ASEAN ministers hold special session, field day in IRRI rice science marketplace (Philippines News Agency)

Unfazed by the tropics sweltering heat on Saturday, ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) and their accompanying delegation held a special session and had a field day at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters here.

The IRRI tour and special session followed the official welcome ceremony and a group photo at the IRRI marker with the vast demonstration rice plots at the background.

The ASEAN minister and heads of delegation then proceeded to the boardroom where they conducted the special session on Capacity-building of young ASEAN rice scientists and professionals: the ASEAN Agriculture Innovation and Research and Development (R and D) Fund (AIRD).

IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler delivered the opening statement with Dr. Bruce Tolentino, deputy Director General for Communication and partnerships giving the overview and briefing.

The special session focused on capacity-building in IRRI’s rice science and extension to help achieve and sustain food security goals across all ASEAN member-countries.

It stemmed from the AMAF-approved IRRI proposal and the ASEAN Technical Working Group on Agriculture Research and Development (ATWGARD) implementation of Agriculture Innovation and R and D Fund (AIRDF) in a bid to strengthen collaboration among ASEAN member countries and IRRI toward shared and sustainable food security.

Dr. Tolentino presented ASEAN concerns about rice scientists and extension professionals why students, young people avoid education in agriculture and science and that the present realities that farmers are getting older.

The IRRI official explained the need for training especially short courses, internships, masteral and doctoral scholarship program and exchange visits by scientists as contained in the projects under the 9 Strategic Thrusts of the ASEAN Plus Three Cooperation Strategy (APTCS) on Food, Agriculture and Forestry 2011-2015.

These are strengthening food security; enhancement of capacity-building and human resource development and strengthening of information system and knowledge networking and exchange, among others.

15th ASEAN agro-forestry Ministerial Meeting chairperson and country host Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala underscored education, S and T research and development plus the young scientists to sustain the program.

The ASEAN Meeting suggested IRRI to work with AIRDF to include the program with action line from IRRI and Malaysia.

IRRI officials reported the education output with 80 ASEAN PhDs over five years as the program continues to provide expert guidance on topics of national/regional importance; modern, world-class research environment and cutting-edge technical skills for leading scientists.

The special session was also briefed that there were about 45 ASEAN Resident Scientists at IRRI doing collaborative research with leading IRRI scientists; acquiring modern research skills and techniques in world-class laboratories and fields and dedicated time and space for high quality research, publications and products.

For the rice breeding academy, IRRI reported some 50 NARES participants where they acquired techniques to speed up breeding high-quality yielding varieties of rice and conducted intensive hands-on learning with cutting-edge analytical programs taught by leading scientists.

IRRI briefings added that there were 110 ASEAN NARES participants that availed of the ASEAN Food Security Forum, where the executive development forum tackled agricultural and rice sector development across ASEAN.

The education output led by IRRI economics and policy experts also emphasized rice sector interaction with broader economy for improved food security and reduced poverty.

IRRI also presented the advanced extension under its education output where some 125 ASEAN NARES participants and 3,000 indirect trainees underwent the 20 week-long rice course from seed to market; familiarity with ICT tools for nutrient, water and pest management; and teaching and learning experience with RiceCheck.

For the country specific rice info platforms, IRRI has produced under its extension program the comprehensive ICT package, including the multi-platform rice ICT enabling precision farming; key for creating and supporting rice extension; collaborative partnerships and integrated info advanced extension program.

IRRI also introduced the rice crop forecasting which aims to map rice areas; track crop in real-time; predict harvest, timing yield and losses and real-life data for crop insurance, policy planning and support.

After the special session, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting delegates had a tour-cum-windshield inspection of IRRI’s experimental fields and farming demonstration plots.

The delegates took turns in simultaneous sessions by stations with IRRI communication head Antonio Lambino II as moderator at the rice science marketplace, which featured the state-of-the-art ICT-based rice mapping, forecasting rice, rice crop management, breeding of high-yielding rice varieties and the rice culture and value-added processes.

The ASEAN delegations also enjoyed sampling the cooked local upland rice varieties in yellow, brown, black and red colors grown in the Cordillera Region such as the kalinga-iskot, ominio, tinawon and kotinaw (enggoppor).(PNA)