LOS BAÑOS, Philippines - His Excellency Arjun Bahadur Thapa, secretary general of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and his colleagues are at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) this week to be acquainted with the Institute's research accomplishments and explore opportunities for further collaboration to improve food security in South Asia.
“South Asia, an important beneficiary of IRRI’s work, leads on global rice production, with India being the second largest rice producer and the first largest exporter in the world,” says Abdelbagi Ismail, who heads the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. “Nonetheless, some areas in the region still host high populations with extreme poverty and food insecurity."
“In fact, about 30% of the 700 million people in absolute poverty or with income of less than USD1.25 per day in all of Asia live in rice-growing areas in South Asia,” added Ismail. “About half of the rice growing areas in the region are rainfed and prone to flooding, drought, and soil salinity. On the other hand, these areas offer great potential for enhancing agricultural productivity in SAARC member countries.”
According to IRRI deputy director general Bruce Tolentino, “Real challenges with agriculture and continuing hunger occur in the region. While progress has been promising in some SAARC countries, such as India, large population segments in other countries have not been reached in terms of both food and health services.”
“We’ve discovered through STRASA that, in northern India, the benefits of stress-tolerant rice varieties have actually been enjoyed by women and marginalized groups, who have been—up to now—socially excluded,” added Tolentino. “So, there is a real need to speed up the process of making more of these new varieties available across the SAARC region.”
Recently, IRRI facilitated an unprecedented regional seed cooperation agreement that speeds up the release and dissemination of rice varieties to benefit farmers in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. “Rice varieties released in one country can now be released in other countries. This means that the other countries do not need to undergo the entire research and regulatory processes to benefit from these varieties,” says Tolentino.
IRRI officials will share the rationale and progress of this agreement, among many other initiatives and programs, with the SAARC delegation.
Tolentino is optimistic that SAARC will see the opportunities of working with IRRI and extend the agreement to its other member countries Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives.
Julian Lapitan, head of IRRI’s partnerships office, hopes that “a more productive and efficient partnership mechanism will contribute to fulfilling regional goals during discussions with SAARC.
“We are glad that the SAARC officials are here,” says Tolentino. “We will give them a sense of the kind of research that we do, not only for stress-tolerant rice but also for other initiatives and rice science in general. We welcome them to take a look of what we do and see how it can benefit all SAARC members.”
SAARC aims to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to improve their quality of life. It also targets to accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential.