An Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) study looked at the impact and value of rice breeding work of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) between 1985 and 2009 in three key rice-growing countries: Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.
The report mentioned that Indonesia had the highest gains in rice yields (13%) over this time of the three countries. This increase in rice yield is equivalent to an increased return of $76 per hectare - a significant benefit to Indonesia's rice farmers.
Indonesia’s rice yields are now at an all-time high of around 5.1 tons per hectare (2010), topping the world average of around 4.3 tons per hectare.
High-yielding rice varieties, fertilizers, and irrigation have contributed significantly to this yield increase and Indonesia’s overall rice production, making the country the third-largest rice producer in the world.
Indonesia first achieved rice self-sufficiency in 1984, but its self-sufficiency status has fluctuated since then, meaning that in some years it imported rice to meet local demand. Rice remains the staple food of the country with Indonesians eating on average about 125 kg of rice per year – among the highest in the world.
The Indonesian government has indicated its target is not just national rice self-sufficiency; rather, it wants to become a rice exporter.
According to an Australian report, Indonesia receives an average of more than US$644 million per year of benefits thanks to rice breeding – the science that provides new rice varieties to farmers – as delivered by IRRI.
Indonesia and IRRI have been working together since 1971 to find and deliver ways to help farmers increase their rice production, and rice breeding has always been a priority.
"Indonesian breeders have been working with IRRI for a long time and many Indonesian breeders were trained at IRRI," said Dr. Buang Abdullah, rice breeder at the Indonesian Center for Rice Research (ICRR).
"The International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER), coordinated by IRRI, plays an important role in the collaboration among breeders from rice-growing countries,” he added. “Lots of IRRI varieties and lines have been released and used as parents in breeding programs in Indonesia, such as the submergence-tolerant rice varieties Swarna-Sub1 and IR64-Sub1, which have both been released in Indonesia to minimize the loss of rice yield to flood."
Dr. Abdullah also noted that a number of Indonesian rice varieties have been sent to IRRI to breed high-yielding varieties, for example, one of the parents of "miracle rice" – also called IR8 and renowned for its superior yields that helped avert famine in the 1960s – was an Indonesian rice variety called Peta.
Currently, the most popular rice variety in Indonesia is Ciherang, which was bred using IRRI breeding material. Ciherang was first released in 2000, and, by 2009, according to ICRR, it occupied nearly 50% of the rice-growing areas in the country.
Mr. Rasja Priatna, a 45-year-old rice farmer from West Java, says he has been growing Ciherang for ten years because it outyields the rice variety his parents were growing before him.
In a discussion with rice farmers in Sukamandi District in Indonesia, they all said they wanted a new variety of rice resistant to the major rice pest, called brown planthopper, which devastated rice production in the region in 2009. IRRI and Indonesia continue to collaborate in rice breeding to deliver new rice varieties to farmers.
Dr. Hasil Sembiring, director of the Indonesian Center for Food Crops Research and Development (ICFORD) – the supporting government organization above ICRR – said that assessing new rice varieties across the country and helping disseminate varieties is the value Indonesia adds to IRRI’s rice breeding work. He added, “IRRI has the knowledge and ICFORD has the capacity to deliver to farmers who need assistance.”
IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler said, “Indonesia is an important partner for IRRI and an important rice producer. ACIAR’s report quantifies some of the benefits our collaboration delivers and the overall value and importance of investing in rice research as a means to boost economic activity and overcome poverty through increasing rice production in an environmentally sustainable way.”
Despite the successes that IRRI had achieved and continue to achieve, there's still a lot of work that needs to get done and the Institute can’t do it alone. Funding plays a very important role on whether or not we could do more. This is where you come in.
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Rice breeding having a billion-dollar impact