IRRI in 2015—celebrating achievement and recommitting to our mission
As IRRI’s incoming director general, I am in the unusual position of writing a message for the 2015 Annual Report when Bob Zeigler provided inspiring leadership during the first eleven and a half months of the year. On 15 December, Bob concluded his outstanding tenure as director general for over a decade, during which time he guided the institute through a significant period of expansion and presided over resurgences in its science and delivery agenda. Bob left the institute with a sustained set of accolades, but none greater than receiving the Order of Sikatuna from the Government of the Philippines, the highest award available to a foreign national. (Learn more about Bob via his IRRI Pioneer Interview.)
For most of 2015, it was my honor to serve as deputy director general for research. So, I am able to comment on the wonderful research and delivery outcomes achieved by the institute. Indeed, 2015 was a year rich in scientific achievement, in building and consolidating partnerships, and in delivering on our capacity-building objectives.
There were considerable scientific achievements, with 243 refereed articles and book chapters published in international peer-reviewed journals and scientific books. Justice cannot be done to recognizing the quality of this collective body of research in a short message, but I draw attention to three papers to exemplify the quality of the overall effort:
First, the cover story article in the September issue of Nature Plants announced the genetic basis of the AG1 gene, which enhances anaerobic germination tolerance in rice. This work unlocks a mechanism for breeding rice varieties that can survive early flooding or that can be sowed into waterlogged fields, enhancing yields, and suppressing weeds.
A second landmark article, in Nucleic Acids Research, was on the publication of the SNP-Seek database from the 3,000 genomes project, providing the world's rice science community with a fantastic new resource for accelerating genetic studies in rice.
And third, a transdisciplinary group of scientists from IRRI and partner institutions published their work in Nature‘s Scientific Reports describing how they succeeded in increasing iron and zinc levels in rice through biofortification—a breakthrough in the global fight against micronutrient deficiency or “hidden hunger.” Although this article was published in January 2016, I wasn’t going to wait a full year to announce it.
Two projects involving the optimization of inputs to rice farming gained considerable attention during the year. The Crop Manager project provided more than 300,000 farmers in the Philippines access to optimized crop production recommendations through the internet and mobile phone technology. The project is now being rolled out in Vietnam, Indonesia,
Bangladesh, and several states in India. During the year, IRRI worked closely with the United Nations Environment Programme and a wide range of private sector partners to accelerate the Sustainable Rice Platform, which offers a range of indices through which the sustainability of rice production practices can be measured and defined.
IRRI performed in an outstanding manner despite some significant challenges. The CGIAR resolved to embark on a second round of reforms, setting in motion a complex process to restructure its governance setup and operational entities. Unfortunately, funding available to the CGIAR decreased significantly in 2015 and IRRI had to make significant workforce reductions. Despite these setbacks, our research and delivery efforts pressed on with vigor and accomplishment. In a very positive development, a first-stage proposal for refunding of the CGIAR Research Program on Rice (also known as the Global Rice Science Partnership) proceeded and received very strong positive reviews ahead of a second-round approval process in 2016.
A real highlight during the year was the April visit of Bill Gates to IRRI headquarters. Bill spent a day with us and took a closer look at our research programs. It was a great experience to behold the breadth of his knowledge on rice as well as the enthusiasm of his engagement with our scientists. The support provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors is fundamental in enabling the institute to bring critical technologies, submergence-tolerant germplasm for example, to more farmers faster. In his blog, Bob Zeigler gives us a unique perspective on “the visit.”
I also want to make special mention of the visit to IRRI of Japan’s Imperial Couple in January 2016, which underscored Japan's commitment to world food security and the close and enduring relationship between the country and IRRI.
IRRI continued its very strong regional engagement program, assisting Myanmar and Vietnam in developing strategies to enhance their rice sectors. IRRI also joined with India to celebrate the 50th year of the Directorate of Rice Research (renamed during its jubilee year as the Indian Institute of Rice Research) and the annual meeting of its All-India Coordinated Rice Improvement Project. This milestone highlighted the work of IRRI in India and the wonderful contributions of Indian scientists to IRRI over the years.
As an example of our commitment to mainstreaming gender, IRRI continued to work in 2015 with local partners in India, such as Pradan and the Dhan Foundation. These efforts have enhanced a women-led technology delivery model in Odisha. Also see Her Story, a fantastic compilation of recent gender stories involving IRRI from 2015 and previous years for International Women’s Day 2016.
IRRI is in great shape to deliver on its mission over the coming decade. We have a well-stocked pipeline of discoveries and innovations. We have a wonderfully talented and committed workforce, engaged across the rice world. We have built the world's most comprehensive international rice genebank. We have strong and enduring partnerships and the backing of committed donors. As an institute, we recognize that it is imperative that we act as quickly and effectively as we can to develop and deliver the technologies needed to enhance the lives of millions of farmers and consumers in urban and rural areas who rely on rice for sustenance and livelihood. To recommit to this challenge in 2016 will be our honor and privilege.
You can find here in this visually pleasing package the details and backstories on what I have mentioned and other items summarized in this year’s annual report.
Here are the year’s milestones gleaned from IRRI history timeline
In 2015, Robert S. Zeigler, an internationally respected plant pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in agricultural research in the developing world, retired after completing more than 10 years as IRRI director general—the second longest tenure behind only that of the Institute’s founding DG, Robert F. Chandler, Jr. (1960-72). As DG, Bob was a passionate spokesperson on a wide range of issues that affect rice growers and consumers worldwide.
Bob had a productive research career on diseases of rice that focused on host-plant resistance, pathogen and vector population genetics, and their interactions to develop durable resistance and sustainable disease management practices. As Bob’s career moved increasingly towards research management, his interests expanded to include broader crop management issues, the social forces shaping the agricultural environment, and finally the economic and political arena that frames food security and poverty issues. He has published more than 100 scientific works in these areas and often serves as an expert resource on rice security in the regional and global media.
In August 2015, proclaiming himself an introvert, Bob gave a wide-a ranging IRRI pioneer interview with his customary wit and candor. In addition to his early years, he covered his professional life, which spanned time spent in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the United States.
During the interview, which can be found online, he equated the staff of IRRI as being the wheels of a brilliant machine.
Human Resource Service’s goal is to recruit and retain dynamic people that possess the competencies and skills required for IRRI to implement its research strategy while maintaining gender and diversity balance across all levels.
We are committed to the development and well-being of our national and international staff, which exceed 1,100 worldwide. We have more than 1,040 nationally recruited staff and 138 globally recruited staff in 10 different locations in Asia and Africa.
IRRI’s workplace thrives on diversity and 35 nationalities are represented in our staff group, all working to support IRRI’s mission globally. We are particularly proud to be an employer that values gender equality: 41% of all our staff worldwide and 36% of our HQ nationally recruited staff are women and we strive to improve these further.
IRRI undertook a workforce adjustment and re-structured part of its Research Division into the Plant Breeding Division and the Genetics and Biotechnology Division. We also moved to an on-line performance management system, My Performance Plans, Appraisal and Development, covering the full process from workplans to mid/year-end reviews and identifying training/development plans for all staff. Performance-related management information reports can now be easily generated, reducing staff time and costs.
The year proved to be a busy year for senior level recruitment where the new Director General, Deputy Director General – Research, and a Division Head, were globally selected along with several other senior positions.
Despite CGIAR Fund budget cuts in 2015, IRRI’s financial position remains relatively stable, with total assets of USD 80.36 million compared with USD 99.71 million in 2014. This drop of USD 19.35 million is offset by a corresponding drop of USD 18.17 million in liabilities. The liquidity and long-term stability indicators continue to remain above CGIAR benchmarks. IRRI had a net deficit of USD 1.18 million resulting from a surplus of USD 1.01 million on normal operations that was offset by one-time costs of USD 2.19 million (workforce adjustments and other planned investments). In 2015, IRRI’s grant revenue was USD 92.02 million, which includes USD 8.10 million of CGIAR GRiSP Windows 1 - 2 funds for our partners—AfricaRice and CIAT.
IRRI continues to successfully attract significant new investments to further its mission as well as to help cover gaps due to CGIAR Fund budget cuts in 2015 and likely additional cuts in 2016.
Training is a powerful strategy for creating competent individuals and institutions. By supporting men and women to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills, they can advance the mission of eradicating hunger and poverty through sustained increases in rice productivity.
In 2015, IRRI hosted 338 scholars (168 males, 170 females) from 33 countries in Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
The Training Center conducted 27 short courses on rice production, plant breeding, language and communication, and other technical subjects attended by 421 trainees from 33 countries in Asia, Africa, Australia, North and Latin America and Europe. In-country training programs for farmers, technicians, researchers, and others conducted across the globe were attended by 18,079 people (about 45% female).
Significant training activities for 2015