Wednesday, January 15, 2020

15th January,2020 Daily Global Regional Local Rice E-Newsletter

Chinese scientists create new genome editing method for rice

2020-01-15 11:20:11XinhuaEditor : Li YaANDescription: File photo shows a researcher collects rice crop at a demo site. (Xinhua/Li Ziheng)

File photo shows a researcher collects rice crop at a demo site. (Xinhua/Li Ziheng)
Chinese scientists have invented a new method of genetically altering rice by applying the ScCas9 protein, which could help develop new gene functions, molecular breeding and genetic improvement.
The innovation was made by a research team from the Institute of Plant Protection of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
The method would enhance the CRISPR/Cas system, which has rapidly become the preferred tool for genome engineering due to its high efficiency, specificity, simplicity and versatility.
CRISPR/Cas-mediated base editing, a novel genome editing strategy, is widely used for generating gain-of-function germplasms in functional genomics research and genetic crop improvement, said researcher Zhou Huanbin.
However, the lack of recognition of a specific protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) - a DNA sequence next to the target sequence - for Cas protein restricts the targeting range of these tools and limits the application of the CRISPR system in genome editing, Zhou said.
A promising candidate, the ScCas9 protein, has been identified and characterized.
The research team found that ScCas9 can be used in multiplex genome editing and base editing in rice plants. ScCas9 nuclease and its derived editing tools expand the CRISPR toolbox for targeted genome editing in plants, said Zhou.
The research was published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Duterte’s order to limit rice importation during harvest season won’t help farmers, group says
Ian Nicolas Cigaral ( - January 14, 2020 - 8:21pm
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to limit the importation of rice during the harvest season will do more harm than good, a group said Tuesday.
Duterte has assured farmers that the importation of rice during harvest season would be “limited” and that his administration would buy their produce even at a loss to the government.
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Duterte said he has ordered the Agriculture department to come up with projections to determine how much rice would be imported.
In a statement, Action for Economic Reforms said Duterte’s directive would erode the gains from the Rice Tariffication Law and would not stabilize rice prices.
“History has shown that it is the manipulation of import controls that has created volatile and high prices for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos,” AER said.
“Farmers will enjoy higher prices in the short-term, but this will aggravate their long-standing problem of inefficiency and low productivity,” it added.
In February last year, Duterte signed the law that lifted the more than two-decade-old cap on rice imports in a bid to bring down the local prices of the staple grain.
Under the law, individuals and businesses can import additional volumes of the crop from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam but will have to pay tariffs.
Some groups said the influx of cheap rice from abroad has been hurting Filipino farmers.
Government data shows prices of palay plunged 24.49% in the third quarter of 2019, as farmers were forced to sell their produce to traders at lower prices amid the presence of imported rice in the market.
To manage the law’s impact on local farmers, the government said it would provide unconditional cash grants of P5,000 to P600,000 for rice farmers affected by lower farmgate prices. 
The Department of Finance said the state collected P12.3 billion as of end-December 2019 from rice tariffs.
“If we wish to really help our farmers, the intervention should be creating the conditions for our farmers to increase their productivity, to make them competitive, which in turn will increase their incomes,” AER said.
“To rely on import control will not solve the problem of weak productivity,” it added.
“The import surge that we witnessed last year was part of a process of seeking a new normal. Now we see the imports stabilizing. Importers and buyers and consumers have now adjusted to a new equilibrium.”
Think tank: Limit on rice imports more damaging to local farmers
Research and advocacy group Action for Economic Reforms said the policy pronouncement of curbing rice imports would erode the gains from the Rice Tariffication Law.
Michael Varcas

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2020 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s latest pronouncement to limit rice imports during harvest season is actually more disastrous to local farmers, according to a think tank.
Research and advocacy group Action for Economic Reforms (AER) said the policy pronouncement of curbing rice imports would erode the gains from the Rice Tariffication Law.
Duterte earlier said his administration would help local farmers by stopping importation during harvest season and by buying local produce.
“This will not stabilize rice prices. History has shown that it is the manipulation of import controls that has created volatile and high prices for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos,” AER said.
“Farmers will enjoy higher prices in the short-term, but this will aggravate their long-standing problem of inefficiency and low productivity,” it noted.
If government really wants to help local farmers, the intervention should be creating the conditions for them to increase their productivity to make them competitive, which in turn will increase their income.
“President Duterte wants to help farmers, but his idea of helping farmers—by restricting imports during harvest season—makes them dependent on a short-sighted policy, which will not transform their conditions,” AER said.
“Worse, it comes at the expense of hurting the Filipino consumers, including many farmers themselves because they are net consumers themselves,” it said.
AER said even if import restriction would artificially boost palay prices, this has not improved the lives of farmers during the decades that quantitative restrictions existed.
“The import surge that we witnessed last year was part of a process of seeking a new normal. Now we see the imports stabilizing. Importers and buyers and consumers have now adjusted to a new equilibrium,” it said.
“President Duterte got it right when he proposed rice procurement, but to combine this with import restriction will be a disaster,” AER said.
Under the Rice Tariffication Law, quantitative restrictions on rice importation are lifted and private traders are allowed to import the commodity from countries of their choice.
The Rice Tariffication Law replaced the government’s quantitative restrictions on importation of the staple with a 35 percent tariff.
The measure also created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or a special rice buffer fund, with an initial P10-billion annual fund to ensure the competitiveness of rice production.

Rice Ph.D graduate known as ‘CRISPR Baby’ scientist sentenced to three years in prison

Infographic by Dan Helmici
By Riley Holmes     1/14/20 11:43pm
A Chinese court sentenced He Jiankui (Ph.D. ‘10), who revealed that he had genetically-edited twin girls last year, to three years in prison on Dec. 30, 2019. The questions surrounding his PhD advisor, Rice University bioengineering professor Michael Deem’s involvement in the He’s experiments, remain unanswered. In November 2018, Rice began a full investigation into Deem’s role in the research.
According to the New York Times, He plead guilty to forging documentation from ethics committees approving the study, which he used to recruit participants. Additionally, Chinese media outlets revealed his work on a previously undisclosed third child. 
Since Rice’s Nov. 2018 statement, no more public updates on the internal investigation of Deem have been given. The Office of Public Affairs declined to comment for this article. 
In the original statement, Rice stated they had been unaware of the project.
“This work as described in press reports violates scientific conduct guidelines and is inconsistent with ethical norms of the scientific community and Rice University,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, Stanford University’s investigation cleared three researchers associated with He in Spring 2019 after concluding they did not encourage or directly participate in the project, according to the New York Times coverage
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Dr. Christopher Scott, Chair of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine, studies ethical, legal, social and policy implications of biotechnologies similar to the ones He used. Scott formerly taught a required research ethics course to NIH grant recipients, and also mentioned that he discussed He’s project with an ethics class at Rice last fall.  
“The thing that is troubling about the China case is that it’s not a China ethics problem, it is an international problem,” Scott said. “So, the question from an ethics point of view is what are the professional and ethical obligations of those folks, who have either direct knowledge of intent or knowledge that the experiment was conducted, to report this fellow?”
A Chinese scientist associated with the project claimed Deem was “more than just a bystander”, according to an article posted on STAT news in Jan. 2019. The study’s manuscript lists Deem as an author. After He announced his work at a conference in Hong Kong in Nov. 2018, Deem told the Associated Press he had met the twins’ parents. According to the Houston Chronicle, however, he attempted to remove his name from the paper after it was sent to journals such as Nature. The study was ultimately rejected and never published. Deem had served as He’s advisor when he completed his PhD at Rice between 2007 and 2010. 
Deem did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication. Two other bioengineering faculty members also declined to comment.
According to Scott, another issue arises with the language of the consent paperwork which described the gene-therapy experiment as a “vaccination” against H.I.V. The Thresher was not able to obtain a copy of the consent paperwork referenced by Scott.
When it comes to genetic editing, Scott said the “unknowns and risks” of these experiments differ from administering a new drug to a patient or implanting a heart device. 
“These are genetic effects that are felt, carried for life, and also carried in heritable ways to generations,” Scott said, “There has to be a commitment to understanding these sorts of things, how you follow these genetically-edited kids through adulthood, and later their children, and their children’s children - a lot of unknowns.”
Two other Chinese scientists connected to He’s work were also given prison sentences, according to coverage by the New York Times. If the project had resulted in a participant’s death, He’s sentence might have exceeded 10 years, according to the Times. 
“Even though this was an uncomfortable and unfortunate event, it's really one of those teaching moments,” Scott said “You have to ask the question institutionally, what can be done to up the level of ethical foresight in teaching universities and research universities? That's a hard question to answer.”

Rice blast fungus ‘eats’ itself to attack plants

© iStock/chirawan

The cells of rice blast fungus endure major changes when it infects its host plant. One of these changes involves using the components of its own cell wall.

In order to response to environmental changes and nutrient starvation, cells are known to undergo severe alterations. This includes switching from one type to another and changes in metabolic pathways.
In a new study, a team of researchers from Tokyo University of Science showed for the first time how rice blast fungus uses its own cell wall to survive in response to certain stimuli.
All living organisms respond and adjust to changes in their environment. These responses are sometimes so significant that they cause alterations in the internal metabolic cycles of the organism—a process called “metabolic switching.”
©Prof Takashi Kamakura
Rice blast fungus, a pathogenic fungal species that causes the “rice blast” infection in rice crops—switches to the “glyoxylate cycle” when the nutrient source starts to deplete. Another response to environmental change is called “cell differentiation”, where cells switch to another type altogether. In rice blast fungus, for example, the fungal cells differentiate and generate a large amount of pressure on the cell wall, causing the fungus to develop a specialised structure called “appressorium,” which ultimately facilitates the infection. Such methods of adaptation have been seen across various organisms, but exactly how they occur is not very clear yet.
In a recent study published in iScience, a team of researchers at Tokyo University of Science, led by Prof Takashi Kamakura, found for the first time that extremely low concentrations of acetic acid alter cellular processes in rice blast fungus.
Their research was based on the fact that Cbp1—a protein that can remove acetyl groups from chitin (the main component of the cell wall of fungi)—plays a huge role in appressorium formation by converting chitin into chitosan and releasing acetic acid.
Explaining the objective of the study, Kamakura says, “Metabolic switching in nutrient-deficient environments depends on changes in the nutrient source, but its mechanism has remained poorly understood until now. Since chitin was known to induce a subsequent resistance response (immune response), we speculated that Cbp1 functions to escape recognition from plants. Also, because the enzymatic activity of Cbp1 affects cell differentiation, we hypothesised that the reaction product of chitin deacetylation by Cbp1 may be a signal for cell differentiation.”

Rice variety exceeds pishori in production

·        Joseph Muchiri  14th Jan 2020 16:00:00 GMT +0300
Farmers from Kabatiro area in Kirinyaga County harvesting the hybrid rice variety AT054 in December. They recorded a bumper harvest in December. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]
Rice production in Kenya could increase if farmers adopt an improved variety after trials at Mwea, Kirinyaga County, established it produces high yields compared to the traditional pishori.
More than 100 farmers from Kabatiro who experimented the hybrid variety - AT054 - developed by Afritec Seeds Ltd, recorded a bumper harvest last December.
The hybrid rice was supplied to the farmers through a collaboration between African Agricultural Technology Foundation (ATTF), Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (Kalro) and Integrated Community Organisation on Sustainable Empowerment and Education for Development (Icoseed).
Water deficiency
Icoseed Managing Director Patrick Gitari said the hybrid rice yielded up to two and half times compared to the traditional pishori.
Mr Gitari said whereas the famous pishori yields an average of 20 bags per acre, the hybrid recorded about twice that number with the best farmer attaining 60 bags.
“The hybrid matured two weeks earlier than the traditional pishori. This means in case of water deficiency it will not be very much affected. The aromatic nature of the traditional pishori has been its marketing point. The hybrid variety has the same aroma hence marketable,” he said.
He said in collaboration with partners, they are working to scale up adoption of the variety and reach 10,000 farmers in the next two years.
Peterson Maina who planted the hybrid on a pilot basis, said he harvested more than doubled in the same area where he previously planted other rice varieties.
Wilfred Wanjira, another farmer, said the new variety required less water and matured faster just as researchers said.
Stephen Thiga, a rice production expert, said in addition, the new rice variety is disease and pest-resistant.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Kenya produces 150 metric tonnes of rice annually whereas consumption is around 600 metric tonnes.
To bridge the deficit of rice, which is the third staple crop after maize and wheat, Kenya resorts to importation of about 450,000 tonnes of rice mainly from Pakistan.
Gitari called for greater adoption of improved varieties and technologies to increase rice production and reduce its importation, which would save the State cash,improve lives of farmers and create jobs.

Conservation Agriculture to enhance farmers’ financial health

Amid mounting pressure on India’s natural resources in feeding growing population, Dr. Shivendra Bajaj writes on the future course action for Indian agriculture
15 January 2020
Section: Industry

Climate change has posed the biggest challenge so far to agricultural productivity. It has led to drought like conditions in some parts in India and heavy, erratic rainfall in other regions. The severity and unpredictability of weather has wreaked havoc on crop productivity, especially in rain-fed regions of the country. Many farmers have shifted to short duration crops that can withstand harsher conditions, instead of cultivating staple grains as before. The low productivity and shifts in the cultivated crops are posing a challenge for food security for our growing population.

The farmer is also battling increasing production cost, shortage of farm labour, declining or stagnating yield and farm income. The vulnerability of farm profitability is pushing farmers towards desperate and reckless use of chemicals to manage crops and enhance yields, making them a target for unscrupulous suppliers. The increased use of fossil fuels, polluted soil and water resources and loss of biodiversity are additional environmental concerns.

Rice is the staple food of more than 60 percent of the world’s population especially in South East Asia. Among the rice growing countries in the world, India has the largest area under rice crop i.e., 43.86 million hectare (Mha) and ranks second in production (163.5 MT) next to China (203 MT). India’s average rice productivity is below world average of 4 MT/ha and much lower as compared to China’s 6.5 MT/ha. Therefore, India is contributing 1.4 times more land area for producing 1.2 times less rice as compared to China, this is a very harmful statistic for our growing economy.

The low crop productivity can be addressed by improved seed technologies and agronomic intervention. Cultivation of hybrids is one such option as hybrid yields are 15-25 percent more than the open pollinated varieties (OPV). This has been demonstrated in many countries in the region, China has 50 percent of rice area under hybrids, while in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Philippines hybrid rice accounts for less than 10 percent of the area under rice cultivation.

Hybrids have been key in increasing productivity of maize and cotton in India. Besides the major crops, hybrids of sorghum, pearl millet and many vegetable crops are also preferred by farmers over OPVs. It has been observed that progressive farmers purchase seeds (OPV or hybrid) every season, with a rice seed replacement rate of 26 percent recorded for India. Hybrid rice has been cultivated in India for the past three decades and has been supported by introduction of new hybrids both by public institutions and private industry.

A strategy needs to be developed for refining hybrid seed production to enhance the seed yields, to reduce the cost of hybrid by strengthening the existing institutional mechanism. Efficient planning is required for geographical diversification and to establish year-round hybrid seed production capabilities.

Involvement of seed agencies in the public sector, NGOs, and farmers cooperatives along with private seed sector will help identify promising hybrids for different regions/ conditions and also create much needed awareness among the farmers about the advantages of cultivating hybrid rice. A public-private partnership is being encouraged by leading rice research institutes like Indian Institute of Rice research (IIRR) that includes screening and evaluation of rice hybrids for their agronomy and resistance against target insect pests/pathogens. There is a plan to launch National Hybrid Research Consortium (NHRC) to further strengthen public–private partnership towards the goal of increasing rice productivity through the adoption of hybrid rice technology.

Myths and realities about hybrid Rice
Hybrids have higher requirement of water and fertiliser
Hybrids are stress tolerant, short duration crops, hence require less water and fertiliser
Hybrids have higher percentage of broken rice post milling
Hybrid milling breakage percentage is comparable to OPVs and meets FCI standards
Hybrids are suitable only for irrigated regions
Hybrids are stress tolerant and hence better adapted to rainfed regions e.g. Jharkhand
Intensive agriculture over the years has led to soil deterioration at physical, chemical and organic level due to surface water run-off, erosion and nutrients deficiency. The depleting water-table and saline soils have further complicated the soil health.

An agricultural system with low inputs, high returns and sustained growth while conserving environment called Conservation agriculture (CA) is the need of the hour. CA utilises scientific knowhow and technology to improve and conserve input resources like soil health and water to achieve economically and ecologically sustainable agricultural production. Soil carbon retention by minimal tilling and cover crops, nutrient and weed management along with diversified crop rotation are critical attributes of CA. The advantages of CA were demonstrated in a 7-year study conducted at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi with zero tillage and rice-wheat crop rotation. The study showed a higher sustainable yield index for rice-wheat cropping system with 40 percent labour cost saving, 30 percent lower water usage, 60-70 litres/ha lower fossil fuel consumption and 20-25 percent seed saving, that led to Rs.7,000/ hectare net increase in farmers’ income.

Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) is also part of CA that drastically reduces water consumption – saves 30-40 percent water, reduces labour costs by 40-45 percent and fuel costs for puddling and transplanting by 55-60 percent, additionally allows for higher planting density. The optimal plant population for DRS field is 40 plants/ sqm as compared to average 20-22 plant/ sqm in transplanted in the field. In India 28 percent (12.3Mha) of the area under rice cultivation practices DSR. Besides water conservation and lower fuel consumption, DSR can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30-40 percent.
Since DSR eliminates water logging, it makes farm mechanisation possible for the rice field. Though customisation is required to develop scale appropriate machines for seeding and harvesting. This is another area, where both economic and policy support is required to encourage and smoothen the adoption of mechanisation.
The technology can be exploited for maximum gain by selecting soil and region-specific cropping system, managing soil nutrients, planting Fe and Zn deficiency tolerant rice varieties, appropriate seed treatment, proper weed management, especially in the initial growth stages and using scale appropriate mechanisation. Extensive extension services for creating awareness amongst farmers and related businesses regarding the technology, resources and providing training for new practices would go a long way in adoption of hybrid rice and DSR. The farmers can also be provided easy credit and assured selling price for practicing DSR. Although, CA practices need to be optimised across locations, crops and cropping systems based on sound benefit-cost economics, multi-level intervention by farmers, researchers, extension personnel and policy makers to analyse and understand how conservation can integrate with other technologies, will help in promotion of CA.
Our aim of doubling farmers’ income is a challenge for the scientific community, farmers and policy makers. Together we need to overcome the past mindset and explore the opportunities that technology and newer agronomic practices have to offer for sustainable agriculture. With the rising food demand for the growing population and paucity of resources, increasing farm productivity in the most efficient manner, seems to be the only sustainable path for improving farmers’ income and environment.
(Dr. Shivendra Bajaj is the Executive Director of Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII). Views expressed in the article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policy of Rural Marketing.)

Navy arrests 6 suspected smugglers; seizes 1, 439 bags of rice in A/Ibom

Yesterday at 5:41 PM
The Nigerian Navy, Forward Operating Base, (FOB) Ibaka in Mbo, Akwa Ibom has arrested six suspected smugglers, seized 1, 439 bags of smuggled rice between Dec. 23, 2019 to January in the state.
Description: Navy arrests 6 suspected smugglers; seizes 1, 439 bags of rice in A/Ibom (PM News)Navy arrests 6 suspected smugglers; seizes 1, 439 bags of rice in A/Ibom (PM News)

Captain Peter Yilme, Commanding Officer of FOB disclosed this while handing over the suspects and items to the Nigeria Custom Service (NCS), on Tuesday in Mbo Local Government Area of the state.

Yime said the command would remain steadfast in fighting illegalities on the waterways in line with the directive of the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ibok Ibas.
He, however, said that some of the suspects escaped on sighting the Navy gunboats.
He said that the arrests were made along the Unyenge, Effiat and Mendoro creeks between Dec. 2019 and January by Navy officers and men on routine patrol in their gunboats.
“I handover 1, 439 bags of rice and six suspects to the Superintendent of Customs, Garuba Hassan in line with the directives of the Chief of Naval Staff.
“We are committed to rid the waterways of all forms of illegalities.
“I commend the untiring efforts of the officers and ratings in ensuring the mandate and tasks of the Base are achieved.
I also appreciate the immense effort of the Chief of Naval Staff, for providing the necessary platform and logistics support for the Base to carry out its operations,” he said.
One of the suspects, Wede John, from Bayelsa, said that he normally transport fish and was carrying rice for the first time when he was arrested.
He said, “I don’t know the owner of the rice and didn’t know that rice was loaded into the boat. This is my first time of carrying rice.
“I usually transport crayfish and dry fish to Oron Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom. I was carrying rice from Bakassi to Unyenge when I was arrested,” he said.
Another suspect, Awagoyi Philp, a boat driver said the owner of the rice promised to pay him N20,000 for carrying the rice but that he was yet to collect the money.
He said, “I drive boats and I was paid to drive the boat that carried the rice. This is my first time. The owner of the rice promised to pay me N 20, 000 and is aware that I have been arrested”.
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Navy arrests six suspects, 1,439 bags of smuggled rice

By Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo) and Tina Todo (Calabar)
15 January 2020   |   4:11 am

• Commissions female hostel in Cross River
• NAPTIP nabs two, rescues 21 in Akwa Ibom
The Nigerian Navy, Forward Operating Base (FOB), Ibaka, Mbo Council, Akwa Ibom State, has arrested six suspected smugglers and seized 1,439 bags of smuggled rice from them.
Naval officers and men on routine patrol in gunboats made the arrests along the Unyenge, Effiat and Mendoro creeks infive different operations.
Parading the suspects in Ibaka, the FOB Commanding Officer, Capt. Peter Yilme, said that two suspects were arrested with 803 bags of 50kg rice on January 13 2020, while on January 2, about 185 bags of rice were seized, but the suspects escaped on siting the Navy gunboats.
He added that 286 bags of rice were seized on December 26, 2019, but the suspects escaped, while two suspects with 88 bags of rice and another two with 77 bags of rice were arrested on December 23, 2019.
While handing over the suspects and items to the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Yilme said the command would remain steadfast in fighting illegalities on the waterways in line with the directive of the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe.
“I hand over 1,439 bags of rice and six suspects to the Superintendent of Customs, Garuba Hassan, in line with the directives of the CNS. We are committed to rid the waterways of all forms of illegalities,” he said.
In Calabar, Cross River State, the navy on Monday commissioned a female hostel at the Nigerian Navy Secondary School (NNSS), Akpabuyo.
While commissioning the project, the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Eastern Naval Command, Rear Admiral David Adeniran, said the construction of additional female hostel was to create an enabling environment for learning.
On his part, the Commander of the Nigerian Navy Ship Victory, Rear Admiral Vincent Okeke, who equally commissioned a water project, a quarter guard as well as laid the foundation for a male hostel, charged the students to take good care of the facilities the navy provided for their comfort.
Meanwhile, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) rescued 21 victims from suspected human traffickers on January 13, 2020.
The Uyo Zonal Commander, Mr. Nduka Nwawwenne, disclosed this to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) yesterday in Uyo.
Nwawwenne said the 21 victims were intercepted by men of the Department of State Service (DSS) along Obot Akara Council in Akwa Ibom in a bus conveying them to western part of the country.
He said that two suspects arrested in connection with the crime were undergoing interrogation.
The commander said preliminary investigation revealed that most of the victims that aged between 15 and 18 were from Cross River, adding that most of them were males.
He said the two suspects arrested were the driver and the conductor of the bus, adding that investigation was ongoing to uncover the prime suspect.
“We can say this is one of the success stories of collaboration we are having. The DSS has just handed over 21 victims of human trafficking yesterday (Monday). That is the essence of collaboration,” he said.
He added that the Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah Donli, has zero tolerance for human trafficking.

Designing Future Rice Enhanced Profitability and Nutritional Security

14 January, 2020 10:34 AM IST By: Chander Mohan
Indian Institute of Rice Research, Hyderabad recently celebrated its 4th Foundation Day. The Chief Guest, Padma Shri Dr. V. P. Singh, Former Head, Division of Genetics, ICAR-IARI, New Delhi delivered Padmsri Dr. Sishta Venkata Seetharama Shastry memorial lecture on “Designing future rice enhanced profitability and nutritional security”. He elaborated about the present status of rice in India, achievements in rice improvement and challenges in rice research to be addressed through producing safe nutritious and sufficient food, transdiciplinary research, introducing schemes such as Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI), etc.
Prof P. Anand Kumar, Emeritus Scientist, ICAR – IIRR elucidated the significant contribution of IIRR in terms of development and release of several rice varieties. He highlighted the international recognition of fine quality varieties of Dr. SVS Shastry.
Dr. S. R. Voleti, Director, ICAR – IIRR, in his welcome address, apprised about the historical progress of the institute from All India Coordinated Rice Improvement Programme (AICRIP) to Indian Institute of Rice Research (IIRR). Director also highlighted the attainment of two padmasri awards of our earlier Directors Dr. SVS. Shastry and Dr. E.A. Siddique. He also briefed about the recent achievements and activities of the Institute.
Four ‘Best Research Paper Awards’ were conferred to the scientists on this occasion. Similary, best workers from Admin, Accounts, Technical, Scientist and Supporting Staff category were also felicitated.
The representatives of local ICAR institutes as well as Institute scientific, administrative and supporting staff participated in the celebrations.

Stakeholders Point Way Forward For Agriculture In 2020


The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has shown some level of seriousness in its effort to diversify the Nigerian economy through the development of the agricultural sector, unfortunately the sector is still held down by the same old problems. JOSEPH CHIBUEZE reports
Stakeholders in the agricultural sector have been speaking on their expectations for the agricultural sector in Nigeria in 2020, especially against the background of the events of last year.
They recall that the year brought about so many issues including policy thrusts that go to support the national aspiration of ensuring food sufficiency for the nation, as well as some that were controversial leading to national tragedies. These include the crop farmers and herders clashes and the proposed RUGA programme which was later suspended.
While they are optimistic that some of the initiatives of the government that helped the sector to make some appreciable progress in 2019 such as the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), ban on the importation of some agro commodities and the shutting down of some of the nation’s land borders would be sustained and possibly improved upon, they also observed that if the nation fails to address fundamental issues of mechanisation, irrigation, seeds, extension service, insurance, research and development, access to funds among others, the nation may just not make any progress.
Last year, Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that the sector grew by 3.17 percent, in the first quarter of the year, it also grew at a slower rate of 1.79 percent in second quarter and picked up marginally to 2.28 percent in the third quarter of 2019.
Similarly, during the year, agricultural export for the period experienced strong growth from January to September 2019 but this was fast eroded as the agricultural imports for the period far outweigh exports.
According to NBS, Nigeria imported N949.8 billion worth of agricultural goods in the period as against N180.7 billion of exports for the same period despite the ban placed on the importation of several agro commodities.
So far, the government appears to be relenting on its focus on agriculture viewed from the point of budgetary allocation. For instance the budgetary allocation for the agriculture sector over the last few years shows that the allocation to agriculture, as a percentage of the overall annual budget to all sectors increased from 1.25 percent in 2016 to 1.82 percent in 2017 and 2.23 percent in 2018.
However, the allocation to the sector as a percentage of the overall budget declined in 2019 by 1.56 percent and a further decline to 1.3 percent in the 2020 budget.
But 2020 is no doubt going to be a year of radical changes in the nation’s agric sector, if the words of the minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammed Sabo Nanono is anything to go by.
The minister while receiving members of the Agriculture Development Partners Working Group (ADPWG) in his office recently, said the ministry was going to effect some changes in the way it goes about its business if it hopes to achieve its target of making agriculture a business.
The minister said there is going to be major changes in the way the ministry operates to take the opportunities that are coming up in the sector.
According to him, “At the ministry level, we have to change our tactics. It is no more going to be business as usual. We have to be proactive and we have to remove ourselves from the normal civil service process of approved, not approved, move from one desk to the next. No, we have to be more business-like.
“We are repositioning ourselves in that direction. There is going to be major changes in order for us to achieve our target. Without the changes, if we say we are going to follow the normal civil service bureaucracy that we are used to, we are not going to achieve anything.”
While lamenting that Nigeria lacks organisation and focus in the agricultural sector, the minister however said that the present administration is trying to correct that and look at agriculture as a wholesome gain.
“The problem with this country is not lack of resources,” he said. “I don’t think there is any country as blessed as we are, but where we have problem is that we are just not organised and focused. Whether we like it or not if we want to move forward, we have to reduce urban politics in our agricultural businesses.”
That was the minister giving a hint to what Nigerians should expect going forward.
Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, Country Representative, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said 2020 is going to be bright for the agriculture sector in Nigeria. He however puts a caveat: that the nation must consolidate on some aspects of agriculture that will make her competitive.
In his words, “Our challenge has always been that our agric sector is not as competitive as it should be compared to other countries.”
He said one of the areas the nation needs to focus on is processing. According to him, “Processing is key because it increases productivity and creates market.”
For him, this will give farmers the incentive to produce more. “If the farmers know there is market, they will invest more,” Dr Ajeigbe said. “So we need to encourage processing. Rice is doing well now because there is processing, but the infrastructural development for processing is weak. To address that, government needs to take a critical look at that. We need to look at the supporting infrastructures that will help agric to grow.
“We are still importing all our machinery and equipment, thus while import of rice has dropped, that of machinery, equipment and agrochemicals has correspondingly gone up. It is even more worrisome that some of the chemicals we import are fake. Importation of agro-machinery and chemicals is on the rise, making the country to lose what it gains through the closure of borders.”
He suggested that the “Government will do well to create incentives for local assembly plants for machinery and production plants for agrochemicals to reduce their prices and create more jobs. Another area I want the government to focus on is input subsidy that would make inputs get directly to farmers. We are not talking about subsidy for the sake of it, but to subsidise the process of making sure that it gets directly to the real farmers.”
For Alhaji Kabir Ibrahim, president All Farmers Association of Nigeria, (AFAN), farmers need to see agriculture as a business and invest in areas where they have competencies. While government should put more efforts to ensure the security situation improves in the core north and also provide more infrastructure to help farmers especially in the area of processing.
He said government should also understand that rice is not the only staple food in Nigeria. According to him, “There are other staple foods in different states, if you go to south east for instance, they should pay more attention to cassava, yam, sorghum and maize. In the south west they should also focus on cassava and yam. We don’t have to put all our attention on one crop while neglecting others. We should focus on crops where we have competitive advantage instead of pushing everybody to rice as though rice is the only thing we have in Nigeria.”    
Ibrahim also challenged the government to ensure farmers have more access to funding to help them acquire improved seeds and the equipment they need for farming.
One of the major challenges facing the agric sector in Nigeria is the dearth of agric extension service agents.
The minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono recently made a passionate appeal to development partners and even the private sector for support in the area of recruitment and training of more extension service agents for the country.
According to the minister, “We have dire need of extension agents. The last time I checked, the number of extension agents we have in this country was just about 15,000 against a farming population of over 70 million. Just work out the ratio and you will see that it is extremely negligible.
“What I realised is that beyond the effort that government is making, that area is not properly looked into. Some of the donor agencies are helping but the intensity of the intervention required in that sector is still lacking.”
He said that some of the country’s export commodities are rejected not on the account of adulteration but for misapplication of fertiliser and other related chemicals.
Dr Ajeigbe said “You cannot be talking of introduction of modern agronomic practices without an effective extension service programme. The extension agents are the ones to go into the rural areas to teach the farmers these new practices. Government really need to invest in that area.”
Mr Peter Dama, president Rice Millers Association of Nigeria (RIMAN), said investment in infrastructure is the way to go.
According to him, “Government must provide the needed infrastructures such as power and motorable roads to drive down production cost, effective and efficient rail transportation linking where the food are produced in the north and markets in the south as well as irrigation facilities to aid all-year farming.”
Mr Dama, who owns Swomen Dama Rice Limited, a rice processing firm in Plateau State, says as one who wears the shoe, he knows where it pinches most. According to him, “We complain of the high cost of locally produced food items, but we never bothered to ask under what condition are these farmers and processors working?
“As a rice miller, I provide my own power running generators, burning diesel. That is a huge cost on me. It is the same thing with others. We have not talked about bad roads, we have not talked about lack of adequate storage facilities which is a huge contributor to the huge post-harvest losses farmers incur every year.
“In many areas we cannot do dry season farming because there is no irrigation facilities. I believe the government means well, of course they have done well in the area of Ease of Doing Business and policy formulation and encouraging people to go into agriculture, yes, but what about the infrastructure that will help them to reap the benefits of farming or even make it easy for them? This is the area I want government to focus in 2020.”
Other contributors insist that the country must increase its mechanisation scale to meet the ever-increasing demand for food before the country can talk about earning foreign exchange through the sector.
With all this in place, they stated that the country’s agricultural products will be competitive as a result, importation will be discouraged.

Probe indicts CBI judge in graft case, matter under HC’s consideration

80-page report Inquiry upholds charge against judge Hemant Gopal that he had taken a bribe of Rs 40 lakh to let-off an accused in FCI rice embezzlement scam in 2013

CITIES Updated: Jan 14, 2020 23:05 IST
Description: Vishal Rambani
Vishal Rambani
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Patiala/Chandigarh: Twenty two months after an inquiry instituted by the Punjab and Haryana high court indicted an additional district and session judge for giving “favourable judgment” in lieu of monetary bribe, the matter is still under consideration of the high court, it is officially learnt.
In her 80-page report submitted to the high court in March 2018, the district and sessions judge Ritu Tagore had upheld the charge against Hemant Gopal that he as then-special judge of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Patiala had taken bribe of Rs 40 lakh for acquittal of an accused Parminder Singh in a Food Corporation of India rice embezzlement scam in which he had convicted 23 others, including a former Congress MLA Mangat Rai Bansal.
The money, according to the report, changed hands through a Punjab government law officer who has since been removed from the job.
Gopal was suspended in September 2013 by the high court on the basis of a discreet inquiry by then registrar (vigilance) Arun Kumar Tyagi into a complaint lodged by Bansal. The court issued him a chargesheet in January 2014 which he replied two months later. He has since been under suspension and stationed at Faridkot.
In a subsequent probe into the chargesheet, Tagore reported her damning finding, saying, “I hold that all allegations (all eight charges, including taking bribe through middleman), are proved against the delinquent officer Hemant Gopal.”
“Facts and sequences of events, raises inference of entertaining extraneous considerations while passing the judgment by the judge”, reads the report accessed by Hindustan Times. The report has relied on oral, electronic and circumstantial evidences to nail the erring judge.
In reply to a petition under the Right to Information Act on January 4, the high court joint registrar (vigilance) Satish Kumar Wig informed that “the matter pertaining to inquiry against Hemant Gopal, CBI Judge, Patiala, is pending for consideration in this court.”
Mangat Ram Bansal along with 27 others, including rice millers and FCI officials, were booked in 2001 by the CBI under sections 420 and 120-B of the IPC, and prevention of corruption Act. All were charged for causing loss to the FCI in custom milling of rice.
Bansal and 23 other rice millers were held guilty of paddy embezzlement. The trial was completed in 2013. While pronouncing the verdict, CBI judge Hemant Gopal had acquitted Parminder Singh.
Following his conviction, Bansal lodged a complaint against the CBI judge and produced a video CD — purportedly showing Sushil Singla, a law officer of the Punjab government, collecting bribe from Parminder on judge’s behalf — as evidence.
In February 2015, the Punjab government dismissed Sushil Singla following a probe by BC Gupta, a retired additional sessions judge, who indicted the law officer saying his role in the racket had been proved beyond doubt. Gupta said Singla had taken the bribe from Parminder and others, who were later let-off by the judge.
In the final inquiry report against Hemant Gopal, district and sessions judge Ritu Tagore says: “It is true that there is no evidence that anyone saw Sushil Kumar (middleman) handing over the alleged Rs 40 lakh bribe to the judge at his Patiala residence. In such cases, the availability of direct evidence on all accounts may not be available. Furthermore, such type of activity is always performed under sheer privacy. The entire sequence of facts leads to no other interference except that Singla gave the bribe amount to the judge…”
“The relationship of judge and middleman stands established. Both were in constant touch through different phones as per the call detail records,” she adds.
When contacted, Bansal said he stands vindicated. “I have full faith in Judiciary and do hope that guilty would be punished”, he added.
Gopal refused to comment on the report saying: “One of my close relative is critically ill and I can’t talk at this moment”.
On March 2014, in his reply to the chargesheet by registrar (vigilance), Gopal had denied of having any link with Sushil Singla. “How can you blame a person, if someone is collecting money or striking a deal on behalf of an officer. I’m being made a scapegoat. I don’t know who is Sushil Singla”, he said.
On being asked what action has been taken in the case, registrar, vigilance, Vikram Aggarwal said he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Rooting for Rice  

NEW ORLEANS, LA -- It was a sure bet that the Tigers would win last night's College Football Playoff National Championship.  The question was which Tigers, the ones from Louisiana State University or those from Clemson?  And the answer is:  the Rice Ones!

Last Saturday, volunteers from both schools came together in a show of sportsmanship to help feed the hungry by packaging more than two tons of Louisiana-grown rice donated by Falcon Rice Mill of Crowley.  Second Harvest Food Bank of Great New Orleans & Acadiana hosted the event and plans to distribute the rice to food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, hospitals, and schools throughout south Louisiana.

"Rice was definitely the star of this event," said Natasha Curley, food sourcing specialist at Second Harvest.  "It not only brought fans of two different teams together for a good cause, but the thousands of pounds of rice that was repackaged will go on to provide meals for many families in need."

The issue of hunger in America became front and center during college football season this year when LSU quarterback Joe Burrows won the Heisman Trophy and used his time on the dais to call attention to the poverty in his hometown in southeast Ohio.  After Burrow's impassioned speech about the struggles people in that area have experienced, donations to the local food pantry soared to $500,000.

"Over the years, we've donated rice to help feed families through Second Harvest Food Bank, but this project was really special because of the National Championship game, and the LSU Tigers being part of that experience," said Robert Trahan, co-owner of Falcon Rice Mill and chair of the USA Rice Domestic Promotion Committee.  "We donated a truckload of rice to them and then their volunteers repacked it in four-pound bags to include in the food baskets they hand out."

"Rice is an ideal food for fighting hunger because it has the ability to feed many off of small quantities," said Curley.  "We are forever grateful to the Falcon Rice family and all the Tiger fans who teamed up with us to help tackle hunger."

By the way, Louisiana State University defeated Clemson, 45-21.  Three cheers for rice and Geaux Tigers!


Yuan Longping launches plan to expand growth of saline soil rice
Yuan Longping, renowned agronomist known for developing the first hybrid rice strains, launched a plan Monday to expand the growth of rice in saline-alkali soil in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Yuan's team, along with the digital agriculture division of e-commerce giant Alibaba, will plant 200,000 mu (13333.3 hectares) of saline-alkali soil rice in the next three years in Hinggan League, according to a press conference held in Sanya in south China's Hainan Province.
Yuan said it is his dream to improve the environment in saline-alkali lands and desert areas, secure food for the poverty-stricken people in these areas and double the income of local farmers. In September 2019, Yuan's team completed an experiment planting rice on 1,000 mu of saline-alkali soil in Hinggan League. The yield reached 508.8 kg per mu, exceeding the team's goal of 300 kg per mu. Rice is a staple food in China, as well as many other Asian countries. China has about 100 million hectares of saline-alkali soil, of which about one-fifth could be ameliorated to arable soil.

Rice export prices steady in major Asian hubs
Rice export prices in major Asian hubs held steady this week but a multi-month drought drove expectations of a rise in Thai rates, while a cold snap threatened crops in Bangladesh. Thailand's benchmark 5 percent broken rice prices were quoted at $425-$435 on Thursday, largely unchanged from two weeks earlier, but was still the highest level since June 2018. Although demand was flat, prices for the Thai grade, which were consistently trading higher than the Vietnamese variety throughout 2019, remained high well into 2020 due to the drought threatening supply and the continuous appreciation of the baht, traders said. Thailand's dry season started in November and usually lasts through April, although authorities said it could go on through June this year. A drought has been declared in 14 provinces in the central, northern and northeastern farming regions. In top producer India, rice export prices remained steady due to weak demand from African countries. Prices of the 5 percent broken parboiled variety were unchanged from last week, around $362-$366 per tonne. “Exports demand is subdued. Supplies are rising from the summer-sown crop," said an exporter based at Kakinada in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
Neighbouring Bangladesh braced for a cold wave, which could have an impact on crops, including rice, said Mizanur Rahman, a senior official at the agricultural ministry. “The seedbeds of rice have dried out due to extreme cold," Rahman said, adding a prolonged cold spell would have devastating effects on the crop. The weather office said the cold snap, accompanied by chilly winds and drizzling, was likely to continue for a few more days. In Vietnam, rates for 5% broken rice eased to $355 a tonne on Thursday, from $360 a week earlier. “Demand remains weak this week and trade has been very slow," a trader based in Ho Chi Minh City said. Preliminary shipping data showed 138,650 tonnes of rice is to be loaded at Ho Chi Minh City port between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23, with most of the grain bound for Iraq and West Africa.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade this week added 47 companies to a list of eligible rice exporters, raising the number of licensed Vietnamese exporters to 182, a government statement said. The move is aimed at “facilitating rice exports, promoting rice production in a sustainable manner and enhancing the competitiveness of Vietnamese rice," the statement added.

Rice Prices

as on : 15-01-2020 02:21:55 PM

Arrivals in tonnes;prices in Rs/quintal in domestic market.
Bankura Sadar(WB)
Indus(Bankura Sadar)(WB)
Buland Shahr(UP)
Fatehpur Sikri(UP)
Published on January 15, 2020

Kharif ’19-20 challenging due to erratic monsoon; Max impact in Central India
Tuesday, 14 January, 2020, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
The kharif season of 2019-20 had been very challenging as the monsoon had been initially late, erratic and subsequently very heavy and devastating. The monsoon rains had been 110 per cent over its (long-term average) LPA with maximum in Central India, followed by the Southern Peninsula, North-West and North-East, respectively.

The wide spread floods was seen in 13 states between late July and early August 2019, due to incessant rains caused significant dent in the acreage and production of several kharif crops. As per our assessment, sowing rice and pulses cultivation has been most hit in West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

After the flood receded the sowing recovered and things started to approach to normalcy, though the entire kharif season has been delayed by about 20-25 days. The real deterrent for the kharif crop came with the post monsoon rains, which was 32 per cent excess and the maximum impact was felt in the North-West region (121 per cent excess) and Central India (64 per cent excess).

After making due considerations to the above fact and other climatological and environmental conditions, we have come up with our revised estimate for the kharif crop for the season 2019-20.

In our first estimate (First Kharif Crop Estimates for 2019-20) in October 2019, we had broadly concluded that in the year 2019-20, the production of coarse grains, pulses, oilseeds and sugarcane are expected to decline by 24.99 per cent, 41.43 per cent, 42.99 per cent and 12.32 per cent over 2018-19, respectively.

In the current assessment, the coarse grains, pulses, oil seeds and sugarcane have marginally pushed themselves further in the negative region, with an expected decline of 14.14 per cent, 14.09 per cent, 53.31 per cent and 11.07 per cent over the last estimate, respectively.

For the year 2019-20, rice production has expected to decline marginally by 8.21 per cent over last year and decline marginally by 3.19 per cent over last estimate. Maize is expected to decline significantly by about 11.86 per cent over last year and 8.97 per cent over last estimate. In the minor cereals, Jowar is expected to improve by 1.07 per cent over last year while Bajra is expected to decline by 1.98 per cent over last year.

Pulses production is projected to drop significantly in moong by 27.38 per cent over last year and decline marginally by 5.77 per cent over last estimate, in urad 18.38 per cent over last year and 2.77 per cent over last estimate and also in tur by 10.47 per cent over last year and 5.54 over last estimate mainly due to crop damaged in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

Thus for the current year, one can expect a significant shortfall in overall kharif pulses availability owing to long spell of unseasonal rainfalls in October and November.

Total oilseeds (soybean, groundnut, castor seed, sunflower, sesame and Niger seed) production is estimated to be 16,218.06 thousand MT (metric tonne), which is 23.78 per cent declined than the last year production 21,277.00 thousand MT.

Soybean production is expected to decline significantly by 32.27 per cent over last year and 12.93 per cent over last estimate and groundnut production is expected decline marginally by 9.57 per cent over last year and 4.31 per cent over last estimate due to excess rains in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra towards the fag end of monsoon rains.

Other oilseeds decline by sunflower 30.61 per cent over last year and 22.38 per cent over the last estimate, and sesame 21.48 per cent over last year and 10.71 per cent over last estimate.

In the cash crop section, sugarcane output in India drop significantly by 21.98 per cent over last year and decline 11.07 per cent over last estimate. Cotton is expected to increase marginally by 3.28 per cent over the last year owing to favourable growing conditions.

Myanmar exports 30,000 tons of rice through maritime trade within a week
Myanmar exported about 30,000 tons of rice worth US$8.8 million through maritime trade from December 22 to 27, according to figures from Ministry of Commerce.
About 8,000 tons of rice is exported to Asian countries and about 3,000 tons of rice is exported to EU countries. About 18,000 tons of rice is exported to African countries and 25 tons of rice is exported to a new market, Puerto Rico.
It exported about US$2 million worth of over 6,600 tons of rice to China and Thailand via border trade centers, according to the ministry.
Myanmar exported over 3,500 tons of rice from Muse 105-mile border trade center, about 600 tons of rice from Chinshwehaw border trade center, about 1,400 tons of rice from Lweje border trade center, about 80 tons of rice from Kanpikete border trade center and more than 1,100 tons of rice from Techilek border trade center.
Myanmar exported about 900,000 tons of rice and broken rice from October 1 to December 27 in 2019-20 FY and earned over US$250 million, according to Myanmar Rice Federation.
Myanmar is exporting rice and broken rice through border trade routes and maritime routes.
It is mainly exported rice to EU market and African market via maritime trade and China through Muse border trade center.

Group: Rice import restriction during harvest season will erode rice trade liberalization gains


Description: worker carries a sack of imported rice at a warehouse in Divisoria, Manila in this file photo.
The Action for Economic Reforms (AER), an organization engaged in research and advocacy, said restricting rice imports during harvest season will erode the economic benefits from the rice trade liberalization (RTL) law and may even result in unstable prices in the market.
The AER issued the statement on Tuesday, few days after President Duterte promised to farmers that he will not allow rice imports during or near harvest season to avert decline in palay (unhusked rice) farm-gate prices.
“This policy pronouncement of curbing rice imports will erode the gains from the rice tariffication law. This will not stabilize rice prices,” it said.
“History has shown that it is the manipulation of import controls that has created volatile and high prices for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos. Farmers will enjoy higher prices in the short term, but this will aggravate their long-standing problem of inefficiency and low productivity,” the group added.
The AER proposed that the government should create the correct “conditions” for rice farmers to increase their productivity and become competitive against foreign producers.
“To rely on import control will not solve the problem of weak productivity,” AER said.
“President Duterte wants to help farmers, but his idea of helping farmers—by restricting imports during harvest season—makes them dependent on a short sighted policy, which will not transform their conditions. Worse, it comes at the expense of hurting the Filipino consumers, including many farmers themselves [because they are net consumers themselves],” it added.
The AER argued that import restriction have always resulted in “price volatility,” which it said “negatively” affects “the overwhelming majority of the people.”
“Even if import restriction would artificially boost palay prices, we have seen that this has not improved the lives of our farmers during the decades that quantitative restrictions existed. Attendant to this is the corruption and damage to institutions that import control brings,” AER added.
AER explained that the surge in rice imports last year was part and parcel of the industry’s transition to a liberalized trade regime.
Furthermore, the group said importers are now adjusting to the new regime and soon enough would reach a new equilibrium with total imports stabilizing.
“If we want to improve the farmers’ well-being, let us help them improve their productivity, precisely what the law intends to do,” it said.
“Resorting to import restriction even if confined to the harvest season will not enable farmers to achieve increased productivity as the restriction only breed complacency. President Duterte got it right when he proposed rice procurement, but to combine this with import restriction will be a disaster,” it added.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier said the country’s total rice imports last year reached 3 million metric tons (MMT) following the enactment of the RTL law, which eased the requirements for importing rice.
The surge in imports last year resulted in the decline of the country’s rice self-sufficiency rate, or adequacy level, to its lowest in 10 years to 85 percent, according to the DA.
Despite this, President Duterte personally appealed to farmers to give the RTL a chance, citing its long-term economic benefits. The law took effect on March 5, 2019.
The Philippines started and ended the previous decade as the world’s top rice importer, with the country formally overtaking China as the top buyer of the staple last year, based on data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Data from the USDA showed that the Philippines’s rice imports in 2019 rose to an all-time high of 3.2 million metric tons, making the country the top buyer of imported rice last year.
Think tank: Limit on rice imports more damaging to loal farmers
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2020 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte’s latest pronouncement to limit rice imports during harvest season is actually more disastrous to local farmers, according to a think tank.
Research and advocacy group Action for Economic Reforms (AER) said the policy pronouncement of curbing rice imports would erode the gains from the Rice Tariffication Law.
Duterte earlier said his administration would help local farmers by stopping importation during harvest season and by buying local produce.
“This will not stabilize rice prices. History has shown that it is the manipulation of import controls that has created volatile and high prices for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos,” AER said.
“Farmers will enjoy higher prices in the short-term, but this will aggravate their long-standing problem of inefficiency and low productivity,” it noted.
If government really wants to help local farmers, the intervention should be creating the conditions for them to increase their productivity to make them competitive, which in turn will increase their income.
“President Duterte wants to help farmers, but his idea of helping farmers—by restricting imports during harvest season—makes them dependent on a short-sighted policy, which will not transform their conditions,” AER said.
“Worse, it comes at the expense of hurting the Filipino consumers, including many farmers themselves because they are net consumers themselves,” it said.
AER said even if import restriction would artificially boost palay prices, this has not improved the lives of farmers during the decades that quantitative restrictions existed.
“The import surge that we witnessed last year was part of a process of seeking a new normal. Now we see the imports stabilizing. Importers and buyers and consumers have now adjusted to a new equilibrium,” it said.
“President Duterte got it right when he proposed rice procurement, but to combine this with import restriction will be a disaster,” AER said.
Under the Rice Tariffication Law, quantitative restrictions on rice importation are lifted and private traders are allowed to import the commodity from countries of their choice.
The Rice Tariffication Law replaced the government’s quantitative restrictions on importation of the staple with a 35 percent tariff.
The measure also created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or a special rice buffer fund, with an initial P10-billion annual fund to ensure the competitiveness of rice production.

Rice sown on thousands of hectares last year in Azerbaijan

15 January 2020 09:36 (UTC+04:00)
BAKU, Azerbaijan, Jan. 15
A regional meeting was held in Azerbaijan’s Agdash district on the “The current state of rice growing and upcoming tasks” topic, Trend reports referring to Azerbaijan’s Agriculture Ministry.
The meeting was attended by the heads of the state agrarian development centers and specialists from Azerbaijan’s Agdash, Ujar, Zardab, Agsu, Yevlakh, Goychay and Samukh districts.
It was noted at the meeting led by Head of the ministry’s Department for Organization and Monitoring of Crop Production Rafael Guliyev that the State Program for the Development of Rice Growing in Azerbaijan for 2018-2025 was approved in accordance with the Azerbaijani presidential order dated Feb. 9, 2018.
This was done in order to further strengthen state support for one of the traditional areas in Azerbaijan - rice growing, the effective use of the potential of this sphere, as well as to achieve increase in interest in rice production.
It was announced that as a result of the implementation of the state program in 2019, rice was sown on an area of ​​4,038 hectares, 12,152 tons of crops were harvested, and the average yield was 30.1 centners per hectare.
“Rice is mainly sown on areas in the Lankaran and Aran economic regions,” Guliyev said. “Expansion of sown areas, cultivation of new and more productive rice varieties, organization of seed growing, application of innovative cultivation methods are priority areas for the implementation of the state program.”
During the meeting, with the participation of the heads of the state agrarian development centers of the respective districts, specialists of Azerbaijan's Agency for Agrarian Services, Aqrolizinq OJSC, as well as rice growers, the issues of determining the need for seeds, the current state in the provision of machinery, mineral fertilizers and pesticides were discussed.
At the end of the event, an inspection of the rice production workshop in the Agdash district was conducted.

Kubota to Release Self-Driving Rice Planter

Economy Jan 15, 2020
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Osaka, Jan. 15 (Jiji Press)--Kubota Corp. <6326> said Wednesday it will release a rice-planting machine with automated driving functions in October.
The aim of the first such machine of the industry is to reduce burdens on farmers by reducing the need for manpower in the process of planting rice. It will sell for 6,875,000 yen.
The rice planter first creates a map of the rice field using the Global Positioning System while it is driven by a human around the perimeter of the field. It will then calculate its rice-planting route based on the map and automatically plant rice seedlings, according to the major Japanese agricultural machinery maker.
A human driver is not necessary in the planting process, but the machine needs to be monitored by a person with a remote controller.
Rice-planting is usually done by two people--a driver of the planting machine and an assistant who keeps it refilled with seedlings. The automated rice-planter reduces the number of people needed for the process to one as the person monitoring the machine can also refill it with seedlings

What’s Bhaji Pav? Honest Indian’s New Delights

Way back in 1975, when hardly anyone around here knew what Indian street food was, Vijay Agrawal took his first steps toward culinary success when he added bhaji pav — a popular Mumbai veggie curry dish served with white rolls — to the selection of his outdoor chaat (snack) cart in downtown Ahmedabad, India’s fifth-largest city.
People loved it and before long Agrawal opened his first sit-down restaurant. He called it “Honest,” and the food was honest, and before long, he had shops all over Ahmedabad, then all across India, prompting jokes about “The Indian McDonald’s.” Next, the company opened shops in Thailand; and then, in 2016, it opened one in suburban Chicago, its first U.S. Honest Indian Restaurant.
Less than four years later, there are 14 Honest restaurants in eight U.S. states, plus two in Canada. Louisville’s first Honest Indian Restaurant opened about a month ago, after several months of construction, in a large vacant space near South Hurstbourne Parkway and Taylorsville Road that had housed a long-closed Beverage Warehouse.
Like its near-neighbor, the locally owned Shreeji Indian Vegetarian Street Food, Honest’s bill of fare is entirely Indian and vegetarian. But street food — simple but delicious ready-to-eat fare traditionally sold from carts and eaten outdoors — constitutes only a relatively small portion of Honest’s menu, which primarily features full dinner plates and sampler thali platters.
Honest’s aloo palak blends spinach and potatoes in a filling, fiery masala-scented dish with roti bread.
It’s a large room, with large windows across the front and white and beige walls around the rest of the space. Drum-shaped pendant lights hang from a high ceiling with exposed metal rafters. Comfortable booths line the perimeter, with high-back chairs surrounding pale-tan, wood-look tables in the rest of the room.
The large, eight-page menu places its iconic bhaji pav on the first page and then goes on through more than 150 choices in an almost-bewildering set of subcategories, such as pulav, Bombay chaat, Indian-style pizzas and sandwiches, South Indian and Indochinese specialties and a long list of Punjabi dishes earmarked by gravy color: red, brown, green and white! There’s a good selection of Indian breads, lentil dal and rice plates, thali (combo) platters and even Indian desserts.
Pricing is attractive, with just about all the dishes within a narrow range from $5.99 to $9.99, save for the Punjabi specialties and thalis, which are tagged in the still-attractive range from $9.99 to $12.99.
Papads (99 cents) aren’t offered as a complimentary snack as is traditional, but we ordered one of these cracker-thin, fried lentil wafers for tradition’s sake. It was a good example of the genre, crisp and shattery, dotted with tiny bubbles and bits of crushed spices. It was slightly greasy from frying, but its haunting, earthy lentil flavor was just right.
Then, we moved on to bhaji pav ($8.99), the street-food dish that made Honest famous. It was a spicy, reddish-brown mix of vegetables and curry spices blended in a thick, spicy-hot puree, topped with fresh cilantro and served with a pair of square, white, toasted buns, chopped red onion and a lime wedge. I sprinkled onions and squeezed lime on the curry and ate it with delight, scooping up the curry (bhaji) with pieces of the bun (pav).
Honest offers three heat levels — mild, medium and hot — and did a good job of respecting those requests. The bhaji pav was hot but not painful. Our other dishes, ordered medium, packed pleasant but not challenging heat.
Punjabi thali ($10.99) is a sampler of Northern India’s Punjab region. It came on a large, shiny, round, metal plate holding small portions of 10 items: paneer tikka, chana masala, yellow lentil dal, yogurt raita, basmati rice, lime pickle chutney, red onion, a tomato slice, half of a papad and a small gulab jamun for dessert.
A salty lassi at Honest adds cumin and cilantro to yogurt to make a satisfying antidote to the heat of fiery spices.
The chickpeas in the chana masala were large and firm, cloaked with a gently spicy, reddish-brown masala sauce. Paneer tikka contained several cubes of mild, Indian paneer cheese in savory, orange sauce. Dal was thin but flavorful; raita was smooth and cooling, and the rice was wonderful, every grain dry and separate and perfectly cooked, full of spice seeds and cilantro.  It also came with excellent roti, puffy, whole-sheet flatbread dotted with dark-brown charred spots from the grill.
To bring some leafy, green veggies to the table, we ordered aloo palak ($9.99), a traditional potato-and-spinach curry. The potatoes were good, tender but not mushy, covered with a thick, dark-green, mildly spicy spinach puree.
My usual appetizing antidote to the fire of Indian spice is yogurt lassi ($3.99), preferring the salty, plain version to mango or sweet alternatives. Honest’s lassi was excellent, not too thick and with cumin and pepper flavors and a cilantro garnish to add flavor interest.
A filling meal for two came to $32.82, with a 20% tip calculated by our server’s portable card reader. •
Honest Indian Restaurant9008 Taylorsville Road
Noise level: With the room less than half-filled for a late lunch, the noise was minimal in the large shopping-center space. (Average sound level was 72 decibels, in the range of normal conversation.)
Accessibility: The entrance, restrooms and tables except for booth seating appear fully accessible to wheelchair users.