Spreading the good news about rice . . . the 4th International Rice Congress

Over the past 18 months I’ve been busy organizing a major science conference – on rice – that was held in Bangkok, Thailand during the last week of October. That’s one of the reasons I have been less active on this blog; I was running another about the science conference at the same time! Sponsored by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the 4th International Rice Congress brought together rice researchers from all over the world. Previous congresses had been held in Japan, India and last time, in 2010, in Hanoi, Vietnam (for which I also organized the science conference). This fourth congress, known as IRC2014 for short, had three main components:

  • The Global Rice Market and Trade Summit (bringing together about 130 representatives of the rice industry). It was organized by IRRI’s Head of Social Sciences, Dr Sam Mohanty.
Source: IRRI

Dr Bob Zeigler, IRRI Director General, addressing delegates to the Global Rice Market and Trade Summit

  • An Exhibition.

Organizing IRC2014 Overall chair of IRC2014 was Dr V Bruce J Tolentino, IRRI’s Deputy Director General (Communication and Partnerships), with Thailand’s Dr Peeradet Tongumpai, Director, Agricultural Research Development Agency (ARDA) as Co-Chair.

But the science conference was undoubtedly the main reason for most delegates being at IRC2014 that week. Held at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (BITEC), this venue was chosen for its convenient location (about half distance between downtown Bangkok and the international airport), proximity to public transport (the BTS), and its excellent facilities. Way back at the beginning of 2013 IRRI management asked me if I would like to organize the science conference in Bangkok, having taken on that role in 2009 before I retired from IRRI and for six months after I left. From May 2013 until IRC2014 was underway, I made four trips to the Far East, twice to Bangkok and three times to IRRI. We formed a science committee, and I was fortunate to have a group of very professional scientists assisting in the planning and delivery of the science conference. Thai rice pathologist Dr Poonsak Mekwatanakarn [1] became my Co-Chair, and IRRI rice root biologist Dr Amelia Henry was the Deputy Chair, and the three of us formed an Executive Committee.

The committee was supported by two staff from Kenes Asia (the conference organizers): Ms Warapa ‘Art’ Saipow, Project Manager and Ms Tanawan ‘Mint’ Pipatpratuang, Associate Project Manager and direct liaison to the science committee. From IRRI, two staff in Bruce Tolentino’s office, Mon Oliveros and Yuan Custodio, also supported the committee.

Our ambitions for the science conference were set high. We wanted to encourage as many rice scientists from around the world to make the trip to Bangkok and share their research with their peers. And I believe we did achieve that. More than 1400 delegates attended IRC2014, from 69 countries. The science program had five components:

  • A Keynote Address, delivered by IRRI Director General Dr Bob Zeigler on Tuesday 28 October, on the topic The Second Green Revolution Has Begun: Rice Research and Global Food Security

  • Four plenary speakers (five had been invited but one had to pull out at the very last minute due to a medical emergency)

  • Nine symposia on closely-defined topics (such as rice root biology, rice in the mega deltas of Asia, or climate-ready rice), all with invited speakers, 62 in total.
  • Seven general science themes (genetic resources, value chains, cropping systems, etc), including temperate rice, with almost 150 papers selected on merit in a blind review.
  • Three science poster sessions, with about 670 posters on display throughout the three days of the conference.

On all three days there were six parallel sessions of oral papers, with an additional forum about funding agricultural research on the first afternoon, and a workshop on drip irrigation on the second afternoon. Some IRC2014 highlights At the Opening Ceremony on the Tuesday afternoon (28 October), we were treated to an impressive display of Thai dancing, and there were speeches from His Excellency Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and from Privy Counselor Amphon Senanarong, representing His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.

During the actual science conference, 29-31 October, attendance at the various sessions was good, with only one or two reporting low numbers. There was also ample opportunity for delegates to network.

On Saturday 1 November, many delegates took advantage of one of the post-conference tours, that mixed both rice research and production visits as well as some Bangkok tourism. These videos highlights some of the different activities at the conference.

One of the main highlights – for me at least – was the opportunity we had to recognize 29 Young Rice Scientists (YRS) from 19 countries who had submitted papers and that had been selected in the blind review. Each YRS had to be 35 years or younger, working in rice research or conducting research for a graduate degree. We also put a special sticker with each poster authored by a Young Rice Scientist.

The initiative was highly appreciated by young scientists especially but also among all delegates at IRC2014. This was a great opportunity for young scientists – the next generation – to compete on equal terms with their peers and longer-established scientists. In this video, a couple of the YRS speak about what the award meant to them. Incidentally, each YRS received a return ticket to Bangkok, conference registration, a ticket to the congress dinner, and five nights accommodation in a hotel.

[1] I heard on 7 August 2020 that Dr Poonsak passed away in Bangkok on 5 August. Very sad news.

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