IRRI aims to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability of rice farming. We do these through collaborative research, partnerships, and the strengthening of the national agricultural research and extension systems, or NARES, of the countries we work in.
My first full year as Director General of IRRI has been a time of transition and the implementation of a change agenda to position IRRI as a vibrant and dynamic leader in the research for development sphere.
We have been fortunate to welcome a series of new faces to our organization. Most notably has been the arrival in March 2016 of Dr. Jacqueline Hughes as Deputy Director General for Research. Dr. Hughes brings to IRRI a wealth of experience in leadership in research for development in Africa and Asia, along with personal expertise in plant pathology. Among our many other new team members, each of them is bringing an impressive skill set and capacities to drive IRRI’s programs forward as well as new energy and ideas from which I know IRRI will benefit!
Our steadfast roles as a steward of the world’s largest collection of rice genetic resources, a catalyst for food and agriculture innovation, capacity generator to national programs, and as a global clearinghouse for reliable and readily available information on the rice sector has never been clearer. However, we are not an organization to rest on our laurels. IRRI is constantly reviewing its direction and priorities and rejuvenating our programs. In late 2016, we completed the planning phase for IRRI Education. Benefitting from the legacy of the IRRI Training Centre, IRRI Education will provide a customer-focused and demand-driven suite of educational programs that capitalize on IRRI’s expertise in rice research, agriculture extension, and rice sector policy.
Supporting our research agenda, we opened our new state-of-the-art Genetic Resources Seed Processing Laboratory. The facility will increase the capacity and speed at which seeds are prepared for entry into the International Rice Genebank for more efficient use by all of our partners.
While our institutional focus at IRRI is on delivering impact, our underlying science must be excellent and I am delighted our scientific publication record continued to be strong, particularly in high-impact journals such as Nature’s Scientific Reports, Plant Physiology, and Nature Genetics. This year resulted in a bumper harvest of rice research publications and presentations by IRRI scientists involving around 235 journal articles, as well as a host of seminars, reports, and books and book chapters.
IRRI also continued to be a trusted brand among our country donors and partners. We advanced several key relationships with celebrations and milestones such as the visit of the Emperor and Empress of Japan, the signing of new Host Country Agreements with Cambodia and Tanzania, the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and capacity-building activities with Indonesia, South Korea, and Vietnam.
At the same time, we successfully developed and secured support for the new RICE CGIAR Research Program (CRP). Equipped with a new name, the second phase of the CRP will build on the celebrated accomplishments of the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP)—phase one of the RICE CRP. In the first phase, which ran from 2011 to 2016, GRiSP successfully continued germplasm development, productions systems research, and socio-economic analysis. It also added a sharper focus on prioritizing research against fore sighting, the measurement of technology adoption and its impact, and the formation of globally connected teams to speed the development and deployment of solutions for target beneficiaries.
The CRPs have been the most tangible and successful result of the CGIAR reform process, bringing together Centers and partners to address common goals, bringing to “research for development” the critical mass and scale to tackle the big challenges confronting the world.
In July 2016, the CGIAR’s Constitution was amended and replaced with the Charter of the CGIAR System Organization in a significant reform process. The CGIAR System Organization and the CGIAR System Council provide governance to the CGIAR System and assume responsibilities of the former Fund Council and Consortium Board. IRRI supports this restructuring and will continue to work with CGIAR in advancing agri-food science and innovation to promote the economic productivity, equality, and nutritional status of poor people in the face of climate change and other challenges.
In January and again in March, I met with the Director General of AfricaRice, Harold Roy-Macauley, and the Director General of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Ruben Echeverría, at Los Baños and then at CIAT headquarters in Palmira, Colombia. We had a great opportunity at each site to learn in detail from rice researchers about the current issues related to climate research in each of the regions in which we work. I’m confident that IRRI and our two CGIAR sister centers will continue to work together across our common agenda and particularly around the mitigation and adaptation to climate change as it pertains to the rice sector.
Finally, in 2016, we took advantage of a number of opportunities to engage with partners and stakeholders to advance key conversations about the future of the global rice sector.
In August, during the 7th International Crop Science Congress (ICSC) in Beijing, we had a great opportunity to speak with researchers, policy advisors, and representatives from numerous agriculture ministries about the importance of helping farmers reduce their susceptibility to climate change-related risks—whether that means providing them with highquality climate-smart rice varieties or helping them move away from subsistence farming through better access to markets in order to raise their resiliency.
In November, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of IR8 (the rice variety that jumpstarted the Green Revolution), with functions in India, where we were joined by World Food Prize winners Gurdev Khush and M.S. Swaminathan; and in the Philippines, where pioneer breeder Peter Jennings, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, and more than 300 farmers travelled to Los Baños to see our work up close. While we toasted the past, it was also an opportune time to project forward and consider the future needs of the global rice sector and the role IRRI and its many partners could play in that future.
Amid all of our accomplishments, most importantly, we have maintained our momentum through difficult times in some of the societies in which we work. This was particularly the case in Burundi and Bangladesh in 2016. I want to pay homage to our passionate and fiercely committed staff members who have always found ways to prevail, even when there is uncertainty, instability, and troubling events, even danger, on their doorstep.
As we look to 2017, there are exciting possibilities ahead. We will be upgrading key facilities and support functions in Los Baños and in-country sites. We will be continuing the evolution of our research agenda in 16 countries across the rice-producing world in order to meet the needs of the next decade, all within the framework of a new Strategic Plan to be rolled out in the first half of 2017.
On 29 November 2016, farmers, scientists, research and funding partners, and members of the diplomatic community gathered at the IRRI headquarters to celebrate the 50th year of IR8’s world debut. IR8, the world’s first modern rice variety, was developed by scientists at IRRI in the early 1960s. The variety was first introduced in the Philippines and India in 1966 marking the beginning of the Green Revolution in rice. Popularly known as the “miracle rice,” it is believed to have saved many regions of Asia from famine.
But IR8 made its greatest impact in India. In 1961, India was on the brink of a massive famine. With the widespread adoption of IR8, India’s average rice output tripled to 6 tons per hectare by the mid-1990s. India has always been at the forefront of the Green Revolution. Once dependent on foreign food aid, India became a successful rice producer and is now the world’s leading rice exporter. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research and IRRI celebrated the golden anniversary of the world’s first high-yielding rice variety.
The celebration of the 50th anniversary of rice variety IR8 was also very timely for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and its partners in Latin America. The variety’s release impacted the evolution of rice breeding programs, the development of rice varieties that have been released since then, and agronomic crop management in the region.
"When people talk about IR8, my mind tends to go back to the very beginning of IRRI. IRRI started with the audacious objective of improving rice yield and the wellbeing of farmers. It had a very small number of staff, but all very brilliant and excellent in what they did. That team came up with IR8, which laid the foundation for what had become a world-class institution."
Dr. Peter Jennings
IRRI’s first rice breeder and a member of the team that developed IR8
The Royal Government of Cambodia and IRRI celebrated 30 years of working together to secure the country’s food and grow its rice sector. As part of the celebration, IRRI Director General Matthew Morell and Cambodian Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Aff airs and International Cooperation H.E. Ouch Borith signed an agreement to further intensify the growth of the country’s rice sector through scientifi c research and training.
Morell said he looks forward to a stronger partnership as Cambodia’s rice sector continues to grow in the midst of enormous challenges such as climate change, continuing population growth, and dwindling natural resources.
Collaboration between the two parties was formalized in 1986, but IRRI’s work to support the country’s rice production started much earlier. In the early 1970s, IRRI staff collected samples of various rice types across Cambodia.
Duplicates of the samples were deposited in the International Rice Genebank at IRRI for safekeeping. These were later repatriated in the 1980s and enabled Cambodian farmers—who lost their rice seeds during the strife that gripped the country in the 1970s—to till their lands and grow rice again.
"The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and IRRI have had a productive partnership for the last 30 years, enabling Cambodia to produce enough rice to satisfy local demand and also become an exporter."
H.E. Yim Chhay Ly
Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister
In 2016, IRRI’s Training Center went through major changes. Dr. Noel Magor, former head of the center, undertook new duties, that of leading the Impact Acceleration Unit and being the IRRI Bangladesh representative. Dr. Peter Brothers was appointed as head of the center, which has been renamed as IRRI Education.
The work of the unit is also being extended. Previously the unit generally undertook training work in terms of grants received by IRRI. This meant that students would be invited to attend courses fully funded by the IRRI grant. In addition to maintaining such activities, IRRI Education also devised a portfolio of courses that will be offered for students who are self-funded. The portfolio contains course offerings in science, best practices in farming, and leadership. Market assessment studies indicated interest in the courses from both the public and private sectors.
In terms of training performance over 2016, the Training Center delivered 24 short courses with a total attendance of 355 students (216 male and 139 female), from 43 different countries. The Center also supports the IRRI Scholars program, in which PhD and MS students come from their universities to undertake research at IRRI supervised by IRRI scientists. In 2016, there were 303 such Scholars at IRRI (137 male and 166 female), from 73 universities in 29 countries. In-country training programs for farmers, technicians, researchers, and others conducted through different IRRI projects around the world were attended by 33,293 people (about 47% female).
Despite CGIAR Fund budget cuts in 2016, IRRI’s fi nancial position remains stable, with total assets of USD 78.47 million compared with USD 80.36 million in 2015. This drop of USD 1 .90 million is off set by a corresponding increase in liabilities and decrease in net assets. The liquidity and long-term stability indicators continue to remain above CGIAR benchmarks. IRRI had a net deficit of USD 2. 67 million.
In 2016, IRRI’s grant revenue was USD 65.76 million, which includes USD 5.29 million of CGIAR GRiSP Windows 1 and 2 funds for our partners, AfricaRice and CIAT. IRRI continues to successfully attract signifi cant new investments to further its mission as well as to help cover gaps due to CGIAR Fund budget cuts in 2016.
The role of Human Resource Services is critical in ensuring that IRRI has a high-performing and engaged workforce to carry out its research strategy while fostering a work environment that encourages innovation and creativity and promotes health and wellness, gender equality, diversity, and work-life balance.
As part of continuing eff orts to improve internal communications, HR modernized its web presence to maximize use of ‘e-communications’ and promote positive workplace relations and employee well-being.
IRRI created a new division, Integrative Impact, to house the trans-divisional and cross-regional disciplines within one division. They will work with and across the Social Sciences, Genetics and Biotechnology, Crop and Environmental Sciences, and Plant Breeding Divisions.
The year yet again proved busy for senior level recruitment where the director of Operations, heads of IRRI Education and the Communication Unit, and IRRI’s Southeast Asia representative, along with several other senior positions, were recruited.