Visit to the International Rice Research Institute

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is about a 1.5-2hr drive from Manila.  I took a group out there this weekend to explore their facilities and meet some of the staff.  It turned out to be a great day!

IRRI was founded in the early sixties to help increase rice yields and improve rice production worldwide.  Their facility is huge with funding and staff from all over the world.  The compound includes offices, laboratories, housing and recreational facilities as well as acres and acres of experimental rice plots that monitor the growth of different rice varieties grown to combat challenges such as drought, soil salinization, pests and diseases.

Acres and acres of experimental rice crops

It also has the world oldest continuous rice cropping experiment which has been running since 1963.  For almost 50 years, the paddy has produced 3 crops a year in an experiment designed to teach scientists the effects of intensive cropping on long term sustainability and soil quality. It was developed with grat foresight in an era where sustainability was not a common area of concern, and has been a useful tool in combating some of the negative effects of the 1960s rice revolution that dramatically increased rice production by introducing new, higher yielding, non-local rice varieties.

Continuous high yield paddy

The long-term high yield experimentation fields

As these new, “super” varieties were introduced, IRRI also started a program to collect samples of ALL rice varieties from all over the world in an effort to save them from extinction.  They realized that varieties long grown in a specific location may offer have developed resistances to local conditions that the new “super” varieties had not.  Local varieties were disappearing and along with them their local “knowledge”.

The IRRI Genebank now stores over 117,000 varieties of rice in specially designed cold storage rooms.  We visited the Genebank and stepped inside the 4 degree Celcius storage facility, which was like a library with rows and rows of silver pouches, each containing samples of a different variety of rice.  Interesting but too cold to hang out for long!

The last educational part of the day was a hands-on trip outside to learn about planting and cultivating rice.  Our group got to experience pulling a plough behind a carabao, as well as an power cultivator.  Others planted rice in the prepared mud.  Messy for sure, and a bit hazardous, as the carabao frequently stopped to “fertilize” the mud as he worked….but a lot of fun for those that didn’t mind getting muddy.

IRRI threw us a really nice lunch in their recreational area.  They were such great hosts and I know everyone really appreciated it.  The kids got to swim in the pool and cool off and around 2.30pm we sent off for the last part of the day – a short tour of the Makiling Botanical Gardens.

The tour lasted around an hour. The gardens were pretty, but more of a nature park than a botanical garden, in my view.  But certainly worth seeing and they made a pretty ending to a well-balanced day.  Great day out!

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