Brady Laboratory. At the observation, Glenn Gregorio, then deputy head of the Plant Breeding, Genetics, and Biotechnology Division, dubbed IRRI’s rice breeding work as a tedious way of matchmaking. “IRRI has been in existence for more than 50 years and, with the vast diversity at our disposal through the Genebank, we have been making about 2,000 crosses a year,” he added. “Our 100,000th—or IR100K—is a cross between the high-yielding NSICRc 214 and IR09M105, a high-nutrient variety (foreground of photo)."

I put together a 4-video playlist on YouTube, of which in one of them, Alvaro Pamplona, senior research manager, and Nestor Ramos, research technician, demonstrate how the 100,000th cross was made—as are all crosses at IRRI. Listen to a Michael Joyce podcast on Soundcloud. There is also a nice feature in the January-March issue of Rice Today.


IRRI birds in November

Bird Field Guide Cover
Black crowned Night Heron Collared Kingfisher - Todirhamphus chloris Birds 3 Pied Harrier Yellow Bittern - Ixobrychus sinensis Greater Painted snipe - Rostratula benghalensis Lesser Coucal - Centropus bengalensis Paddyfield Pipit - Anthus rufulus Spotted dove - Streptopelia chinensis







As I have mentioned in my last two blogs, the 209 hectares of rice fields on IRRI’s experiment farm form a mosaic patchwork of different crop stages and varying degrees of wetland habitats, which make them a bird paradise. For more general background on the birds of IRRI, see my September blog. Also, the very attractive and informative 93-species Guide to the birds of Philippine rice fields is now available via IRRI. Purchase a copy for only P250 or USD6.00 and then trek out to any Philippine rice field and see how many birds you can find and identify! It is fund and educational!

In the IRRI experiment fields, there is no one species that can be seen only in November, so I am featuring here eight birds that you can see, for sure, in November, but during many other months as well. You can find their descriptions in the field guide: Spotted dove (Streptopelia chinensis), Lesser Coucal (Centropus bengalensis), Collared Kingfisher (Todirhamphus chloris), Paddyfield Pipit (Anthus rufulus), Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis), Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus), and Greater Painted-snipe (Rostratula benghalensis).


About the Author

Gene Hettel

Gene Hettel

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

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