Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP) tackled many serious challenges to agriculture by conducting adaptive research to ensure a sustainable food system and increase environmentally sustainable rice production in intensive lowland systems.
Rice production currently faces many serious challenges such as climate change, reducing the environmental footprint of water use and pesticide use, labor shortages, and loss of highly productive agricultural land to increased urbanization and industrialization. These challenges come at a time when there is pressure to increase the intensity of rice production in lowland irrigated systems to meet the need to increase production by at least 50% to provide food security for the estimated 9 billion global population by 2050.
With the loss of more than 35% of wetland habitats over the past 40 years, rice ecosystems in Asia have also become important “modified wetlands” for both wildlife and plants. The challenge then is to increase rice production using methods that are environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. We need to feed the rapidly growing human population whilst preserving biodiversity and promoting healthy agro-ecosystems.
Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint (CORIGAP), a long-term project funded by the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), tackled the above challenges by conducting adaptive research in the fields of farmers in major rice bowls of China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Now approaching its 8th year of research and development, CORIGAP was launched in 2013 by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) with the aim of reducing yield gaps to ensure a sustainable food system and increase environmentally sustainable rice production in intensive lowland systems.
The first phase (201 3-2016) aims to sustainably increase rice yields by 20% in three major granaries by 2016. This was achieved in the Bago Region, Myanmar, in South Sumatra, Indonesia, and in Nakhon Sawan, Thailand. Phase 2 of the project, CORIGAP-PRO (2017-2020), aims to sustainably increase rice yield by 10% for 500,000 smallholder farmers in seven rice granaries by 2020.
“These are two complementary and interconnected objectives that are very much aligned with IRRI’s priorities in terms of developing its research strategies,” said Jean Balie, IRRI Research Director-External Engagement
The project’s activities include:
- Assessing the needs and constraints among farmers and other stakeholders along the value chain and to develop schemes to monitor and evaluate improved rice systems technologies of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium.
- Develop a proactive assessment of integrated, high-yielding, and profitable rice production systems with minimum environmental footprint.
- Use adaptive research in farmers’ fields to develop an iterative process among farmers, extension agents, and relevant rice value-chain partners for testing new cropping systems and technologies.
- Develop novel mechanisms for outreach and scaling out, including farmer participatory videos, business model development, and strengthened market integration of farmers.
- Build the capacity of partners in national agricultural research and extension systems and other stakeholders in the use of the developed tools and methodologies, and in improved crop management technologies.
Exceeding goals and making a difference
On 21- 22 October 2020, CORIGAP-PRO held a wrap-up teleconferencing hosted by the Guangdong Agricultural Academy of Sciences and IRRI to review the project’s milestones to date, the virtual event was graced by 61 key partners and researchers from 13 countries and national partners from the six target countries.
Initially, CORIGAP-PRO targeted to reach 500,000 farmers but the project had already surpassed this goal by reaching 758,196 farmers by December 2019. The two integral components of this success were aligning the activities and targeted outcomes of CORIGAP with the respective national priorities for rice production and partnering with highly committed national partners.
Through the use of adaptive research on best management practices, about 125,000 farmers have increased their yield and income by more than 10% since the beginning of the project.
The spillover effect of the project has also reached neighboring Asian countries–Cambodia, Lao PDR, and the Philippines. In these countries, CORIGAP best management practices have been integrated into their respective national rice roadmaps.
“The way to achieve success at the high levels we have reached in Guangdong Province in China is to interact directly and effectively with farmer groups,” said Dr. Xuhua Zhong, a professor at Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Guangzhou.
Pillar of excellent research and outreach portfolio
The project’s transdisciplinary research and development approach have, so far, resulted in more than 60 high-caliber research publications in scientific journals and books; communicating to scientists in 88 seminars and scientific conferences.
During the annual review, post-graduate student research studies were also featured as these provided valuable contributions by developing objective evidence-based findings for specific countries. Also, it is important to provide opportunities to build the capacity of the next generation of agro-ecologists and social scientists such as Helena Wehmeyer and Nishanka Jaysiri.
Ms. Wehmeyer, a Ph.D. Geography student from the University of Basel in Switzerland reported that in her study, Assessing environmental, social, and economic impacts from the Three Controls Technology (3CT), the farmers she interviewed were satisfied using the 3CT and have seen positive change through higher yield, reduced input, improved environmental footprint, and better social and human capital.
Ms. Jayasiri, a Ph.D. scholar from Sri Lanka updated the group about her study, Assessing environmental sustainability in rice-based agro-food system in Deduru Oya basin in Sri Lanka, Her landscape approach to water management provided impressive findings that are likely to influence future policy decisions on water use for rice production in the country.
Rice and the environment
Aside from research on using best management practices, CORIGAP also ensures its science is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by conducting research on the conservation of wildlife species that enrich biodiversity, an important indicator of an environmentally sustainable and healthy rice food system.
Enriching this scientific pursuit led to the establishment of another SDC-funded subproject in 2018, Co-designing Myanmar’s Pathways for Agroecological Transition towards Sustainable Food Systems (CoMPASS). CoMPASS aims to design pathways for agroecological transition towards sustainable food systems in Myanmar by assessing the country’s production systems’ interventions, institutional policies, and incentives that can be promoted to create synergies between livelihoods and the environment.
Partnerships as a linchpin to creating climate-responsive food systems
CORIGAP-PRO’s adaptive research for impact is underpinned by the long-term collaboration with international partners which created synergies among several agricultural research extension agencies.
“I acknowledge SDC in supporting the CORIGAP project for so many years,” said Dr. Balié. “We want to recognize this long-lasting collaboration and we want to keep working together. One can say that CORIGAP was, in many ways, a precursor, in its vision.”
Aside from this, CORIGAP-PRO has enabled advanced partnerships with the private sector and non-traditional partners, resulting in new scaling mechanisms through the Direct Seeded Rice Consortium, the Sustainable Rice Platform, and other large technical assistance projects financed by the World Bank group in Myanmar and Vietnam.
In 2021 and 2022, the CORIGAP team will focus on further understanding and documenting the processes that led to the impressive spread and uptake of CORIGAP technologies. Each country has presented a comprehensive plan and mechanisms that will ensure that the knowledge and lessons gained from the decade-long experience will be documented and shared on local and global platforms.
CORIGAP Phase 3: Spreading impactful innovations in local and global platforms
Michel Evequoz, SDC senior advisor for Global Cooperation lauded the scientists for the exciting outcomes and progress that came out of Phase 2.
“I am overwhelmed and impressed by the quality and diversity of the research and outreach activities,” Mr. Evequoz said. “The next two years is indeed necessary to capture the impacts and further results of the project.”
The upcoming World Food Systems Summit in 2021 offers a unique opportunity to showcase the achievement of CORIGAP and feed the discussion on the future food systems to make them more ecologically and socially sustainable.
Ms. Quilloy is a senior communication specialist at the Mechanization and Postharvest Cluster under IRRI’s Sustainable Impact Platform. Dr. Singleton is an IRRI consultant and former lead CORIGAP (2013-2019).