Spend more time in the field – IRRI scientist

 Bernadette Joven (IRRI)   |  
Scientists should dialogue with farmers and connect with partners to facilitate technology development and adoption.

“How can we work in the diverse rice farming systems of Southeast Asia, especially in unfavorable environments?” asked Yoichi Kato, rainfed lowland agronomist, during his seminar on 14 August at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Dr. Kato explained that drought, flooding, and salinity are some of the climate-related challenges that the rice production systems in the region need to cope with. To address these problems, Dr. Kato’s group has been conducting research on the regulation of plant elongation, nursery management, rice adaptation to soil-water fluctuation, mechanized direct seeding of rice (DSR), and diversified cropping systems.

Some updates and initial results of their research activities include:

  • in collaboration with rice breeders, identified some promising genotypes and/or cultivars with short growth duration to cope with limited irrigation periods in the dry season, and genotypes and/or cultivars for dry-seeded rice culture for labor savings;
  • regulation of plant elongation plays a pivotal role in stagnant-flooding tolerance in the field; 
  • diversified cropping in rice-based systems is the better strategy for flood-prone areas.

But beyond the realm of research, Dr. Kato stressed other important matters he learned from his experience in field-oriented research for development.

Focus on the process rather than the perfect product. Scientists should pay careful attention to the process of introducing a certain idea or technology to farmers rather than focus on developing a perfect product. Farmers are often given straightforward options that they can either accept or reject. Dr. Kato suggested that a product or idea can be “half baked” (60% complete)—not a “complete solution or technology”—when offered to farmers.

“Any product should be reviewed by farmers in the farmers’ fields,” he said. “As experts themselves, farmers have their own idea and opinion on how they could make their crops adapt to stress-prone environments.”

Networks and partnerships are important. In technology development and outscaling, networks of partners and stakeholders play an important function. “IRRI can capitalize and build on its very strong network and links especially with the NARES,” Dr. Kato said. “In fact, through this partnership with NARES, IRRI has successfully developed a series of stress-tolerant varieties and have disseminated them to farmers’ field.” Also, through networks and partnerships, the transfer of information and technology can be facilitated. “Here, IRRI can play an important catalytic function,” he added.

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