Strong Philippine support for the foundation of future rice sector growth

Peter Jennings, keynote speaker at the Partners' and Farmers' Day at IRRI

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – In the culmination of a global celebration that started in New Delhi, India, on November 21, the International Rice Research Institute hosted a Partners’ and Farmers’ Day to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of the rice variety IR8.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Undersecretary for Policy, Planning, Research and Development, and Regulations Segfredo Serrano, and DA-PhilRice Director Sailila Abdula as well as former agriculture secretaries Domingo Panganiban and Leonardo Montemayor attended the event alongside over 350 farmers from the provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Rizal, and Oriental Mindoro.

Partners, friends and private sector supporters also attended and were joined by ambassadors and representatives of the diplomatic community from 14 countries including Australia, China, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand as well as World Bank representatives.

IR8 was the first high-yielding variety released by IRRI and is credited to have sparked the Green Revolution in rice in the 1960s-70s that saved Asia from mass starvation.

IRRI Principal Scientist Emeritus Peter Jennings, now in his 80s, traveled from North Carolina, USA, to join the celebrations in Los Baños, Philippines. 

As leader of the IR8 breeding team in the early 1960s, he remarked in his keynote address, “On a personal note, when people talk to me about IR8, my mind tends to go back earlier, to the very beginning of IRRI: it was unknown then, without a track record. But it had two important qualities: first, IRRI started with the audacious objective of improving rice yield and the wellbeing of farmers; second, it had a very small number of staff, but all very brilliant and excellent in what they did. That team came up with IR8, which laid the foundation for what had become a world-class institution,” he continued. “In memory of those colleagues, my personal ‘thank you.’”

In a look forward to the future of the rice sector in the region, Philippine Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol spoke about planned initiatives of the Philippine Department of Agriculture for the rice sector. His list was based on what has seen, since starting his term, as the most pressing problems that have kept Filipino farmers poor. “For inclusive economic growth, agriculture must be the foundation of this country,” Piñol said.

The Philippine government, which supported hosting IRRI in the country, is now the fourth biggest donor to the institute’s research.

“IRRI does not do anything alone; we work with our sister organizations in the CGIAR, and we work heavily in partnership with both public and private sector entities,” IRRI Director General Matthew Morell. “We have strong support from nations, many of whose ambassadors are here today, and we are grateful for that support.”

Senior leaders from IRRI and the Department of Agriculture took part in a ceremonial planting of IR8 seedlings in special plots at the Zeigler Experiment Station while Deputy Director General for Research Jackie Hughes demonstrated the use of the labor- and time-saving mechanical transplanter.