Author: Kelli Rogers
Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Philippine Statistics Authority.
BANGKOK — At the International Rice Research Institute, work is already underway to create new varieties of this staple crop that can withstand both flooding and drought. Now, the institution’s efforts to share this knowledge globally will be supported forever, thanks to a “perpetuity grant” offered by the Crop Trust.
The agreement between IRRI and the Crop Trust, which guarantees $1.4 million in funding each year in perpetuity, was signed today, on World Food Day, during the 5th International Rice Congress in Singapore.
The funding represents about 2 percent of IRRI’s $67 million annual budget, but “it’s actually more important than that,” explained Matthew Morell, IRRI's director general. “It provides us with the means of maintaining the collection, but also with that funding, we provide seeds to thousands and thousands of people who contact us and request that material, and it's all provided free of charge.”
The first phase of Crop Trust funding will cover essential operations of the IRRI genebank from 2019-2023, including conservation, regeneration, and distribution of its cultivated and wild seed collections. The institute’s high-tech facility in Los Baños, the Philippines, is the largest rice collection in the world, housing 136,000 varieties. Scientists around the world use the seeds stored there to develop improved rice varieties that can withstand impacts of climate change, and also offer farmers increased yields.
Five million farmers in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Laos, the Philippines, and Indonesia, for example, are already growing a new form of rice that can survive underwater — a variety that was developed at IRRI in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Most rice dies within days of submergence under water, but “scuba rice” withstands flooding for up to two weeks. Researchers are now adapting the rice for Africa, and others are looking at how to add drought resistant characteristics so farmers’ crops are better able to withstand a variety of climate stressors at once.