Over a 25-year period, Filipino farmers have gained an additional US$52 (Php 2,300) per hectare from using improved rice varieties derived from the breeding work of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
This finding came after the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) examined the benefits of investment in IRRI's plant breeding – the science behind improving rice varieties.
The study covered three major rice-producing countries in Southeast Asia – the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam. IRRI works with all three countries' agricultural research and extension systems to advance its improved rice and distribute it as new varieties to local farmers.
The Philippines, a rice-eating country, has mostly small rice farms, averaging 1.7 hectares, and rice is grown across different kinds of environments.
The country briefly achieved rice self-sufficiency in the 1970s, but was set back by different factors such as its location in the typhoon belt, limited land, and high population increase in succeeding decades.
Today, the Philippine government is taking steps to achieve rice self-sufficiency, and IRRI is working closely with its Philippine partners to achieve that.
In the Philippines, IRRI works closely with the Department of Agriculture, Philippines Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), and other partners to upscale potential new rice varieties. These varieties are tested to make sure that they suit specific conditions in the country, ensuring wide-scale adoption by farmers.
Observing adoption rates in the 1980s, the study described Filipino farmers as "rapid adopters" of improved rice varieties. This is evidenced by the 90% reach of modern varieties in the said decade, which continued through the 1990s. Adoption rates were maintained, indicating a sustained use of improved rice varieties.
“We estimate that 60% of the leading rice varieties in as much as 90% of the rice area harvested in the Philippines in the last 20 to 25 years could be traced to IRRI’s work,” said Dr. Eufemio Rasco, executive director of Philrice. “PhilRice has actively promoted the use of outstanding IRRI-developed varieties even after PhilRice started to release its own varieties.”
“Our special relationship with the Philippines, IRRI’s home for 50 years, is demonstrated best by the fruits of our research being reaped by Filipino rice farmers,” IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler said.
The ACIAR report notes that, just from IRRI’s breeding work alone, the Philippines gained an average annual benefit valued at $204 million.
“Investing in rice research and development undisputedly helps increase rice yields, which the Philippines is aiming to do with its Food Staples Self-Sufficiency Plan,” Dr. Zeigler said. “IRRI is committed to helping the Philippines achieve self-sufficiency and I am confident that the future holds even more opportunities for IRRI and the Philippines to work together.”
“Since 2008, we have been doing multienvironment varietal selection in the four provinces of Central Visayas – Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor – using the concept of participatory varietal selection,” said Dr. Jean Du, head of the Bohol Agricultural Promotion Center. “IRRI provided the materials for the project, and enabled the efficient implementation of this seed system.”
Dr. Du described the farmers' adoption of these newly-tested rice varieties as "fast". This, after seeing a rice variety, PSB Rc18-sub1 (a flood tolerant rice developed at IRRI), tested in 2009, now planted on a 100-ha rice farm in Bohol. “We observed the same rate of adoption of another submergence-tolerant rice tested in Negros Oriental in 2009 – it is now planted on an 18-ha rice farm.” she shares.
The most widely grown rice varieties in the country in the past 25 years were IR64, PSB Rc18 (Ala), and PSB Rc82 (Peñaranda), all bred by IRRI and nationally released in 1985, 1994, and 2000, respectively.
Despite the successes that IRRI had achieved and continue to achieve, there's still a lot of work that needs to get done and the Institute can’t do it alone. Funding plays a very important role on whether or not we could do more. This is where you come in.
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