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Establishing a Multilocation Evaluation and Research Network for Genetic Enhancement In Central & West Asia (EMERGE-CWA)

Establishing a Multilocation Evaluation and Research Network for Genetic Enhancement In Central & West Asia (EMERGE-CWA)


 A Concept Note Jointly Prepared by Dr K A Shahdi the coordinator of
Regional Rice Research and Training Center (RRRTC-CWA) with IRRI Senior Scientists


Rice in Central and West Asia

Rice is one of the most important food crops in the West and Central Asia (CWA). In 2009, the crop was cultivated in 1.16 Million (M) hectares (ha) in 10 CWA countries, producing a total of 4.9 M tonnes (t), at the regional average yield of 4.25 t/ha. While Iran accounts for about 54% of the total rice cropping area and about 61% of the total rice production of CWA, the crop is also produced in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The level of production in the region has not been able to meet consumer demand which has tripled since 1980 and has rapidly increased in recent years. For example, IRRI projects that rice consumption in this region will increase from about 9 M t at present to 12 M t by 2020 (+33%) and to 16.6 M t by 2035 (84%). Although rice production, mainly accomplished through enhanced yields, has increased substantially in WCA, the region had to bridge the gap between consumer demand and supply through rice importation that has risen from less than 2 M t in 1980 to nearly 6 M t in 2009. Two countries alone, Iran and Iraq, are projected to account for nearly 50% of the rice demand in this region by 2035.


Research Challenges in CWA

Rice productivity and profitability in CWA is constrained by biotic and abiotic stresses that in recent years has been exacerbated by climate change. The region will face challenges posed by increasing competition for water and the increasing vulnerability of rice production systems due to abiotic stresses such as heat, salinity, submergence, cold, and combinations of these abiotic stresses. Moreover, the region will also have to contend with the occurrence of diseases such as blast and Bakanae, and insects such as stemborers. Recognizing the urgent need for a coordinated effort to be established at the regional level in CWA on rice research and capacity building in order to address these research challenges, IRRI facilitated the establishment of The Regional Rice Research and Training Center for Central and West Asia (RRRTC-CWA) in September 2011. Based at the Rice Research Institute of Iran (RRII) in Rasht, Guilan province, RRRTC-CWA is envisioned to serve as a regional hub for rice science development and training in the region. Since its establishment, RRRTC-CWA has been able to initiate efforts to retool existing rice scientists and extension workers in CWA on modern rice research techniques and tools through two training programs held in 2013- one each on agronomy and rice breeding. With these RRRTC-CWA initiatives, CWA is ready to undertake a major research initiative to address the rice production constraints affecting productivity and profitability in the region by bringing new technologies to CWA rice farmers.


The Need for EMERGE-CWA

The Green Revolution in Asia clearly demonstrated the importance of the two major pathways for achieving drastic improvements in rice productivity and profitability via science-based approaches: (1) modern, high-yielding and stress tolerant varieties; and (2) crop management improvements. For CWA to benefit directly from breeding-based innovations, there is a need to form a regional evaluation network that will acquire in a coordinated germplasm, breeding lines, and elite populations for potential use in the region, facilitate regional germplasm sharing, implement a multi-stage regional testing to exploit genotype X environment interactions, and development breeding strategies for developing varieties suited to the region’s specialty market segments. There has been no regional rice evaluation network established in CWA to date. Due to the limited capacity for rice research in most CWA countries, with the possible exception of Iran, no CWA country is likely to make fundamental scientific breakthroughs for addressing the burning issues of the future without a cooperative and coordinated regional effort. Therefore, this project seeks to establish EMERGE-CWA beginning 2014 in line with the RRRTC-CWA’s mission to conduct advanced rice research and provide training to rice scientists and practitioners from CWA countries and its emphasis on the development of new production technologies needed to adapt rice production systems in the region to climatic extremes and climate change.


Objectives of EMERGE-CWA

  1. To identify CWA rice production constraints and market opportunities and develop varietal improvement-based mitigation and capture strategies;
  2. To organize a regionally coordinated multi-stage, and multienvironment MET trials for CWA countries;
  3. To infuse and share pre-breeding materials suited for CWA for developing country-specific varieties with superior yield, biotic/abiotic stress tolerance, grain quality, consumer acceptability; and
  4. To retool existing CWA rice researchers and extension agents and train the next generation of rice researchers.



  1. Benchmarking survey and workshops for identifying production constraints and developing mitigation strategies involving all key stakeholders and identifying present and future niche markets;
  2. Regional sharing of germplasm using INGER model and conduct of MET patterned after the experience and strategies of IRRI in Southeast Asia;
  3. Infusion of advance breeding materials and elite populations from IRRI with value added traits targeted for the region;
  4. Regular IRRI-NARES degree training programs using the sandwich model and non degree training at RRRTC-CWA with technical support from IRRI and Iran; and
  5. Encouragement of women participation of women students and trainees in the EMERGE-CWA activities.


Expected Outputs

  1. Key production constraints in CWA identified, market opportunities mapped, and mitigation strategies for constraints developed;
  2. Superior varieties with CWA-wide adaptation selected and location/country-specific varieties identified and shared multilaterally in the region;
  3. Tailor-made/customized varieties suited for CWA market segments developed; and
  4. Existing as well as a cadre of young CWA rice scientists becomes skilled on use of modern scientific research tools and techniques.


Key Beneficiaries

Expected beneficiaries of this project will include policy makers, researchers, scientists, academe/universities, extension agents, farmers, seed industry, seed growers, millers, processors, and students.


Key Partners/Collaborators

The project was endorsed by participants of the Rice Breeding Course held in Rasht, Iran in August 2013 that was attended by breeders/scientists from 10 countries as well as key partners identified from key implementing institutions/countries as follows:

  1. RRRTC-CWA (Shahdi KA, Lapitan J, K Tajadodi)
  2. IRRI (Ali J, Redoña E, Gregorio G, Collard B, Kumar A, Zhao X, Nissila E)
  3. Iran
    1. RRII (Souroush H, Hosseini M, Momeni A, Dorosti H, Ebadi A)
    2. ABRII (Tarang A)
    3. Guilan University (Rabeai B)
  4. Rice Institutes in CWA Countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan)


Proposed Budget (in US$)







Total Grant








Operational Costs














Trainings & Workshops







Equipment & Renovations















To support this initiative, US$5 million over 5 years is required (itemized in the table above).  This budget will support the operation of the network and will allow for key facilities to be upgraded and essential activities to begin the EMERGE-WCA project by RRRTC-CWA. In addition to this, the Iranian institutions involved will make in-kind contributions of the staff time and research facilities, whereas IRRI’s in-kind contributions will be staff time and other research facilities at IRRI. To show RRRTC and IRRI’s commitment to this initiative, two training programs on rice production and rice breeding for CWA countries were held in 2013 with funds from GRiSP.