MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) secured the endorsement of  the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states (AMS) and the support of three dialogue partners for the launch of ASEAN Rice Net, a new regional network for sharing and evaluating advanced IRRI-developed rice breeding lines.

The collaborative partnership is supported by the Rice Genetic Solutions for Climate Resilience and Value Addition program. The program will accelerate farmers’ access to high-value varieties under climate change environmental conditions and drive long-term increases in rice productivity and incomes.

The endorsement allows IRRI to work closely with the ASEAN Plus Three Dialogue Partners — China, Japan and Korea — for the development of both technical and financing support modalities for the network.

“I commend the ASEAN member states for stepping forward together to ensure they have access to the rice genetics that will underpin future success in rice production in the region,” said Matthew Morell, IRRI director general. “This initiative will help ASEAN and ASEAN +3 nations to increase their rice productivity, meet their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commitments for food security and help achieve food and nutrition security for consumers in the region.”

Morell said the region will need to secure increased rice production in the face of climate change challenges, land degradation and declining availability and continued population growth and rapid urbanization.

Access to high value rice varieties and technologies to increase the nutrition of rice are also vital to reduce malnutrition and the developmental challenges of stunting and wasting that currently affect more than 24 million children in ASEAN. The United Nations has identified malnutrition as a serious issue hampering economic productivity of nations, and the World Bank estimates that the effects of malnutrition can cost up to 9% of a country’s gross domestic product.

“These are challenges that clearly require urgent action,” Morell said. “We laud the AMS for taking this significant step change in increasing research and technical capacities toward strengthening regional food security cooperation and contributing to regional economic prosperity.”

The ASEAN Rice Net will launch in 2020 and is projected to generate economic benefits of at least $500 million from variety releases alone across the ASEAN region. Through sharing of IRRI-bred lines carrying characteristics desired by farmers and rice value chain stakeholders, the IRRI expects farmers will be able to continue to be productive under the variable climate change environmental conditions.

“IRRI wants to ensure that no country in ASEAN is left behind in terms of access to rice variety-based technologies and skills,” said Dr. Shoba Venkatanagappa, IRRI’s head of the ASEAN Rice Net Program. “We are grateful to all the AMS partners in the region for the continuous trust and support as their investments and collaboration drive IRRI’s strategy of increasing South-South and Triangular collaboration.”

In the long term, the network will allow partner countries to co-develop new, improved rice varieties by enhancing the technical skills of ASEAN scientists on rice varietal development through training and increasing the capacity of national rice breeding programs across AMS organizations.

ASEAN is a regional intergovernmental organization of 10 countries in Southeast Asia, which promotes intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational, and sociocultural integration among its members and other countries in Asia.