Tuesday, 7 February, 2023

IRRI-BRRI Relationship: Towards New Dimension

Jiban Krishna Biswas PhD

IRRI-BRRI Relationship: Towards New Dimension
Jiban Krishna Biswas PhD

The idea of doing something exclusively for rice in the style of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Mexico came into the thought of Forest F. Hill  (Agricultural Economist; Ford Foundation) when he was having coffee with J George Harrar (Agricultural Scientist; Rockefeller Foundation) in an outdoor café at Manila, Philippines, in the late 1950s. The rice yield across Asia including Bangladesh was then merely 1.4 tonnes/ha and the world population was in alarming upward trend to exceed six billion beyond 2000. Dr Hill was quite anxious about the fate of burgeoning billions long before he had the brainstorming with Dr Harrer at the Manila café. That is why he expressed his deep concern to the Ford Foundation Trustees in 1951 as: “at best the world food outlook for the decades ahead is grave, at worst, it is frightening”. The idea got a drive in a meeting at Ford Foundation at New York in 1958, where Dr. Harrar attended as luncheon guest. Towards the closing of the meeting, Dr Hill turned to Dr Harrar and said, “You know, George, someone should undertake to work with rice the way you Rockefeller Foundation people have with corn and wheat”. His final remark was, “We have some money and you have experience in conducting research in agriculture in the developing countries. We both are interested in doing what we can to help solve the world’s food problem. Why don’t we get together and see what we can do?” Finally, an institute devoted to rice called the International Rice Research Institute was established on April 14, 1960, at Los Banos, the Philippines to achieve the objectives as:


1) to conduct research on rice plant, on all phases of rice production, management, distribution and utilisation with a view to attaining nutritive, economic advantage or benefit for the people of Asia and the other world through improvement of quality and quantity of rice.


2) to develop and educate promising young scientists from Asia and the major rice-growing areas of the world along lines, connected with or relating to rice production, distribution and utilisation through resident and joint training programmes under the of well trained and distinguished scientists.


With its first rice variety IR8, IRRI extended its cooperation to the government of then East Pakistan.  The variety was introduced through Cereal Section of Agricultural Research Laboratory, Tejgaon, Dhaka in 1967 later emerged as an autonomous institute in 1970, designated as the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) after independence. IRRI first signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with BRRI in 1971. A Research and Training Project was launched in 1975. In 1991, IRRI and BRRI signed a six-year MOU to foster technical assistance and cooperation in research and training on rice and rice-based farming systems.  Since then, the two institutes are still in a tie just extending the MOU periodically. IRRI’s significant involvement with BRRI and Bangladesh as a whole in capacity development is quite praiseworthy. Since 1966, more than 1,100 scholars had short term and long term training from IRRI, Philippines. The long-term training was mainly MS and PhD programmes. These huge numbers of scholars contributed to research and development activities both at IRRI and at BRRI. Gradually, the BRRI scientists have learnt to be self-reliant having trained from IRRI and wholeheartedly they are used to acknowledge that. Now they are quite competent but of course, they need outside assistance to keep themselves updated.  Recently, in a roundtable conference at IRRI Dhaka office, Dr Nafish Meah, IRRI representative to South Asia has presented a paper on IRRI Bangladesh strategy. As per the representative IRRI-BRRI partnership yielded a lot of successes like the collection and maintenance of germplasms, access to desired breeding materials, the development of problem-oriented varieties, sustainable soil and crop management practices, appropriate mechanisation, and innovative post-harvest activities etc. BRRI directly has released 17 International Network of the Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER) materials as varieties, 34 varieties developed using at least a parent from IRRI source.


 Thus Bangladesh has a tremendous achievement in total rice production since 1971 till today. The total production of around 11 million metric tonnes in 1971 increased around three and a half times in 2014 and the trend is still moving forward; however, the growth rate has declined significantly. Dr Nafees has praised the recent achievement of BRRI and the GoB in rice production. But he has also expressed his concern how to attain sustainability in rice production beating so many challenges like adoption of innovative technologies to raise the productivity and profitability, minimising the yield gaps, intensification and diversification of rice-based production systems, commercialisation of rice farming, increasing the private sector participation and investment in the rice value chain, increasing resource use efficiency, expanding irrigation and mechanisation, delivering of new technologies smartly, responding market signals, adopting good agricultural practices for sustainability, minimising environmental footprints and developing resilience to climate change impacts etc.


 On behalf of BRRI authority, Kabir and his group consider the recent BRRI achievement as an integrated effort of the scientists, extension personnel and GoB.  According to their study, the country has yielded a clean rice (Chaul) growth rate of 0.34 million tonne (MT) year-1 during 2009 to 2013/14 in the country. In 2014/15, the country acquired a rice surplus of about 2MT. So the present concern is to maintain the current surplus in the days ahead. And the prime challenges BRRI considers now are increasing population, decreasing resources and increasing climate vulnerability. In addition to these, BRRI also considers some other hindrances like the shrinking of net cropped area, decreasing the availability of irrigation water, the problem of soil degradation etc. Smart technologies such as location specific variety, profitable cropping sequences, innovative cultural management practices and mechanisation coupled with smart dissemination are the prime considerations to overcome those obstacles. Ultimately all these interventions will help BRRI to accelerate the genetic rate of gain, minimising yield gap and curtailing the adoption lag of newly released variety to maintain the surplus as expected.  So the challenges and steps to overcome the challenges identified by the two institutes are basically not so different.


 Dr Nafis comprehends that the IRRI-BRRI collaboration has already been matured enough to think locally and act globally. He prefers that IRRI should act as a coordinator, facilitator, and catalyst international organisation. In fact, IRRI starts simply to deal with rice research and development. Now IRRI has to align its goal with the MDG, SDG etc. The recent goal of IRRI is to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the health of rice farmers and consumers, and ensure environmental sustainability of rice farming. I think, IRRI sometimes pretends like a corporate NGO as the institute has to commit to the donor to take care of the social issues like gender equality, women empowerment, child death reduction etc. etc. Since the birth of IRRI, the world has changed a lot and the rice world too. The preference of rice dishes in Africa and in the western world is in the increasing trend. Rice is not confined simply as rice agriculture only. It has extended is periphery as rice policy, rice-economy, rice-business, rice environment, rice-culture, rice-politics, rice-heritage, rice-health and so many things.


Therefore, only the public institutes and the institute like IRRI is not enough to deal with the whole issues of rice. That is why IRRI has started to share its responsibilities not only with the National Research Institutes (NARES) but also with universities, private companies, NGOs etc. IRRI initiated its stepping with some guiding principles as clear relevance to IRRI’s mission –


►    Must contribute to IRRI’s strategic goals and strategic plan
►    Enhance quality and impact of IRRI’s research
►    Transparent - equal opportunities for all private sector partners
►   Non-exclusivity
►   Avoid complex IP issues
►    Follow the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources
►    Adhere to national and international bio safety standards
►    No promotion of private sector products
►   Contribute to capacity building
In the changing context BRRI is also in progress to work with the private sectors and NGOs. Accordingly, BRRI expects the following supports from IRRI:
►   State of the art technical support
►   Human Resource Development with respect to the demand of the day
►    Development of Inter-institutional relationship in Bangladesh through BRRI


IRRI is in a better position with its classical research facilities. But she must share her knowledge without any reservation so that once in near future BRRI would acquire excellent research capabilities.


 In conclusion, I must say, BRRI loves to work with IRRI as a global partner with a win-win approach. So, not the leadership of either of the side but mutual understanding would help to achieve the sustainable food security not only for Bangladesh but for the rest of the rice world also.


The writer is the Director General (PRL), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute