APPENDIX: IRRI AND THE BROWN PLANT HOPPER MENACE37

IRRI researchers say they know how to create rice varieties resistant to the brown plant hopper menace but that budget cuts have prevented them from doing so. In the 1980s, IRRI employed five entomologists (insect experts), overseeing 200 staff, compared to one entomologist with eight staff in May 2008. Not surprisingly, corridors at IRRI have many empty offices. But even with a sudden reversal of fortunes for agricultural research, it will take time to produce results.

In the case of the brown plant hopper, there will be no quick fix following years of neglect. After all, the insect is not a new problem. In the 1960s, IRRI pioneered ways to help farmers grow two and even three crops annually, instead of one. But with rice plants growing most of the year, the hoppers—which live only on rice plants—have longer to multiply, feed, and cause problems. IRRI responded by testing thousands of varieties of wild rice for natural resistance; it found four types of resistance and bred them into commercial varieties by 1980. But brown plant hoppers soon adapted, and the resistant strains lost their effectiveness in the 1990s. An important insecticide also lost its effectiveness, as the hopper became able to withstand doses up to 100 times those that used to kill it. And as the hopper adapted, IRRI was being undermined.

No fewer than fourteen new types of genetic resistance have been discovered to address the hopper problem. But with the budget cuts, IRRI has not bred these traits into widely used rice varieties. Even if funding materializes immediately, it would take four to seven years to do so. Meanwhile, the hoppers pose a growing threat. In May 2007, China announced it was struggling to control the rapid spread of the hoppers there, which threatened to destroy a fifth of the harvest.

 
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