In 2013, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners released 44 new and improved rice varieties, continuing the decades-long mission of using rice science to reduce hunger. Around half of the current global population—or about 3.5 billion people—relies on rice as a source of sustenance and livelihood.
Resilience to climate change is a big thrust of IRRI’s work in improving rice varieties that will help farmers produce more rice with the same, or declining, amount of resources. The 44 new types of rice released in 2013 include nine salt-tolerant varieties in the Philippines, three flood-tolerant varieties in South Asia, and six in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Overall, IRRI has released around a thousand improved rice varieties across 78 countries since its establishment in 1960,” said Eero Nissila, head of IRRI’s breeding division. “These are considered global public goods. Hence, our partners are free to release these for farmers’ use or for more breeding work to suit local needs in their countries.”
Of the 44 new and improved rice varieties released in 2013, 21 were in the Philippines, six in Bangladesh, five in Myanmar, three in Nigeria, two in Tanzania, two in India, and one each in Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mozambique, and Rwanda.
“We are excited over these varieties, especially those released in Nigeria. These are the fruits of many years of collaboration that I have personally been a part of during my posting at the Africa Rice Center station in Nigeria,” said Glenn Gregorio, senior rice breeder at IRRI. “IRRI worked hard and closely with national breeding programs, and we know that this will lead to more collaboration as demand for rice increases in sub-Saharan Africa.” Dr. Gregorio said.
Aside from tolerance of stresses, quality of rice is always a pressing requirement in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA). "Releasing these rice varieties in ESA, including the aromatic ones, is a step toward meeting the demand of the region," said IRRI scientist RK Singh. Dr. Singh coordinated IRRI's regional plant breeding activities in ESA.
An independent assessment by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) found that Southeast Asian rice farmers in three countries are harvesting an extra US$1.46 billion worth of rice a year as a result of the research work done by IRRI and its partners. A 13% boost in yield gave returns of $127 per hectare in southern Vietnam, $76 per hectare in Indonesia, and $52 per hectare in the Philippines.
Similarly, a study commissioned by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) on the impact of investments in rice research suggested that a $12 million investment in rice research has returned more than $70 million in benefits to rice farmers and national economies in four Asian countries. The countries covered in the study were Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
More than 50 years ago, a new and improved rice variety held back the tide of impending starvation and protected the world’s massive rice eating populations in Asia from the clutches of famine.
IR8, later dubbed "miracle rice," was a key driver of the Green Revolution. It was the first of what would become a steady stream of improved rice varieties from IRRI, which continues to be headquartered in the Philippines. Today, the Institute has 16 country offices spread out worldwide.