A rice future for Asia

Few young Asians are choosing careers in rice science, despite its vital importance to the region

Los Baños, Philippines, and Bangkok, Thailand – The young people of Asia are being encouraged to consider a future in rice.

Whether it's rice farming or rice research, very few of Asia's best and brightest young people are interested in a career in an industry that has been a foundation of the Asian way of life for generations. Few rice farmers want their children to be rice farmers, and even fewer young Asians are choosing careers in rice science, despite its vital importance to the region.

However, an innovative project being launched this week in Thailand and the Philippines marks the start of a major new effort to encourage young Asians to consider a future in rice.

"It's a sad fact of life in modern Asia that many young people in the region don't think of rice as offering an exciting or promising career, so they focus on other industries and other careers," says Robert S. Zeigler, director general of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). IRRI, together with the Thai Rice Foundation under Royal Patronage (TRF) and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), is hosting ten Thai teenagers and nine young Filipinos for a week of activities designed to boost their interest in rice and science.

Dr. Zeigler says it's vital for Asia's future development that the rice industry attract the region's best and brightest young people. "Rice and agriculture are still fundamental to the economic development of most Asian nations, not to mention their cultural and social identities," he added.

Working together with the TRF and PhilRice, IRRI is hosting a five-day rice camp (24-28 April 2006) at its headquarters in Los Baños for the Thai and Filipino students who are aged 16–18. During the five days, the students – all of whom have been selected because of their interest in, or knowledge of, rice – will learn the very latest scientific techniques in rice research and, more specifically, be convinced of how rice research can provide a brighter future for rice in the region.

"We want them to understand that rice research is not some sleepy little scientific backwater, but is, in fact, right on the cutting edge of international scientific activity," Dr. Zeigler said. "The recent sequencing of the rice genome attracted enormous international attention, especially among the scientific community, yet most young Asians still don't know it even happened, let alone understand its implications for the food they eat each day."

During their five days at IRRI, the students, who will be accompanied by their teachers, will learn about new techniques such as DNA extraction and how to insert a gene into rice as well as more basic information such as how to prepare a field for rice transplanting. "We hope they will then return home with a new sense of excitement about rice and its potential both in science and in the future development of Asia," said Dr. Kwanchai Gomez, the TRF's executive director.

"Rice has played a vital role in Thailand's economic development, not to mention its history and culture," Dr. Gomez added. "The challenge is to try and translate this into a sense of excitement and interest amongst young people in Thailand and all over Asia."

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The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the world's leading rice research and training center. Based in the Philippines and with offices in 10 other Asian countries, it is an autonomous, nonprofit institution focused on improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving natural resources. IRRI is one of 15 centers funded through the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor agencies. Please visit the Web sites of the CGIAR (www.cgiar.org), or Future Harvest Foundation (www.futureharvest.org)., a nonprofit organization that builds awareness and supports food and environmental research.

For information, please contact:

Bangkok: Khun Apinporn Sapprasert: 66-1-989 9989

Philippines: Duncan Macintosh, IRRI, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila, Philippines; tel +63-2-580-5600; fax: +63-2-580-5699; email d.macintosh@cgiar.org

Web sites:

IRRI Home (www.irri.org),

IRRI Library (http://ricelib.irri.cgiar.org),

Rice Knowledge Bank (www.knowledgebank.irri.org).


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