IRRI to get permanent funding; international rice conference kicks off

Tarra Quismundo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 15 2018 11:26 AM | Updated as of Oct 15 2018 04:23 PM

SINGAPORE - The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the world’s premier rice science organization, is set to receive permanent funding to support its initiatives towards ending world hunger.

IRRI, based in Los Baños, Laguna, is set to sign an agreement with Germany-based non-profit the Crop Trust for a guaranteed annual funding of $1.4 million on Tuesday, World Food Day, also the second day of the 5th International Rice Congress (IRC) here.

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“This is fantastic news for the future of rice research,” said IRRI Director General Matthew Morell in a statement.

“The Crop Trust funding enables IRRI to focus on using its large and diverse rice collection to benefit the world,” he said.

The funding will come from Crop Trust’s endowment fund, established in 2004 “to provide sustainable, long-term financial support to the world’s most important food and agriculture gene banks.”

“This is a landmark moment for IRRI and for the Crop Trust. At a time when many donors have increasingly complex demands on their resources, it’s important that the world’s crop collections are safe, secure and the gene banks functioning effectively,” said Marie Haga, Crop Trust Executive Director.

The funding will initially cover “essential” IRRI gene bank operations from 2019 to 2023, “including conservation, regeneration and distribution of its cultivated and wild seed collections” IRRI said.

Under the agreement, IRRI will also “provide expert advice to five national gene banks to help their crop conservation efforts.”

The pact will be renewed every five years “into the future,” IRRI said.

The Crop Trust is hoping that IRRI will be just the first of many significant global gene banks to receive perpetual funding from the organization.

IRRI has the world’s largest rice collection, with 136,000 varieties of the staple consumed by more than 3 billion people around the world. It has been at the forefront of rice research, including the development of high-yielding and climate-resilient varieties such as “scuba rice,” which can withstand submergence in floods for up to two weeks.

At the opening of the IRC here Monday, officials from global agriculture and research organizations, as well as host Singapore, reaffirmed their commitment to ending world hunger in symbolic rites where they pressed the “sustainability button.”

Some 1,500 participants, including public and private sector representatives from 40 countries, turned up for what is considered “the Olympics of rice science,” where participants will engage in three days of discussions on innovations in rice production and trade, and other developments in agriculture.

In opening the conference, Morell emphasized the need for governments, the academe, research institutions, and the public and private sectors to work together towards addressing the threat of climate change to food security.

He cited the need to “recognize that transformation of the rice sector cannot be accomplished by any one rice research organization or the public or private sector alone.”

Morell added that IRRI continues to engage in “catalytic” activities that could lead to the “discovery, validation and implementation” of rice innovation to benefit farmers and consumers, as population increase continues to strain the world’s food resources.

In his speech, Gilbert Houngbo, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, called for investment in rural transformation as a means to address the risk of extreme hunger in impoverished parts of the world.

He cited the threat of droughts, floods and pest diseases to crops, further aggravated by climate change.

“Climate change is now magnifying these risks. The impact on small farmers, who often have no resources with which to cope, could be severe unless they are able to adapt,” he said.

He said it was “essential” to help small farmers double their agriculture production and, hence, their income by 2030, as envisioned under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“If we are to achieve SDGs, if we are to end poverty and double small holders’ production and income by 2030, we need not only to innovate but for our ideas to be implemented and to be scaled up,” he said.

“To feed the world sustainably, we need rural areas to become places where new ideas are incubated and grown. Only the new and innovative approach with small holders at the center can deliver the rural transformation we are looking for,” he said.