Last year, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and its partners released 44 new and improved rice varieties, taking the number to around a thousand since it was launched in 1960.
IRRI’s aim is to help farmers produce more rice with the same, or declining, amount of resources, and the 44 new types released in 2013 include nine salt-tolerant varieties in the Philippines, three flood-tolerant varieties in South Asia, and six in sub-Saharan Africa.
Free to air
“These are considered global public goods, so our partners are free to release these for farmers’ use or for more breeding work to suit local needs in their countries,” said Eero Nissila, head of the Philippines-based institute’s breeding division
Of the 44 new and improved rice varieties released in 2013, 21 were for the Philippines, six for Bangladesh, five for Myanmar, three for Nigeria, two each for Tanzania and India, and one each for Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mozambique, and Rwanda.
“We are excited over these varieties, especially those released in Nigeria. These are the fruits of many years of collaboration that I have personally been a part of during my posting at the Africa Rice Centre station in Nigeria,” said Glenn Gregorio, senior rice breeder at IRRI.
Returns on investment
An independent assessment by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research found that Southeast Asian rice farmers in three countries are harvesting an extra US$1.46 billion worth of rice a year as a result of the research work done by IRRI and its partners.
A 13% boost in yield gave returns of US$127 per hectare in southern Vietnam, US$76 in Indonesia and US$52 in the Philippines.
Similarly, a study commissioned by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation on the impact of investments in rice research suggested that a US$12 million investment in rice research has returned more than US$70 million in benefits to rice farmers and national economies in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
More than 50 years ago, a new and improved rice variety held back the tide of impending starvation and protected the world’s massive rice eating populations in Asia from the clutches of famine.
IR8, later dubbed "miracle rice," was a key driver of the Green Revolution. It was the first of what would become a steady stream of improved rice varieties from IRRI, which continues to be headquartered in the Philippines. Today, the Institute has 16 country offices spread out worldwide.