New alliance takes shape


IRRI and CIMMYT develop closer relationship

El Batαn, Mexico – Two of the world's leading agricultural research institutes have announced more details of an exciting new Alliance to help improve the lives of the millions of poor farmers in the developing world growing the cereal crops rice, wheat and maize.

The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico first announced the formation of their new IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance in May this year. Following a second round of talks at CIMMYT's headquarters in Mexico earlier this month, the two centers have now announced three important new initiatives of the Alliance.

Focusing on common areas of research, the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance has developed action plans that go far beyond day-to-day scientific collaboration between the two centers, which are recognized as key players in the Green Revolution in agricultural productivity that started sweeping the developing world in the 1960s. The three initiatives will build on the combined expertise and research capabilities of IRRI and CIMMYT and lay the foundation for the Alliance's future impact and achievements.

Details of the three initiatives follow.

A new joint program for intensive farming systems in Asia

As the most important and fundamental pillars of Asian food security, intensively cropped rice, wheat and maize systems cover 30 million hectares of the region's best agricultural land and provide 80-90% of Asia's cereal needs. However, these systems are changing rapidly in response to economic and demographic pressure and their future sustainability is one of several key questions they presently face.

Building on their experience working together in the highly successful Rice-Wheat Consortium for the Indo-Gangetic Plains (RWC), IRRI and CIMMYT will develop a new joint program that will focus on complete agricultural systems that include, for example, rice-rice, rice-wheat or rice-maize cropping combinations. The Alliance says it is vital that researchers focus on such multicrop systems if they are to achieve any real impact and help the farmers involved improve their lives.

The new program will address a range of cross-cutting issues – from diversification beyond rice, wheat and maize, and breeding for specific farming system needs, to the development of resource-conserving technologies.

The Alliance's intensive farming systems initiative in Asia will allow scientists to ask questions across the region and for systems that previously were not considered as a whole. Such questions include the regional and global impact of changes in cropping systems on hydrology cycles and greenhouse gas emissions from tens of millions of hectares of agricultural land.

The new Alliance program will also directly address the priorities of the Science Council of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to do research that looks at poverty alleviation within sustainable water, land and forest systems and to create wealth among the rural poor by developing high-value commodities and products. Both IRRI and CIMMYT are founding centers of the CGIAR.

A single unified crop information system for rice, wheat and maize – a new integrated cereal informatics center

As part of the Alliance, both centers have also agreed to establish a single information system for wheat, rice and maize combining – for the first time – the separate crop information systems of the two institutes, while still allowing for the distributed curation of specialist data. The new system will integrate and publish data from the two centers' genebanks, breeding programs, and genomics and genetic studies for all three crops and link this information to other public bioinformatics resources.

A single unified structure will be easier to develop and maintain but the proposal goes far beyond looking for only these efficiencies. The new unified system will also permit new kinds of comparative biology research to be conducted, research that has not been feasible before. Such work will move the Alliance's research into uncharted, but very exciting, scientific territory. Both the IRRI Biometrics and Bioinformatics Unit and CIMMYT's new Research Informatics Laboratory will benefit by combining forces and creating the IRRI-CIMMYT Alliance Cereal Research Informatics Laboratory.

The new facility will see the creation of a new cereals information team that will have the critical mass needed to achieve previously unattainable goals. In addition, the Alliance's crop information system will be open to new partners and will provide a common data platform that national programs and partners can also use as a standard.

An integrated cereal systems knowledge-sharing portal for extension workers and national programs

Meanwhile, the Alliance's new interactive knowledge bank for rice, wheat and maize will let extension workers and national programs working on the three crops share practical information, best practices and ideas across a common platform. This interactive online encyclopedia for cereal cropping systems will also serve as a link and gateway to the public parts of the new cereals information center (discussed above). The new portal will use lessons learned and best practices from IRRI's Rice Knowledge Bank to add value to the growing pool of practical information and knowledge that the partners of both centers need to maximize the impacts of enhanced technologies – those developed by both the centers and others.

The two centers have agreed to jointly contribute resources to the development of these three Alliance initiatives and that each activity should reflect a continuum of research from exciting basic research to practical applications. The Alliance is also emphasizing the complementarities of maize, rice and wheat in profitability, nutrition, genomics and farming systems.

As an important next step, Alliance scientists will now begin consultations with appropriate partners in the national agricultural research and extension systems of Asia to further define themes, key research issues and work plans for other specific activities.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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