Every year in modern times is marked by centenaries or golden anniversaries of well-known events and institutions. The year that is about to end is no exception. One of the celebrated institutions that have marked their golden anniversaries in 2016 is the International Rice Research Institute. IRRI has done remarkable work on the world’s most widely consumed cereal and I don’t want its golden anniversary to pass into history without contributing a little tribute to the many that it has received since July, the month in 1966 when it was founded.
IRRI is one of four institutions established over the years, with the support of Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to conduct research and development work on the world’s four most common staples. There are international research institutes for corn (in Mexico), potatoes (India) and wheat.
IRRI was established on the basis of funding commitments from two of the world’s wealthiest foundations—the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The decision to locate the IRRI facilities in Los Baños was made with UP Los Baños research cooperation in mind. Its first director, Dr. Vernon Chandler, is probably the best-remembered of the directors who have headed IRRI in the last 50 years.
It was not long before IRRI announced its first research breakthrough. That was the now-legendary IR-8, a rice strain developed from a combination of a Taiwanese strain and an Indonesian strain. IR-8 was designed to cope with the age-old Asian cultural problems of water logging during the typhoon season and proneness to tillering. IR-8 was said to have ushered in the Green Revolution. The Philippine government was overjoyed that the rice research breakthrough was achieved in the Philippines.
But IRRI did not stop with IR-8. It went on to develop a succession of miracle rice strains, each new one better than the last. The other IRRI-developed rice strain that achieved the greatest success and recognition was IR-36, developed several years after IR-8.
IRRI proved to be a victim of its enormous success. After IR-8, IR-36 and a few other strains in-between, the world – and this country—stopped being amazed by IRRI’s successive research breakthroughs. People here and abroad came to take IRRI and its achievement capabilities for granted.
With less fanfare, IRRI continues to soldier on in its still-impressive Los Baños facilities. In the world of agricultural research—and particularly research on rice —IRRI remains a powerful force.
Thoughtful Filipinos are bound to ask, despite all the rice-culture breakthroughs achieved by IRRI: why is Philippine agriculture still so unproductive and why is the Philippines still one of the world’s top rice importers? Why do IR-8 and the Green Revolution appear to have gone for nought?
For the answer, one must not look to the unsound, inconsistent and unsustained policies of the Philippine government towards the agricultural sector in general and the rice industry in particular. IRRI can only produce research breakthroughs; governments have to make good use of the breakthroughs.
Carry on with your fine work, IRRI. By no means have you ceased to be appreciated. Best of luck for your next 50 years.
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