However, an innovative project being launched this week in Thailand and the Philippines marks the start of a major new effort to encourage young Asians to consider a future in rice.
"It's a sad fact of life in modern Asia that many young people in the region don't think of rice as offering an exciting or promising career, so they focus on other industries and other careers," says Robert S. Zeigler, director general of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). IRRI, together with the Thai Rice Foundation under Royal Patronage (TRF) and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), is hosting ten Thai teenagers and nine young Filipinos for a week of activities designed to boost their interest in rice and science.
Dr. Zeigler says it's vital for Asia's future development that the rice industry attract the region's best and brightest young people. "Rice and agriculture are still fundamental to the economic development of most Asian nations, not to mention their cultural and social identities," he added.
Working together with the TRF and PhilRice, IRRI is hosting a five-day rice camp (24-28 April 2006) at its headquarters in Los Baños for the Thai and Filipino students who are aged 16?8. During the five days, the students ?all of whom have been selected because of their interest in, or knowledge of, rice ?will learn the very latest scientific techniques in rice research and, more specifically, be convinced of how rice research can provide a brighter future for rice in the region.
"We want them to understand that rice research is not some sleepy little scientific backwater, but is, in fact, right on the cutting edge of international scientific activity," Dr. Zeigler said. "The recent sequencing of the rice genome attracted enormous international attention, especially among the scientific community, yet most young Asians still don't know it even happened, let alone understand its implications for the food they eat each day."
During their five days at IRRI, the students, who will be accompanied by their teachers, will learn about new techniques such as DNA extraction and how to insert a gene into rice as well as more basic information such as how to prepare a field for rice transplanting. "We hope they will then return home with a new sense of excitement about rice and its potential both in science and in the future development of Asia," said Dr. Kwanchai Gomez, the TRF's executive director.
"Rice has played a vital role in Thailand's economic development, not to mention its history and culture," Dr. Gomez added. "The challenge is to try and translate this into a sense of excitement and interest amongst young people in Thailand and all over Asia."