Dr. Gururaj Guddappa Kulkarni is Director of the new IRRI Bio-Innovation Center as well as an IRRI Senior Scientist and the Global Head of Research Infrastructure and Regulatory Compliance. As the Director of the IRRI Bio-Innovation Center, he works globally with research institutes, donor agencies, and public-private institutes for research collaborative projects and opportunities.

You are the launch director of IRRI’s new Bio-Innovation Center. Can you tell us more about this new initiative?

The IRRI Bio-Innovation Center is intended to support research institutes and industry partners through collaboration and the use of IRRI's resources to fast-track their research and accelerate the deployment of innovative products that will improve farmers’ lives. The IRRI Bio-Innovation Center was established to nurture technology and knowledge-based agri-enterprises, foster innovation, research and entrepreneurial activities in the rice sector, and strengthen its collaboration with the private-public sectors, a key partner in the food and nutrition security front.

The significant benefits of this initiative are: 1. Plug and Play from day one for members; 2. No initial R&D capital investments; 3. Working with global scientists (high success rate); 4. Mentoring and coaching opportunities; 5. Research outcomes have a global market; and 6. Fast-track research.

We have purposefully kept the business model open and general without any ready-made offers so that members can choose their priority research projects to fast-track the delivery of innovative products that will improve farmers’ livelihoods. Our discussions are at an advanced level with more than a dozen potential partners worldwide, both research and services support areas. Currently, we are open for the partnerships at IRRI HQ in Los Banos, Philippines. We will soon expand in South Asia and Africa.

Can you tell us about some of the successful research projects that IRRI has already undertaken?

IRRI is a CGIAR institute, a global partnership that unites international organizations engaged in research about food security, and has huge experience of working with both global institutes and national partners to support rice research and address the challenges faced by rice farmers globally. Since 2015, IRRI has initiated 390 grant projects with a total value of around $310m USD. Currently, IRRI has 130 active projects with a total value of around $225m USD.

IRRI is involved in global initiatives that cater to the needs of most rice-growing nations. From favourable to unfavourable environments, we and our partners are developing programs and technologies that aim to eradicate poverty and hunger through rice research.

Our successful research projects have made a huge impact on the Rice sector. Key projects include: CGIAR Research Program on Rice (Rice CRP); Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) ; CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS); Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprints (CORIGAP); Climate change affecting land use in the Mekong Delta (CLUES); C4 Rice Project; and the Golden Rice Project. The Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), which IFA has co-sponsored for a dozen years, resulted, among other things, in the development of site-specific nutrient management for rice and the Rice Crop Manager decision-making support tool.

Improving Africa's soils and climate change are a key concerns at IRRI, can you give us some examples of the type of work IRRI is doing to develop more climate-ready rice varieties?

IRRI is developing rice varieties that can withstand conditions forecasted to become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Environmental stresses constrain rice production, affecting about 30% of the 700 million poor people in Asia alone who live in rainfed rice-growing areas. These stresses can be caused by extreme climatic changes like drought, flooding, heat, cold or rising sea levels, while some can be inherent like high iron toxicity in the soil. Our breeding programs aim to develop on-demand rice types that can survive in these harsh environments.

In recent years, IRRI has developed rice varieties with better tolerance to drought, submergence, cold, salinity, and sodicity. Our national agricultural research and extension system (NARES) partners test these breeding lines in different locations and countries, including evaluating their performance on farmers’ fields. The selected lines which survive under stress and retain desirable grain qualities are either released directly or bred into widely grown and popular local varieties.

Along with improved crop management, proper use of technology through extension work, and the support of national institutions, these improved varieties or “climate change-ready rice” show substantial, positive impacts in the lives of poor farmers in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. IRRI has also been developing techniques for Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD), a water-saving technology that farmers can apply to reduce their irrigation water consumption in rice fields without decreasing its yield, and direct-seeded rice which can increase water use efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Can you tell us about rice nitrogen use efficiency challenges and methods that can help improve it?

A significant amount of nitrogen (N) based fertilizer consumed in Asia is used on rice. However, the N applied to rice, primarily as urea, is not effectively utilized by the crop. Ammonia volatilization is recognized as a major mechanism of N loss, causing ineffective N utilization. The basal incorporation of urea without standing water, deep placement of urea, and modification of urea with algicides, urease inhibitors, or coatings are some of the strategies that can reduce ammonia loss. The loss of N by nitrification-denitrification can also be a serious problem particularly when soil is dried between rice crops, then flooded for the subsequent rice crop.

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