- IRRI at Los Banos was the first coordinated international attempt in the tropics to solve a major problem of world agriculture.
- Since research began at IRRI in 1962, accomplishments have affected every aspect of rice culture. Most consequential is the new plant type of rice designed for the tropics; with narrow, upright leaves, and short, stiff straws, it is responsive to nitrogen without lodging.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “seven years of innovative, interdisciplinary teamwork by Asian and Western scientists, unprecedented in scope, that is achieving radical, rapid advances in rice culture.”
Distilling more than three millennia of accumulated insight in cultivating man’s leading cereal crop, the INTERNATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, with its creation of “miracle rice,” inaugurated a “green revolution,” promising nearly one-half of humanity the prospect of sufficiency in its staple food.
Great scientific accomplishments are rarely the product of chance or lonely research. Rather, they result from mustering all available knowledge to focus inquiry upon the critical frontiers of needed advance.
While science over the past 150 years made great strides in temperate agriculture, advances in the tropics were slow. Specialty crops like tea, sugar and rubber received first attention. Failure substantially to expand yields of staple, tropical food crops crippled progress, especially in many new nations where populations burgeoned.
IRRI at Los Banos was the first coordinated international attempt in the tropics to solve a major problem of world agriculture. Funded by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in agreement with the Philippine Government, the Institute has a multinational Board of Trustees. Likewise, IRRI’s staff under its director, Dr. Robert F. Chandler, Jr., is international. Enlisted are the talents of Chinese, Filipinos, Americans, Indians, Japanese, Thais, Ceylonese, Pakistanis and a Brazilian.
Since research began at IRRI in 1962, accomplishments have affected every aspect of rice culture. Most consequential is the new plant type of rice designed for the tropics; with narrow, upright leaves, and short, stiff straws, it is responsive to nitrogen without lodging. Unlike most former tropical varieties, the new rice types are non-photosensitive and can be planted at any season in many countries. Plant breeders now seek to add greater resistance to disease and pests. Almost as important have been IRRI’s developments in cultural methods, including use of systemic insecticides, herbicides and improved planting and water control.
In true scientific tradition, IRRI built upon earlier rice research, particularly from Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia and the United States. Its germplasm bank now holds a world collection of some 10,000 varieties of rice available to breeders everywhere. In its library are all known technical publications of consequence on rice, often translated from other languages into English. Engaged in research or studying production technology have been 351 scholars, fellows and trainees from 14 Asian countries, from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the United States. Concentrating these human and material resources on a single crop has spurred fruitful collaboration between rice specialists around the globe.
New varieties of rice released by IRRI, beginning with IR-8, became catalysts. Other research agencies were encouraged to distribute their new varieties for comparative trials. When rice farming became attractively profitable for tropical cultivators, governments mobilized resources in massive campaigns for national rice self-sufficiency. Discovering that such efforts to use new varieties and technology often required “changing the agents of change,” IRRI instituted training for extension men to match learning in the lecture hall and laboratory with actual plowing, planting and weeding in the paddy field.
In the rice revolution that IRRI is fostering, both farmers and scientists are changing. Converging periodically from around the world upon the Institute, scientists have moved beyond concern with professional recognition to measuring accomplishment in farmers’ use of their findings.
In electing the INTERNATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE to receive the 1969 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes seven years of innovative, interdisciplinary teamwork by Asian and Western scientists, unprecedented in scope, that is achieving radical, rapid advances in rice culture.
For the International Rice Research Institute, which as director I have the privilege to represent, this is a day of pride, of gratitude and of renewed dedication. The Ramon Magsaysay Award is an honor of such consequence that those upon whom it is bestowed cannot but be subdued by a deepened sense of their responsibilities to mankind and stimulated by an active need to find new ways in which to serve. Thus, the Award simultaneously endows the recipients with historic recognition and confronts them with a subtle challenge.
For all who share in our endeavors, the fact that the International Rice Research Institute was selected for its contribution to “international understanding” is a most meaningful and satisfying circumstance of the honor. As is evident from its name, an international theme was implicit in the role of the Institute from the start. There was never any doubt that the problems that called such an institute into being were international in scope, nor that the talent needed to attack them would exceed national boundaries, ignoring such irrelevancies as race and creed.
In the audience today are most of the Institute’s top scientists, representing seven nationalities. Each was invited to join the organization for reasons completely outside national and ethnic origins, but concerned instead with such appropriate distinctions as education, experience and ability. The resultant heterogeneity enlivened rather than hindered the program.
Similarly, in the Institute’s housing area the successful commingling of races and cultures is a fascinating and observable fact. There, some 60 children, playing together in the apparent absence of any segregation principle other than age group, offer further proof that much of man’s pride and prejudice is unnatural and is due largely to the conditioned responses of young minds molded by the dictates of traditional social environments.
In an even wider range of geographic diversity, the Institute’s present training programs in rice production and rice research together include participants from 20 different countries, not only of Asia but of Africa and Latin America as well. After living and working together for periods of six months to two years, such persons return home not only as exponents of modern rice technology but also as agents and catalysts for improved international understanding.
Indeed, international understanding seems to be a valuable if inadvertent by-product of the Institute’s efforts to improve world rice production. As our scientists travel abroad and as other, particularly Asian, scientists visit them here, cooperative projects are initiated, ideas are exchanged and mutual respect develops.
There is a further gratifying aspect of the Institute’s inclusion in today’s ceremonies. As an organization founded and located in the Philippines, employing and largely dependent on the services of Filipinos, beholden to the Government of the Philippines and to its educational adjuncts for vital cooperation, and identified in innumerable ways with the daily life of this Republic, the International Rice Research Institute can conceive of no prize more fitting than the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
On the subject of the Institute’s host country, no accolade is complete without warm mention of the Institute’s neighbors at the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines, nor without a special tribute to their dynamic leader. The willing efforts and invaluable assistance of the dean and his colleagues have meant for the Institute a sum total of professional and congenial cooperation without which the accomplishments of the International Rice Research Institute would be notably less. Indeed, if those who had a hand in selecting the site of the Institute about 10 years ago were to repeat the search, clearly our choice should be the same.
The environment could not have been more rewarding. Today it is evident that the Philippines has set an example for the world of how a disciplined, well-organized national effort can bring to the point of self-sufficiency in rice a country formerly dependent on the importation of that prime commodity. The achievement would not have been possible, of course, without the complete backing and the intense interest of the President, without the coordinated efforts of government agencies and of progressive civic groups nor, let us remember, without the courage of the farmers to break away from the past.
It seems fitting, furthermore, that we of the Institute remind ourselves that no such venture as our succeeds without initial and continuous support, and that the International Rice Research Institute would not be represented at these celebrated proceedings today—would not, indeed, exist at all—were it not for the two foundations that not only endowed with reality the vision of such an institute but also were responsible for the very conception of that vision. Our debt to the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, who continue to provide the funds and the moral backing essential to the Institute’s operation, is too immense for repayment except in terms of gratitude and of dedicated performance now and in future.
The coming decade promises to be even more challenging for the Institute than the last. IR-8, the so-called “miracle rice,” soon will be replaced by varieties equally high-yielding but with greatly improved grain appearance and eating and cooking qualities. Those varieties in turn will be succeeded by others with even more desirable characteristics. Supporting such plant improvement will be innovations in management practices and in farm machinery, the whole backed by concentrated attention to the economic problems arising from consistently high rice yields.
Such advances will not concern the Institute alone but increasingly will be shared by other research stations through Asia, and elsewhere. We earnestly hope, nevertheless, that for many years to come the International Rice Research Institute will be known as a center of excellence to which the developing countries may look for stimulation and inspiration, no less than for new data and scientific findings. We hope that our hundreds of “graduates” (if such they may be termed) will serve as nuclei of constructive agricultural change, and that the benefits of the “rice revolution” will adequately feed and significantly enrich the lives of the rice-consuming and rice-growing peoples of the world.
The challenge is constant, for future advances in food production even at their combined maximum cannot indefinitely keep abreast of the needs of a rapidly expanding world population. Man must soon resolve to control his own numbers, or face extinction. Certainly, his reason will prevail and he will continue to inherit the earth!
In the meantime, to make our planet abundant in every form of human food is a critical necessity. Toward that need the International Rice Research Institute rededicates its efforts and, in the process, resolves to continue to further the cause of human understanding.
Rice, states the booklet for the dedication ceremonies of the INTERNATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE, “is the principal food for over sixty percent of mankind.” It is particularly important to Asia where 90 percent of the world’s supply is grown and where over half the world’s population lives. As the population of the world continues to increase, particularly in the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, rice production must continue to rise. Current estimates indicate it must double in the next two to three decades just to keep even with population growth.
Rice can be grown under very diverse conditions. It is adaptable to a wide spectrum of soil acidity and alkalinity, and to a broad range of temperatures and sunlight hours. Most important for Asia, it can be grown in flooded deltas and river valleys where only a few other foods such as taro can grow; it thrives under such conditions. Rice is also one of the few crops that can be grown repeatedly on the same land without seriously depleting the soil.
Some authorities have traced the origin of rice to a grass-like plant grown in Southeast Asia and India before 3000 B.C., but cultivated rice was first mentioned in history in 2800 B.C., when a Chinese emperor established ritualistic ceremonies for rice planting. Cultivation of rice spread westward through the centuries and reached Europe during the period of Moslem expansionism—700 to 900 A.D.
A moderately tall annual, rice develops a grain high in carbohydrates and medium in protein. The quality of the protein is, however, considerably higher than that in wheat, maize and sorghum, although those grains have a higher protein content. Moreover its carbohydrates are easily digested, a fact which appears to explain why its marginal protein content has proved to be so nearly adequate for rice-eating peoples. Other pluses for rice are that it is relatively nonallergenic and seems to be palatable to most people as a major food for a lifetime. In Asia it is the preferred grain by a margin of over two to one.
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