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Los Baños, Philippines – Secretary General Arjun Bahadur Thapa of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has invited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to address the SAARC ministerial assembly on research activities that will benefit rice farmers and consumers in the region. This is one of the concrete steps that senior officials from SAARC and IRRI agreed on at the conclusion of the visit of the SAARC delegation to IRRI on 7-9 April 2015.
With the secretary general were SAARC directors L. Savithri and MJH Jabed as well as Rosalind McKenzie, regional cooperation specialist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Jesusito Tranquilino, ADB consultant, were also in the delegation.
According to Bruce Tolentino, IRRI deputy director general for communication and partnerships, “the current memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SAARC is project-based, specific to the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. It will be important to raise the partnership to the level of SAARC and IRRI as institutions.” Such an institutional partnership already exists, for instance, between IRRI and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Secretary General Thapa said areas of potential collaboration include soil mapping, use of ICT through IRRI’s nutrient manager project, and the development of a genebank for South Asia.
“But even at this early stage, while we don’t have the status of a development partner yet, we can already work on including technical people from SAARC countries in IRRI’s various training programs,” said Tolentino. “It is already an open door for technical exchange.”
Tolentino also suggested that arrangements for germplasm exchange be extended to all SAARC members in addition to Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.”
“I am very happy that SAARC is joining efforts with IRRI,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, leader of the STRASA project. With SAARC’s role especially at the policy level, it will greatly help us move across borders and make climate smart-ready varieties such as drought-, flood-, and salinity-tolerant rice, be available to poor farmers wherever they are in South Asia.”
IRRI representatives in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh will work with the SAARC Secretariat toward raising the partnership to the institutional level.