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A new vision for International Rice Research attacks the roots of poverty

More income for the world's millions of poor rice farmers and consumers is the first goal of a major new revamp to the agenda of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) – the largest and most successful international agricultural research institute in Asia.

IRRI's new Strategic Plan (2007-2015) maintains the Institute's traditional emphasis on food security – a vital strategy as almost half the world eats rice each day – but has for the first time put as its first goal reducing poverty among rice farmers and consumers. The four other goals focus on environmental sustainability, health and nutrition, access to information and knowledge, and supporting efforts everywhere to develop new and improved rice varieties.

Announcing the new Strategic Plan at the opening of the International Rice Congress (IRC) on October 9 in New Delhi, IRRI's Director General Dr. Robert S. Zeigler said: "If the world is serious about achieving the first and most important of the UN's Millennium Development Goals on poverty, then we must focus on the livelihoods of poor rice farmers and consumers because together they make up almost half the world's population.

"For many of the rice-producing countries of Asia, it's not just a question of poverty, but more importantly a question of maintaining their national economic development," Dr. Zeigler warned. "Unless many Asian nations can get their rural or rice-based regions growing economically, their national development efforts could stall completely. Asia needs to invest more in agriculture and especially agricultural research – without new ideas and technologies, their rice industries will stagnate and hold back the rest of the country."

As well as mentioning five new strategic goals, Dr. Zeigler announced that IRRI was embarking on several ground-breaking scientific frontier projects that included efforts to develop rice varieties that would help poor farmers better cope with climate change and drought and to completely reconfigure what's known as the engine of rice production, the plant's photosynthetic system.

"IRRI is determined to continue to push the frontiers of plant science in an effort to improve the lives of poor rice farmers and consumers," he said. "We invite all our partners around the world – especially those in Asia – to join with us in achieving these vitally important goals. By doing so, we are confident we will ensure a brighter future for rice farmers and consumers everywhere."

Dr. Zeigler went on to congratulate the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) for hosting and organizing the IRC2006. He said the event – attracting more than 1,000 delegates from around the world and including research and trade conferences as well as an international technology exhibition – came at a crucial time for the international rice industry. "In addition to major international debates on genetically modified rice and the future price of rice, the industry faces several common challenges – all of which will be discussed at the IRC.

"The Indian Ministry of Agriculture and ICAR have done an outstanding job in organizing this very important international event," Dr. Zeigler added.

Duncan Macintosh | EurekAlert!
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