Relevance of rice research recognized

The work of rice researchers has received major encouragement as 2007 comes to a close, with staff at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and their colleagues receiving widespread recognition and several major awards.

4 December 2007

Relevance of rice research recognized

Los Baños, Philippines – The work of rice researchers has received major encouragement as 2007 comes to a close, with staff at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and their colleagues receiving widespread recognition and several major awards.

“These awards and the recognition that comes with them are clear confirmation of the world-class rice research being conducted today in Asia and elsewhere,” IRRI’s Director General Robert S. Zeigler said. “It’s vital that donors and the community in general recognize the work that is being done and the enormous impact it has—even if the media do not report it.”

“More people rely on rice for their sustenance than any other type of food. Millions, if not billions, of these people live in poor communities throughout the developing world. Research that helps rice farmers boost their production and income, or helps reduce prices to make rice more affordable, has the capacity to pull vast numbers of people out of poverty and, therefore, does nothing short of offering them better lives.”

A list of the awards follows:

Iue Asia Pacific Culture Prize

IRRI Board of Trustees Chair Keijiro Otsuka accepted the Iue Asia Pacific Culture Prize on behalf of IRRI at a 12 October ceremony during the Asia Pacific Forum of the Awaji Conference in Kobe, Japan.

This prestigious award was established in 2001 to recognize individuals and organizations pursuing cultural and social activities within the Asia Pacific region that have made outstanding contributions to the promotion of international exchange and/or regional development.

According to the Prize organizers, IRRI has “made many great contributions to reduce poverty and solve environmental problems, and, through your efforts, we expect that in the future you will further lead the way to a multicultural society in the Asia Pacific Region.”

Dr. Otsuka said the Institute’s recently created Environmental Agenda puts in place environmental policies and safeguards that underpin the Institute’s research. For example, insecticide use on the IRRI farm has fallen more than 95% compared with levels in the mid-1990s, and campaigns to optimize pesticide use in several countries have resulted in healthier farms, farmers, and yields.

The Academy of Science for the Developing World (TWAS) Prize for Agriculture

Further validating the Institute’s environmental credentials, IRRI entomologist K.L. Heong has been awarded the TWAS Prize for Agriculture, recognizing his pioneering work in ecology and integrating biological and social sciences to promote integrated pest management, which has helped millions of rice farmers reduce their pesticide use.

Dr. Heong received the prize, which includes a plaque and US$10,000, at the 18th TWAS General Meeting held in Trieste, Italy, on 13-14 November.

COM+ award for communicating science for people and the planet

Dr. Heong also received from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)—an alliance of organizations, including IRRI, dedicated to alleviating poverty and solving food production challenges across the developing world—the COM+ award for communicating science for people and the planet. COM+ is a partnership between international organizations, media agencies, and communication professionals committed to using communications to advance a sustainable development agenda.

The prize, which was presented at the CGIAR’s annual general meeting (AGM) on 3-7 December in Beijing, China, honors the Environmental Soap Opera for Rural Vietnam, an entertainment-education initiative led by Dr. Heong to help farmers improve their crop management systems. Agricultural information was weaved into the 239 episodes of drama broadcast twice weekly to 2 million people in rural areas of the Mekong Delta.

Started in 2003 through support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the soap opera won the 2005 World Bank Development Marketplace award, which provided additional resources to continue the program. The COM+ award includes $10,000 for IRRI to use for further communications initiatives.

Background information, with links to audio files of the series, is available at

Koshihikari International Rice Prize

Darshan Brar has been chosen as one of two winners of the Koshihikari International Rice Prize for 2007. The award, named for a prized Japanese rice variety, recognizes rice researchers working in universities and international, national, and local agricultural research stations. Dr. Brar, who performs so-called wide crosses to breed into commercial varieties desirable characteristics of wild species of rice, received the award with co-winner Tantawi A. Badawi, president of the Agricultural Research Center, Cairo, Egypt, on 30 October in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Each laureate is awarded 500,000 Japanese yen ($4,630).

CGIAR Outstanding Scientist Award

Compounding his reputation as an indefatigable champion of science for the poor, Dr. Brar also received at the CGIAR AGM the Group’s Outstanding Scientist Award, which honors original work by a senior scientist whose contributions have actual or potential regional or international significance that furthers CGIAR goals.

A video that summarizes Dr. Brar’s research and achievements is available at

CGIAR Outstanding Scientific Article Award

A team of scientists led by IRRI plant breeder David Mackill, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of California (Riverside and Davis), won the Outstanding Scientific Article Award, also presented at the AGM.

The winning paper, “Sub1A is an ethylene response factor-like gene that confers submergence tolerance to rice,” appeared in the 10 August 2006 issue of the prestigious journal Nature. Authors K. Xu, X. Xia, T. Fukao, P. Canlas, R. Maghirang-Rodriguez, S. Heuer, A. Ismail, J. Bailey-Serres, P.C. Ronald, and Dr. Mackill described their discovery of a gene (Sub1A) that confers submergence tolerance to rice, and the consequent breeding of this gene into a popular commercial variety. The resultant non-genetically modified variety is identical to the popular cultivar but is able to withstand up to two weeks of severe flooding.

Since the paper was published, the IRRI team has bred Sub1A into several other popular varieties, which have undergone successful on-farm trials and are poised to make a big impact on flood-prone farms in countries such as Bangladesh and India.

A time-lapse video, which compares the flood tolerance capabilities of the popular IR64 rice variety with and without the Sub1A gene, is available at

TIME Magazine Innovators series

Dr. Zeigler was profiled in TIME Magazine’s Innovators series, which stated that “Under his leadership, the IRRI has redoubled efforts to breed strains of rice that can survive both drought and flooding, preparing for a future in which there may simultaneously be too little and too much water.”

The complete article is available at

Other recognition for IRRI in 2007 includes

· Entomologist and Greater Mekong Subregion Coordinator Gary Jahn receiving the International Plant Protection Award of Distinction from the International Association for the Plant Protection Sciences.

· David Mackill’s election as a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy.

· Soil scientist Roland Buresh receiving the International Soil Science Award for his work on developing and disseminating site-specific nutrient management.

· Soil scientist Achim Dobermann receiving the Agronomic Achievement Award from the ASA.

· Director General Robert Zeigler’s election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

· Communication and Publications Services Head Gene Hettel receiving the 2007 International Award of Excellence from the Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Life and Human Sciences.

· Six IRRI staff members receiving medals in recognition of their many contributions to rice research in Vietnam: Grant Singleton, Abdelbagi Ismail, Darshan Brar, Robert Zeigler, Il-Ryong Choi, and T.P. Tuong.


The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the world’s leading rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines, with offices in 13 other countries, IRRI is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of 15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies (

For information, please contact:

Duncan Macintosh, IRRI, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines; tel +63-2-580-5600; fax: +63-2-580-5699; email [email protected] .

Web sites:

IRRI Home (,

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Rice Knowledge Bank (