A US$12 million investment in rice research has returned more than $70 million in benefits to rice farmers and national economies in four Asian countries, according to a new report.
The report looked at a selection of natural resource management technologies rolled out by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as part of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC) mandate in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It aimed to see whether the technologies delivered benefits such as increased productivity for rice farmers, improved livelihoods and food security, and bolstered social cohesion.
“We greatly appreciate the evidence of impact provided in this report,” said Carmen Thoennissen, senior advisor, Global Program Food Security, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Commissioned by SDC to assess the effectiveness of its international research programs, the report is the first to look at natural resource management technologies on an international scale, encompassing several countries. Titled, “Meta-Impact Assessment of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC),” it shows a sixfold return on SDC investment over 16 years. This is likely a conservative return estimate since only a subset of the farming technologies funded was assessed.
Moreover, by 2016, the return on investment could skyrocket to 25 times the original investment.
“It substantiates the effectiveness of SDC’s focus and IRRI’s work on natural resource and crop management research, its ‘global public good nature,’ and will definitely guide SDC’s future investment on system productivity enhancement to sustainably close yield gaps,” added Thoennissen.
Dr. Rod Rejesus of the North Carolina State University and lead author of the report said, “In the case of direct seeding, for example, in Bangladesh, we saw that farmers were able to avoid the monga months or hunger months because the IRRC introduced a shorter rice production cycle so they could harvest earlier.”
Rejesus explained that, in another case in the Philippines, a lack of water to irrigate rice crops was a common issue for downstream farmers in Tarlac, Philippines. But, when farmers adopted the system of alternate wetting and drying as recommend by the IRRC, they reduced their water use by up to 30% without compromising yield.
“This was because they didn't need to keep their fields continuously flooded anymore,” Rejesus said. “They could just check when their fields needed irrigating through a field water tube and so it also saves them irrigation costs.”
Led by IRRI, the IRRC provides a framework for partnership between national agricultural research and extension systems and the private sector in 11 Asian countries to facilitate the adoption of technologies that help rice farmers address natural resource management challenges. Since IRRC started in 1997, it has benefited some 1.2 million farmers through rice production technologies and capacity building with different countries.
"We're immensely grateful to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which provided funding support to the IRRC. Without their support, all of those positive impacts would not have taken place," says Dr. Grant Singleton, senior scientist at IRRI and the IRRC coordinator.
"The IRRC, no doubt, was a good catalyst for natural resource management impacts in Asia. This was enabled through cross-country learning and forging of partnerships.
"Through them also, IRRC was able to help countries identify their rice research needs or extension priorities, and then IRRC made sure to help them achieve those.
"These learnings point to our recommendation for agricultural research and extension organizations, especially those involved in natural resource management technology development and dissemination, to strongly examine the value of a ‘consortium-based approach’ and consider it in their operations," said Dr. Singleton.
We would also like to thank IRRI's donors who provide us with direct support, and our other donors, who support our work through the Global Rice Science Partnership, which is the CGIAR Research Program on Rice, via their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.