The International Rice Research Institute has received a technical assistance grant from the Asian Development Bank to help boost rice production in south and southeast Asia.

IRRI is developing rice varieties that will thrive in soil drained of nutrients by repeated floods and droughts. According to ADB, more than 123 million acres of rice are grown in poor soil conditions in south and southeast Asia. The problem is increasing because inadequate drainage causes toxic chemicals to accumulate in the soil.

The Asian region must raise its rice production rate from 3 percent to 3.5 percent per year just to feed its rising population, ADB said. Problem soil is an obstacle to this goal.

ADB's grant will help IRRI's search for rice varieties that can grow in soil affected by salinity, high acidity, sodicity and peatiness.

The program will have two parts: research on tolerance mechanisms in rice plants, and breeding rice in harsh weather. IRRI is undertaking this program in Los Banos and Iloilo in the Philippines, and in cooperation with five national research programs in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Each research center will concentrate on a major soil problem and share findings with groups and scientists in its area. IRRI will coordinate activities and draw upon findings of earlier rice projects funded by ADB.

ADB also has approved a technical assistance grant to Indonesia to study the broad problems of agricultural development in that region.

The provinces of Nusa Tenggara Timur and Nusa Tenggara Barat are among the poorest regions in Indonesia because of frequent droughts, bad roads, and the villagers' total dependence on agriculture.

ADB's grant will finance a study on the problem of poverty in the area and the impact that farming has the region's delicate ecosystem. ADB expects the study to result in an investment project, which may include redistributing local cattle to poor farmers, improving the roads to village markets and encouraging the growth of cottage industries.