Head of Rice Research Lab Steps Down

Already struggling with massive staff layoffs, one of the world's major agricultural research centers also lost its director this week. On Wednesday, the head of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Philippines, announced his resignation. Australian entomologist George Rothschild, who was halfway through his 5-year term, called his departure a "very personal decision."

Times are tough for IRRI, founded in 1960. The institute lost about a quarter of its $30 million budget this year and had to lay off 576 workers--almost half of its staff. As a result, IRRI plans to roll back its research on conventional plant breeding, farm machinery development, and training activities. Instead, it will emphasize high-tech areas such as biotechnology and geographical information systems.

Other institutes run by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which operates 16 centers in 11 countries, have had similar financial problems. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in Patancheru, India, had to lay off about half its staff this year, after losing about a fifth of its $36 million budget. Its director, Australian agriculture economist James G. Ryan, resigned earlier this year, also citing "personal reasons."

CGIAR managers say the two resignations are coincidences. "These are more like exceptions that happened at two of our important traditional research centers," says Selcuk Ozgediz, a management adviser at CGIAR in Washington, D.C. "We would have preferred to have the continued strong and competent leadership like what Rothschild offered at IRRI." But Rothschild's resignation comes as no surprise to Yeshwant Nene, a plant pathologist who retired last December from the number two position at ICRISAT. He says that over the past 5 years, "the whole value system at CGIAR has changed. There is a certain lack of enthusiasm toward research."