Rice breakthrough may provide key to food stability
() - April 7, 2000 - 12:00am

A major breakthrough in rice research by a United States-based firm may yet provide the key to the continuing struggle for developing countries to attain food stability and substantially address hunger and mass poverty.

In the Philippines, food and agriculture authorities said Monsanto's recent announcement that its scientists have unraveled the genetic composition of rice and will share its findings with researchers the world over augurs well for President Estrada's flagship food security program.

Monsanto revealed that a working draft of its scientific rice research largely conducted in the laboratories of Dr. Leroy Hood at the University of Washington in Seattle, has been completed and would be shared with the scientific community worldwide.

The study is expected to enable agriculture-based scientists and researchers to dramatically speed up the development of higher yielding strains of rice and similar crops which are not only pest and disease-resistant, but also highly adaptable to various ecological and climatic conditions.

Monsanto's announcement of its scientific feat coincided with last Tuesday's observance of the 40th anniversary of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna.

Addressing the occasion from Malacañang, the Chief Executive said adequate supply of rice at affordable prices is the "single most important contribution that rice experts have made to Asia and the Philippines over the past 40 years."

"At no time has modern science been more needed than now in agriculture in the Philippines and the rest of the developing world," Mr. Estrada said.

He indicated that the development of higher yielding varieties of rice becomes more significant with shrinking agricultural land areas and destructive natural phenomena.

"We urgently need new creativity and a new partnership between rich and poor (countries) if these 840 million people -- projected to rise 1.5 billion by 2030 -- are to enjoy better life," the President stressed.

"The key challenge, as yet mainly unrecognized, is that mobilizing global science and technology to address the problems facing agricultural productivity and environmental degradation in countries like the Philippines. In part, this will require money, but what we also need is science and innovation," Mr. Estrada said.

Monsanto aims to make available its rice sequence files and the tools used in the study to the International Rice Genome Sequence Project (IRGSP) which has research teams in 10 countries working to complete the entire genome sequence of rice.

IRGSP was established because of the "tremendous resources" required to complete the task which could be completed sooner through multinational collaboration.

Countries actively involved in IRGSP are Japan, the United States, China, Korea, France, Taiwan, Great Britain, Thailand, Canada and India.

Monsanto will transfer the data of its working draft to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) of Japan, the leading IRGSP agency.

MAFF will, in turn, make the data available to IRGSP members for use in completing the entire sequence of the rice genome which was initially expected to be completed in 10 years to the tune of more than $200 million.

But with the data provided by Monsanto, the researchers are expected to speed up their mission by several years.

Dr. Emil Q. Javier, technical advisory committee chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO), said earlier Monsanto's plan to share the results of its study with other scientists was a "most welcome development for the global scientific community, particularly for the developing countries."

"We take this as an extremely positive and encouraging sign that the private sector is open to arrangement that will allow developing countries access to the best that science can offer on equitable terms," Javier said in a statement.

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