The International Institute for Rice Research (IRRI) – cradle of Asia’s Green Revolution

Squeezed between inactive volcanoes and hot springs, in a small town that is oddly called Los Baños (Spanish for “bathrooms”), is the undefinedInternational Institute for Rice Research (IRRI). It was here that the miracle rice IR8 was developed that kick-started the Green Evolution in Asia. A revolution not of war or social upheaval, but of modern agriculture.

 

The birth of an international research institute for rice

By the 1950s, it was obvious that Asia faced an impeding food crisis. The population was growing but rice production stagnated at pitifully low levels.  Asia is home to half of the world’s population and rice provides 80% of the calories consumed in the region. Some say that rice is the only thing that is connecting the many different cultures of Asia. So, the Ford and Rockefeller foundations joined forces to found an international institute in the Philippines dedicated only to rice research. 

IR8 – the miracle rice 

IRRI’s first released variety was immediately its biggest success, known only by its initials, IR8, set new yield records for tropical rice.  

Rice had the same problem as wheat with “lodging” or falling over heavy heads were supported by tall, spindly stalks. In 1962, the rice breeder Peter Jennings made 38 crosses of various dwarf and tall rice varieties that would lead to a revolution in rice production. The 8th cross was between the Chinese dwarf variety Dee-geo-woo-gen (DGWG) and the tall, high-yielding Indonesian variety Peta. 

 

Further selected by IRRI’s chief breeder Henry Beachell, the cross resulted in uniform plants that were 120 cm tall and, under optimal conditions, produced almost 10 tons of rice per hectare.

That was almost 10 times the traditional rice yield!

Such an increase in yield was unprecedented.

IR8 was so much better than traditional rice varieties that its use spread rapidly throughout Asia. In 1966, 2.359 Philippine farmers travelled to IRRI by bus, bicycle and on foot to pick up 2kg of IR8 seeds free-of-charge. In the same year, the Philippines became self-sufficient for rice production. Soon, rice yields all over Asia soared.

IR8 is thought to have saved millions of lives from famine.

Nekkanti Subba Rao was the first farmer harvesting IR8 in India.

 

IRRI today

Today, more than half of the rice planted in Asia is and IRRI-bred variety or progeny. IRRI has offices in 17 rice-producing countries in Asia and Africa and more than 1000 staff worldwide.

Alumni of IRRI’s educational initiatives include some of the world’s leading rice scientists as well as high-level officials of agricultural ministries and National Agricultural Research Centers (NAREs).

As part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – a consortium of donors organized in 1971 by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) – IRRI is dedicated to bring down the number of 560 million people in Asia affected by hunger to 0.

And, of course, IRRI is one of our partners in the Healthy Crops project.

Responsible for the content: E-MailProf. Dr. Wolf B. Frommer