Kristal Jones, a former Peace Corps volunteer, recently found herself heading back to Asia, where she had once traveled as a tourist. Now a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University studying rural sociology, Kristal says that working in agroforestry as a volunteer in West Africa sparked her interest in agriculture. This year, she was back in Asia for a training course on rice research and production—literally getting her feet wet, planting rice and learning about the crop.
Recent years have seen tremendous advances in rice science. U.S. funding agencies invested heavily in rice genome sequencing and functional genomics to understand rice genes better. Many young graduates have gone through rigorous studies and become well prepared to contribute to agricultural research and development in developing countries, yet they have not been aware of this opportunity to truly experience “rice production” in the field.
Cornell University, a leading university in the U.S., has active links between its plant breeding and genetics initiatives and international development. The challenge, however, is exposing these young people to the science of rice and its application in rice-growing countries. Meanwhile, the International Rice Research Institute has been, for the past 50 years, developing new rice varieties and building the capacity of extension officers and scientists. These two institutions have been linked closely in advancing rice science. In 2005, a meeting among IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler, principal scientist Hei Leung, and former associate geneticist at IRRI Susan McCouch, who is now a professor in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, developed the idea of an innovative, three-week training course. The course was designed to cover the theoretical aspects of rice research—natural and social sciences—and practical experiences in the field and in the laboratory.
Ms. Frio is a PR Specialist at the International Rice Research Institute