MANILA: Unlocking the genetic diversity of rice is one of the
key factors that can help increase production and stabilize
the supply of one of the world’s most important food crops.
About 700 of the world’s foremost rice scientists gathered
here recently to participate in the sixth International Rice
Genetics Symposium organized by the International Rice Research
Institute (IRRI) to share and discuss latest research on sequencing
the genomes of various types of rice including wild rice, heirloom
and modern varieties.
But more than a venue to share new information, participants
in the weeklong conference also aimed to provide solutions to
some problems affecting rice cultivation.
“The solution to the future problem of rice agriculture
partly involves genetics,” David Makill, IRRI’s
program leader and plant breeder, said in an interview with
Makill said that by having more genetic information, plant
breeders can develop more rice varieties that can withstand
drought and floods, are more resistant to pests, and have higher
yields despite limited water supply and land.
“The research done by scientists can provide the basic
information needed to address these problems,” he said.
Robert Zeigler, director general of the IRRI, noted that genetic
research led to the development of high yielding varieties which
helped in stabilizing food prices, lower hunger incidence and
kept natural ecosystems from being converted into farmlands.
Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter and a major
rice- consuming nation, can attest to the benefits of such research.
In her keynote speech delivered during the symposium, Her Royal
Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand said genetic
research helped scientists and farmers in developing and cultivating
high yielding varieties and rice crops which are pest resistant
and can survive massive flooding. This improved farmers’
incomes and secured Thailand’s place in the global rice
Rice is a staple in most of Asia. The world’s biggest
continent has a per capita rice consumption of 85
kilograms and also accounts for about 90 percent of the over
600 million tons of paddy rice produced worldwide. Other parts
of Africa and south Americas are also heavy rice consumers and
major rice producers.
Such is the importance of rice in most countries that last
year ‘s global rice shortage fueled food riots and heated
inflation levels in several economies. The 2008 crisis also
showed that increasing population and urbanization reduced farmlands
and slashed rice production problems that will persist in the
next few years.
Climate change—which is now causing erratic weather patterns
also threatens rice production.
This is why scientists say, it’s important to develop
new rice varieties by using the information acquired from studying
“All rice types need to be sequenced to capture the entire
genetic diversity of rice. Rapidly progressing technologies
have made this a realistic goal—achievable within a few
years,” Zeigler said in a speech delivered during the
“These genes and their associated traits can then be
bred into new rice varieties better able to cope with difficult
growing conditions and with the capacity for higher yields,”
“Participating in this symposium will help us in developing
rice varieties of the future,” said Frisco Malabanan,
chief of the Philippine agriculture department’s rice
productivity program. For Malabanan, the thrust is for the Philippines,
the world’s largest rice importer, to become self sufficient
and developing (and planting) high-yielding varieties may be
the means to achieve this end.
Thai Princess Maha Chakri agrees. In her speech delivered during
the symposium, she encouraged the participants to “take
care of rice genetic diversity around the world to secure the
existence of rice on earth.”
“Because of the available diverse genetic sources, scientists
and breeders continue to develop and improve new varieties leading
towards variations and quality excellence,” she said.