IRRI on Innovations in Rice Production

by | August 8, 2012

By Carita Chan

On July 23, 2012, Dr. Robert Zeigler, Director General and CEO of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) presented to a room of researchers and students at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. IRRI utilizes research and partnerships to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability.  As CGSD Program Associate Kye Baroang shared in an earlier blog post, IRRI’s cutting edge work in rice production techniques can only be effective if it is actually applied by farmers.  IRRI is actively working to link the political and social dimensions of agriculture to the development of new methods and technologies.

Dr. Zeigler highlighted the cultural and nutritional importance of rice, noting that as the primary staple for 50% of the world and 75% of the poor, “When rice prices rise, governments fall.” With dramatic increases in rice yields since the Green Revolution in Asia, however, Dr. Zeigler described how governments have become complacent. Largely due to reduced public sector investments in rice production, yield growth has begun to stagnate and rice prices have risen by 70% in less than three years.

Improved production practices and increased efficiency are necessary to simply maintain rice production at its present levels. IRRI is connecting farmers with agricultural research as well as services and financial products to improve their crop and business management.

The Nutrient Manager that Kye mentioned is one innovation aimed at delivering advice borne from research directly to farmers. The Nutrient Manager utilizes either web-based or interactive voice response systems to give recommendations to farmers on how and when to fertilize their fields. Farmers can create a farm profile by working with extension agents linked to the system or by simply calling a toll-free phone number and answering 10 to 12 questions. This process typically takes less than ten minutes and then the answers are transmitted to a cloud-based server, which generates advice that is sent back to the farmer via the web or SMS.  The Nutrient Manager, which may play a role in a future collaboration with CGSD, is currently being piloted in a number of countries.

IRRI is looking to develop a Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP), which will include standards for rice production, quantifiable targets, as well as decision-making tools. IRRI and its partners are developing a system to collect accurate information on rice production, supplies, and trends in real time. Having this information should facilitate policy advising and effective, timely technology deployment.  While the public sector is currently unable to deliver new technologies and services to farmers at the scale necessary, efforts such as the SRP and the informed policy environment it would enable will hopefully address critical barriers. Additionally, reversing the trend toward reduced public investment in rice production could be an important part of CGSD and IRRI’s collaboration on national-level policy advising for agriculture.

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