LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – November 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of IR8; the world’s first high-yielding rice variety and the first rice variety released by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
IR8 sparked the Green Revolution in Asia—a phenomenon that saved the region from famine in the 1960s and 70s. This scientific innovation was soon followed by other high-yielding varieties that each offered increasing vigor and resistance to pests and disease—the major scourges of that period. These varieties were also adaptable where they were most urgently needed: the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar (then Burma), Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the biggest of them all—India.
A series of global events will take place in New Delhi on November 21 and at IRRI headquarters in the Philippines on November 29 to commemorate this milestone in food security.
In the 1950s, Asia was on the brink of famine and millions of people were in danger of starving. In 1960, IRRI was established with one pressing mission: to develop high-yielding rice varieties.
Thus began intensive research and breeding work that sought ultimately to enable the production of more—much, much more—rice than previously possible in order to stave off predicted mass food shortages across the continent.
IR8 is the first offspring of these efforts. It is a semidwarf rice and was the result of a cross between Peta, a tall vigorous variety from Indonesia, and Dee-geo-woo-gen, a dwarf variety from Taiwan.
In the 1960s, average yield in the Philippines was at about a ton per hectare. In initial tests at the IRRI fields in Los Baños, IR8 produced an average of 9.4 tons per hectare.
In the business of growing food, this breakthrough is no small deal. The Philippine press dubbed the grain a befitting “Miracle Rice.”
IR8 and ‘Jaya’ in India
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a seven-point strategy that aims to double rice farmers’ income and reduce rural poverty by 2022 through innovations in food and farming.
This strategy will propel India’s vibrant rice sector onto another promising trajectory, made possible by a rich history in plant breeding innovation.
In the late 1960s, IR8 was introduced in India at about the same time another variety, ‘Jaya,’ was released. Quick field evaluations and rapid promotion of the two varieties by the Indian government, with the help of some pioneering Indian farmers, started the country’s own Green Revolution in rice.
Jaya, bred from an IRRI-introduced variety and an indica variety, is a high-yielding semidwarf rice that produces long, bold grains—preferred qualities of the Indian palate. It was a product of intensive breeding under the All-India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project (AICRIP), a collaboration between India and IRRI launched by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 1965.
The event on November 21 will celebrate this rich history and features a panel of global experts to speak on the future of the rice industry.
Back where it all started
In the Philippines, where IR8 and succeeding high-yielding rice types had their first real-world tests, the 50th year celebrations will be held in a Farmers’ and Partners’ Day at the IRRI headquarters in Los Baños on November 29.
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol will be presenting the Philippine government’s rice program in a session. The Philippine Department of Agriculture is a staunch partner of IRRI in its mission and in the IR8 commemoration.
Peter Jennings, who led the breeding team that developed IR8, will be coming to speak about IR8 and the revolution it catalyzed.