The findings of this study demonstrate the valuable contribution of IRG’s conservation and distribution of genetic accessions to the development of improved rice varieties and rice production on farms in Bangladesh. The results can also be used to justify the continuity of collecting accessions and identify future potential sources of additional genetic acquisitions for varietal improvement.
Since the 1960s, Bangladesh has experienced significant rice productivity gains, achieved through yield improvements. The country’s ten-year average rice production (1961–1970 and 2010–2019) increased by 229% from 15.8 to 52 million metric tons, respectively. This was attained without significant increases in corresponding averages for area harvested, which only increased by 22% or 9.37 to 11.42 million ha, respectively. To date, Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-largest rice producer.
Bangladesh’s story was one of the successes of international agriculture research that spurred the Green Revolution in the 1960s, which helped avert food security challenges driven by population growth and stagnant productivity. However, the Green Revolution also increased the cultivation of rice varieties with similar genetic backgrounds, raising concerns for an impending crop diversity loss.
Increasing the genetic uniformity of cultivated modern rice varieties poses threats to the existence of traditional varieties and wild species that, in turn, reduce the available global genetic resources. These traditional varieties and wild species are important sources of genetic variation needed in crop improvement to cope with the many biotic and abiotic stresses that challenge rice production around the world.
The International Rice Genebank (IRG) was set up in 1971 by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) after initiating the first wide-scale collection of rice genetic resources in 1962. IRG currently safeguards the largest and most diverse collection of rice genetic resources globally. Many of these genetic resources have benefitted international rice research programs and the national agricultural research and extension system (NARES) that aim to advance work on crop improvement.
Over the past decades, genetic resources from the IRG have been used effectively to increase smallholder farmers’ rice productivity in developing economies.
Bangladesh is one of the direct and indirect recipients of IRG germplasm for rice genetic improvement. It currently ranks fifteenth among the top recipients of germplasm from IRG. Since 1987, the country has received an average of 134 accessions per year. Almost 75% of these accessions were used in research, evaluation, and crop improvement and 74% of the recipients of seeds were national centers that conduct rice breeding programs, and some of them are managing Bangladesh’s local genebanks.
Accession is a set of samples managed and conserved by a genebank as a single genetic entity, derived from, and intended to be genetically the same as a single sample acquired by the genebank from elsewhere with documented provenance and representing a cultivar, breeding line, or a population. Samples of the same cultivar acquired by the genebank on different occasions are different accessions.
IRG accessions are foundational in IRRI’s rice genetic improvement programs. The IRG allows the breeding programs to tap into the diverse genetic resource pool from around the world and use them in their breeding programs to produce improved cultivars both in the form of “varieties” that are ready for use in farmers’ fields and in the form of “advanced lines” suited for use as parent material in national plant-breeding programs.
The accessions provided by the IRG in the genetic background of the improved rice varieties added important agronomic traits that enhance farm yields. However, we only note a few studies that have explicitly related, in quantitative terms, the on-farm productivity changes to genebank accessions through varietal improvements.
In addition, there has been no attempt made yet to map the impact pathways of IRG’s contribution to farmer incomes and wellbeing through its genetic contribution. This study looked at the various processes in IRG impact pathways, from upstream to downstream, and the key causal pathways that ultimately make a difference to farmers’ income and wellbeing as well as environmental sustainability. This analysis not only strengthens IRG’s impact contribution claims to developing countries but scrutinizes the causal chain for process and performance improvement.
This study applied a similar methodology to that found in Villanueva et al. (2020) but with additional components. First, we mapped out impact pathways of IRG germplasm transfers to Bangladesh, including the seed dissemination of improved rice varieties. Second, we evaluated the genetic contributions of IRG germplasms to rice productivity of farmers in Bangladesh by analyzing the IRG germplasm’s progenitor contribution to the improved rice varieties. Lastly, using the analysis of progenitor contribution, we computed the economic benefit of IRG contribution in rice varietal improvement in Bangladesh.
This paper provides evidence of the impact of IRG’s genetic resources on rice productivity among smallholder farms in Bangladesh. Using data from the farm household survey conducted by IRRI in 2016 in five divisions in Bangladesh, a pedigree analysis was conducted and related the productivity changes in farmers’ fields explicitly to genebank accessions through varietal improvement.
Afterward, we evaluated the economic benefit of IRG contribution in rice varietal improvement in Bangladesh using the computed marginal increase in productivity, average paddy price, and estimated total rice rea. We also mapped out the impact pathways of IRG in germplasm transfer for varietal improvement and seed dissemination of improved rice varieties in Bangladesh using the information collected from key informant interviews.
IRG’s impact pathway on germplasm transfer in Bangladesh shows that farmer’s impacts are achieved through joint efforts with IRRI and NARES’s research-for-development programs. The interdisciplinary research and development efforts of IRRI, where IRG also performs a necessary role, recognize the multifaceted nature of bringing about the impacts on farmers and achieving food security.
The study found that, on average, 52% of the improved rice varieties’ genetic composition, cultivated by farmers during the 2015 wet season in Bangladesh, definitely came from IRG accessions. This contribution factor can increase up to 67% if possible contributions are taken into account. Using the yield response, this study assessed the farm-level impact of the IRG on productivity by including the index for the definite IRG contribution as one of the explanatory variables.
The results of the Cobb–Douglas model showed that the definite IRG contribution had a positive and significant impact on yield. For every 1% increase in the definite IRG contribution to an improved rice variety, there was an increase in rice yield of about 0.99%, holding other factors constant. This yield increase can be translated into an additional US$ 8,576,973 aggregated net benefit for farmers in the 2015 wet season in Bangladesh.
The findings of this study demonstrate the valuable contribution of IRG’s conservation and distribution of genetic accessions to the development of improved rice varieties and rice production on farms in Bangladesh. The results can also be used to justify the continuity of collecting accessions and identify future potential sources of additional genetic acquisitions for varietal improvement. Most importantly, this case study illustrates the benefits of maintaining rice genetic resources, which can be used as evidence to attract funding from donors for the continuous support of IRG.
For future research, a combined analysis to assess the farm-level impact of IRG in eastern India and Bangladesh could also be conducted due to the availability of similar data. Another potential study could be performing a surplus analysis to estimate the overall net economic benefit of the IRG after the deduction of its research and operational costs. The results of these studies can then strengthen the evidence and can add value to the aggregated impact of IRG on farmers’ productivity and income.
Read the study:
Villanueva D, Enriquez Y, Capilit GL. (2022) The impact of the international rice genebank (IRG) on rice farming in Bangladesh. CABI Agric Biosci 3, 45