Taiwan and IRRI reignite its partnership under new program

 Alaric Santiaguel   |  
Dr. Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general, Ms. Corinta Guerta, IRRI director for external relations, and Ms.Rose Dong-Chong Hsiou, deputy director general of the Department of International Affairs, Council of Agriculture, Taiwan discuss joint activities at the review and planning meeting for the new collaborative program on 27-29 October at IRRI Headquarters. 

Taiwan and IRRI have never been short on agricultural innovation and reinvention. The development of Taichung Native 1 (TN1)—a high-yielding semidwarf indica variety—by the Taichung District Agricultural Improvement Station in 1949, is one of the significant events in the history of rice varietal improvement. The dwarfing genes found in Taiwanese semidwarf rice varieties were used by IRRI to develop modern rice varieties.

“When we look back at the history of the Institute, one of the very key parts was the creation of the IR8 rice variety,” said Robert Zeigler, director general of IRRI. “It was made possible with the introduction of material from Taiwan. We’ve had a very close relationship with Taiwan from the beginning.”

Back in IRRI’s formative years, Dr. T.T. Chang became the institute’s first geneticist. From 1962 to 1991, Chang managed the International Rice Germplasm Center. His research on the evolution and variation of rice has led to major advances in plant breeding, productivity, and disease resistance, with a profound impact on agricultural productivity throughout much of Asia, Africa, and South America. The genebank was later named the T.T. Chang Genetic Resources Center in his honor. Dr. Paul C. Ma and Dr. Shen Tsung-Han also played instrumental roles in the launch of the institute.

Other past collaborative activities have proven mutually beneficial among IRRI, the National Taiwan University (NTU), and the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, Council of Agriculture of the Executive Yuan. These led to the promotion of research, training, integrated pest management, and rice germplasm improvement and conservation, among others. In October 2008, IRRI and NTU signed an agreement establishing a partnership in rice research to boost global rice production.

However, changes in the political landscape limited the once rich collaborative activities between Taiwan and IRRI. According to Zeigler, political sensitivities have probably contributed to the slowing down of the development of IRRI’s relationship with Taiwan. “That’s unfortunate,” he said, “We need to take advantage of the skill set within Taiwan.”

Now, a new chapter in IRRI’s partnership with Taiwan begins. Recently, Taiwan strengthened its commitment to global food security with an annual donation of USD 600,000 to support a collaborative program on rice research with IRRI from 2016 to 2019. This program was the result of a long-term dialogue between Taiwan and IRRI representatives Zeigler, Ms. Corinta Guerta (director for external relations), and Dr. Hei Leung (scientist and country representative to Taiwan).

Leung recounted how the newly energized partnership with Taiwan began. “It started as an initiative in Taiwan to explore ways and means of developing climate-resilient crops 5 or 6 years ago,” said Leung. “As a consequence, we were invited to submit a research proposal.”  The project was called Intensifying rice breeding technology to cope with climate change and increase rice self-sufficiency in Taiwan. It is the second phase of this project that the government of Taiwan, through the National Taiwan University, is currently funding.

“I have always been very impressed with the quality of science and institutional strengths in Taiwan,” Zeigler remarked during the Taiwan-IRRI collaboration review and planning meeting for the new collaborative program held on 27-29 October 2015 at IRRI headquarters. “We are natural partners. We are very pleased to move this relationship to a new level and once again start a formal research partnership with Taiwan.”

The meeting was attended by Ms. Rose Dong-Chong Hsiou, deputy director general of the Department of International Affairs, Council of Agriculture (COA), and Deputy Secretary General Lee Pai-Po of the International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF).

Also part of the Taiwan delegation were Deputy Director General Hung-Hsi Lee, Department of Science and Technology; Dr. Chwen-Ming Yang, director of the Crop Science Division, Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (TARI); Dr. Ming-Hsin Lai, Crop Science Division, TARI; Dr. Men-Chi Chang, Department of Agronomy, NTU; Ms. Chia-Yu Li, program manager, Technical Cooperation Department, TaiwanICDF; and Ms. Ming-Chuan Chung, specialist, Department of International Affairs, COA.

Hsiou welcomed this development and thanked Zeigler, Leung, and Guerta for paving the way for the reboot of this research partnership. “Because of you, Taiwan and IRRI can reconnect again,” she said. “This is very, very important for us. I heard so much about your very good results and progress. While I am with the COA, I will work for a closer relationship between Taiwan and IRRI and we will work hard to increase our contribution.”

In addition to the COA, TARI, and NTU, the new program also expands IRRI’s partnership to include TaiwanICDF. TaiwanICDF is dedicated to boosting socioeconomic development, enhancing human resources, and promoting economic relations with partner countries. “This is the first time we will be working with TaiwanICDF. The partnership will focus on capacity building and training on postharvest and seed production,” said Guerta.

Zeigler, who is retiring from IRRI at the end of the year, is very optimistic about the reinvigorated relationship with Taiwan.  “I see this as a strategic partnership. It is something that we hope will endure over many, many years and encompass a wide range of areas that are mutually important for both Taiwan and IRRI. This is a partnership of cooperation and collaboration that should grow in the future.”

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