The massive benefits of global rice research

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The CGIAR, a global agriculture research partnership, recently announced a milestone in the fight against poverty through food security.

With an increase in funding from $500 million in 2008 to $1 billion in 2013, donors have demonstrated confidence in CGIAR’s ability to fight hunger, enhance nutrition, and improve the lives of billions around the world. The $1 billion in funding will help finance CGIAR’s 16 global research programs, one of which is the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), the CGIAR Research Program for Rice. Since its launch in December 2010, GRiSP has been steadily delivering significant results.

Southeast Asian rice farmers are already harvesting an additional US$1.46 billion worth of rice a year as a result of global rice breeding and innovations that help them manage their crops better. In the same region, there is a demonstrated 25–43% return on investment upon delivery of improved rice management technologies. New water management technologies can reduce the use of precious irrigation water by 10–30% while reducing methane emissions by 35–75%.

Moreover, farmers are becoming more resilient to the effects of climate change by growing drought-, flood-, heat-, and salt-tolerant rice varieties. For example, in South Asia alone, more than 4 million farmers are already using flood-tolerant varieties. And, recently published research suggests that those who suffer most from societal neglect and climate change are benefiting from this technology. These are but a few of GRiSP’s many accomplishments for over the last 3 years.

“GRiSP represents—for the first time ever—a single strategic blueprint for rice research on a global scale,” says Bas Bouman, GRiSP director. “It will extend the positive impact of rice research in ways we only dreamed of just a few years ago.” Around 3.5 billion people—half of the world’s population—depend on rice as a food staple and source of livelihood.

GRiSP has laid out concrete and measurable key impacts to benefit the poor, the hungry, and the environment in the next 25 years. “By 2035, GRiSP aims to lift 150 million people above the US$1.25 poverty line and alleviate malnourishment for 70 million people,” says Dr. Bouman. “And, by 2020, in Africa, GRiSP will boost 11 million people above the US$1.25 poverty line while 5.6 million undernourished people will reach caloric adequacy.”

“As the largest innovative program on rice, GRiSP mobilizes the best scientists in the world and involves the widest range of stakeholders in developing and disseminating technologies,” says Dr. Bouman.

"Our traditional varieties could not survive submergence, so the introduction of IRRI's flood-tolerant Swarna Sub1 for testing holds big promise for our farmers in the south," he added.

More than 900 organizations are working together to help the GRiSP mission. It is led by IRRI in collaboration with other institutes such as the Africa Rice Center, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, the French Research Institute for Development, and the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences.

“Working together with partners around the globe is now a necessity for a more efficient way of finding solutions to today’s challenges in rice production,” says Robert Zeigler, director general at the International Rice Research Institute. “For every 1 billion people added to the world’s population, 100 million tons of rice need to be produced each year with less land, less water, and less labor but in a sustainable way. Moreover, it must be ready to withstand the threats brought about by climate change.

“And, it always pays to invest in rice research and development because for every US$20 of investment, one person is lifted out of poverty. This clearly shows an efficient development investment that has a high return in poverty eradication,” he adds.

Dr. Zeigler notes that “the transformation of Thailand, Vietnam, and India, among other countries on becoming leaders in the rice industry, could not have occurred without a revolution in rice cultivation. Now, with GRiSP’s concretely laid-out vision of success, innovative and holistic approach, and the concerted efforts of hundreds of institutions that share a similar vision, the future will be transformed as the lives of the poor are improved around the world.”

He is hopeful that, “through GRiSP, we can advance rice science and its application to reduce poverty and hunger, improve human health and nutrition, and create a better environment."

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