Transforming food systems in Southeast Asia

IRRI, WorldFish and IWMI have signed a 5-year agreement that provides the framework for cooperative research.

Three CGIAR Research Centers join forces

Fishing in a Mekong Delta rice field in Vietnam.
Fishing in a Mekong Delta rice field in Vietnam. Photo: WARECOD

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), WorldFish, and International Water Management Institute (IWMI) have signed a 5-year agreement that provides the framework for cooperative research aimed at achieving sustainable intensification and management of rice-fish production systems in irrigated areas and wetlands of Southeast Asia.

“This agreement exemplifies a food systems approach to transforming the global rice sector,” said IRRI director general Matthew Morell. “The combined global research expertise and influence of IRRI, WorldFish, and IWMI in the core elements of diets, such as rice and fish, as well as land and water systems make this strategic collaboration essential to a food systems revolution.”

Previous individual and joint programs involving IRRI, WorldFish, and IWMI have yielded positive results. During 2002-2013, the centers joined forces under the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food. In an earlier project, IRRI and WorldFish worked on fish and rice with various partners in Bangladesh.

More recently, WorldFish, IRRI, and IWMI came together for a project on the development of rice-fish systems in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta, with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The project aims to improve the productivity and profitability of rice-fish systems. While delivering gains for small-scale rice farming households, the project will also benefit fishers by diversifying and thus enhancing the resilience of rice-based farming systems and landscapes.

The new agreement is aligned with the CGIAR 2030 Plan, which calls for stronger cooperation between CGIAR Researcher Centers to achieve a “food systems revolution” that helps deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

WorldFish director general Gareth Johnstone notes that the multi-agency partnership provides a strategic push for wider research, promotion, and implementation of integrated rice-fish systems and builds on previous successes of WorldFish and its partners.

“This partnership helps create better synergies for leveraging our individual research expertise and network strengths to accelerate the sustainable supply of nutritious fish and rice into national, regional, and global food systems,” Johnstone said. “Together, we will also be able to better support regional cooperation by increasing awareness, disseminating knowledge, and scaling critical solutions for this intensification to be truly sustainable.”

IWMI’s work on sustainable water and land management aligns well with IRRI’s work on landscape-level water management and environmental sustainability.

“What we aim to achieve as individual organizations is interconnected and geared toward the fulfillment of almost the same SDGs,” said Mark Smith, IWMI’s deputy director general – research for development.  “We envision a sustainable food, nutrition, and water-secure world, and this strategic partnership gets us closer to that goal.”

Under the agreement, IRRI, WorldFish, and IWMI will conduct research for development aimed at determining the environmental, socio-economic, and cultural impacts of rice-fish production systems on land and waterways. New projects will be organized around various themes, including constructed water bodies, rice-fish landscapes, climate resilience and water, trade-offs and foresight analysis, and information technology and big data.

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