By: Lorna Calumpang and Digna Manzanilla
The last 4 years of research and development work of CURE under IFAD support, from laboratories to farmers’ fields, have flown swiftly, but this was not accomplished at a flick of a finger. Sweat, tears, and countless hours of labor have been invested in order to come up with stress-tolerant rice varieties.
In the next years to come, Asia in particular will become more vulnerable to drought, flooding, and other extreme climate pattern changes. The challenge to Asian governments is in creating and implementing policies and institutional structures that will embed and strengthen the process of climate-proofing of basic amenities, a crucial factor in ensuring society’s survival when extreme climate changes occur in unpredictable magnitude.
CURE, with its research breakthroughs on climate-ready rice, gives farmers much hope as it pursued its major goal of raising rice productivity in fragile ecosystems.
Sweat to sweet success unfolds 4 years of dedicated work on climate-proofing of rice in drought, flooded, salty, and upland soils-enabling the rice crop to be productive amidst adverse weather and soil conditions.
Read through and learn about the importance of stress-tolerant rice varieties to farmers and where CURE comes in.
New rice varieties are now available to shield farmers from environmental stressors. Be it drought or flooding or salinity, each is a stressor to both the rice crop and the farmers. Consequently, rice production is significantly reduced. Farmers’ households cope with the reduced yield by not eating rice for some meals or days; husbands get out of their communities to find alternative jobs, and children quit school.
In these uncertain times, CURE was born. Through decade-long research efforts, IRRI and the NARES have made significant strides in improving rice productivity in harsh environments:
A major component needed to influence adoption of new improved stress-tolerant rice varieties is the seed factor. CURE and NARES staff simultaneously produce and distribute seeds during field trials managed by either a researcher or a farmer. In between these field trials, farmer-to-farmer access to seeds and exchange of seeds with other farmers happen. Seeds are informally distributed in this manner.
This shortens the dynamics of distribution and consequently swells into community-wide adoption. The journey of a seed needs to be shortened to fast-track delivery to farmers. With CURE interventions, before a variety’s certification and official release, farmers are able to test, validate their preference, and provide feedback. This, in a way, has given farmers an opportunity to access seeds even prior to official release. What happens in this context is that, aside from several iterations of on-station trials by researchers, farmers among themselves also carry out their own on-farm trials side-byside with their traditional local and popular varieties.
Four mechanisms function as main avenues through which farmers draw technologies: use of participatory varietal selection (PVS)/demonstration trials, minikit/seed packet distribution, community-based seed system (CBSS), and training. Informal training falls under the PVS mechanism (e.g., cross visits where farmers are able to see technology demonstration sites, exchange of ideas and seeds).
PVS. This involves an initial round of researcher-managed on-farm “mother trials,” from which farmers choose their preferred materials, which are often evaluated in farmer-managed “baby trials” to give farmers actual experience in testing new germplasm. In both trials, visiting farmers vote their preferences. There is a follow-up group discussion to generate their criteria for selection. PVS activities leading toward rice varietal release, validation, and adoption have been done in the 10 partner countries.
Volume of seeds distributed. Minikits or seed packets were distributed to direct farmer-cooperators or partners. Each minikit contains packets of seeds of a specific weight, which may range from 1 to 5 kg, depending on the country or location of origin. About 4,504 minikits have been distributed to farmers in 4 years. The total seed volume was 1,997 tons. This volume includes seeds distributed through various activities (minikits/seed packet distribution, PVS, demonstration/yield trials, seed exchanges during seed fairs, etc.).
CBSS. Farmers usually share seeds among themselves. The CBSS involves individual storage and seed exchange and the more formal and elaborate seed exchanges and seed networks that have greater geographical reach. Seeds stored on farm are a primary form of in situ preservation of genetic resources. Usually, farmers group themselves and formally register as a seed cooperative to sell seeds. In Nepal alone, a total of 51.8 tons of seeds were released to farmers from 2009 to 2013.
In particular, the IFAD-supported project completed in 2009, Managing Rice Landscapes in the Marginal Uplands for Household Food Security and Environmental Sustainability, paved the way in forming CBSS in Nepal. CURE continues this initiative. Today, it has facilitated the formation of well-functioning seed producer groups.
In the Philippines, partners from the University of Southern Mindanao also labored to form farmers’ groups, now called Arakan Community Seed-Based Organization. In India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, interest and activities in the formation of CBSS have grown. Different models of CBSS have evolved out of CURE experience, basically providing a
package of introduced/improved varieties and crop management practices (including crop diversification systems).
Specifically, each CBSS consists of at least four minimum elements:
CURE gives importance to the participation of women in networking arrangements with respect to activities on germplasm development, testing and release of varieties, validation of natural resource management (NRM) practices, as well as, in adaptive research that would bring technologies and information to a greater number of farmers and in capacity-building for NARES and partners.
In the Philippines, CURE is a member of the IFAD Philippines Gender Network (IPGN). The country network serves as an avenue for sharing, exchanging experiences, identifying partners, and other activities. The presence of the network not only strengthens gender knowledge and strategies but also serves as an avenue for grants and investment projects to identify potential areas and activities for partnerships.
CURE and IRRI programs on gender have been sharing expertise and experience in examining gender issues in rice farming in fragile areas. With enriched learning and additional guidance from the IPGN, CURE crafted its framework/guidelines for gender mainstreaming (as an internal guide) for two projects, TAG 1108 and TAG 1227.
CURE provided guidance to project management and staff in their journey to being gender-aware, gender-sensitive, and genderresponsive. It encouraged partners to implement activities having gender concerns and, where resources are available, identify gender-related activities and emphasized that training specific to project management and activities include a gender-lens. Among CURE’s achievements are at least 40% participation of women scientists, partners and farmers in a significant number of activities, including involvement in PVS, demonstration trials, and
training programs, particularly on seed health management, CBSS, application of technologies, and livelihood options through rice-based farming and livestock production.
In context, IFAD supports CURE through a grant (#1108-IRRI) that would implement the project entitled, Enabling the Poor Rice Farmers to Improve Livelihoods and Overcome Poverty in South and Southeast Asia through the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE). This grant was approved by the IFAD Board in April 2009.
This project began on 28 July 2009 and had a completion target date of 31 March 2013. Ten countries partnered with CURE in implementing this project: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Figure 2 describes the process flow of CURE activities from varietal development to technology adoption.
CURE aims to