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[TALLINN, ESTONIA] A new initiative to provide rice breeders across the Asia Pacific region with advanced technologies is expected to help improve crop yields, sustainability and profitability in the vital agricultural sector.
‘Rice Action Agenda,’ introduced by the The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for the 16-member countries of the Council for Partnership on Rice Research in Asia, calls on parties to share germplasm, collaborate on investments, and exchange rice-breeding techniques.
Bruce Tolentino, deputy director-general of the Philippine-based IRRI, says the new agenda is “crucial to developing the rice sectors” of the participating countries. He says the new agenda was a response to concerns about diminishing rice stocks in India and Thailand — the two top global exporters.
IRRI noted in February that the combined rice stocks of India and Thailand were set to decline by almost three-quarters by the third quarter of 2016 as compared to 2013 numbers, mostly due to environmental reasons such as droughts.
“Fears of another rice crisis early this year was the impetus for the Rice Action Agenda,” Tolentino tells SciDev.Net.
Under a 10-point action plan the agenda will introduce superior, higher yield rice varieties; upgrade rice research and breeding pipelines; increase research into global rice varieties; invest in rice education and increase the sustainability of rice cultivation systems.
The plan also calls for reducing crop losses using mechanised technologies; reforming policies to increase production efficiency; increasing investments in agricultural infrastructure; strengthening food security for consumers and working to implement the ASEAN Rice Breeding Initiative. IRRI proposes that participants take advantage of three programmes — the CGIAR Research Programme on Rice, the Sustainable Rice Platform, and the ASEAN+3 Rice Genetics and Breeding Platform. The last includes a suite of tools for fast-tracking germplasm development, including genotyping and molecular markers, high-throughput phenotyping, and breeding informatics.
Tolentino notes that participating countries are expected to carry out the new Rice Action Agenda using internal funding sources. “The goal is for each of the member countries to adopt the recommendations into each of their own national rice-sector strategies and fund implementation from their own fiscal budgets.”
Rajeev Varshney, a geneticist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru, India, tells SciDev.Net that rice is the “most important crop for food as well as nutrition security in Asian countries.”
According to Varshney, the agenda is a “great opportunity to bring the entire value chain of actors together." By combining the various programmes proposed in the plan, participants should be able to “make the rice sector stronger.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

This article was made possible with support from Monsanto.