Rice research and training activities are intensifying in the West-Central Asia region (see Rice booms in Turkey), as rice demand is projected to increase by 33% in 2020.
Iran belongs to this region and it is well on its way to meeting this projection. The country now has the biggest area of rice production in this region at 626,000 hectares. Most of this is located across the Caspian belt in Gilan and Mazandaran provinces, and the rest is located in 13 other provinces with distinct and varying agroclimatic zones.
Berenj, Persian for rice, is one of the staples consumed in Iran, along with wheat, sugar, honey, and fruits. The average Iranian consumes about 34 kg of rice annually, and most consumers prefer rice that has high grain quality and is aromatic. In 2010, Iran produced about 2.3 million tons of rice, with an average of 4.8 tons per hectare.
The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Iran are embarking on projects that seek to develop better rice varieties. Specifically, these projects are developing molecular markers to eliminate chalkiness in rice kernels to improve rice quality. Partnerships also seek to produce salt tolerance to help the salt-affected rice areas in the country and help create resistance to sheath blight disease, as well as develop high-yielding rice with long grain and aromatic quality (often called Sadri rice).
Working with IRRI
Even before trends showed an increase in future demand, Iran and IRRI had been working together. The year 1976 marked the start of collaboration following a memorandum of agreement between the Iranian government’s Research Organization of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and IRRI.
In 1990, a one-year work plan was signed for scientific and technical cooperation between Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture and IRRI. IRRI scientists have since visited Iran to monitor existing projects in the country and several work plans have also been signed to support these collaboration and capacity-building partnerships.
In a visit to IRRI in April 2010, deputy minister of the Jihad-e-Agriculture of Iran, Dr. J. Pourhemmat, made an agreement with IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler to open the Regional Rice Research Training Center-West Central Asia (RRTC-WCA) at the Rice Research Institute of Iran (RRII) in Rasht.
This cooperation focuses on strategic rice research and training. This is together with Governor of Gilan Province R. Ghahremani, RRII’s Director General Dr. K.A. Shahdi, and the Agriculture Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran (ABRII)’s Dr. M. Khayam Nekooyi.
In September 2010, IRRI’s head of research, Dr. Achim Dobermann, and a team of IRRI scientists composed of Dr. Jauhar Ali, Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald, Dr. Casiana Vera Cruz, and Dr. Arvind Kumar visited RRII to strengthen rice research cooperation and promote collaborative ties with Iran.
Dr. Shahdi said that he was looking forward to leaving behind past obstacles that had hindered greater rice production in Iran. “We are committed to the best in rice research now and into the future,” he added. “Rice is the one thing in common between many nations of different cultures, races, and religions—it brings us together.”
Iran is also seeking to understand the diversity of traits of Iranian rice, and to develop site-specific management best practices for the irrigated rice system in northern Iran. The country also wants to establish a regional climate change research facility to do multidisciplinary work and to study the impact of climate change on rice.
Through the International Network for Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER), Iran has received 11 varieties for further research and breeding. Iran has also contributed 21 rice varieties for conservation to the International Rice Genebank, while IRRI has released 1,035 samples to the country.
Fifty-three Iranian scholars pursuing doctorate and master’s degrees, interns, and fellows have been trained at IRRI. Moreover, 101 have gone through IRRI’s short training courses.
Since 1976, Iran has contributed around $2.8 million to CGIAR to support international agricultural research, including IRRI’s research.
IRRI has also been honored by awards given by Iran. The first was in August 2000, when Dr. Gurdev Khush, IRRI’s then principal plant breeder, received a Plaque of Appreciation and a Gold Medal from Dr. Issa Kalantari, who was then Iran’s minister of agriculture. In February 2004, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami gave Dr. Khush the Khwarzimi International Award for Agriculture.
The working partnership between IRRI and Iran has been important and productive in advancing rice research and development. Dr. Shahdi believes that advanced global challenges couldn’t be tackled without the consensus of the whole world on using cooperative strategies.
Ms. Baroña-Edra is a public relations specialist at IRRI.