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ISARC is the first and biggest research Centre of the IRRI outside Philippines: IRRI DG

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12 July 2022, New Delhi: A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) was signed between the Department of Agriculture & Farmer Welfare (DA&FW) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) today on commencement of Phase -2 activities of IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) to scale up the existing partnership for food and nutrition security in the South Asian region. The Agreement was signed by Mr. Manoj Ahuja, Secretary, DA&FW and Dr. Jean Balié, Director General, IRRI in the presence of the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Mr. Narendra Singh Tomar.

The ISARC was established following the Union Cabinet approval five years ago. ISARC also set up a Centre of Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA) that includes a modern and sophisticated laboratory with capacity to determine quality and status of heavy metals in grain and straw. One of the critical achievements of CERVA is the development of one low and one intermediate glycaemic index (GI) rice varieties: IRRI 147 (GI 55) and IRRI 162 (GI 57), respectively, through the joint efforts of the CERVA team and IRRI HQ. Since most rice varieties are high in GI and most of the Indians consume rice, the popularization of low GI rice varieties will reduce or even reverse India’s increasing trend of diabetes. 

The Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi inaugurated state-of-the-art Speed Breeding Facility (SpeedBreed) at ISRAC in Varanasi on December 23, 2021. The facility is devoted to expedite the plant growth cycle of crops and enable advancing rice plants for five generations per year against only one to two under normal conditions. This plays a crucial role in transferring important traits (e.g., low GI, biotic and abiotic stresses) to popular Indian rice varieties in a shorter time. 

The second phase of the ISARC programme proposes to increase farmers’ incomes, improve food and nutrition security, health, and well-being of small/holder farmers through increased system productivity, reduced yield gaps, enhanced climate resilience, mechanized and digital farming, improved market linkages, modernized value chains enabling entrepreneurship for women and youth, and capacity development. 

In his brief remarks, Mr. Ahuja said the Agreement will pave the way for undertaking further work towards the improvement of the welfare of farmers and ensuring food and nutrition security in India and the rest of South Asia. IRRI, especially ISARC, has long been an ally of the Indian government in addressing the most pressing issues concerning the agrifood sector, he said.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Balié said the ISARC is the first and biggest research Centre of the IRRI across the world outside Philippines. He said the continuation of the Agreement will help the capacity of rice-growing countries in South Asia, including India, and Africa in crop production, seed quality, and to enhance farmers’ income. It will also mitigate environment and climate change challenges in rice cultivation, help fight global hunger and eradicate poverty, he added.

Activities toward meeting the objectives of the 2nd Phase will be carried out through a trans disciplinary approach and leveraging cutting-edge technologies in three thematic areas over 5 years viz., (1) Centre of Excellence in Rice Value Addition (CERVA); (2) Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture (CESA) and (3) Center for Education in Innovation and Research for Development (CEIRD).

Main objectives include the development, dissemination, and popularization of high-yielding stress-tolerant and bio-fortified rice, particularly high zinc and low glycemic index rice; supporting national and regional rice breeding programmes to advance rice lines of specific and certified grain quality to increase producer and customer acceptance of new varieties to increase genetic gain; promotion of climate-smart varieties, natural resource management practices, and resilient agriculture through integrated geospatial data systems and tools, robust seed systems, dynamic agro-advisory systems, and scale-appropriate mechanization; improvement of nutrient use efficiency (NUE), soil health, and water productivity in diversified rice agri-food systems for increased productivity and reduced environmental footprints; development of inclusive value chain-based business models (including farmer producer companies, business linkages, and entrepreneurship) for premium quality traditional varieties and value-added by-products; development of evidence-based strategies to improve women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurial  engagement in rice-based systems and engaging  youth in sustainable transformation of these  systems; and enhancement of local capacities, knowledge, and skills of all stakeholders through  innovative human capital development solutions.

The Phase II activities follow the long-time cooperation between the Government of India and IRRI. In 2017, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi approved the establishment of ISARC at the campus of the National Seed Research and Training Center (NSRTC) in Varanasi. The Cabinet, in its meeting held on 12th July, 2017, had approved the establishment of the ISARC and the operation of IRRI in India. Subsequently, the Memorandum of Agreement was signed on August 2, 2017 between the DA&FW and IRRI.   The agreement was for 5 years from 2017-22 with a provision to extend for another 5 years subject to both sides mutually agreeing for the same.   

For the past five years, the Center has played a major role in harnessing and sustaining food production in the region as it has been delivering research for development services for members of the private and public sectors through its state-of-the-art laboratory facilities for grain quality, crop production and nutritional quality. ISARC has also enabled knowledge transfer through short courses on rice-based agrifood systems.

ISARC also provides training on grain quality, nutritional quality and food safety. Broader Programme for Research and Partnership (BPRP) was launched for undertaking breeding for climate resilience, bio-fortification, improvement of traditional landraces, seed systems to enhance varietal replacement, natural resource management, organic agriculture, digitalization, and mechanization of agriculture for small/holder farmers, use of geo-spatial technology in agriculture and women and youth empowerment. IRRI Research and Education Programme (IREP) was also launched for capacity development, including scholars, extension workers and farmers; and promoting South-South cooperation and networking with key stakeholders to support and capacitate NARES. 

In the second present phase of the agreement, ISARC proposes to extend its research and development with the aim to accelerate the equitable development of sustainable and inclusive rice-based systems across India and South Asia to meet the producers’ and consumers’ demand. ISARC also plans to facilitate further improvement of system productivity and farmers’ income through digital agriculture, agro-advisory services, knowledge sharing and capacity development that will promote sustainable and ecofriendly agriculture through business models that attract the youth back into agri-entrepreneurship.

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